Tuesday, April 13, 2010

ABC's Faceoff on God, Science and indeed, New Age [Video]

ABC's show Faceoff is about debate. The most recent one about "Does God Have a Future?" doesn't have a future because it does not have a direct link, but is truly fascinating non-the-less -- while simultaneously also being incredibly bad. In my opinion, it is definitely worth the time to watch.

The believers on the panel were Deepak Chopra, a physician and best-selling author of "How to Know God," and prominent scholar, philosopher and writer Jean Houston. They "faced-off" against skeptics Michael Shermer, founding publisher of "Skeptic" magazine, and Sam Harris, author of "The End of Faith".

I would like to address this debate in three paragraphs, of three categories respectively:
1. Topic
2. Content
3. Form

On topic I can say that the debate was everything but. While Sam Harris definitely made a very good first run at defining the issues between science and faith, and qualifying the discussion, it went off-track and jumped from one topic to another without focus. However, it did end up making a lot of sense if considering it as a panel on New Age, Science, and what's in between, rather than of God. What was said is not representative of the topic.

Therefore, the content was not amazingly interesting at the beginning, but while it got better the main interest for me was watching the dynamic between the speakers as well as how they try to reason with each other, what language they use and how it is understood was absolutely fascinating all by itself.

On form, while I am generally pleased with low-key moderation, it is very different from no moderation. Jean Houston sat at the opposite end of the stage and was largely ignored until later in the debate, while Deepak Chopra made the debate about him and his beliefs, feeling free to interfere at will. When Jean spoke she had interesting things to say, which unfortunately had almost nothing to do with the debate and had no content in them at first. This was not a debate, but rather a lesson on how not to build and manage panel discussions.

Elaborating on these points, the speakers on the "God side" of the stage were not believers in any sense the majority of us would understand, or would have expected. This pre-determined that the debate will not discuss what was intended -- God's place in our changing society. The discussion from their side was intrinsically off-topic to the debate which caused it to have no clash points other than the continual attempt to either define what is said, or get to such a point. It is a saddening miss, while at the same time the continual negotiation of language for them to address each other more than made up for it.

Dr. Chopra has an interesting belief system, and I liked him even though he is by far not a very good communicator. I am willing to give that to him for speaking English as a second language, but I can't forgive his misuse of logic by explaining away assertions with logical fallacies.

The worst of these was the claim that nuclear war will break out if people aren't spiritual -- unsubstantiated slippery slope argument if I'd ever seen one. He used it as a link between his assertion and his conclusion. In fact, if I didn't believe he believes in what he says, I'd be tempted to think he chose religion as a cover for proselytizing his beliefs to the masses -- he was in fact asked why he chooses to continually use the word "God."

With all this criticism, which is well deserved, watching was a lot of fun for me, and I learned a lot, if not what ABC intended for me to learn. I recommend the videos. If this seems incongruent to you with my criticism, that is because I can't help but analyze it as a debate, and a social setting of inter-personal dynamics. By far that was the most interesting part to see was the context -- how the content was handled and countered.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Debate in culture [Interview]

The philosophy is not necessarily my own, but it is an interesting commentary on debate in society.
There's a great unwillingness to be rude in intellectual debate. I'm afraid I belong to the seventeenth-eighteenth-century tradition in which if you're not rude in intellectual debate, then you're probably not debating — you're just patting each other on the back. The fact of the matter is that we're all in the business of working with words. As I put it, we're the devil: we're getting people to eat the apple.
You can find the rest here:
The End of Rationalism, an interview with John Ralston Saul.

Motions gathered from recent news stories

For the previous motions post, go here.

THW arrest women who carry more than 3 condoms
Item: Carrying condoms could get you arrested

THB polygamy should be reintroduced in China
Item: China faces growing gender imbalance

THB parents should be taxed for public health costs resulting from not vaccinating their children
Item: Measles Resurgence Tied To Parents' Vaccine Fears