I recently enjoyed making a presentation in which I argue with myself about whether God exists, debating the issue to a decisive draw. Pastor Chris, my theistic persona, makes a case for theism, and skeptical Dr. Schriner pokes holes in it.
In my university days I loved debate, so I decided to use a modified college debate format, with pro and con statements on the proposition:
Resolved: That a personal deity created the universe
Each side makes one five minute opening presentation and two shorter rebuttals.
It’s usually harder to prove that something is true than to show that it could very well be false. So because the negative side has an inherent advantage, the affirmative side is allowed to begin the contest and also to have the last word. Therefore Pastor Chris, who maintains that a deity exists, will begin AND end the debate.
In listening to a debate, people typically root for “their team” while inwardly arguing with the other side. Research shows that we strongly resist data that contradict our preconceptions. We are, then, in a prison of our own making, the prison of self-justifying beliefs. If we want to break out of this conceptual jail, we can identify early-warning signals that tip us off when our minds are closing. We can learn to feel ourselves slamming the door against new truth.
I’m going to present this debate as a series of blog-posts. In reading these, notice the mental and physical warning signals that occur when you start blocking out an idea that disturbs your preconceptions. If you can identify these cues, you can learn to catch your mind-gate just as it starts to swing shut. Watch for moments in the debate when you hear something plausible that unsettles your preconceptions, and check what you’re feeling inside. You may notice a vague unease, a mild irritation, or physical tension such as tightening your jaw. Once you know what you experience when your mind is threatened with expansion, you can watch for that cue when you’re with people who challenge your beliefs.
One reason I love to present this God-debate is that I can state each side of the issue emphatically, without pulling my punches. Obviously I do not personally believe everything that Pastor C and Dr. S proclaim. But I acknowledge the rhetorical (and sometimes substantive) force of their arguments. My role is to act as a conduit for the argumentative vigor of these two passionate partisans. I’ll post Pastor Chris’ opening statement a few days from now.
Roger Christan Schriner
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