A review of the Dillahunty v. Jones debate, Part 1
As anyone who has read much of Boxing Pythagoras will likely already know, I am rather fond of debate. I quite enjoy listening to, reading, and watching debates between two people on a great variety of subjects– all the moreso when the subject happens to be one with which I am heartily interested. Recently, two YouTubers got together for just such a discussion. Matt Dillahunty is the president of the Atheist Community of Austin and one of the hosts of a broadcast called The Atheist Experience. Michael Jones is a Christian apologist who created a YouTube channel called “Inspiring Philosophy.” Both men are very intelligent and I have greatly enjoyed listening to both, in the past. When I heard that they were going to debate the topic, “Are there good reasons to believe in God?” I was quite excited to give it a listen.
Unfortunately, I was very let down by the debate. I spent a great deal of the two-hour long discussion cringing and yelling at my computer. While it might be easy for one of my readers to think my discomfort was caused by the Christian conversant, the truth is that it was the atheist who had me so upset. This was honestly one of the worst debate performances on the part of Matt Dillahunty which I have ever seen.
Now, to be completely fair, on a subsequent episode of The Atheist Experience, Matt acknowledges that he was rather muddled and rambling in this debate, particularly in his opening statement. He blames this at least partially on a lack of sleep in the days leading up to the debate and I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in that regard considering the fact that this was quite a departure from his usual level of discourse. That said, my issues with Matt’s debate were far less to do with his opening statement than with his direct responses to Michael Jones’ positions.
Michael Jones, taking the affirmative, has the first opening statement which begins at about timestamp 00:04:15. However, before I dive into my discussion of his claims, I want to address the problems which I have with Matt’s responses from later in the video.
First I would like to discuss an issue which Matt brings up that seems reasonable, at the outset. Indeed, I have far less of a problem with this objection than with some of the others that Matt raises during the debate. Quite simply, Matt claims that it is disingenuous to enter a debate regarding the existence of “God” while explicitly noting that one will not be arguing for the particular God in which he affirms faith. Matt essentially argues that discussing a “God” which is devoid of all the qualities which religious people typically ascribe to God is something of an equivocation fallacy. Indeed, even if it is reasonable to believe that “a necessary and immaterial mind that created the universe” that does not mean it is reasonable to believe in, for example, an omnibenevolent, omniscient, omnipotent Triune deity which bears two complete natures in one of its persons and which is worthy of worship.
I completely understand Matt’s frustration, here. It can seem like a complete bait-and-switch to enter into a discussion about a topic with a particular, common understanding only to find oneself engaging in a discourse about a subject which seems completely different. Matt has no expertise and little familiarity with Quantum Mechanics, so a debate centered around the implications of QM formalization is not what he was expecting. However, I still think this objection is a poor one.
Imagine, by analogy, that I am trying to convince a person that there exists a number, , with a decimal representation which is an infinite, non-repeating sequence of digits. Let’s say that this person is skeptical of my claim. Now, to begin the explanation of my claim I have to first define , which I do by saying that it is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. My skeptical debate partner gets flustered and demands, “Why are we talking about circles?! We’re supposed to be discussing an infinite, non-repeating sequence of numbers!”
Sometimes, an investigation into a matter cannot jump to the end conclusions about that matter right away. Rather, we must begin with simple assertions and then follow the implications where they lead. Michael Jones believes that he is doing this in his presentation. While his discussion in this particular debate aims only to establish the existence of “a necessary and immaterial mind that created the universe,” he certainly believes that further investigation of this topic will reveal that this mind has all of the further properties which his Christian faith ascribes to it– eg, omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence, three persons in one being, dual-natured in one of its persons, worthy of worship, et cetera.
So, yes, it is frustrating to enter into a debate thinking it would be regarding a particular religious view only to find that it is about a seemingly mundane and unfamiliar topic, instead. However, it is certainly not inappropriate, let alone fallacious, for Michael Jones to focus his attention in this manner.
My bigger problem with Matt’s focus in the debate is that he kept trying to frame Jones’ argument as if it was a big God of the Gaps argument. Matt continuously attempts to say that Jones’ is simply plugging God in as the answer to an unanswered question. Rather than responding to Jones’ actual arguments, Matt tries to say that Michael Jones is simply labeling “the explanation of the universe” as “God.” However, that’s not what Jones is doing at all. He’s labeling a particular entity which he argues is implicit in modern physics as God– an entity which shares at least two properties of the Classical notion of God which Matt seems to be after (“creator of the universe” and “mind”)– and he explicitly notes that he believes further exploration can show that this God also bears the other traits traditionally ascribed to it by his Christian faith.
Matt doubles down on his objection to labeling “a necessary and immaterial mind that created the universe” as God. In response, Michael Jones asks Matt how he would prefer God be defined, instead. Hilariously, Matt responds by saying he prefers to let the other person define what they mean by God, since he is not the one affirming a God’s existence! This seems incredibly ironic. Immediately after objecting to Jones’ definition of God, Matt claims he prefers to allow the other person to define God. Which is what Jones did at the very beginning of the debate extremely early in his opening statement.
Matt Dillahunty did not actually respond to Michael Jones’ arguments, throughout the entirety of the debate. At no point does he engage in an actual discussion of Jones’ Digital Physics Argument or his Cosmic Conscious Argument or his Introspective Argument. The closest which he comes to dealing with these arguments directly is to note that he is not a physicist, that he has little understanding of Quantum Mechanics, and that there are experts on the subject who would disagree with Jones’ conclusions. None of this amounts to a very good response to Michael Jones’ positions.
Matt Dillahunty is one of my favorite people to watch in debate and discussion. I am usually quite drawn to his very organized, logical appeals to skepticism and his direct and pointed responses to theistic claims. Unfortunately, this particular debate did not display those beloved features of Matt’s usual dialectic. Though I may not agree with Michael Jones’ arguments and conclusions (more on that in Part 2), I have to say that he really had the upper-hand in this particular discussion.