Monday 7 October 2013

God's not dead, he just doesn't believe in confirmation bias

Last night I got caught up with the latest Unbelievable? podcast. It was billed as "Evidence, atheism and the case for God" featuring Rice Broocks, who has written a book titled God's Not Dead. From his description this tome sounds like a standard apologetics portmanteau covering various arguments and evidences for the existence of the Christian God.

Opposite him was atheist David Beebee, a listener to the show who had read the book and who politely stated that he found it unpersuasive. In fact it was politeness all round, including Broocks' physicist-in-tow Brian Miller. Justin Brierley acted as neutral host and it was all very civil (which — along with last week's show featuring Keith Ward and Michael Ruse — made for less stressful listening than the previous two Unbelievables).

Rice Broocks is an American preacher, so he has the apologetic delivery honed to a fine art, and Brian Miller had clearly mastered the exposition of his subject. In contrast David Beebee wasn't the most articulate of atheists, but he made an excellent point about Broocks' double standards with regard to evidence and the acceptance of consensus. The point must have struck home, because neither Broocks nor Miller answered it. So Beebee repeated it later in the show, and still they didn't answer it. It was probably the only point he needed to make; he stuck to it, and it appeared to expose a crucial flaw in the book's reasoning.

Beebee's point was this: In God's Not Dead Broock accepts evidence and consensus when they support what he believes, but denies it when they don't. I think it's unlikely Broocks and Miller haven't heard this criticism before, and equally unlikely they didn't understand Beebee's point — he made it more than once, at different times in the programme. But they dodged it every time.