According to the dictionary, atheism is the doctrine or belief that there is no God. He has a specific problem with that definition, as he thinks that, based purely on that definition, an atheist requires just as much of a leap of faith to arrive at his conclusion as a theist does.
You said previously that he accepts the reasoning of Occam's Razor. If he does, then he should not think that "no God" requires a leap of faith. Those statements are mutually incompatible.
If he's just keying on the word "doctrine", then he's not as smart as you think he is. Even logic can be considered a doctrine.
And he does acknowledge that, at least mostly. Which is why he doesn't believe in God either. But his answer seems universally "I don't know."
It seems to me that he's quite frankly a smart-ass, who picks positions not because they are necessarily logical, but because he can easily defend them. "I don't know" is a handy answer to everything
, and this is where solipsists come from. But it's also useless, which is the great criticism of all absolutist philosophies.
The example he gave to support his stance as valid (and more valid than an atheist stance) is that if somebody told him there was a Border's Book Store in a city he's never been to, but then somebody else told him that the first guy was full of shit, and neither of them could provide any evidence, that in the end he just doesn't know.
Apples and oranges. We're not talking about whether something has certain attributes in a certain location (really, a "Border's book store" is just a building and business with certain attributes); we're talking about the existence of a totally unique and unobserved entity.
The other example he gave is that if all existence was just a room, and there was a revolving door at one end and nobody who's ever gone through that revolving door ever came back out of it, then nobody in that room would ever know what's beyond it.
He has no evidence of this door. No doubt he thinks that door is death, but the idea that death is a doorway to another existence is a religious belief, with no conceivable basis in fact.
And then one guy comes up to him and says "Hey, when you go through that door, if you've been good then it's all blowjobs from beautiful women, but if you've been bad you're castrated for all of eternity" and then another guy says "If you go through the door and you've been good then you'll be able to listen to the best music ever, but if you've been bad then you have to watch the series finale of Seinfeld forever," and another guy comes along and says "Hey, those first two guys are full of shit. I'm telling you, there's nothing beyond the door."
His stance is basically that's what the atheist is. The atheist is making a positive (or maybe neutral) determination based on a lack of evidence, while he (the agnostic) is simply saying "Well fuck, I don't know what's beyond the door."
The way I tried to explain it to him, the atheist isn't saying there's nothing beyond the door, but simply that because of a lack of evidence there's no reason to come to any life-altering conclusion about what's beyond that door. We act as if though nothing is beyond that door, and we might even talk as if though nothing's beyond that door, but that doesn't actually mean that we really believe that nothing is beyond that door.
I think he's a clever liar. He has religious beliefs, but he doesn't cop to them because he knows they're indefensible in debate, so he hides behind a cloak of agnosticism. This argument betrays the mindset of a religious person: the entire premise of the argument is based on a religious assumption.
I brought up that there's nothing good done by religion that couldn't be done without it, and to this he --sort of-- disagrees, though the only evidence he brought up was from personal experience (though, I'd wager he'd be capable of bringing up evidence from sources as well). When I say sort of, it's that he believes that while you can certainly do charity work without religion (we're all on the board of directors of a local [and secular] non-profit organization), religion winds up promoting more volunteerism than there would be without religion, as people's superstitious beliefs give them incentive they wouldn't have (fear of burning in hell) to do good things.
No evidence that this mechanism actually works. Especially when we're talking about a religion based on forgiveness of your sins.
Mind you, I'm aware that this actually makes these people less moral (or at least altruistic) than secular volunteers, but he doesn't care about that. He's very much a results-oriented guy (probably in part due to the fact that he's a Captain in a special operations branch of the Army), and because of this he doesn't care why people do good things just so long as they are doing them.
Beyond charity, he claims that fundamentalist Christians and other hardcore religious-types have the lowest divorce rates in America (he may have said in the world too), and they're much lower than atheist divorce rates. Other studies done (he claims) doesn't take into account how hardcore the religious people are about their faith, and that light-weight Christians don't really count to his assertion that the world would be better off if everyone was Religious.
He's simply wrong. Fundie Christians actually have the highest divorce rates in America, not the lowest. The Christian Barna Research Group discovered that, to its chagrin.
He also brought up, though this was from his personal experience, that being religious makes people happier and helps people through personal issues easier than the non-religious. When I replied that these people were delusional, he basically reiterated that that doesn't matter to him, because it doesn't change the fact that they are still happier.
He wasn't making the claim that no atheists are happy, or even that some atheists can't be as happy as religious people. Just that, on the whole, that isn't the case (at least in America).
If fundies are so happy, why are they so obsessed with other peoples' sex lives? Why do they have the highest divorce rate?
And does he have evidence of the magical happiness-generating power of religion?
The examples he cited were from personal experience, but I'll ask him about it tomorrow. I'd be willing to bet he'd be able to come up with some that aren't, but we'll see.
That's actually an appeal to consequence fallacy.
I don't think so. I'm not trying to make the point to him that religion is false because it does bad things. I'm just responding to his assertion that it doesn't matter if religion is a lie because it's a useful lie that does a lot of good that outweighs the bad, by (hopefully) showing him that the bad does in fact outweigh the good.
Like I said, the biggest problem with trying to defeat him in this argument is that he's basically closed off all the doors except the "useful lie is better than the truth" assertion.
During the Civil War, Southerners used the Bible to justify slavery, and for that matter, the entire war. See the Texas Declaration of Independence among others. Yes, it's a useful lie. But not in the way he thinks.
Unfortunately these things don't work for this argument. He's basically chalked that stuff up to "harsher times," and is basically of the mind that religion, or at least Christianity, has mellowed out to the point that it's now doing a lot more good than harm.
Like the War in Iraq? Witch hunts in Africa? Lebanese Christian militants massacring entire refugee camps at Sabra and Shatila? Lethal exorcisms in South America and Eastern Europe? A massive population explosion in the poorest parts of the world, egged on by Muslim and Catholic religious leaders? Stupid "abstinence only" sex education programs which actually increase teen pregnancy rates? Catholic campaigns against condom use, even in Africa where AIDS is epidemic?
He doesn't believe that brainwashing children through religion is a form of child abuse, and he doesn't believe (and so far I haven't been able to convince him) that indoctrinating children with Christianity is dangerous or harmful to them.
America is the most Christian nation among the affluent first-world industrialized nations. According to his thesis, America should also have the lowest crime rate, be the most generous to the poor and downtrodden, and be the least warlike. That is the exact opposite
of the truth. He's full of shit.
I brought up your last point, that the bible can be interpreted to support anything, but me saying that alone isn't good enough for him. He wants examples and evidence, and I don't think things from 20+ years ago is going to do anything for him.
Why not? The Bible hasn't changed in that time.
He's also of the mind that it's not actually Religion that's the problem for a lot of these bad things of the past, that Religion might have been used to justify actions, but in most of those cases they were going to do those things anyway, Religion didn't make them, it just made it easier for them.
That's exactly the same thing I said. It helps people do terrible things. That's the point where you say "concession accepted".
I've brought up science. I brought up how evolution is being pushed out of some schools while creationism is trying to push its way in. He says these are very small instances and nobody takes them seriously anywhere, and therefore aren't a big deal. I brought up stem-cell research and he actually defends it, saying that since we don't know for sure what constitutes for a life we ought to err on the side of caution. I brought up abortion and he basically said the same thing.
As I said, he sounds like a liar. He sounds like a religious person who is just smart enough to figure out that it's really hard to defend any particular religious beliefs.
The problem is, he doesn't readily come across as particularly ill-informed. And while I can spot out flaws in his argument, frequently it winds up coming down to a matter of values and opinion, whereby I think Truth in of itself is a worthy endeavor that almost always should override everything and he feels that Truth is a worthy endeavor but results are far more important, and if people want to delude themselves and their children there's no harm in it.
Frankly, he sounds like a smart-ass debate sniper: the kind of guy who hides his real position and takes potshots at any weaknesses he sees in others.