Re: Atheist Debates – Pascal’s Wager and Argument from Design

Matt Dillahunty started a Patreon campaign a few months ago and received significant support for it before even starting to put up videos. He’s a notable figure at conferences, in debates, and especially on The Atheist Experience, a weekly public access show out of Austin that is majorly responsible for my own deconversion. So I naturally supported his Patreon campaign when I saw it.

I finally took time today to watch the half-hour videos he created on Pascal’s Wager and the argument from design. I’m happy to support his efforts even without watching all the content immediately because I personally have heard plenty on these arguments already. What’s important to me is supporting clear, comprehensive, and articulate treatments of many religious arguments into the world. I find great value in videos like these becoming watershed moments or markers of the best place to have an idea addressed. I want really good discussions in an accessible form for everyone to be able to link to, learn, and straighten out ideas.

With that in mind, I have some thoughts about the videos I watched and some constructive criticism that I believe would help ensure that Dillahunty’s videos continue to be made and exist as educational milestones in religious argumentation.

Image source citation

Now that Dillahunty is being paid to create this content, he may run into problems if he doesn’t get permission or cite his sources a little better than this first video. It’s extraordinarily unlikely that anyone will claim copyright infringement on random church signs that Dillahunty chose to illustrate his point, but issues with other more generic images are possible. Permission to use pictures of himself from Josiah Biblename I would imagine would be granted, if it hasn’t already.

Elaborate description/information

Following the need for citations/credit, I think the videos would be well-served to have elaborate descriptions. As an example, I believe PBS Idea Channel does a great job with descriptions, linking to anything relevant, used, or named in the show. In my mind, Dillahunty’s videos are made to be permanent, standalone addressings of a topic. So linking to relevant information, be it Wikipedia entries or examples of the arguments he’s addressing in use, would make it a more complete package.

If Dillahunty’s notes are organized enough, they could be useful if linked in the description for people to review, copy for specific reference, or as a transcript for anyone who can’t hear the video. Enthusiastic viewers could even translate the content!

Depth and tone

I initially didn’t feel a need to watch the videos I did because I’ve heard Pascal’s Wager debunked so many times(1)It angers me when it comes up, too., as well as the argument from design. But Dillahunty goes into significantly more depth, taking his time to establish the meaning of the claims and picking them apart piece by piece. He goes to the original argument to address it carefully while also reserving room for critique of newer, more colloquial versions. This is a level of detail that most presenters don’t reach or cover as knowledgeably.

A level of trust and consideration needs to be established for someone to engage in a 20+ minute persuasive argument video, and thankfully Dillahunty establishes this. He is careful and precise in his presentation in a way that is not always common in the long-form video debate space. The atmosphere is quiet, calm, and for learning, which exists in often positive contrast to so much other content online.

Editing

I’m sure the audio and video quality will improve now that Dillahunty has received payments from Patreon to fund better equipment and software, so I mention this point with that context in mind. I simply want to acknowledge that rough edges exist and that I hope and look forward to seeing quality improve with better tools to make those tasks easier. Even from the Pascal’s Wager video to the argument from design one, transitions and narration seemed smoother.

Environment

I really, really like the sections outdoors! They are such breaths of fresh air from so much theological discussion that takes place in bedrooms in front of computer screens. The Pascal’s Wager video had several sections outside, and the argument from design one much more. Even if the entire video isn’t shots of Dillahunty in front of brooks or trees, those moments serve as important returns to reality between static images and text under audio.

Laci Green does something similar when she goes into the woods to record videos. That atmosphere is lively and makes the content stand out compared to the stale environments we’re used to from YouTube videos. In talking about the nature of reality and the quality of the one life we do have, reminders of the beauty of it are not only a nice touch but in fact engage the viewer with the meaning of the argument.(2)Without the “look at the trees” religious appeal, of course!

Overall impressions

I’m happy with what Dillahunty has made so far, and I expect it will only continue to get better over time! Dillahunty is excellent at debate, public speaking, and articulating arguments in an understandable way. His previous, more stream-of-consciousness videos were also very good. This more scripted, polished approach to creating video content is a little different, but I believe it will result in some important milestone videos to facilitate future theological debate and provide the best case for atheism. I’m also glad Patreon exists to provide an easy avenue for support of this content.

With ya going forward, Matt.

Notes   [ + ]

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