Let it be known that I am challenging Dr. James White to a formal debate. The topic will be the validity of debating, and I will be taking the position that they are worthless.
Hold on a moment while he stops laughing at how the "debate" was over before it began because I refuted myself.
Dr. White has done a passel of formal and other kinds of debates on various topics with many people, and I've learned a great deal about the debate process itself. (Want to see him in action? Here's the a debate with Dan "Don't Quote From My Books Even Though They're For Sale in the Foyer" Barker.) Dr. White has discussed the debates on "The Dividing Line", and that's good and bad. Good because he is giving helpful information, and bad because I cannot give chapter and verse on where he said something I'd like to quote (unless I'm taking notes like I did here), but taking notes is usually too impractical. I thought about trying to interview him, but Dr. White is a busy guy.
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What Are Debates?Before I go further, I've been debating about putting in this paragraph. The word debate is not as specific as it once was. I've had angry atheists post comments at The Question Evolution Project and told their friends that they "debated" us. Not hardly! Dry gulching people with inflammatory comments (which are usually way off-topic anyway) is not "debating", that's commenting or trolling. Perhaps comments can develop into discussions, but those are seldom debates in the real sense of the word. Also, contradiction is not debating, nor is it refutation of a position. Such things usually degenerate into free-for-alls unless a moderator puts a halt to them.
Debating has been with us for a mighty long time, spanning many cultures. It has been used in academic training. (Today, colleges have "safe spaces" so they won't get their feelings hurt. So much for having a debate club!) If you read the book of Acts, there's a heap of debating going on, including in the synagogues or with the Greek philosophers; in Acts chapter 17 we see that observing and participating in debates was a form of intellectual entertainment.
There are many debate styles, and the format I'm most familiar with is with moderated, timed presentations. Often, you get opening remarks from each side, rebuttals from each side, back and forth with presentation time decreasing until closing remarks. Often included are one-on-one cross examinations (these are usually timed as well), and sometimes questions from the audience where each participant gives a brief answer. There are also team debates, such as this three against three version. If you're shy of public speaking, I reckon you'd best stay in the audience or watch on television.
On a side note, Dr. G. Charles Jackson was in a debate. The nature of the debate was not made clear, and the OSU professor would not allow himself to be recorded or even named! Debates are meant to be informative and public, so why have one if a participant does not have the courage of his convictions? Instead of watching a debate, we do get some interesting material refuting evolution in this video.
Eric Hovind debated atheist Bernie Dehler, and I think it's worth watching. Unfortunately, the sound is not all that great, so you'll have to turn it up a bit. Watch for the typical straw man arguments (including the "God of the gaps" nonsense) and other logical fallacies that Dehler and some of the angry atheists in the audience parrot from other angry atheists (some seemed to try to help Dehler by shouting out from the audience). Bernie didn't get the memo that the origin of life and the Big Bang have nothing to do with evolution (as some dishonest atheists claim), and emphasized this at the beginning.
Eric also put to rest the "former Christian" claim and showed that it is nonsensical. (Dehler's son showed some venom in the question and answer section — teaching a child that there is no God, no Heaven, no Hell, we're all just evolved pond scum is nothing short of child abuse in my view.) Watch for numerous arbitrary assertions, outright falsehoods, Dehler's lack of knowledge about what biblical creationists actually belive, and subtle ad hominems. There was an ad hominem at the end where Dehler made a claim to the effect that there's something wrong with people who believe in the Genesis Flood because it's been "disproved", which is also fallacious. People like this claim to promote "reason" (as if being an atheist means one is logical while the Christian is not, another fallacy), but their logic skills are frequently in the gully.
The famous Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye debate is something that I'll be drawing from frequently in this article, since it was viewed by millions of people. (We don't hear about how the alleged "Science Guy" was previously challenged to a debate with scientists at Answers In Genesis, which went unanswered.) It was poorly structured, enabling Nye to use sneaky debate tactics such as the elephant hurling fallacy. He even insulted the state of Kentucky with falsehoods. Dr. White had some interesting comments about that debate. By the way, Nye went against the advice from Eugenie Scott to evolutionists not to debate creationists, because we're a bunch of liars. Of course, making that kind of blanket assertion without evidence (a frequent trick to stir emotions instead of using reason) makes her the liar. Oh, wait! She's already been caught being less than honest, so Scott should know about lying. (Generally, atheists are reluctant to debate skilled creationists nowadays, as Fergus Mason of (ir)RationalWiki has shown.)
Bill Nye insisted that acceptance of evolution is necessary for the advancement of science, and Ken Ham proved that such a position is false. But Nye kept beating that deceased equine and ignoring the facts that were given. If you study on it, you'd see that if Nye had truth and real evidence, he wouldn't need to resort to dishonesty, insults, fallacies, and so forth.
If you consider yourself skilled at the keyboard, written debates happen on the Internet. They can take a long time to conduct as well as read. (In this debate on King James Onlyism, respondents had several hours in which to reply.) Can you imagine the apostle Paul living today and doing an online written debate?
For that matter, there can be debates via Web cameras and such. From what I've seen, there isn't much that is structured about them, and I quickly lost interest.
I have some problems with debates today and wonder if they're really worth doing. (Yes, I'm kind of contradicting myself because of what I just wrote. I'll allow that many people, past and present, think they are extremely valuable.) Nowadays, people seem to have decided who is going to win even before the thing begins. Have you ever seen a debate where someone says, "Your position is the best one, and I'm going to change my views"? In addition, modern atheists frequently show not only a lack of character, but disdain for honesty, and that puts me off from wanting to have a prolonged engagement. When they use logical fallacies, blasphemy, and lack of respect for God, other Christians, and me, I stop dealing with them.
But enough of the history and culture stuff.
Reasons for Having DebatesHere are some things that I've learned from Dr. White and other sources.
- Have a purpose in mind for doing the debate.
Ask yourself some questions: Is it just so you can have a platform to put forward your own views? Are you willing to learn something from the other side? Is it just an opportunity to indulge in personal attacks against the person or whatever they stand for? Do you just want to fight and "win" for the sake of your own ego? Are you prepared?
Sometimes, a debate is requested in order to publicly set the record straight about false or inaccurate claims that have been made. Christians should be looking to glorify God. Anyone should be seeking to communicate their views efficiently and give rational refutations to what the opponent is offering. We all know that there is often a disconnect between what should be and what is.
- Familiarity with the other side's material.
In the Ham-Nye debate, Nye presented several straw man arguments (misrepresentations of creationists' views) and personal attacks (such as specifying "Ken Ham's creation model", as if he was not one of thousands with those same views). Dr. White reads or listens to many books, and can give intelligent responses to his opponents. Someone like Bill Nye who has only a passing familiarity of a subject (or worse, prejudicial conjectures) is going to embarrass himself and waste everyone's time.
- Have respect for the other person and their viewpoint. Modern atheists often seek to ridicule Christians and creationists, and show little or no respect for the people they encounter or their beliefs. I'm thinking of a scenario, the Ero tribe on a remote South Pacific island worship the Yahawuahaha tree — don't pluck the leaves. People will show respect for them and their beliefs by leaving the leaves alone, even though they will have a good laugh about it when they get home. In a debate situation, people are going to deal with others who have firm beliefs and what they consider good reasons to hold to those beliefs. Show respect because they, too, are made in the image of God.
In the 2012 Vice Presidential debate, Joe Biden was downright obstreperous (reminding me of Proverbs 29:9). People who know nothing of how debates work said that he "hammered" Paul Ryan, but he "won" because of obnoxious sneering that pandered to the audience, not on substance. You don't have to approve of, agree with, or even like their beliefs, but don't express blatant mockery in a debate setting.
Something I've noticed is that some sneering debaters will let loose with a zinger to insult their opponent or viewpoint, and supporters in the audience will clap and cheer like entertained chimpanzees. Zingers are not productive, and also waste time from more constructive discussions.
- Know your own material.
I'm not saying that you have to be an expert on everything, and if someone asks a question you can't answer, you automatically lose. (It's best to admit you don't know instead of just throwing words out and trying to bluster through.) Nye was unskilled in the "science" he presented by using material that had been thoroughly addressed by creationists, sometimes years earlier. James White, Greg Bahnsen, and others show that they are familiar with the material from their opponents.
- Stay on topic.
So many times, whether in a discussion on a specific topic or a formal debate, people will present an irrelevant thesis, such as the falsehood that "the Big Bang has nothing to do with evolution". (It's not the subject at hand.) Dr. Greg Bahnsen would have none of that from Dr. Gordon Stein in their formal debate, and called Stein on it several times. Don't let them distract you, and stay on topic yourself.And don't let them try to rewrite history, such as using the "Christians persecuted Galileo" or the "Bible teaches a flat Earth" falsehoods. Things like that are usually brought into discussions as side issues by people who have not done their homework.
- Be logical.Christians need to present our positions in a Christ-honoring manner. That includes being aware of common logical fallacies so we can avoid them in our own presentations as well as spotting them when others use them. Watch for loaded terminology (such as in the graphic I used), side topics (such as the topic being the inadequacy of DNA in medical research and the evolutionists says there is no way Noah could have had all those animals on the Ark), personal attacks, straw man arguments (you do not have to defend a position that you do not hold!), poisoning the well, arbitrary assertions, and more. (More about these on my "Logic Lessons" page.)
One audience member asked Eric Hovind if he could support his view without using numerous logical fallacies. I would have halted it right there, since it was a question-begging epithet as well as loaded terminology. Atheopaths get sneaky like that, and exhibit not only lack of civility, but poor reasoning skills.
Personal ChallengesWhen in the course of having an online biblical creation science ministry (and even before), I've had the occasional wandering village atheist or evolutionist want to slap leather with me in a debate. There have been a few notable characters:
- One of my earliest stalkers demanded that I call his (now defunct) Internet show. Several people advised me not to do it, it's just a way for several angry atheists to gang up on a Christian for the purposes of ridicule. I had no intention of going through with it, but was glad to receive reinforcement. After all, I'd had my fill of online abuse and attempts at manipulation from him, and had shown his bad reasoning. He has since hidden many of his Weblog posts, and even deleted many of his comments on one of my other Weblogs.
What really takes the rag off the bush is that he would accuse me of making up people: someone argues with me, I made him up; someone agrees with me, I made him up. (He even became friends with some of my "fictitious" opponents. Did I get a reply? Don't be silly.) At one point, he even accused me of making up a female persona, complete with long-running Weblog. Then he admitted we were separate people after all, after which he reversed his reversal. I'm not sure which was when.
- Another stalker is famous for vituperative attacks on biblical creationists, and his "reasoning" is easily dismantled. He has stated plainly that he hates me, and yet has wanted debates on his turf, an anti-creationist forum where other owlhoots circle the wagons against creationists. He misuses science, and even denies the findings of secular scientists when they conflict with his worldview. In addition, he occasionally presents himself as an authority on Scripture (bringing to mind Proverbs 26:9).
This owlhoot has been banned and blocked from many creationist sites and Pages. His excuse is that people cannot stand the truth. Watch out, he'll tell on you! He sends out group e-mailings to people who did not ask for them, and has lied about being willing to remove people from the mailings who no longer wish to receive them — unwilling recipients have had to block him. It might help if he didn't call darn near everyone who disagrees with his religion of evolutionism a "liar".
- One tinhorn was exceptionally nasty. He kept demanding a debate after using multiple obscenities, making fake Facebook Pages (imitating creationists, other Christians, and Intelligent Design proponents), forming groups for the purpose of personal attacks (such as this one), and some of his activity is criminal. He even used his fake name to deceive other atheists. Whether Facebook caught up with him and deleted his multiple accounts or he lit a shuck out of Dodge because he got wind of legal proceedings, I don't know.
More recently, I was challenged to a debate by someone visiting the Google Plus version of The Question Evolution Project. He put me off right out of the gate. I had posted Ian Juby's video on gravity waves, and instead of dealing with the subject matter, he began ridiculing Ian:
Personal attacks, arbitrary assertions, and misrepresenting what Mr. Juby actually said. I replied,IAN! The moron who thinks dinosaurs laid eggs in parallel rows while
running from a great cataclysmic event! ROFLMAO!
You two are beyond scientifically illiterate... Facepalm
Naturally, an atheopath is only capable of childish reasoning from naturalistic presuppositions, then resorting to ridiculing those who disagree with said presuppositions. Not to mention question-begging epithets and straw man misrepresentations. Village evolutionists are unable to think properly.He came back with,
Is that a challenge? Would you like to engage with us on air if you feel you have a valid case against evolutionary biology? I accept if it is.... When would you be available to make this happen?So, where did I offer to "engage"? What is "on the air", since I had never heard of Steve McRae? How did the topic suddenly change to evolutionary biology? (These people are recalcitrant and unwilling to deal with the subject at hand.) Kind of sounds like he has a television or radio show, but I suspicion that he's doing the Google Hangouts thing. After that, I said,
As you can see, I don't cotton to people trying to manipulate me. He replied,considering that you have yet to address the subject or to use actual logic, it would be a complete waste of my time.
I have engaged Kent Hovind and Dr. Sarfati... I have a number of videos on the topic. I can more than address the subject of evolutionary biology.I'm waiting to see if he gives another reply where he uses the argument from silence, saying, "Since you decline, you must be unable to defend your position because you know evolution is true". Others have done this many times. EDIT: He did as I predicted, but denies issuing a debate challenge!
Are you declining then to go on air live to discuss the topic?
Let's see...I don't care if he has a number of videos on evolution, since I get to see evolutionary propaganda and science twisting all the time. (One reason this site and many others exist is to give our side of the story, information that is unlikely to appear in the secular science press.) Notice how he interchanged "engage" and "debate"? Looks like he's trying to manipulate me into thinking, "Oh, if he debated Kent Hovind and Dr. Sarfati, he must be a worthy adversary. I'm in!" Not hardly. I saw his YouTube channel where he had something posted with Kent Hovind. I didn't find anything where he "engaged" or "debated" him, so I asked him. Dr. Sarfati remembered exchanging some comments with him on YouTube, but I hardly think that counts, either. He resorted to numerous logical fallacies and got downright sneaky, so it was easy to ignore his disingenuous challenge.