How not to stage an atheist debate, part 3 »« How not to stage an atheist debate, part 1

How not to stage an atheist debate, part 2

To set the scene: I showed up with Ben at around 6:30 to pick up my tickets from Matt, and ran into Annie. She was already engaged in conversation with a guy in some kind of usher capacity, where he was saying “All I’m saying is, we both see things like the complexity of the cell, we both have the same evidence, but we just arrive at different conclusions.” Never one to waste time on the subtle approach, I jumped into the conversation: “That’s right. One of those conclusions is based on actual scientific analysis of the evidence, and one is not.”

We bantered like that for a bit longer before going in. As I said, the entrance was absolutely jam packed with tables selling, or perhaps giving away, copies of books by Hugh Ross, Lee Strobel, and that crowd. Ben (age 6) got a little green pocket edition of New Testament Psalms and Proverbs shoved into his hand by a guy lurking by the entrance. I told him a lot of people in the room were hoping that they could make him a Christian, and I said we could read the book later if he was interested.

The inside was similar… I found Don Rhoades to sit with, and he introduced us to the very Christian old couple on his other side that he got acquainted with. From behind me I caught a snatch of discussion: “Well I believe in the big bang… God said it and BANG, it happened.” No, seriously. Somebody thought that joke was clever enough to say out loud.

After the lights dimmed and introductions were made, Ross launched into his presentation. Hugh first made the very lofty claim that he had come up with a scientific, testable, and falsifiable model of creation. Hugh Ross first announced that he was not a young earth creationist, as the evidence points to a billions of years old universe just as science said. He also specified that he would not be defending Intelligent Design that evening… as we all know, ID scrupulously tries to avoid the mention of a God, and Ross wants his Christian deity front and center at all times.

Here’s a summary of Ross’s debating techniques:

  • Extremely cutesy PowerPoint transitions. I swear, every single page of his presentation involved a different wipe, fade, cut, 3d foldout, etc. I found it annoying, but an excellent foreshadowing of the total emphasis of style over substance.
  • Lots and lots and lots of quote mining. At every possible opportunity, Ross loves to quote an atheistic scientist who has said one or two lines that says something about the appearance of design. It happens all the time. Dawkins put it on the first page of Blind Watchmaker. He said biology is the study of things that appear to be design but aren’t, but then spent an entire book responding to how nature produced this apparent “design.” Ross, of course leaves out the book and uses the quote to make it sound like Dawkins is a design advocate. Similar atrocity committed against Lawrence Krauss. You have to wonder, if his case is so scientific, why can’t he quote some real, published scientists who actually believes in design, rather than faking it?
  • Steal credit from real science. As far as I can tell, Ross has never done any original scientific research. Here’s what he does instead: Cite a particular scientific discovery that has already been made, and then declare that this is a test of your creation model, which predicts it. Never mind that the people making the discover completely fail in every single instance to recognize the ramifications of their own theory as a point for design. Sure, they’re smart enough to actually do the science, but after that they’re too blinded by ideology to understand their own research.
  • Make one kind of prediction over and over again, which largely takes this form: “I predict that more evidence will be found to support my theory.” Wow, how specific!
  • That old Muslim apologist trick of claiming that your holy book anticipated the discoveries of science. Lots of Bible quotes. In most places he doesn’t put the actual verses on the slides, because then he might have to actually defend some extremely nonspecific language. Instead, he just throws up a page with 10-12 chapter and verse citations, and asserts that those verses were uncannily accurate. Don’t worry, who’s gonna cross-check in the middle of a debate anyway?
  • Tons of big numbers, very little justification. Ross says that there are a large number (let’s say it’s 547, because it doesn’t matter) of features of the universe that require a designer to account for. Like the Bible verses, certainly no one is going to look them up during the debate. In many cases, he uses the “creationist stand-up comedy” technique that I so love, of explaining how big a number is. “Boy I tell ya, that number was big!” “HOW BIG was it?” “Oh, it was SO BIG that…” In one place he announced a number in scientific notation and then said that it was more than a trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion. Confirming my suspicion that Ross relies on his ability to play to a largely innumerate audience, who don’t understand big numbers otherwise.

Anyway, in the end Ross’s “testable predictive model” boiled down to the fine tuning argument. That’s it. Take away the power point transitions, the big numbers, the Bible verses, the phony quotes, and you’re left with a series of claims that there is no explanation for feature X of the universe, therefore Magic Man Done It. As you would expect, he didn’t ever attempt to justify how Magic Man came to be, just asserted that it was the only alternative.

We know this as “God of the gaps” of course, but Ross was ready for that too: he said that BOTH sides have gaps, therefore it’s acceptable. Oh sure, nobody has complete knowledge; it’s just that Ross argues in a total knowledge vacuum, and then wants to say that this is equivalent to proving something with evidence.

I was already thoroughly irritated, and there was still another full creationist presentation to go. Why, Michael? Why did you agree to this format? First of all, I don’t see all that many other live debates where ANY participants is allowed to speak uninterrupted for thirty minutes to an hour. Usually there’s a back and forth exchange every ten minutes or so.

Second, if your opponent controls the format, and he tells you “Okay, MY side gets more than an hour, you get half an hour” you have an alternative. You threaten to walk. Will your opponent taunt and mock you, call you chicken? Yeah, but he’s going to taunt and mock and declare victory anyway, and he’s going to come off looking like he won even with the bullshit set of rules. If you owned a professional football team, would you sign a contract agreeing to a game where you only get the ball on 1/3 of the plays? No. That’s not brave, it’s gullible.

Let Ross preach to a room full of choir. He practically did that anyway… on the whole I think the debate gave him free publicity with not much down side for him.

To be continued.

Comments

  1. says

    Good post, Kazim. It sounds like this was basically just an apologetics speech disguised as a “debate” so that later on they can claim they “engaged” atheists or something. It reminds me of these two posts I did about a Frank Turek appearance I attended nearby. I went in with the intention of maybe being able to hit him with some questions at the end, just to keep it from being a total cakewalk for him. Unfortunately, his tactics were a lot like Ross’ and by the end I was so bored out of my mind and just generally lost by all the meaningless numbers and “science-y” language I didn’t even want to bother.I think it’s always a good idea to try to find out who’s putting on an event like this, so you’ll know what’s in store.

  2. says

    Honestly I’m not nearly so pessimistic about the debate as you seem to be. Of course, I don’t think it changed anyone’s mind, and there weren’t any “slam dunks” on our side, but it was somewhat entertaining. Also, it’s always good to hear the creationist arguments straight from the source. People generally tend to oversimplify their opponent’s arguments whenever they talk about them, and fail to address some of the more subtle issues. While I basically agree with your assessment that everything boils down to fine tuning + god of the gaps, they weren’t (complete) idiots, and knew how to package what they were saying in such a way as to make it nearly impossible to challenge them on specific points.One of the main reasons I keep exposing myself to more creationist arguments and debates as well as things like the Non-Prophets is that there are always refinements to be made and new approaches to take in our arguments. Debates like these, while they may not have an immediate practical benefit, at least force people to think about the issues, if only just a little.Plus I’m a bit of a masochist when it comes to listening to inane arguments.

  3. says

    @dhawkI used to feel that way. I’ve been really immersing myself in all of this the past two years. Watching videos, reading books, listening to podcasts, etc. and you know what, when our side says they never say anything new, we’re exactly right. I’ve acquired fool fatigue. As a consequence I can’t stomach watching debates very often anymore. I mean, even on the rare occasion where our side “loses” a debate it’s not because the theists pull out some great points and really demonstrate their case, it’s simply because the atheist might just not be the best at rhetoric. Their arguments really are just the same endless stream of drivel with no substance and I don’t think I can do it anymore. I think I’m just going to have to take a vacation from the nuts.

  4. says

    @ArchaneusI know exactly what you’re talking about. I first discovered skeptical media 3 years ago, and quickly plunged in, listening to all the back episodes of the Non-Prophets, the Atheist Experience, the SGU, etc. About 5 or 6 months ago, my interest slagged off quite a bit, and I stopped listening, and stopped reading blogs. But recently my interest has renewed, although not nearly as intensely as before.Anyway, it’s always good to take break from it all now and then.

  5. says

    People generally tend to oversimplify their opponent’s arguments whenever they talk about them, and fail to address some of the more subtle issues.”Having listened to creationists all the time I don’t think there is any way to further simplify a argument that can only exist within simple minds.”it’s simply because the atheist might just not be the best at rhetoric. “SEE THIS IS WHY I can’t stand debates! It’s like a race where the fastest person doesn’t win…the medal goes to whoever tied their shoes the best.

  6. says

    “Lots and lots and lots of quote mining. At every possible opportunity, Ross loves to quote an atheistic scientist who has said one or two lines that says something about the appearance of design. It happens all the time. Dawkins put it on the first page of Blind Watchmaker. He said biology is the study of things that appear to be design but aren’t, but then spent an entire book responding to how nature produced this apparent “design.” “I understand how it goes now. If they quoted a scientist who believed in ID or creation , you would say they are just quoting biased sources or fringe scientists. When they do quote scientists who are opposed to their view, but do agree with them on minor facts, you call it quote-mining….excellentRoss, of course leaves out the book and uses the quote to make it sound like Dawkins is a design advocate. No the point was not to make Dawkins sound like a creationist. I am sure everyone in the English speaking world knows that Dawkins hates creationism. The point was even someone that staunchly disagrees with them acknowledged that things appear to be designed.”Similar atrocity committed against Lawrence Krauss. You have to wonder, if his case is so scientific, why can’t he quote some real, published scientists who actually believes in design, rather than faking it?”Of course if he had quoted one of those scientists you would just say he was quoting other biased fundamentalists.“Steal credit from real science. As far as I can tell, Ross has never done any original scientific research. Here’s what he does instead: Cite a particular scientific discovery that has already been made, and then declare that this is a test of your creation model, which predicts it. Never mind that the people making the discover completely fail in every single instance to recognize the ramifications of their own theory as a point for design.”I remember reading this book called “The Origin of Species”. the author apparently did some original research involving finches.However he cited evidence from anatomy and embryology and paleontology to support his theory and model of evolution. I’m sure many of the people who came up with these discoverie did not recognise their implications for the theory presented in “The origin of species”.Can a scientist not cite evidence from other scientists? “Sure, they’re smart enough to actually do the science, but after that they’re too blinded by ideology to understand their own research.”I suppose so.

  7. says

    <<I understand how it goes now. If they quoted a scientist who believed in ID or creation , you would say they are just quoting biased sources or fringe scientists. When they do quote scientists who are opposed to their view, but do agree with them on minor facts, you call it quote-mining….excellent>>Taking a sentence out of context in order to deliberately convey the impression that they are saying the opposite of what they meant is quote mining. It is lying. I'm sorry I have to explain basic concepts of integrity and ethics to you, but I have come to expect this.<<Of course if he had quoted one of those scientists you would just say he was quoting other biased fundamentalists.>>If creationists could actually do some science, rather than handwaving like Ross does here and saying "I predict that future evidence will support my theory" then they wouldn't BE considered biased or fringe. I'm sorry it bothers you so much that science actually involves standards.

  8. says

    “SEE THIS IS WHY I can’t stand debates! It’s like a race where the fastest person doesn’t win…the medal goes to whoever tied their shoes the best.”Hah, great simile, I’m going to use that one in the future, if you don’t mind.As an aside, is it just me, or is MrFreeThinker’s name shockingly ironic? It’s like Christians legislating against gays and calling it love.

  9. says

    Aaaaaand now that Mr. Freethinker has arrived I am going to unsubscribe as I can only imagine that the discussion will descend into pedantic, apologistic “gotcha” arguments from Mr. Freethinker.

  10. says

    As an aside, is it just me, or is MrFreeThinker’s name shockingly ironic? It’s like Christians legislating against gays and calling it love.”FreeThinker’s name is like that because he started out trying the “now I’m an atheist to…just like you…really….but I think intelligent design is valid”Because he’s a ballless little newt who was too spineless to represent his real stance at first and was under the misconception that we’d be more likely to agree with him if he was part of our “religion”.”Aaaaaand now that Mr. Freethinker has arrived I am going to unsubscribe as I can only imagine that the discussion will descend into pedantic, apologistic “gotcha” arguments from Mr. Freethinker.”Awwww don’t leave the blog I enjoy your comments…. also it is insanely EASY to ignore Mr. Freethumper. He never brings up any valid points or any original points. He’s like a fruit fly buzzing around…annoying but circumstantial.

  11. says

    First of all I’m not an atheist and never claimed to be.\I think the jury is still out as to whether ID is true but I think it is a valid scientific theory.(Many other atheists think ID is valid .Off the top of my head I can think of Victor Stenger who thinks ID is science, but bad science. Similarly in the God Delusion Dawkins said it was undoubted a scientific question as to whether we were created by an intelligent being. Dr. Mortron , a philosopher of science also agrees)

  12. says

    Many other atheists think ID is validNice bait-and-switch, cockcheese. Saying that ID asks a scientific question is not the same as saying it is valid. The question “Is there a unicorn in my underpants?” poses a scientifically testable query; that does not mean that I should go tell people about my “valid” theory of the Jockey Shorts Unicorn.Again, a swing and a miss from a grade-A dipshit.

  13. says

    @AkusaiI was not talking about whether ID is true but whether ID is science.Some people in other threads were claiming ID is not scientific.For example the aether theory is science. However this theory has been disproven. It is still scientific, just false. The Bohmian theory of quantum mechanics has not been proven. However it is still a scientific theory. We just do not know if it is true yet.

  14. says

    For example the aether theory is science. However this theory has been disproven. It is still scientific, just false. The Bohmian theory of quantum mechanics has not been proven. However it is still a scientific theory. We just do not know if it is true yet.”And Creationism is neither science AND its been disproven. ID is creationism…we have the evidence we have the internal memos. It’s fruit from the poisoned tree.

  15. says

    MrFreeThinker wrote:Of course if he had quoted one of those scientists you would just say he was quoting other biased fundamentalists.Glad to see you acknowledge that the creationist is really limited to only two tactics: a) to lie with quotes taken out of context, implying that they say the opposite of what the quotee was actually saying, or b) to cite dubious sources who really do support your side.Yes, we’ll complain about either.

  16. says

    Can a scientist not cite evidence from other scientists? Sure, a scientist can – but Ross isn’t a scientist. He’s a Christian apologist who fooled a secular university into giving him a science degree.I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – secular universities have absolutely no business handing out PhD’s in science to Christian fundamentalists. And if they earn the degrees legitimately, and lose their minds afterward – the degrees should be rescinded.

  17. says

    “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – secular universities have absolutely no business handing out PhD’s in science to Christian fundamentalists. And if they earn the degrees legitimately, and lose their minds afterward – the degrees should be rescinded.”So you would have someone take away someone’s degree based on their religion?

  18. says

    Oh I found a video of Ross’ opening on youtube. Apparently it was not supposed to be a debate. Ross was supposed to present the evidence for his creation model and his predictions and the skeptic on the panel would present a critical analysis of he model he presented.And he quoted Dawkins as saying that there was a strong appearance of design. How that can be miscontrued as quotemining is beond me. Everyone knows Dawkins is a strong Darwinist and naturalist.The point was that even he admits that things “look designed”.That was not quote-mining.And I’m sure if he had quoted someone like Behe who does believe in design ,you would poison the well and say Behe is not credible.

  19. says

    these posts about the debate are awesome. it really just confirms for me that believers are unable (and unwilling) to accept the possibility of anything else. i mean, why else would they bring science into their argument? since the bible didn't provide anything else but a bunch of stories they had to go to something else to explain the phenomenon. which i find quite ironic, considering they need only faith to believe in god and nothing else. why would they need science anyway if they're 100% convinced some dude clapped his hands and >POOF< the universe? i guess we have made SOME progress in the minds of believers, because their "good book" isn't good enough to explain their own faith, leading them to seek answers from other sources: science. we have them shaking in their boots!even if the christian side was dominant in the debate, it just shows they have more to prove.i stop by the blog once in a while and am always pleased with the content. keep up the good work, everyone.

  20. says

    So you would have someone take away someone’s degree based on their religion?No, based upon their unwillingness or inability to accept the basic principles of science.You want to subordinate evidence to faith? Fine – become a theologian, not a scientist.

  21. says

    Oh I found a video of Ross’ opening on youtube. Apparently it was not supposed to be a debate.If that’s the case, then they apparently lied to CFI who cosponsored the event. CFI billed it as a debate.And he quoted Dawkins as saying that there was a strong appearance of design. How that can be miscontrued as quotemining is beond me. Everyone knows Dawkins is a strong Darwinist and naturalist.Quote mining is quote mining. It doesn’t matter if you think your audience has a reasonable expectation of being familiar with the subject’s actual views. An honest researcher does not quote a passage by someone as if it were agreement or concession without explicitly noting that the subject goes on to make the opposite conclusion.There is a common writing form in academic papers, of which I have written quite a few (computer science related). You attempt to anticipate objections to your work, and then you respond to those objections in advance. So typically you’ll see the final sections of papers filled with paragraphs that say things like “It could certainly be said that X. However, due to the following reasons, it appears that ‘not X’ is the case.” Any person who tries to bolster his argument by quoting the first sentence and omitting the second is conning the audience on purpose.This is exactly the kind of thing that would be shredded in the ordinary peer review process. And yet creationists still think they have so few published papers because there’s a conspiracy to get them, even though they do that sort of thing constantly.

  22. says

    “No, based upon their unwillingness or inability to accept the basic principles of science.”What principle of science does Ross not accept?

  23. says

    @KazimDo you at least agree that Dawkins’ concession to the creationists is true ie that things really do “look designed”AGAIN this is my evidence that you do NOT have a grasp of evolution. Things do NOT look designed. We have not found a turtle with a CD player for a shell. Natural things LOOK like natural things, designed things look like designed things. Despite their homologous functions and forms a Camera is significantly DIFFERENT from an eye. An eye is made of proteins, adipose, and formed in matrices of tissues, films and fluid filled chemicals. A camera is inorganic instead of microbial mechanisms uses simple mechanical tools, switches, levers, pulleys etc. The function is similar but the innate design is VERY VERY different. The fact that natural things are definitively different from designed objects are why computer animation and robotics runs into the phenomena known as the “uncanny valley” It is HARD for designed things to imitate natural things. Again if everything natural LOOKS designed…how DO you know that watches do not occur in nature? It is exactly the same as a squirrel? If both are designed, PROVE that watches do not occur naturally. “What principle of science does Ross not accept?”a) burden of proofb) deductive reasoningc) falsifiabilityd) the difference between causality and corillation. e) Conservation of energy and massf) naturalistic evidence g) the process of the 3 experimental steps

  24. says

    Do you at least agree that Dawkins’ concession to the creationists is true ie that things really do “look designed”Again you miss the point on what quote mining is because his whole point is to show WHY IT DOESN’T FUCKING WORK THAT WAY. Seriously, Kassim replied, explained WHY it was quote mining and said that, you heard only what you wanted to and let everything else go bu-bye.I don’t know how anyone can fail harder save for punching themselves in the face and castrating themselves in a freak pogostick accident.

  25. says

    “What principle of science does Ross not accept?”a) burden of proofb) deductive reasoningc) falsifiabilityd) the difference between causality and corillation.e) Conservation of energy and massf) naturalistic evidenceg) the process of the 3 experimental steps To which I would add that Hugh Ross, like Kurt Wise, Marcus Ross and others of their kind, begin from the position that the Bible is inerrant, is to be understood literally and is a reliable guide to history and cosmology. They refuse to go where the evidence takes them; they look at only that “evidence” that supports their a priori conclusions. It’s really a fundamentally dishonest approach. If you truly believe the Bible to be a reliable guide to the natural world, there’s no need to seek out “evidence” to support it.And, of course, everyone who disagrees burns for all of eternity. Utterly despicable.

  26. says

    @ CipherMr. Freetinkler’s inability to grasp basic science like that is why I laugh when he claims to have read science books.

  27. says

    Ing, the tragedy is that he might actually have read a few – but the wall of denial is so thick and is being so consistently reinforced that little if anything penetrates.

  28. says

    “Things do NOT look designed.”Dawkins would disagree (Regrettably I have not read the bilind watchmaker but this is from the God delusion.p157″1 One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect, over thecenturies, has been to explain how the complex, improbableappearance of design in the universe arises….4 The most ingenious and powerful crane so far discovered isDarwinian evolution by natural selection. Darwin and hissuccessors have shown how living creatures, with theirspectacular statistical improbability and appearance of design,have evolved by slow, gradual degrees”It is clear tat he conceded to creationists that things looks designed even though Darwin shows they evolved.”a) burden of proofb) deductive reasoningc) falsifiabilityd) the difference between causality and corillation.e) Conservation of energy and massf) naturalistic evidenceg) the process of the 3 experimental steps”It is not clear how Ross iolates a,b,d,g.And I pointed out before that philosophers of science have no consensus about c and f.e is ridiculous. Are you saying that a scientist can’t make any changes to conservation of energy is we observe energy not being conserved? It is a law that is up to proof or disproof.Besisdes it is not clear how Ross violates it either.

  29. says

    “It is not clear how Ross iolates a,b,d,g.And I pointed out before that philosophers of science have no consensus about c and f.e is ridiculous.”For those playing at home F is naturalistic evidenceyes…Mr. Freetinkler is asserting that scientists are honestly arguing whether you need real evidence or supernatural evidence is valid.fail. Really there’s no point in arugeing any of your other points. Like I said. you don’t get science. In fact, really you don’t seem to like it at all. You’re upset that we have a system for determing reality based on reality and it doesn’t mesh with your world view. Since you lack the mental balls to either a) scientifically argue your point b) concede you were wrong, you just want to invalidate the process.Now that you have been addressed I will no longer respond to your posts. This is different than you, who when posed with a querry they can’r respond such as my response to your claim of TAG supremeness, just ignores it and instead tries to take quote mining pot shots. Therefore, I’m declaring you a moron now that this line of conversation is at an end, (i like to see things through) and won’t start another. You can say that I’m doing the “declare yourself the winner” tactic creationists use in debates when they wear down people with nonsense (in fact I’m fairly sure you will) and fine, believe that. You clearly will just believe whatever you want. I’ll leave it to everyone else to judge. If someone else says I did that I’ll apologize. Till then I shun you to outer darkness.

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