Initial Skeptical Reviews of My Debate with Dinesh Don't Look Too Good to Say the Least

Skeptics who were in the audience for the debate are weighing in and they're all saying I lost miserably. This troubles and disheartens me since I thought I did well. I couldn't sleep and was even thinking of calling it quits. But then, what did they expect? Did they expect too much out of a debate? Why? I said the real debate takes place in our books. I even wondered if skeptics bought into the rhetoric of Dinesh. If rhetoric without substance is all it takes to win debates then Dinesh will win most of the time. Some of Dinesh's comments seemed to be too ridiculous to bother answering, and maybe that's part of my problem that night. One other problem was that I had to choose between being rude or not responding at all, since the moderator was not giving me a chance to respond to questions asked of Dinesh, who was asked more questions in the Q & A from the audience. And since I do not think Christians take science seriously I responded with philosophical arguments to questions about the existence of God and Intelligent Design. In any case, it'll be interesting to watch the debate in a few days online to see the reactions from others. And it will equally be interesting to see the results of the comment cards.

27 comments:

Ryan M said...

I can understand the frustration one might have after hearing certain things said by D'Souza.
When Dinesh says things like 'Stenger says X, Hawkins says Y. Y must be the case because Stenger has not advanced our knowledge of cosmogony like Hawkings has. Therefore Loftus is wrong to say X', I would be staring blankly wondering where the real arguments are. I cannot actually fully recall what Dinesh said regarding Stenger, but the poor audio led me to thinking the above is similar to what he said.

I think its the case that you wanted an honest academic conversation while Dinesh wanted to appeal to the audience, make jokes, sound good.

Clare said...

John, please don't feel too bad. You did a pretty good job, and D'Souza, as someone else pointed out, has years of practice debating,let alone other types of public speaking.
You write beautifully, and that is part of the problem. You tried to speak the same way you write and that makes the sentences too long. You have to assume an average IQ level in the audience of about Grade 8 and make things very clear and simple. Basic science is good. Christians need to learn some of the basic scientific facts.
Don't believe all that D'Souza says. It would have been OK to call him out on his lies and misquotes. After all, he wasn't very polite to you!

Prometheus said...

I would like to respond to the comment that Dinesh said "all atheists are whiners". I think you have every right to respond in kind with "all christians are stupid and illiterate".
I look forward to viewing a video or even an mp3 of the debate.
Don't be discouraged and keep up the good work you have been doing.

David McBride

Former Believer said...

Rhetoric sells. Look at politics. Hopefully, some of the nuggets of wisdom that you offered were recognized by the thoughtful Christians whose minds were at least a little open and who could see past what sounds like at least a better stage performance by D'Souza.

I'm hoping that you had the opportunity to talk about the CHRISTIAN GOD and not just the concept of the existence of God and concepts like ID during the debate. In the debates I've seen between Christians and atheists, the theists focus on the possibility of God rather than the possibility of THEIR God. That way, they have far less absurdities to defend and I think its easier to sell their message. That's why I thought this debate would be more problematic for D'Souza. For example, you could have asked D'Souza about shaving one's eyebrows off as part of cleansing from leprosy. How about God purposely and repeatedly hardening Pharoah's heart so that God could slaughter a bunch of children (after which God didn't harden Pharoah's heart. Talking donkeys. Etc, etc, etc. Hopefully, you did get to get him to offer some awkward responses to issues like these.

At any rate, I believe the truth is on your side and I'm sure you were able to offer ideas that will resonate with those who weren't simply looking for something which confirmed their beliefs.

Rob R said...

I don't think much of when people here say I don't do a good job either.

While I have no regret that an atheist didn't look so good to the audience, I really think people ought not emphasize the importance of these live debates too much given their limits of time, limits of the understanding of the audience to whom your trying to win when they really are poorly qualified to judge everything that is said, and so on. And yet with that, if the audience didn't have their limits, if they had perfect understanding there'd be no point in trying to win them. Of course, even if these issues weren't important, judging who authentically displayed a better case will often entail subjectivity no matter what. Of course, an example of this is what John considers riciculous. Obviously D'souza wouldn't agree and many in the audience wouldn't either.

It's hard for me to gauge how important live debates are. But I think people ought to be cautious about making decisions on the basis of what they've heard in a live debate and should instead put more stock in personal study and more importantly, how what they believe works in their lives.

That said, I haven't seen the debate yet and I am interested when it goes on line.

Ken Pulliam, Ph.D. said...

John,

I haven't heard the debate yet but I know that Dinesh is a polished speaker and an experienced debater.

The technicalities of scoring the debate are somewhat immaterial as far as I am concerned.

I actually prefer what they are doing at New Orleans Seminary in the Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forums. Its more of a dialogue where two individuals sit down and dialogue back and forth. Of course, this requires that both sides have some respect for the other side and the willingness to see where they agree and where they disagree. When folks have some humility (which I haven't seen in Dinesh), and realize that they don't have all the answers--that kind of format can work.

Don't be discouraged brother, keep up your good work.

Amy B said...

I watched the debate online and enjoyed it. I am a Christian who is searching for some answers. I thought you had some good points and I noticed that D'Souza and even audience members in the Q&A kept going back to your "brainwashing" comments. I think it's important that there are a few key concepts that get highlighted and that seemed to be one. I, too, would have liked you to address even D'Souza's comments that you found ridiculous. I was waiting for a science based rebuttal to the near death experiences. And I wondered who was telling the truth about the consensus of the scientific community regarding the origins of the universe (singularity vs. quantum tunneling). I would also echo all of Clare's comments. Don't be disheartened.

ZDENNY said...

John,

After the debate, I would recommend becoming a Christian. Christianity has the strongest most reasonable arguments. When put to the test, the audience always seems to go with Christianity.

I don't think you can win a debate since the Holy Spirit is involved when a person is speaking in the name of Jesus.

You were not just arguing a Theist; rather, you were trying to also beat God Himself who works in the hearts and the minds of the people listening.

I don't think anyone is a match for God. You thought you did well; however, everyone thought you lost. That should tell you something...

You might want to throw in the towel and consider rejoining the Christian faith. It is silly to fight the hand of God.

God Bless...

magnumdb said...

ZDENNY,

What a thoughtless argument you have! So if ONE example shows that the atheist lost, the atheist should convert?

Your a master at cherry picking, which I'm sure is a skill obtained when being a Christian, seeing as though you have to cherry pick the bible.

Bottom line, you're ignoring all the debates where atheists won. I don't see you concluding that the Christians who lost those debates should de-convert.

I can only assume you reason Christians have the "best" arguments because you were brought up one, so their arguments just make the most "sense" to you. Even though their arguments pander to our natural naivety about the universe, and pander to our fear of the unknown, and thus sell us comfort.

You also sound like DSouza with your empty rhetoric. Sentences that while are written as proper English, don't actually mean anything.

Retired At 40 said...

I always think the atheist had the better argument, but I always see that atheists always score the atheist debater low whether its Dan Barker, Christopher Hitchens or anyone that takes on Craig. So I wouldn't expect you to be any different.

smalltalk said...

John, regardless of the results you can use this as a learning tool to refine your debate points. Which is a long term win.

Chuck O'Connor said...

I agree with Rob on this one.

I work in marketing as a communications strategist. In terms of perception, rhetoric always trumps reason. Or as an old boss would often say, "You change people's minds with sizzle, rather than steak."

Additionally, having analyzed numerous audience response tests for various communications efforts, it is not surprising that your less familiar and more intellectually challenging arguments lost to D'souza's "Headlines". People want a bumper sticker to parrot, they don't want to think too much.

Ultimately it seems these types of communication efforts mean little in terms of substanitive change. I would wager that the majority of the audience perceived the debate as a break from their reality TV schedule and have stopped thinking about the importance of the issues therein.

I know I've benefitted from the work you do here and have come to a better understanding of philosophy, religion, and reason. You've also inspired me to start thinking for myself and I appreciate that.

Great ideas often start with minority acceptance. Remember, it was the popular masses that crucified Christ : )

bob said...

ZDENNY left out some punctuation: "I don't think you can win a debate since the Holy Spirit is involved when a person is speaking in the name of Jesus."

It should read - "I don't think. You can win a debate since the Holy Spirit is involved when a person is speaking in the name of Jesus."

Chuck O'Connor said...

Z,

I have to absolutely agree with you. The Holy Spirit is hard to argue with.

He just phoned me and asked me out to lunch so we could discuss what an "assbag" (his word) you are.

We will pray for you to learn to think for yourself.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Amy,

You said, "And I wondered who was telling the truth about the consensus of the scientific community regarding the origins of the universe (singularity vs. quantum tunneling)."

Consensus means little in the area of science. Both hypothesis are accepted and further investigation is being conducted. You need to change your paradigm if you want to assess arguments around origins. Too much is not known to be definitive and what is revealed may lead someone to change their mind. Hawking has changed his position on singularity. It isn't necessary to explain current realities. Chasing consensus in the area of cosmology seems to open the possibility for fallacy.

Jim said...

Debates are an interesting animal. I agree with Bob in the other thread that it always seems the atheist has the better logical position, but the Christian seems to come out looking better rhetorically.

The key is EMOTION.

Christian debaters, whether knowingly or not, have an easier product to sell (opium for the masses?).

The atheist debater MUST overcome an emotional hurdle first. And they generally don't do a great job because they're focused on the logic and evidence.

The atheist debater needs to come barrels loaded and ready to fire with emotionally compelling anecdotes--something that creates a fiery visual in the mind of the audience that makes God look like a loathsome detestable creature not deserving of any praise from anyone who could call themselves a "man" or "woman." Once you've got them wondering whether they would want to spend an eternity with a Baby-Drowning Monster, then the logical arguments may start to penetrate the armor.

Hitchens and Fry decimated Anne Wittecomb and her Catholic Cardinal debating partner because they heaped truckloads of EMOTIONAL anecdotes into their talk. The audience connected with this. CONNECTION with the audience is critical!

Atheist debaters need to study the psychology of influence to understand how to handle these debates. Emotion affects influence vastly more than logic in certain instances (and I think this is one of them.)

You certainly need a strong logical position--and atheists have it--but you've got to get through "the shield" first.

Keep up the great work you're doing, John.

bookjunky said...

Amy B,
I just wanted to let you know that there is an excellent article online about the evidence (or lack of) for the existence of a soul separate from the body here:
A Ghost In The Machine

Also a great book on NDEs and OBEs that you might enjoy is Susan Blackmore's "Dying to Live".

Both of these resources (and others) were helpful to me when I was looking for evidence as to whether religion was true.

Chris Jones said...

Generally these outcome assessments are heavily dependent on whether the debate is assessed in terms of substance or some other factor.

Often, though, the skeptic has a much harder task. Not because the believer has "Truth" on his or her side, but because it is far easier to take biblical writings and "look at this tree, that's evidence for God" (ok, I jest on that) style arguments at face value. It takes a great deal more time and work to lay out the scholarship and to do a proper historical analysis or scientific summary of the data.

I was listening to an old Craig vs. Ludemann debate in the car on the way home yesterday and it dawned on me how much easier Craig has it, that he can just regurgitate the biblical account and keep hammering on those four portions of those accounts as "undeniable historical facts", when they are anything BUT. However, laying out a case for why those accounts are not reliable is far more of an undertaking (even though truth is more likely on this side) than just taking the texts at face value.

I haven't actually seen the debate. I can anticipate, however, that even though I expect that the more substantive argument is on your side, something like what I was hearing in the Craig-Ludemann debate may have been a factor in the Monday morning quarterbacking, in addition to D'Souza's penchant for witty but intellectually inept sound bites.

Let's also compare to the creation/evolution debates, where the typical creationist can spit out misinformation at an alarming rate, and a proper scientific rebuttal takes a great deal more time and work, and unavoidably goes right over the head of the average audience member.

And perhaps I'm rambling a bit too much without having seen the actual debate. Any word on when video might be posted somewhere?

Glock21 said...

I must confess to being one of the frustrated folks. When these god propagandists get to preach their theology on a college campus they've already won a victory as one of their goals is the infiltration of the education system to preach theology, not merely have it relegated to an aspect of society to be studied in philosophy, history, etc.

Inviting them or accepting an invitation to have them preach on campus means we just handed them that victory which will be used for their self-promotion and propaganda in the future regardless of whether the debate goes well for them. Fortunately this particular event was of limited exposure so the damage is probably safely assumed to be minimal. If it had been some nationally televised or hyped event a smackdown from our side could outweigh that negative several fold.

It's easy for someone in the audience to be hyper-critical of the guy up there in the spotlight having to decipher the gobbledygook of nonsense being chucked in our general direction to formulate an effective response. It's also an excuse that only goes so far when one has volunteered to be in the hot seat against someone far better experienced and prepared for this type of event.

As one vitriolic commenter pointed out on the linked blog, these things are more on par with marketing and presidential debates selling ideas more so than merely being on the right side of the issue. D'Souza could probably sell metaphysical staplers to guy who came in looking to buy a hammer. There was a lot of false advertising involved and one hopes the audience saw through his scams, but as the real value in these things is political rather than logical, he seemed to have the advantage.

I wouldn't take the criticism personally, even those criticisms that got personal, but rather take them as an indicator of the passion within our community. I doubt it is much comfort, but the rational demands of atheism also ensure that, instead of faux praise regardless of reality, honest assessments are likely to be brutally honest when the chips are down. The silver-lining to that is being able to grow and adapt appropriately from the learning experience as opposed to getting a false sense of victory only to lead the charge towards a land war in Asia.

If you think you can take the experience and use it to become an effective champion on the debate stage, all the more power to you. If your talents in writing and debate through the written word are where you think you have the most promise, I'm all for that too. Hopefully the vented frustration can get used as constructive criticism even if some of it was anything but constructive. Cat herding can lead to a lot of stains on the carpet. ;-)

anonymous said...

Dinesh is perceived to have won his debates with Christopher Hitchens and Dan Dennett too. Many deep thinkers don't perform well under pressure or time limits. Imagine if the acceptance of Relativity Theory were determined on how well Einstein performed in live debates with other physicists.

Reagan beat Jimmy Carter in a debate, George W. beat Al Gore and John Kerry...obviously due to his gigantic intellect. Were Reagan and GW highly intelligent, thoughtful guys? Or were they good performers? I haven't heard the debate yet, but if you think it's important to cast doubt upon christianity in this way it may be a good idea to simply concentrate on improving your charm, humor and general performance. How comfortable and convincing someone comes across in public debate is strongly tied to how extroverted and socially secure someone is.

ennangal said...

Dinesh asked John if he does not believe in God why he (and other atheists) are spending their life writing "god is not great", "god delusion", etc. Dinesh took an example of unicorn and said he does not go about writing books/blogs about them because he does not believe in unicorns and it does not bother him. This argument does not hold up because I am not sure if Diensh would say the same thing if people in America start writing apologetics books about the existence of unicorns, "what so great about unicorns", attend unicorn church every Sunday, create unicorns musics, attend unicornological seminaries, conduct crusades, teach unicorn-creationism-intelligent design, and claim unicorn answers to prayer, etc...


Similarly he answered to question like "who created God?" or something like that... he gave an example that.... if someone visits an alien planet and observe some designed artifacts, they may conclude some intelligent beings were present in that planet; however one cannot make any conclusion about the alien beings themselves (e.g where did they come from, how long they exist, etc) because information about aliens are not available. One can only conclude the presence of designed artifacts point to intelligent aliens. In the same way, arguments of the existence of God points to God, but one cannot know anything about God himself such as who created God, His duration of existence, etc. ... Ok! here is the problem!!! Dinesh rejects similar explanation given by Dawkins regarding who (aliens) could have started life on earth! Dinesh says, it only pushes the problem one step further because we need to know where did aliens come from? I don't understand how is this different from asking where did God come from if God has created life on the earth!

I am a Christian, so in general I go with Dinesh's world view. But the above reasonings by Dinesh are quite shallow!!! I caught only last part of the debate (some Q&A). I will wait for full debate to be available online.

John W. Loftus said...

ennangal, yes, I agree. There are intelligent Christians who can think for themselves about his arguments. This is what I meant about some of his arguments that did not deserve a response. And he said both of these things during the Q & A. Someone asked him a question. The moderator pointed to him. Dinesh answered it. And the moderator quickly turned to the next question. This routine happened several times. Was I to butt in to rebut these ridiculous arguments or ignore them? I was never given a chance to respond. I chose to speak when given a chance to do so and I thought whenever I did speak I had some pretty good answers.

Dinesh emailed me this morning and said:

"I enjoyed the chance to 'cross swords' with you. It was a lively debate and you made your case
well and with good cheer, your sore throat notwithstanding."

What did he see that these young skeptics didn't, is what I want to know.

Gandolf said...

John i agree with most other people here,dont be disheartened.

I was thinking the same thing when you fist put up this post,but i waited to see others thoughts first! before i said anything.Many/most say the same thing i was thinking!,there is no reason you should need be to disheartened.

You dont need to be the best.Most atheists are not interested in perfection.Its quite ok to even be wrong about some things sometimes,its ok to not make a good job everytime.

Just keep on doing what you do John,learn from mistakes if you can.And just keep on trying to do your best like you have been.

Serriously if you set your standard far to high for yourself and expect to reach that standard to quickly.You will be setting yourself up to feel disheartened whenever you fail to achieve these standards you expect.

Many people find what you do very helpful.Quite a number of people value your books.You already play a big part in a group of people worldwide who are discussing the matter of faith.

I personally dont see any real good reason why you should have need to feel so very disheartened.

Think about how you might have done better or might do better next time, sure....But i see no good reason to give up.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

John,

I agree with Dinesh, you did make your case well...but the fact is it is a weak case!

You guys think this is all about personality and debating skills...it's not. it's about the spirit of God as Zdenny said, and it's about what's really in the heart of people.

People reject atheism because it's FALSE, not because certain personalities are more charismatic or not. Hitchens is about one of the most charismatic personalities that I've heard, but he offers horrible arguments.

One thing that's been exposed is that there's a big difference between internet atheism and debate atheism. When you look at the arguments they are small and powerless.

For instance, your arguments against Christianity are bogus! To say that millions of people throughout history live or lived in a "delusion" is not only arrogant but complete idiocy as Dinesh said. Then to try to claim that you're fighting for all humanity, when atheism (with the exception of a few of you)has proven itself uninterested in the plight and condition of humanity since generations before Jesus is just plain nonsense.

You say and write some interesting things John but, what you should have done is emptied out yourself to God during your life changing experiences, discerned truth from error much better than you obviously did, and used this same skepticism to make the church better. You passed your opportunity at that and need not look back.

I'm glad you're happy doing what you do...but I think the smartest thing you've said, in the almost 2 years that I've been around is this:

I couldn't sleep and was even thinking of calling it quits

Don't quit life! You have a lot to live for. But you should consider quitting your attack against a God that you are absolutely POWERLESS to do anything against, whether you understand him or not!

Jon said...

John, keep in mind that Christians usually win debates. Sad, but true. Richard Carrier thinks he lost to WL Craig. Dinesh basically writes in an effort to be persuasive and debates as a full time job. You shouldn't really expect to win. Though sometimes the atheist does win.

When I was a Christian I listened to debates that I thought were won by the Christian but at the same time the atheist often said a few things that stuck with me and bothered me. Those little nuggets had a cumulative effect.

I am looking forward to hearing this debate for myself.

unkle e said...

I guess this discussion has just about finished, but I wanted to follow up on District Supt. Harvey Burnett's comment: "I agree with Dinesh, you did make your case well...but the fact is it is a weak case!"

I think we can roughly categorise questions related to the existence of God into "fundamental", which relate to the "big" questions (e.g. Why is there something rather than nothing? What does it mean to be human? What are ethics? Why is there so much evil?) and more peripheral questions which relate to matters of personal incredulity, minor inconsistencies, etc.

I went through the opening statement and I could find 11 separate "arguments" which presumably summarised John's case. (If I missed any, it was unintentional.) Of these 11, only about three referred to "fundamental" matters, and none of them was developed in any reasonable way.

Here are the arguments (summarised in my words, with brief comments in italics):

1. Where one is born determines what one believes.
Doesn't address the existence of God. The same argument is obviously incorrect about other matters.
2. Christians are brainwashed and don't evaluate the evidence.
Doesn't address the existence of God. No evidence.
3. If there was a God, he'd give us more evidence than we have.
This presumes John understands God's purposes well enough, which is not established.
4. Dinesh's book doesn't say much.
Doesn't address the existence of God.
5. Religions are evolving human inventions.
Doesn't address the existence of God.
6. The Cosmological argument fails because (a) it could point to Gods other than the Christian God, (b) time had no beginning, and (c) our universe came from other universes.
A very inadequate response to one of the strongest theistic arguments.
7. Based on Old Testament examples, the Bible is written by superstitious primitive people.
Doesn't address the existence of God and says little about the Christian God.
8. Miracles do not happen.
Doesn't address the existence of God. No proof, just an assertion.
9. John finds doctrines like the Trinity and Incarnation incomprehensible.
Doesn't address the existence of God. Who expects everything about God to be easily understood?
10. The church is so bad it couldn't be from God.
Doesn't address the existence of God, only the weaknesses of people.
11. Suffering.
A strong argument against theism, not developed.

In summary, 6, 7 & 11 could have some force if presented well, although there are also well-developed responses. The remaining "arguments" have very little force.

So John, it seems to me your arguments were weak and require a lot of strengthening. The alternative, which like DSH Burnett I recommend, is that you recognise that most of your arguments are not reasons to disbelieve but minor difficulties, and the main theistic arguments(which I have not discussed here) are correct. You urge us believers to think again, but are you willing to follow your own advice? I hope so!

Best wishes.

Brandon Muller said...

I'm disappointed to hear that cosmology was even discussed at this debate. Perhaps Dinesh brought it up first and John felt compelled to answer. If I were John, I would have made it clear prior to the debate that cosmological arguments were beyond the scope of the topic. It was about the Christian God, so any argument that could go for more than the Christian God would be unnecessary. That's why I always wanted to see a "Does the Christian God exist?" debate as opposed to the usual, "Does God exist?"