What to Look For in My Debate with Dinesh D’Souza

This week we're all hoping that my debate with Dinesh D'Souza will be available online. Here are my thoughts on what to look for as you evaluate it. I am NOT making excuses. I am NOT saying I won the debate. From all skeptical accounts it looks like I lost, although I have not heard from any Christians in the audience (maybe one). My problem is I need to see it objectively for myself. If you have ever been in a debate then you're thinking on your feet and cannot remember exactly what was said, and when it was said, to have a good judgment about it until you see it later, although people who say I lost are probably right. I am very interested in the comment cards from Christians in the audience since they are my target audience. In any case here are things to look for in debates, not only in mine, but in others as well.

Home Turf. An overwhelming Christian dominated auditorium is like playing an away football game. They will clap vigorously for their side and hesitate to clap when the other side gets finished speaking. They will laugh at their guys jokes and merely chuckle at the other guys jokes. This does have its effect on the debaters involved.

Adverse Circumstances. Dinesh arrived just in time for the debate while I was overdosing on sinus medications.

Refereeing. Did the moderator do his job properly during the one-on-one and during the Q & A? I maintain he did not. It was probably his first time doing this, I don't know. Both sides should have been given a chance to answer any question directed at the other side.

Debate Experience. No one can be a good debater without some debates under his belt and yet no one can become a good debater without doing them. Dinesh is one of the leading Christian debaters. I am not one for the other side, but if you know me I succeed when others have repeatedly told me I could not do so. I want to be, if possible. And I know of no one in my shoes who would not have agreed to debate someone like Dinesh.

Style. I think this is important but less so than substance.

Humor. I think this is important but less so than substance.

Confidence. I think this is important but less so than substance.

Insults. These things are ad hominems and should be ignored, unless one is in an insult contest.

Politeness/Rudeness. This is important but not as important as substance, although I don't think it does my side any good to be rude.

Dishonesty. When a debater is clearly dishonest with what his or her opponent said you know that he is not being careful with the facts.

The Arguments.Did the debaters effectively deal with each others arguments? Did they have a chance to do so? When they did respond was the response effective? FYI: I chose philosophical arguments rather than scientific arguments because I thought that was best for my target audience.

Who won? This is the overall judgment of who combined all of these factors into doing the best job for their side.

Who lost? If you think your guy lost the debate then kick him in the teeth. Tell him he is a bonehead. Discourage him. Tell him he should probably just quit doing what he is doing. Ignore all of the good he has done. Tell him his debating career is over. Vilify him so that you don’t look bad. Later on, claim you were only trying to offer friendly constructive criticism. Then once you have completely pissed your guy off, proceed by offering unasked for advice as if your guy is a bonehead who doesn't have a clue and cannot learn from his own mistakes by himself, or with the help of his real friends.

If you think your side lost then look for redeeming aspects in the debate which might make the debate worth it. Was it educational? Does it have the potential to provoke additional thought and dialogue from both sides on the topic? Look at the quality as well as the quantity of the arguments, and what the other side may think about them. There may be a few quality arguments that are crushing to the other side which the other side cannot answer and will provoke a lot of doubt.

If you think your side lost then publish a critically acclaimed work and become known as someone people will ask to debate others. Then get in the game yourself. See how you do the first few times out. See how you like it when people say about you the things that have been said about me.

But relax. The arguments are on our side. Christianity will fade in our society in the next few decades as more and more believers are confronted with the arguments. If nothing else keep in mind that Atheists Always Win in Debates.

Here is the comment card I'm interested to see the results from Christians in attendance:



Freddy said...

Whether you come to think you lost or won, I appreciate all the things your doing!!

Thank you sir! Keep fighting!

Boz said...

John, how many debates have you done previously? And how many on this topic? (I think this might have been your first debate on this topic(?))

I heard that Dinesh has done about 100-150 debates on this topic, or a very similar topic.

Now, consider the analogy of two friends playing golf, where one has previously played 100 rounds of golf, and the other has played none. The result is almost a foregone conclusion.

Recycled Envelope said...

jesus dude, let it go, it's becoming embarrassing

ZDENNY said...


It really doesn't matter if you won or lost the debate. The important thing is that their was an exchange of ideas and discussion between folks who disagree on an issue.

Even if you lost super, super bad, just put a smile on your face because every experience is a learning experience.

I simply disagree with you because I really believe all the arguments that have substance are on the side of the Theist. When you combine rationality with reality, you will end up a Theist. The universe is just what a person would expect in a Theistic worldview combined with the reality of love being possible.

On top of this, we are designed with a natural propensity for relationship with both God and man. Atheism attempts to deny both of these facts which will always keep it in a very small minority.

God Bless.

Tristan D. Vick said...


"On top of this, we are designed with a natural propensity for relationship with both God and man. Atheism attempts to deny both of these facts which will always keep it in a very small minority."

It doesn't get more unfounded than that. Seriously dude, I'm starting to suspect something is wrong with you.

Eric J.S. said...

I agree with you. I am very happy for your debating. I will be waiting for your next debate.

Christianity will either fade or adapt into something quite different from what it is now. I do not think its cultural signifigance will leave us in our books and our language as you are probably aware.

Winston Smith said...

John, I was really expecting a knock down and drag out fight.

But, John, you, well...you just didn't do that great.

But that is not the lesson here.

What is pitiful is the amount of ARROGANT BRAGGING you did about how you were going to debate all the great apologist one by one and defeat them.

And then you do this.

You are clearly not anywhere near the threat to Christianity I thought you were.

"Pride goeth before a fall."

Lee said...

I agree that the important thing is the public exchange of information. The "showmanship" aspects of a debate are ephemeral, and while they might be entertaining they don't really matter.

As for Christianity--and religion in general--fading away, that's pretty much a given. I'm 58 and a recent unconvert, but my children, ages 30 and 28, are atheist by conviction, as are most of their friends.

The debate was an event . . . the information and resources here are an invaluable ongoing stimulus to clear thinking.

Lynn said...

I'm sure it's not fun getting critical feedback, but I think you are tough enough to take it. I look forward to seeing the debate.

I really hope you consider the good thoughts given, leave the bad, and I certainly hope you don't shy away from more debates. I admire you for having the guts to get up there and do it. Plus I and many others love what you do here.

Lynn said...

One more thing. How you do in a debate has very little to do with your being in the right with the arguments. Debates are more than 50% showmanship, etc. Sorta like preaching-it's about people who are good talkers more than anything else.

As for Christian feedback, you should also keep in mind how deeply the responders are thinking about it all. Some may not be thinking all that deeply.

John W. Loftus said...

Winston, I do want to debate them all one at a time. But I never bragged about beating them all. I'll get better under better conditions, that is my promise. If given the chance I'll be among the best atheist debaters in our era. That's if I don't get discouraged and if I get the chance. I have a habit throughout my life of proving people wrong. I don't think any differently about this. I am motivated like no one you probably know in the midst of naysayers. I did it with billiards. I did it with my published books. I did it with my blog. And I'll do it again here. What people don't realize is that I am unstoppable when I have passion for something. I don't give up. And I won't, so as long as I have the means to continue and so long as I'm given the chance.

Hendy said...

I watched the debate but had an extremely hard time hearing it. The only thing at present I want to suggest is ingraining your various tool kit into you so that it is reflexively available when you need it under pressure.

Still chomping through your book, WIBA, and it is excellent. Arguments present would have been outstanding to illustrate in the debate, but other than your opening argument I did not hear you enlist the vast arguments, research, and conclusions you have presented in your book.

Just one case in point: at (what I remember to be) a few points, you were cross-exed or asked a question by the audience and fell back on either 'once any supernatural claim is introduced any will do' or 'I only believe things that have hard evidence for them.'

I think your experience, knowledge, well-readness, and contemplative thoughts about matters of religion and faith presented in your blog and book suggest you have vastly better responses than these. They are true... but they are not going to convince anyone.

Here, I believe, is an example of a great debate subject you could have presented with more weight than the 'anything supernatural will do' or 'only hard evidence' tactics. Watch Dinesh attempt to answer the question posed to him here about the healing of amputees (or lack thereof):

Fast forward to 1:13 where the question and response are (the intro is dumb).

Questions like this, the problem of evil, logical contradictions about god's supposed nature, etc. could have been employed and would have been, in my opinion, more convincing to an audience as they watched Dinesh dethroned from his insulting somewhat arrogant throne to grope for an explanation.

I still reaffirm that you are a tremendous voice for the skeptic community and a comprehensive, cumulative case testimony as is present in your book has been helping me greatly in my search.

I look forward to re-watching the video with discernible audio to re-examine my initial thoughts!

Hendy said...

Sorry... use this for the D'souza v. Schermer clip where Dinesh tries to answer why God won't heal amputees. The other link was the first I found but was edited with distracting music and unhelpful commentary.

Here is the actual question in the unedited debate: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2dJrzOURlQ

Skip to 5:15.

Ryan Peter said...

"Christianity will fade in our society in the next few decades as more and more believers are confronted with the arguments."

LOL. John, I mean I know I'm pretty much a nothing and no one cares what I think, but I'll say what I think anyway. This kind of statement is the kind of statement you should seek to avoid, especially if you do want to captivate a younger audience. You do realise they were saying the same thing when atheism started a LONG time ago?

You should also realise that the world IS bigger than the Western world. You've got a whole Africa to go to, and here you're not just debunking Christianity you have to debunk the whole idea of a spiritual world altogether.

Atheism doesn't speak to the HEART, and if you want to get better at debating, you should probably consider that what people really want is something that speaks to the HEART. This is just MHO.

I've not heard the debate but have been checking comments around it with interest. It seems to me that, while you go on about substance, you're providing too much intelligentsia and too little emotion.

Unlike what atheism seems to suppose, the heart is also able to distinguish truth. The head is to help the heart, and the heart the head, and if you keep speaking to the head you will never win hearts. Hearts is what you want.

Unfortunately, for you, but fortunately for me, I don't see how winning hearts will be possible with your philosophy. Atheism simply does not speak to the heart - certainly not mine and millions of other normal people out there whom Christianity seems to bring into its fishing net.

If you can find a way of speaking to the heart in truth, then well done, but I'm of the opinion that if you explore that avenue you may end up Theist... again ;).

Although maybe this time a theist who understands the point, rather than a theist who tries to keep making the point, if you understand my meaning :P

Hendy said...

@Ryan Peter: I don't know if the logic is sound behind your statement. You appeal to a sort of emotional relativism, then - don't you? Couldnt' anyone simply say that this or that 'spoke to my heart' so I believe it? If the best thing is that which speaks to my heart the most, I will probably stick with whatever faith I'm raised in because it tends to be that with which I'm most familiar, find security in a family setting from, have been raised to think is the meaning of all life, etc. Statistics absolutely reject the idea that individuals seek their faith/religion according to any objective standard, whether that be objectively speaking to either heart or head or both.

Why? Because the probability is quite high that children simply keep the religion they are raised in. Given the vast number of major religious divides as well as the thousands of micro-sects within these major divisions, do you think it's likely that the faith into which one is born into just happens to be the faith that objectively 'speaks most to your heart'? I find this highly unlikely and think you actually mean, 'My opinion is that Christianity speaks to the heart the most of any religion and therefore everyone should be Christian.'

Anecdotal story: I began doubting my Christianity about a month and a half ago and borrowed Dawkins' God Delusion from the library. While I had a hard time buying everything he uses as evidence for god's non-existence, here is a story in which reading this book 'spoke to my heart': I was reading the section of the book speaking about the vastness of the universe, the billion billion planets in existence and the fact that only one we know of support life while (not to be crass here...) I on the crapper. Suddenly I felt a strong emotional sense of wonder, gratitude, awe, and excitement. I am on one of a billion billion planets with the opportunity to live just one life! This is amazing!

So... here I was, reading an atheist book while taking a dump and absolutely having a 'spiritual experience' contemplating how meaningful and exciting my life on this planet actually is. The feeling 'in my heart' was exactly similar to 'feeling Jesus' presence' or being 'overwhelmed with gratitude for having been saved.' I have no issue whatsoever with the fact that there is no afterlife. Life means just as much to me this way as with an afterlife. We're alive and I'm thrilled about that fact.

I'm sure other nonbelievers can confirm the existence of things in this world 'speaking to their heart' that have nothing to do with a deity.

Wow... I always end up writing more than I intended. All I really needed to say is that nothing should be chosen simply because it 'speaks' to the heart. Presumably you are a Christian and know that, as far as I know, the 'heart' (seat of desire, the will, our 'drive') has constantly been thought of to be untrustworthy. At the end of the day, reason should always guide the 'heart' or will or passion or desire. Sex 'speaks to my heart' a lot but I need to work for a living and therefore rationally choose not to engage in it all day long but to instead provide for my family. Or is 'speaking to the heart' only defined as picturing Jesus on my throne or the holy spirit swirling around in there? How can you quantify having someone 'speak to your heart'? And how can you assume that the nonbelievers in the debate did not have their 'hearts spoken to' by John in the same way yours may 'have been spoken to' but Dinesh?

John W. Loftus said...

Hendy, you're funny and intelligent. Great to have you here.


christophermencken said...

John: re: ...If given the chance I'll be among the best atheist debaters in our era....
I love seeing this kind of statement. You have rare talent and experience (as an evangelical). We need you up there on stage.

Gandolf said...

Ryan Peter said... "You do realise they were saying the same thing when atheism started a LONG time ago?"

We didnt have computers back then,and so theists with coffers full of coin,naturally always had the upper hand of a very big advantage.

Times have changed! now days,its the begining of the end! for theists, who traditionally often always relied heavy on keeping their sheep ignorant.

Double A said...

I saw the clip on you tube where D'Souza says: If I said a unicorn exists would you work so hard to prove to me that it doesn't? ...his point was that the atheist pursuit of 'disproving' God exists stems from their own uncertainty and fear. It was great. And good to see Loftus's insecurity over his figurative spanking from D'Souza.

Gandolf said...

Ryan Peter said... "Atheism doesn't speak to the HEART, and if you want to get better at debating, you should probably consider that what people really want is something that speaks to the HEART. This is just MHO."

You might be correct that so far atheism hasnt properly tapped into areas that speak to peoples heart,as yet.But that dont mean atheism cannot in future start speaking to the area of the heart with people.

Admittedly the fact that even in the year 2010 promotion of superstition still causes things like witch killings in Africa and things like death through exorcism and separation/excommunication of many families amongst abusive faith.Doesnt seem to worry many religiously inclined folk very much,i think makes enough evidence availabe to suggest "thoughts of salvation", induce a type faithful unthoughtful selfishness within the circles of faithful folks.Where by they forget all golden rules forgetting to considder how continued promotion of superstition might be effecting many others.Its a farce and utter sham, these folks even have the gall to include a golden rule within their faith books.

Non believers sure do need to start highlighting this ugly selfish nature of faith!,that quietly ruins many other folks lives.Live that are ruin for the faithfuls lotto ticket type chance at salvation,a salavation thats totally unproven.How ignorant! and nasty! that the faithful willingly gamble with lives on this earth,for a chance lotto ticket with a totally unproven prize.

Ryan Peter i think you misjudge the untapped possibilities that athiesm/agnosticism has available to start speaking directly to humans hearts,with far more power and honesty that theism has ever been able to.

I agree the non faithful need to also start using this emotion angle.Its a very important tool! that is needed,to help (shake the very foundations of thought) of the brainwashed faithful who by ancient fear tactics have been long (lulled into the selfish selfcertered type thinking of salvation!), for which there lacks any evidence of proof that it even exists.

bobius said...


Here are my thoughts on the discussion about the debate. I hope they are helpful to you.

A few things have come out of the conversations about your debate...

1.)The people you want to debate are really, really good. In large part, this is because they've been debating this topic in front of audiences for years.

Even when they are "preaching to the choir" they get to see the effect of various statements, spoken in different ways, upon different audiences.

2.) You have good arguments, but they didn't necessarily come out at the right moment, or in a format conducive to the debate environment.

So: Go get more experience! You probably won't get 100 + debates like Dinesh has to his name, but you can pick up a LOT of experience relatively quickly if you make it a priority. Think about billiards. When you got good at that, it was because you were practicing EVERY DAY.

Here's what you do: 1) Find every Christian college or megachurch within reasonable travel distance. Contact everyone qualified to debate apologetics; senior pastors, junior pastors, philosophers, theologians, historians... whatever. If you think they could at all make a plausible debate opponent, contact them (and any organizations on campus/ within the megachurch) who could help organize a debate. See what you can get together.

It will provide you with much needed practice before you get in front of more "big guns" (which I have no doubt you will, if you keep at it) as well as give you videos to promote your blog/book with. Also, if you have any particularly good debates, you could see if Prometheous is interested in turning them into a book. If you want to really get good at this, then you need to practice, practice, practice, practice.

2.) Go through every last debate you can find on atheism vs. theism. Catalogue every rhetorical formulation of various arguments for what you think was effective or ineffective in a debate format. Develop a novel worth of "soundbite" responses to various rhetorical formulations of theistic arguments. When do you need to respond "straight" and when would it be more useful to have a joke? Where can you turn what your opponent said around to put them on the defensive?

This will help you develop additional debate skills when you aren't actually debating people.

A few more ideas:

Take a break from the political philosophy for a few months and read books on rhetoric instead. Read things like Aristotle, Cicero and perhaps even popular marketing books. You have good ideas. Debate skill is about learning how to package, present and market those ideas to an audience.

Be prepared with "soundbite" quotations and facts and figures to back up your arguments. From what I've heard of the debate, you said things like "numerous psychological studies" without illustrating or explaining specific studies. The ability to quickly give specifics, or illustrate an example would be an invaluable skill for you to acquire. This is something I know Dinesh is GREAT at from viewing previous debates.... he makes you think he knows every bit of relavent research by heart. You should develop the ability to do the same.

Finally, get those comment cards out at every. single. debate. you do in the future. That kind of feedback will prove invaluable to you.

Our side really needs someone who is willing to put this kind of work in. I hope you're that person.

Whew, that was a lot to say. Hope something I said was helpful to you. Keep up the good work, and don't get discouraged!

Gandolf said...

Double A said... "I saw the clip on you tube where D'Souza says: If I said a unicorn exists would you work so hard to prove to me that it doesn't? ...his point was that the atheist pursuit of 'disproving' God exists stems from their own uncertainty and fear. It was great. And good to see Loftus's insecurity over his figurative spanking from D'Souza."

Well if D'Souza really honestly thinks i as a agnostic/atheist fear uncertainity,that only shows what a complete utter F**knuckle the dude really is.

Why would i even have good logical reason to fear uncertainity of faith/gods?.

After all the tremendously great long term suffering,separation,segregation,human sacrifice, suicides and deaths etc etc, that all the (very many uncertain) faiths/gods etc have always caused humanity over time here on earth.

If there actually be anything after death, should i really think i have good reason?, to think its so likely to be best to be (within the ranks of the uncertain?).

What reason might the D'Souza types of this world like to suggest there might likely be,that any supreme being there might actually be in any afterlife.Would logically likely prefer that i chose to follow anywhere amongst all this "uncertainty" ...even if it be at the cost!! of posibility of causing much undue suffering and pain and even death unto people?.

Pffffttttt...I would not feel safe to be among the "uncertain" faithful gamblers of this world.Those that have caused so much pain.

I personally would feel much more afraid to be a D'Souza,promoting an "uncertainity" of faith, that HAS actually often caused the suffering,pain and death of very many!.

Being amongst the faithful uncertain of this world,is like chooseing to be amongst members of gangs,when i know they have often caused suffering pain and even death.


I would simply say to D'Souza unicorns cause absolutely nobody any suffering,pain and death etc.

D'Souza you would need to be a pretty complete ignorant utter fool,to not see there is actually a very big difference between the mythical presence of unicorns, compared to the very often ugly nasty presence of christianty and faith.

Now suck hard on that lolly pop for a moment,but crikey! please please, keep it real! will ya

We dont have need to debunk unicorn,for the same reason we dont have need of bothering debunking tooth fairys either.

Unicorns and tooth fairys dont actually cause very many people any harm.

Gandolf said...

Double you might even be surprised to know myself as a agnostic/atheist in a way kinda even wishes and hopes,there actually is something in the after life.

After what ive personally experienced through being unlucky to happen to be born amongst the foolishness of a clan of one of the many clans of faithful "uncertain" folks of this world. ALL taking a gamble! and trying to be "certain" about their faith.Using Pascals wager(gamble).And like those kids in Africa getting hunted down as witches to be killed, having experienced the abuse of superstition myself.

I know justice is often something longed for by abused people locked in the abuse of the uncertaintity of faiths.

If there be any caring supreme beings in any afterlife,i hope he/she/it atleast chooses to break a few legs of those in this life, who chose to gamble!with our lives and be involved in further "promoting" what was always "uncertain".

Many people on this earth suffered because of such ignorant thoughtlessness!,that almost always was fired by either selfish self centred thoughts of "protection of oneself" or "personal salvation"

By ignorant people,all who`s books even adopted the golden rule,yet never ever followed it.

zenmite said...

Oh My! Sinus medications? They make me totally brain-dead for hours. I wouldn't want to debate a 5th grader while taking sinus meds. Maybe they don't effect everyone like they do me, but if you're sensitive to their effects like I am, that explains alot. An hour after medicating I walk into rooms and forget what I'm there for and can't remember the correct words for objects or people's names. It's like instant dementia.

I don't know which meds you were taking John, but many of these contain some form of pseudoephedrine. It's what they use to make Meth. Don't ever take that stuff before a debate again. Even the nondrowsy stuff can make you stupid.

R0dvD1 said...

Dear John,

I haven't seen the video of your debate yet but I don't think it matters very much who appeared to win.

There are so many factors involved that the outcome isn't really relevant. Most people would attend with a preconceived outlook and a predisposition towards one conclusion or another, regardless of the argumentation. Further, the audience, the moderator, the relative experience of the debaters and their showmanship, the actual topics chosen to debate, the questions asked and the chances to answer, the composition of the audience, etc, would all determine what the outcome would appear to be.

I do not believe anyone is going to make up their minds on issues such as their "faith" or beliefs from a debate. I don't even think it is worthwhile as the questions demand more focus, greater depth of thought and far more information than a debate can provide.

I am just completing your book "Why I Became an Atheist" and this is the material that people should be considering. It is probably the best overall summary of the arguments against belief that is available to an intelligent sincerely searching lay audience.

I was a devout Catholic till around 13 years of age, then studied the Bible (with a liberal textual-critical commentary), was baptised by immersion and spent a short time in a fundamentalist group (never really believed in it, though, after the German textual scholarship), still keep trying (at age 58) to find an answer although my recent studies have brought me to believe that we know nothing of God through any of our existing religions (if he exists at all). I am science/engineering trained, so I certainly expect any "faith" to be consistent with rational thought (and false when it isn't), and none of those I know of satisfies this criterion.

I have learned a great deal from the books of Bart Ehrman in particular (all his recent works, including "Lost Christianities") which have helped crystallise my thinking about Christianity. Also from Dan Barker, Michael Shermer, George H. Smith, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchins,
David Mills, various other fine writers and now yourself. I have used my suburban regional library book purchase request facility to ensure that they have purchased many of these books for the benefit of others too.

My point is that it has taken a lot of concentrated struggle and effort for me to reach a point of basically well-informed Agnosticism - perhaps even a mild Atheism - where I nevertheless(irrationally, against most evidence and probability) still want to hope for some unknown "Force" to exist. This is just me - and I understand the psychological forces influencing me. I don't expect anyone to have any final Answer/s . No number of debates would have been influential in bringing me to where I am. I probably will never cease trying to find "final" answers, albeit none may exist or be knowable. Thanks to people like yourself, the honesty of your lives and actions, and especially the outstanding sources of information you have provided people like me in the books you have written, sincerely-seeking human beings have a chance to progress to some enlightenment.

Sorry for the long missive, but I had to thank you for the real triumphs you have achieved in your writing (and I'm looking forward to your forthcoming book too). The debate - "won" or "lost" - is quite irrelevant. Don't let yourself or others mistake it as otherwise.

Best regards,

John W. Loftus said...

R0dvD1, thanks for your kind words, and others here as well.

John W. Loftus said...

zenmite, I don't know how my meds changed anything. They say not to drive on them, that's for sure. I lived on them for three days because I wanted to stop any nasal dripping which would have made my throat completely hoarse, and it worked. I had taken some at 5PM and then had a terrible coughing spell for fifteen minutes at 6:30PM, a half hour before the debate, so I took another dose which stopped it.

Curious_Reader said...


I've been reading your blog for some time, but I've never posted. I listened to the debate via the streaming link you listed, and the audio made it somewhat hard to concentrate on the arguments. Personally, I think you "won," but I wish to put a big asterisk next to that win. Once Dinesh decided not to use the Bible in his arguments, he was left with pretty much nothing to argue from. I didn't hear a single decent argument to support his pro position. In that case, he lost and you won by default.

That said, Dinesh is a charismatic character, and he came across well for much of the debate. You seemed unpolished, which is to be expected. I did get frustrated at Dinesh repeating long refuted arguments, but it also looked like you were not in top form thinking on your feet that night either.

I have a question for you, John. During the Q&A section (I believe), Dinesh suggested that the reason you left Christianity was to avoid the rules, etc. As someone who struggled mightily against the "brain washing" as you put it, how difficult was it to keep your composure? I wanted to punch the guy, and he was only insulting me indirectly. I've only seen the argument in text before. Hearing it spoken, I was struck by how condescending the argument is.

This debate has, more or less, convinced me that these oral debates are of minimal value. I might change my mind on a second listen, but I think that you could have been silent and Dinesh wouldn't have presented a sound case. As such, I fail to see how he could have won unless slick talking is the primary factor.

I'd like to see you engage in a few written debates. There, you have the time to think about the arguments presented and really evaluate them. Sadly, I imagine few people read those.

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks Curious_Reader. Yes, I remember that part and I felt the same thing as you did. I am particularly vulnerable to that kind of attack, but I had already told the audience I would replace the 10th commandment, which was a thought crime, with "thou shalt not own or beat slaves." I addressed it in my book and he read it to know my answer. I cannot believe he made that argument anyway. People do not reject a religion because they don't like it. They do so because there isn't enough evidence to believe. Otherwise Dinesh rejects the Tibetan monk religion because he doesn't like their rules.

R0dvD1 said...


With the debate still somewhat in mind, to be a little facetious, if you had two revival tents, side-by-side, one proferring:

"Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show - Forgiveness for the Past, Miracles While You Wait, Boundless Prosperity (Tithers only), God-Given Solutions to All Problems, Top Motivational Testimony Delivered to Uplifting Musical Accompaniment, and Free Eternal Life for All Attendees"

and the other:

"Ex-Pastor John's Travelling Rationalist Exposition - Cherished beliefs disposed, rationality restored. (Sorry - naturalist answers only. No supernatural or
life-beyond-death offers available)"

which door do you think the masses will beat a path to?

I have yet to see stadiums filled out by Atheist Revivalist preachers.

(For the current sad state of affairs, see "God is Back" by Micklethwait & Wooldridge.)

My experience is you can only reach those who want to be, or are capable of being, reached. (See also "The God Virus" by Darrel W. Ray for a good metaphor). Everyone has their own experiences of the impossibility in most cases of penetrating through the entrenched convictions and closed world views of the confirmed religious. Unfortunately, it is a terror (and a "sin") to many to even think of questioning their beliefs. (God would disown them instantly.) Every mental gymnastic must be brought into play to avoid confronting issues at all costs.

Without any intention of appearing to sound superior, seems to be a dwindling number of people amongst the general populace who are capable of thinking rationally (or even wanting to) in the religious and other arenas. Hence you, and others, need to hold the battle lines and keep supplying the materiel (books, websites, and yea, even debates) for this apparently endless confrontation.

After all, we are and will all be affected by the beliefs and consequent actions of these people of "faith". If only the rest of us could just be left alone, forget "left behind".


Mike D said...


I've read your blog for quite some time and I'm a big fan.

But the way you've been beating yourself up about this debate and all this rationalizing of what you perceive to be your loss is just getting really tiresome.

What did you expect? Did you expect to soundly humiliate Dinesh in front of a home crowd? Did you expect fellow atheists to shower you with praise on your oratory lashing while disoriented Christians scrambled to find ways to wiggle around your ironclad logic? Do debates *ever* produce result like that for *either* side?

Have a little faith in yourself that regardless of whether you're as charismatic or as experienced a debater as Dinesh (both things you knew going into it), your arguments are at their core lucid enough to persuade some believers to start thinking for themselves, which is really all anyone can ask for in these sorts of things.

You know as well as I do that religion thrives on groupthink. Free thought and skeptical inquiry are religion's greatest enemies, and the goal need be nothing more than posing tough questions that get believers thinking for themselves. As soon as you think you can "win" people to atheism the way Christians "win" people to their religion, you've lost site of what brought you to reject religion in the first place.

R0dvD1 said...


Mike D put it so succintly and precisely above that I just had to add my 2 cents worth.

As I too see it, all a conversation, a speech, a debate, can normally hope to do is sow
the seeds of inquiry or doubt into a believer's mind. If it does this in even a few members of the audience it would have served its purpose. There will be no Damascus visions or "born-again" conversion experiences to agnosticism or atheism, and no one will burst out talking in tongues regarding their new-found doubts.

The truly great thing you do is providing the hard comprehensive intellectual follow-up tools and evidence in your books and this great web forum for ongoing discusssions. As my own experience, and that of nearly everyone else's I hear of attests, it is a long and arduous process for most in moving from a blinkered religious world view to a freethinking rationalistic one, and you may never see the "converts" you have actually "won".

Heck, in my case, just having your book in my home with the word "Atheist" in its title has lead to conflict with my wife and her devout relatives! I understand their viewpoint, but I cannot really take them through the pre-requisite years of study and searching that has brought me to where I currently stand.


Ryan Peter said...

@ Hendy

I find it interesting that you've used the word 'gratitude' in explaining your emotional response. Gratitude to what, to whom? Whoever, or whatever that is, it must have a personality in order to have gratitude towards it. I cannot have gratitude towards a rock unless I perceive (or imagine) there is some sort of intelligent life in it, that it 'gave' me something and I ought to be thankful for its act of giving, or towards it itself.

I'm not discounting the rest of your reply, I'm just saying this is interesting. The way Dawkins talks sometimes gives me the same idea. Perhaps 'life' or 'universe' or 'chance' is his god, as there appears to sometimes be some sort of intelligence and purpose behind 'life' doing its thing.

While any atheist would reject this, the way some speak sometimes seems to indicate that they at least do think in terms of 'life' having some sort of intelligence with some sort of intended trajectory.

Hendy said...

@Ryan Peter: Interesting point!

- First, gut reaction: carryover from the fact that I have only been thinking skeptically for a month and a half and perhaps my tendency is not to use religious speak when talking about things non religious?

- Second, thought out response: I don't know that gratitude always has to have an object, does it? What if I took a day of vacation and got a lot of house work done and told someone at the end of a long day that I was 'grateful' to have had the time needed to catch up. Would I have to necessarily be grateful to my boss or grateful to my vacation accumulation rules to say such a thing?

The page HERE defines 'grateful' as
1) Appreciative of benefits received; thankful. (I could see that as attributing something to a 'giver')
2) Expressing gratitude (the same dictionary defines 'gratitude as the state of being grateful... so we'd go in circles)
3) Affording pleasure or comfort; agreeable (no giver implied -- simply digging the resulting pleasure/comfort/good feelings of something)

Anyway, just wanted to add some thoughts. I assure you that I was not thinking of a god in that moment, but the feelings were exactly the same as if I had been thinking to myself, 'I'm so glad that god put me here to live life for him.'

Very good observation and thanks for pointing it out!

Expatriot Musicians for Nader said...

I apologize for not reading all these comments first, but I just had to let you know that I´m a sympathetic listener/reader and think you got your ass thoroughly and decisively whipped by dsouza. debating is obviously not your sport, which has nothing to do witht he quality of your written work on these topics. Your presentating was:

-diffuse and meandering
-disorganized - there seamed to be no effort to work from larger to smaller principles (or vice versa), but a machine-gun splatter of apparently disconnected arguments all over the map
-under-argued (no system, no syllogistic chain of thought)
-under-supported with evidence -(vis. cosmology and big bang/singularity)
lacking in eloquence of formulation
ad hominem ("brainwashed").

i´m sorry if this seems brutally critical, but when you put yourself in a position to debate a veteran like dsouza, however idiotic his arguments, you should at least be prepared to give a polished performance. the worse part of it is how many valid and reasoned aruments you had tangled up in the flying spagetti monster of your overall presentation. (your rebuttal about socrates, though not quite coherent, was pretty on spot, for instance.)

having said all that, keep up the good and interesting work on your blog and all the best.

John W. Loftus said...

Expatriot Musicians for Nader, I appreciate any honest critical feedback, so thanks. But under the conditions I think it is a huge non-sequitur to make the blanket statement of me that "debating is obviously not your sport." Don't bother responding. You do not have enough information to do so nor do you know what I've learned from debating someone like Dinesh who has mastered the art.

Expatriot Musicians for Nader said...

non sequitur??

a non sequitur is an argument that's irrelevent to, or that does not follow from, what is at issue. it would be a non sequitur if i said, "your texas accent made you look really stupid" or "you're obviously out on a crusade of self-aggrandizement." but i just heard your whole goddamn debate with dsouza and judged, on that basis (isn't that usually called "evidentiary reasoning"?) that you're not much of a podium debater (as opposed to the blogging variety). i may be proven wrong in the end, but my argument is certainly NOT a "non sequitur".

don't worry, i won't debate this with you here ad nauseam. we're still on the same team as far as the god thing goes and the rest is trivial.

John W. Loftus said...

Expatriot, Sure it's a non-sequitur, and I told you why. It doesn't follow from this one debate that debating is not my sport anymore than if someone loses one time at playing a sport that it isn't his sport, or if a person is just learning to play that sport. You have also committed the fallacy of hasty generalization. I suppose that by saying goddamit you feel like it makes your point in case I'm not paying attention too, right? Nonetheless, it's good to know we're on the same team, or is it?

And one more thing. Why did you bother to chime in here in the first place? It's an open blog of course, but did you actually tell me anything I couldn't see for myself? Why do you think you need to tell me what I may have done wrong when the debate is now available and I can hear it for myself? When I first posted this I had not yet seen it. Do you think I'm stupid or something? You know, sometimes people on the same side need to encourage one another rather than not. That's what people on the same side do for each other.

I'm easy to get along with. I just don't tolerate stupidity coming from any direction when it's aimed at me.

Expatriot Musicians for Nader said...

hasty generalization MIGHT be plausible; non sequitur however just doesn´t apply in this case, however you twist it. then again, i´ve heard some of your other debates, john, so the generalization isn´t that hasty, believe me. i wish you good luck anyway. you certainly have enough good ideas to become the debate samurai of your dreams. hope it works out.

Damon said...

I have only listened to part of the debate (I was not there), but it seems that D'Souza thinks he is living in some strange world of absolutes. My favorite fallacy of his so far is that "everything comes into being with a cause".

I think your opening statement is just fine. Your speaking style is ok. I think you did just fine considering your soar throat. D'Souza seemed very manipulative in his speaking style on the other hand. It was a more or less calculated presentation.