Discussion by: TyroneAByrneHi, my name is Tyrone Byrne. I am making this to try and spur discussion of what I believe is a big issue in the way in which the arguments for atheism are presented to a wider audience – live debates.
Live debates take place at many conferences globally between people of many different world views (though it must be said, I have never seen a debate in which two people of differing religions attempt to disprove each others respective deities). The real question, however, is are they effective? True, it is satisfying to see a theist falling over their own words to attempt to reason with certain arguments, but in general I believe that live debates are not the most effective test of good arguments.
For one live debates are open to underhanded techniques. The chances are many of you have watched Christopher Hitchens’ debate with William Lane Craig; the chances are that many of you also realised that Lane Craig doesn’t really have any profoundly new arguments for theism, but that his excessive strawman and ‘Gish Gallop’ debating techniques left some theists believing that he was actually onto something. The lack of integrity of some debating styles leads to a warping of the audiences view of the arguments presented, and this reduces the objectivity with which they can assess the logic behind each opponents position.
Secondly, live debates are open to information failure. Debates often involve the quoting of books and people, as well as statistics. In debates about God, this can often mean theists quoting dubious studies and also quoting people out of context to show that their argument is some how supported by something of note. The fact that the opponent does not get an opportunity to (1) look up and assess the reliability of the study, (2) validate the quotes which their opponent is using with context or (3) Provide (unless previously researched) a counter argument to propositions such as “Hitler was an atheist.” limit the effectiveness of live debates where use of quotes is rife. The abuse of information and studies, I believe, limit the effectiveness of live debates.
Thirdly (and finally) I believe that live debates do not allow the arguments to be explored fully. Often I watch debates between atheists and theists and wonder why clear logical fallacies are not pointed out, why well known anti-theist arguments are not mentioned. The reason why is, of course, the time sensitive element of the debate; often arguments are glossed over and not fully explained (which makes them less persuasive), and this leads to problems of presentation: people can walk away from debates thinking that the debater simply had no response to a given proposition, when actually they just did not have time to touch on it.
These three reasons highlight my reasons for not believing that a live debate is a worthwhile measure of the validity of a persons arguments. While live debates are entertaining, it is common for people to put too much emphasis on them as being a way of deciding once and for all whether, for example, God exists. I would be interested to hear others views on this. Thank you for reading. Tyrone Alistair Byrne, 17, UK.