Following the Rules of Debate

Following the Rules of Debate

Recently media debates have occurred in discussions about climate change, global warming, fracking, abortion, evolution, vaccinations, immigration, and the existence of God. The problem with debates in the media generally is that they are not following the rules of debate.

Not too long ago, I had a radio debate with a talk show host in Pittsburg. I presented scientific evidence from cosmology showing that time and space came from God. From scientific data and probability, I then showed that design as the causal agent of creation in the natural world is more reasonable than chance theories. The talk show host admitted that he had not studied the evidence I presented and had no answer for it, nor did his listeners. With 30 seconds left in the program, he said, “I still don’t believe that the Bible’s teaching on morality makes any sense, and that proves that there is no God.” He then said he was an atheist, and I had not changed his mind. He signed off by claiming that, once again, he had won a debate with a Christian.

This is an example of not following the rules of debate, which is not confined to atheists and skeptics. The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) coined the term “Gish Gallop” to describe the techniques of the Institute for Creation Research, a creationist ministry using dispensational theology to promote their denominational beliefs.

Eugenie Scott of the NCSE describes Gish Gallop as: “dishing out a ton of information, accurate or not, that your opponent has no way to answer in the time available. It is an effective if ultimately shallow debate trick.” Scott goes on to say, “Debate is a sport. It is not a way of convincing an audience or the public of the accuracy of an opinion. It is played by rules that are different from those of logic and empirical evidence.”

A formal debate can be helpful when it has restrictions on what topics will be discussed and held between people with integrity who are following the rules of debate. We have quit doing debates because, in our experience, both atheists and creationist organizations cannot be trusted to allow reasonable discussion on the evidence. Be careful what you read in the media about viruses, climate change, the age of the Earth, etc., and make sure that statements and claims are well documented with reliable sources.

— John N. Clayton © 2023