Friday, December 11, 2009

Debate Feedback

On Wednesday, Dr. Hugh Ross (Reasons to Believe), Dr. Clay Jones (Biola), and I debated three atheists at the Costa Mesa Community Center in a packed room of about 300. The crowd appeared evenly split between skeptics and Christians based on a hand tally requested by two of the debaters in an early exchange.

It was one of the most unique experiences I've ever had in my apologetics ministry. In general, I've received positive feedback from Christians, but I'm curious to hear honest feedback from others who were there that night. Soon, I plan to write a summary of the arguments and give my perspective, but for now, I'm asking for input on the event. Perhaps we can start another discussion here on the Junkie. I know my perspective from on stage, but what's yours?


Unknown said...

I wrote Apologetic Junkie an email commenting about the debate, Aaron kindly responded. In my opinion the debate went well. I thought the slides being shown by the atheists (?) during the Christian presentations were a bit much. But this wasn't shocking to me. I add a question mark because two of the three atheists conceded a creator. What was that? The equivalent would have been you and Dr. Ross admitting that Jesus may not have been God and should have proven fatal.
On numerous occasions you personally started to make some very good points (the existence of good and evil, etc.) and tried to slow the discussion down. However, due to the incompetence of the moderator those points were not given an opportunity to be explored. I also loved the instances where you shut down Alex Uzdavines, the UNDERGRAD from UC Irvine.
I think the "informal" format coupled with the ineptness of the moderator to control the dialogue lead more to a shouting match than a debate. From the very beginning I felt you three were on your heals and the atheists weren't able to stay on topic, making the task of showing the God of the Bible to exist almost impossible. I also felt the atheists relied mostly on rhetoric, the same that can be found between the covers of books such as "The God Delusion". Uzdavines exemplified this when comparing the resurrection account to ancient mythology, upon which time you shut him down.
In the end I really don't feel like the topic of debate was discussed but I'm glad I went if for not other reason than to hear Dr. Jones proclaim the Gospel and call for repentance. You all did well and I'm proud to have string brothers and sisters in Christ as you.

Matt Doan said...


Hey Dan, My name is Matt Doan, I am one of the Pastor's at Calvary Church in Santa Ana.
I was there on Wednesday night, inronically invited by an Atheist friend of mine who I have recently become friends with!

I really appreciated your leadership and courage to represent Christ to a mostly secular audience on Wednesday night. Your break down of the attributes of God toward the beginning was so money!

The atheists panel didn't seem willing or able to argue at Dr. Ross's level. I thought this was really interesting.

Overall, the 3 of you did WAY better than I could ever have, but I do have a few things I personally wish would have gone better.

#1 - I understand Dr. Jones' passion and his heart to share the Gospel, but after looking at various message boards responding to the debate, I am afraid it was received by the Atheists in the crowd as radical fanaticism. I am wondering if could have/should have used a different tone and strategy in his comments, particularly the modern day capital punishment question that I felt the Atheists trapped him in.
However, saying this, I know the Holy Spirit was working in the midst of hostile hearts. I will be curious who in eternity acknowledges Jones' Gospel plea was a catalyst in them coming to know Jesus as Savior and Lord!

#2 - I wish you could have taken the argument you brought up towards the end of the debate in which you stated (I paraphrase), "The question isn't why does God allow evil, but why does God allow anything good to happen to such wicked and rebellious people such as me?"
I wish you guys could have really focused the majority of your time on this point.

#3 - I wish you could have defined the Atheists problems with God's character as Hermenuetical issues and not existence of God issues.

#4 - Mark Smith's tatics seemed to be to overwhelm your panel with information/references/issues. On his own website, he acknowledges that he admires this "tactic" he thinks William Lane Craig uses in such debates. Smith particularly refers to a debate Craig had with Edwin Curley at the U of Michigan in 1998. I don't believe Smith is accurate in his assesment of Craig's debate method being an "informational dump" but I do believe he tried to use this specific tactic with you guys. The minute you begin to answer an objection he raised, he would quickly move to another objection. The coupled with the moderator wanting to be more of a comedian than a guide, made the debate frustrating at times.

As I mentioned though, we can never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit to use a night like Wednesday to draw people to Himself! Thank you Dan for you heart to serve the Church and to reach out to non-Believers!

Mojoey said...

I wrote a few comments on my blog. They are posted as The no so great debate.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dan,

I really enjoyed the debate. You were a bit quiet though, although when you did speak I found your points were short, clear, and thought provoking. One part that I really enjoyed was when they claimed how the story of Jesus paralleled myth (to which many atheists cheered), and you said, "What a minute, I've read the story, that's completely not true." They immediately dropped the topic once you pressed them, because it was clear they used a line they've heard on the internet (likely source being Richard Carrier) without doing the actual research.

I think Hugh was good, although he floundered a bit at the Hell question. I (personally) don't like when Christians try to "soften" the doctrine of Hell. HELL IS TERRIBLE. There, I said it. Christians should not be ashamed of it, or try to water it down for debate. Hugh said (and I'm paraphrasing), "Hell is good for them, it's better than the alternative if God just left them alone." I visibly sighed, and actually felt the atheists were justified at being upset that Hugh was trying to be a bit evasive about the horrors of a person being sent to Hell.

Clay did well, except when he began to preach (more than once). This was a debate and panel discussion, not church. I'm not judging, perhaps the Spirit led him to proclaim the good news at that exact moment. Perhaps it put a pebble in someone's foot (a saying of Greg Koukl) and his proclamation of the good news will lead someone to Jesus in the future. I certainly hope so, but my opinion was, it was awkward and out of context.

Two points I didn't like. Mark Smith harped on Peter being a liar and therefore untrustworthy for about 5-10 mins. I thought you guys dropped the ball there. I think you could have had a simple, but powerful response. When he told Jesus he would never deny Him, at the time he FULLY thought he was telling the truth. Things change when you think they may try to crucify you... Peter was scared for his life, so yes he lied at the time (as most humans would). However, being a liar under duress doesn't mean you can't or don't tell the truth on a regular basis. I would have drove this home by simply asking Mark, "Have you ever in your life, told a lie?" His answer would obviously be, "Yes". To which you could have responded, "Therefore according to your logic, you're a liar and I, the panel, nor anyone in the audience can trust what you say." It would have uncovered the absurdity of his statements.

Something else I didn't like (which you guys had no control over) was many times atheists would make a point, their supporters in the audience would cheer, and clap, and generally be disruptive. The would sometimes boo the Christian panel. What's ridiculous, is that obviously atheists are going to agree with their panel on most issues. Does being loud and disruptive at every point, add more weight to their argument? Does it make it anymore true? It's not gonna change anybody's mind and it's distracting. Christians could have cheered and clapped at all your statements. And? What does that accomplish besides wasting time. It happens at many debates, and it's something that really irritates me. Grrrrrrrrr. Be quiet and cheer at the end.

I wish there were time for more audience questions. I personally don't like the anonymous questioning. People can hide, and ask ridiculous waste of time questions they would NEVER dare ask if they had to stand up and vocalize it. Anonymous questions is fertile ground for questions like, "Can God create a rock too big for him to lift?" *sigh*

Great job! You did good. May the Lord continue to bless you with knowledge and wisdom!!! (And more debates!)