A Question I Was Asked:

Do You Still Not Take Part in Public Debates?

The Actual Question:

I think you would be the ideal person (better than a lot of others) to take part in public debates with people like Richard Dawkins. I understand that you prefer to write rather than get involved in public debating, but has your point of view changed on this?

UK Apologetics Reply:

Not really. On about 4-5 occasions over around 5-6 years I have indeed been invited to debate with atheists though, as far as I can recall, not Dawkins. But I have declined. On one occasion, it was to be a debate on a British Christian radio channel and I almost agreed, but the problem was that this guy had written an anti-Christian book, and I did not have the time for the preparation of a full answer and defence of Christinity. I think he had once been a believer, as I recall. So the problem was that I was given insufficient time to prepare. I would certainly have wanted to read his book first. I think they gave me six days to prepare - insufficient!

Yet, in general terms, I feel that little good comes from debating. I recently heard a very long TV debate (actually it was made quite a few years ago), between John Ankerberg and Garner Ted Armstrong, the late Armstrongist minister. As one might expect, John rang rings around Garner Ted. Frankly, John Ankerberg held all the aces and, although he admirably held his dignity, Garner Ted was often struggling to even understand the questions where they contained theological terms. Yet at the end of it all, Garner Ted Armstrong (the son of Herbert, of course) still held his position; nothing changed. So what was achieved? Well, not a good deal although a few people might have better understood the issues. But with a public or televised debate, personality has an effect and maybe it should not. Garner Ted scored points by being neatly-dressed, polite and friendly even while in hostile territory and, of course, he was always a good-looking guy. Theologically he lost heavily but personality-wise he did well.

I also heard a very disappointing debate between Alister McGrath and Richard Dawkins some while ago. Problem was: McGrath gave Dawkins too much respect and he (Dawkins) took advantage by just launching into Alister and that was it - game, set and match! McGrath, actually a very capable man, started badly and never seemed to get another chance. Problem was that somebody had (foolishly) decided that McGrath should defend 'religion' rather than Christianity - an impossible task! Also, that prevents one from pointing out that Dawkins himself employs a highly-religious approach. I thought it a poor debate. Dawkins has a rottweiler mentality and, it seems to me that anybody debating him must be just as aggressive. But you can't defend "religion" - that term would have to include both Marxism and evolutionism as non-deity religions.
But I think that more will usually be learned by just quietly and calmly reading both sides of the argument on any particular issue; I think few ever change their opinions after watching/hearing debates over theological issues. So I remain unconvinced in general.
Robin A. Brace. September 12th 2009.