A Question I Was Asked:

Any Change In Your Attitude to Doing Public Debates?

The Question:

Have you had any changes of heart regarding doing public debates? In my view you would be ideal to set alongside Richard Dawkins or any other atheist. But I know that you have said that they are just exercises in vanity. Any change in your thinking there?

UK Apologetics Reply:

No. Absolutely no change at all. I prefer to be a quietly influential, internet-wise, that is, Christian writer, though maybe "influential" is over-stating it a bit.

I have watched televised/videoed debates and have been appalled that people who are slick, and who look good on camera, seem to come out on top. To my mind, too many people these days are just looking for slick, impressive presentation. Problem is, the moment you go on camera, image becomes all-important - the facts of a matter become secondary. That appalls me. People who are more interested in hard facts and sound evidence will tend to read, research and to study a matter at more depth and won't usually look at high-profile "debates" anyway. But people who will watch these sort of things tend to be image-conscious. If a thing looks right, if somebody smiles and looks pleasant, they tend to be liked by the viewer, and they will tend to go along with the argument. Suddenly, things such as truth, hard evidence and facts are secondary. Can that be right?

A few years ago I watched a debate between the late armstrongist minister, Garner Ted Armstrong, and a leading American Apologetics man. Right now I can't recall who this top Apologetics man was, and that, I think, is significant. Armstrong was wrong on most of what he stated but he came across as handsome, friendly, gentle, smart and intelligent. The camera always loved Garner Ted because of his obvious good looks. The Apologetics man, in contrast, came across as a little belligerent, a little crumpled, and not quite as sharp on his facts as he should have been. There is no question that Armstrong came out on top in that little debate but it should not have happened. If the debate had been in the form of a magazine article, or even a radio presentation, Armstrong would have lost, but as a video-presented debate, Armstrong was in his element, he looked good on camera, he smiled a lot (in my recollection the Apologetics man did not), and seemed to refute one or two of his questioner's points. Result? A somewhat unlikely win "on points" for GT Armstrong! This man had been the leader of a cult, not perhaps one of the most vicious ones of all time, but a cult nevertheless, yet - in my opinion - he won the debate. Why? How can that be? Because it was televised and GT Armstrong was an absolute master of handling those glossy media situations. He was smooth and slick in presenting his case in that sort of scenario. He appeared confident of his facts - such confidence was totally misplaced, of course, but an unbiased and undecided viewer would probably have been won over by him nevertheless.

I also saw Alister McGrath effectively lose a debate to Dawkins because he got off to a bad start, frankly showed RD far too much respect, and - as I recall it - refused to defend divine creation. Dawkins saw one or two weaknesses in his position and just tore into him. I don't think it helps the Christian cause when a leading evangelical theologian will not defend divine creation! What? Are we saying that Darwin was right on everything and that we can now only take a stand on the New Testament? Ludicrous! Absolutely ludicrous! I am not saying that that was exactly McGrath's position but I was uncomfortable with his position which was compromised from the start, in my opinion. I think it was that "debate" which made me decide never to watch another one.

On a few occasions I have been asked to do things for Christian radio and TV and would not rule anything out but the timing has never been right, but I am not interested in doing any such public debates. In the case of the former, I have mostly been expected to drive into the horrendous London traffic situation to film something which would be of quite brief duration anyway and I have not seen the point. I will give my views to anyone - no problem - but if they want to film that, I now expect any such would-be filmers of my views to come to the town where I live (which, by the way, has excellent facilities for that). I am not a young man anymore and I feel I have every right to say this. I am also prepared to be interviewed on Skype (with appropriate advance knowledge of the questions).

Robin A. Brace. January 19th, 2012.