The Great Debate – like god, not so great

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This via PZ Myers site Pharyngula

Many of you who are into the discussion about religion will have picked up that many atheists refuse to debate religious types, mainly because of what has been dubbed the ‘Gish Gallop’ – named after the apologist Duane Gish, who trotted out so many points during his debates that it was impossible to refute them all in a systematic and thorough way. The same tactic is used by cranks of all sorts, especially climate change denialists and alternative medicine proponents, who boil things down to a string of simplistic one-liners, instead of examining the often complex facts (you know, a bit like Australian politics). This then gives the appearance in a live debate that they have won, because the opponent was not able to answer every point, or simply because they ‘seemed’ more knowledgeable.

Here’s a little more background on this phenomenon, which features a nice graphic on ‘debating a christian’.

There are exceptions of course – the guys at Reasonable Doubts engage in debates frequently, but in a more academic setting and format, which tends to keep the gallopers under control.

And then there are the complete mismatches – revisit the Dawkins vs Pell fiasco for a bit of fun, and this great effort by PZ Myers.

But this one will make you chuckle. Recorded just a couple of weeks ago, sociologist and secular humanist Phil Zuckerman WIPED THE FLOOR with historian David Marshall, in a debate on which side provides the greater basis for a society. Zuckerman was so well prepared in comparison to Marshall it was a very lopsided discussion. He relied on sociological studies and global observations, while Marshall seemed to trot out single anecdotes from history, and of course his own personal experience. At times, Marshall seemed to have not been listening, or was simply stumped for what to say next, and had to resort to the time-honoured tactic of asking the moderator to repeat the question in order to buy time.

It’s a bit long, but worth it hear Zuckerman’s well constructed arguments. The only negative for Zuckerman is that he tries a bit too hard to be polite and accommodating. Enjoy.


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