On debating

I was thinking about something today (no, it didn’t hurt). When I was watching a video by cdk007, blood type was mentioned. It took me back to one of the first things I did at the student Humanist Society. We went to a presentation by the Australian creationist, John McKay, who is the International Director of Creation Research. I think they use the term ‘research’ to mean a google search. And apologies for linking to such an ugly website – I just noticed on the right hand side “What was neanderthal man’s favourite hymn?” which I really hope is the opening line of a joke rather than the title of a serious piece of work.

There, we handed out some flyers with such dandy captions as “And next week: Flat Earth – Final Proof… Electricity: Witchcraft on wires?”, and I remember that a guy came over and asked me to stop handing them out because it was making a joke of the event, and I couldn’t resist replying “I think this event is a joke already”. Then after listening to the talk, we asked some questions, like you would at any presentation (and I promise I’ll get to the point soon). My question was that if we were descended from Adam and Eve, then how can we have the 3 different blood types? Not only were there only 2 created beings to begin with, but one was supposedly made from the rib of the other, so surely they’d both have the same blood type? He was, to my delight, stumped (I suppose he hadn’t googled that one), and I made a note to ask it again in the future. That I did when I went to the Edinburgh Creation Group, when Marc Surtees replied that it’s down to the Fall. Adam and Eve would have been A+ and other groups are degenerations.

So after all that, here’s the point. I’ve never used that argument again. Never. I may look at it again because AFAIK the B antigen is a different protein, not just losing a protein, but until I’ve hammered it out I’m not going near it. There is of course the bigger issue that anyone created from Adam’s rib – if that were possible – would be an exact clone, and therefore a man, not a woman, but whatever. Even though I know that I could probably stump a few creationists who haven’t thought about it, I know that there is a hole in the blood type argument, so I don’t use it. For me, the reason for debate and discussion is usually to get closer to the truth.

This is in complete contrast to the debating style of many theists I’ve encountered, who’ll sometimes not bother responding in any depth to any refutation that you offer, instead just changing their argument in the hope that you’ll find that convincing instead, without any possibility of them changing their mind. Then, the next time you have a similar discussion, they’ll be using the same arguments even though you thoroughly refuted it the last time. This is a generalisation, and there are of course many exceptions. Particularly notable is that Answers in Genesis has a list of arguments that they think creationists should not use. There are also plenty of atheists who will deliberately use a bad argument for a cheap win (Hitch’s challenge is perhaps one, maybe I should save that for another blogpost though).

Dawkins wrote briefly about this in one of his books, although I forget which one. It was the reason that he doesn’t go to debates offered by debates unions. After the debate he asked his opponent how he became a Christian, and he said that he wasn’t a Christian, he’d been assigned that position and didn’t actually believe what he’d been debating for. I’m a member of the debates union at university, but I don’t tend to go, and when one of the committee tried to convince me to come more often, I brought up this point, and the response was that it’s the best way to learn about an opposing viewpoint, if you have to argue in its favour. At first I thought that was fair enough, but now I think I disagree, and this is what I was thinking about today.

You can become familiar with an argument without debating for it. If, in preparation for this debate that you don’t agree with, you genuinely do change your mind on it, then that’s fine. But if, as is usually the case, you prepare for the debate and you don’t change your mind, then you are presenting an argument that you know has a flaw, hoping that your opponent doesn’t notice so that you win the debate. That’s intellectually dishonest, and has nothing to do with getting closer to the truth. Furthermore, people listening to the debate may well be convinced by your flawed argument, and go on to use it again.

Well that was a bit of a ramble.

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4 Responses to On debating

  1. Sometimes its fun for shits and giggles though 🙂

    Agree with the point generally, I don’t tend to start any “there is no good evidence for a single individual called Jesus” type debates anymore because without a shadow of a doubt the other party will always bring up Josephus, Tacitus, occasionally Pliny and the argument that there is more evidence for Christ than for Caesar.

    These arguments are always fun but never actually lead anywhere because once I have pointed out why Josephus et al are not good sources it just comes down to faith and the debate ends.

    The one good thing about it though is that an audience might learn more and realise how weak the evidence for an individual named Jesus actually is. But for a one on one debate it just gets annoying and its at that point the arrogant, cynical skeptic cliche actually becomes part reality because you lose your patience.

    Would like to see how the blood type argument comes along though, not something I ever thought about.

  2. Marc Surtees says:

    Hi Mike just a small correction.

    You wrote “… when Marc Surtees replied that it’s down to the Fall. Adam and Eve would have been A+ and other groups are degenerations.”

    Actually is was AB+ otherwise B would have from somewhere.

    Marc

  3. grammarking says:

    Ah yes I thought that might be the case. How about that anyone created from Adam’s rib would have to be a man? Any thoughts on that?

  4. Alex Pryce says:

    I still think the blood type argument is valid on the grounds that the respons is flawed. It adds extra conditions to the statement without backing them up, its the equivelant of “goddidit” which is never a good response.

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