Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Thoughts on the Dutko Debate

I've gotten a lot of feedback on the Dutko debate and seriously have not had one negative review. I can't say this with regards to all of my radio call in efforts, so it would appear that it went well for me. And that's the way I feel about it. I'm getting compliments even from Christians. In fact from every Christian I've talked with. My atheist friends of course also thought it went well for me. So I'm glad to hear this.

My first thought about it though is I'm once again impressed with Bob Dutko. He probably was expecting a novice. What he got was a person that does debate a lot, has experience in debating apologists on the air, and also listens to his show often enough to know the arguments going in. Despite that I was never able to really put him too much on the defensive. Clearly Bob is a skilled individual.

But I have a lot to learn still. Here is what I've learned about Bob. There's a sense where I don't think he's really hearing what I'm saying. Now, the atheists reading are saying to themselves "well duh". But what I suspect is that it's really quite a bit more enmeshed in Bob's brain than I realized, kind of like a cognitive dissonance thing. He really doesn't hear me.

So for instance notice how frequently he claims I believe something came from nothing. My 4 or 5 direct assertions to the contrary just didn't seem to matter.

That's the obvious one, but others weren't clear to me until after the debate and things were pointed out to me by commenter Jason. Take for instance my discussion about the ancient Hindu told by his priest that the earth sits on the turtle. If he doesn't have a complete theory of gravity worked out does this mean he's obligated to accept turtles? Bob's response is "Whatever you want to call it, whether turtles or Zeus or Flying Spaghetti Monster, it's all the same thing. It's pointing to spiritual realities."

I was just kind of lost with this response. It doesn't seem relevant. Why is he responding this way? What he's doing is responding to a different argument. When someone talks about the FSM and basically says that a given argument proves FSM Bob has reasoned that this is nothing more that attributing divine properties to the FSM and altering the name from Yahweh to the FSM. So he's saying who cares? Whatever you call it you're conceding spiritual realities.

But that's not my argument. My argument is that in the past you've replaced what turned out to be natural causes with spiritual causes and you were mistaken. We don't know with regards to the origin of the universe, but your argument looks to be a repetition of this error, so it's rational to reject your argument. This has nothing to do with me renaming God with a silly sounding name, like calling God a fairy or leprechaun. He's funneling my argument into a category that makes him more comfortable rather than dealing with it.

The same thing happened with regards to the subject of the Sphinx. This Sphinx is complex and must be designed, so why shouldn't we assume that the human body, which is more complex, is also designed. My response is that I agree. This is intuitive and rational. But the beauty of science is that it can overturn an intuitive truth. Look at relativity. This is what Darwin did.

Bob responded and said I'd made 2 errors. The first (though it was a blizzard of words he used to make this point) is that I'm assuming evolution is the default position even though the human body is even more complex.

I actually said when he moved to my supposed second error "I'm not sure what the first error was." He repeated it and I was still lost. Because it's not a response to my argument. The reality is I directly conceded and agreed with his so called criticism. I told him that evolution is counter intuitive and it is rational to think the human body is designed as a default position. It's only with the overwhelming scientific evidence that the default position was overturned. I could have added that the same was true of flat earth-ism or geocentrism. These are default positions. The earth looks flat from where I'm standing. Turns out we need to reject what might seem intuitive because of the science.

So what Bob is doing is basically responding to me as if I made the argument he expects me to make and perhaps the argument he typically hears. Maybe atheists typically just imply that evolution is not counter intuitive. We should expect human organs to arise by natural means. That's what Bob typically hears so he simply pretends that this is what I said. He responds like an automaton. What I say doesn't actually matter. The response is mechanical and is the same no matter what.

Live and learn. You have to know your opponents arguments well enough to know the ways in which he will attempt to mis-characterize what you say. It's confusing because it can be entirely disconnected from your own words. I have to try and be ready for that.


DagoodS said...


Honestly, it is very easy to look back and think, “Oh, I could have said this” or “I should have seen that.” The proof is in the pudding—how did you do when the heat is being applied directly? I thought you did quite well. (And, as you know me—that is saying something!)

Sure, we ALL are brilliant arguers when we review a debate, google a few things, hash over in our head what we could say, and THEN prepare an answer.

Yes, you could have pressed points with Dutko that you didn’t. You could have argued in a different manner. All easy to think now. Tougher when the spotlight is shinning on and the host is looking for an answer.

Trial by fire is the best learning. Take what you did, and become even better next time.

jason said...

To echo DagoodS: a fine job indeed.

And Jon, I don't think that not being aware of Bob's lack of comprehension in the heat of the moment is a flaw on your part at all. How could you have realized it in his flurry of word salad?

As you know I listen to Bob's show pretty often. I frequently think "Why didn't his opponent say this, that, or the other??" But upon reflection I see that whatever reply I thought of (from the decidedly more comfortable seat of my car instead of the hotseat of the studio or telephone) would have been no better because of the fundamental point you brought up:
Bob seems to actually hear what he already expected you to say. No matter what it is you did say, he continues on rebutting the predetermined point he has constructed for you.

But anyway... Great job.

Glenn said...

Where in the world is Bob Dutko? He has not been on the show since your debate. It's either a guest host or a best of show.

Irl Hudnutt said...


I've listened to your discussion with Bobbo twice now. I would like to point out a couple of things.

First, stop using the passive voice. When you preface a statement with "Atheists believe...," it makes your assertion conditional. *I* believe a fact about the universe because it is based on the scientific observation. Remember, science rejects the existence of "spiritual realities" if they cannot be demonstrated and reproduced. If you aren't assertive, then you open the issue up for debate.

Next, if you know that Bobbo has prepackaged, rote answers, then push back. He wanted you to concede that there are "spiritual realities." What the hell does that mean? In rejecting that nonsense, you are reducing the universe to actual physical stuff, i.e. materialism. The universe is made of atoms, having come into existence through cosmological events. If Bobbo is going claim that there is a spiritual universe, have him define it: How does matter create a "spirit"? What model is he using? Can he reproduce it in a lab (or super collider)? Take the fight to Bobbo, who needs to prove his idiotic assertions. Have Bobbo explain the Cosmic Background Radiation. Have Bobbo explain the size of the observable universe. Have Bobbo explain Cosmological Redshifts. All of these are explainable through Big Bang Cosmology. Bobbo has no scientific experiments that explain these phenomena.

Finally, have a better grasp of the facts when you make your examples. When you gave an example of the state of the universe prior to the planck length, you said that the universe could have "come from triangles." That's absurd. Yes, there are places where our knowledge of the the laws of universe are lacking, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. Bobbo wants to exploit the unknowns and stuff God into the empty spaces. Expect it and plan for it.

Hope this helps.

Irl Hudnutt

Jon said...

Thanks for the feedback, Irl, but let me push back a little.

I'll agree with your point on the passive voice.

On your next point I don't think that's a good way to go. Bob does not assert that matter created spirit. He asserts the reverse. There is no model and no experiment because by definition miracles are events that are not susceptible to scientific investigation. Not natural but "super" natural. He doesn't claim they can be shown in a laboratory experiment. His argument is that since we have known physical laws if we show them to be broken we've shown a miracle, and hence we've shown that a supernatural world exists. My response is that physical laws are merely descriptions of the way the world that we observe operates presently, but prior to the Planck time they do not apply so a violation of them is not necessarily supernatural, but is just something we don't presently understand by natural means.

And I would have loved to get him to explain the evidences for the Big Bang. When I talked about how the Big Bang is not a presupposition but based on evidence he just diverted the discussion to a different topic. I went in to the discussion knowing he would do this sort of thing and also resolved to not go over the line with similar pushiness. The alternative is to sound combative, which is not what I wanted to do. I did assert that it is based on evidence and that was all I thought I could reasonably manage based upon his shifting of the topic, which I can't entirely control. In a formal debate of course I would get these points out, but I didn't think I could do it here and not sound like an a-hole to his listeners.

My statement about triangles was honestly ripped off from Daniel Dennett. He said that it is a fact. For all we know the universe might have come from a triangle. You don't know that it wasn't because you have no access to moments prior to the Planck time. It does sound absurd, but whatever is true is absurd. The key is to make it clear that I do not believe that everything came from nothing. What I believe is that I don't know where things came from. So I kind of like the triangle illustration because I think it hammers the point.

Miss your blog over there. You guys should fire it back up. Good stuff. In fact I had printed some info I had gotten from your blog and brought it with me in case I needed it, including Kurt Wise's article on transitional forms as well as Neanderthal DNA sequencing.