Why Christians Need To Learn Debate Tactics
by Matt Rawlings
I drew a lot of ire this week when I wrote that Ken Ham was not the right person to debate Bill Nye. I was somehow misread to argue that I was personally attacking Mr. Ham (I wasn’t and I wrote that he’s a nice man), that only people with Ph.D.’s could speak on apologetic issues (I didn’t say that either. I train lay people in apologetics) and on and on and on. What I did say was that on a national stage like the one on which the Ham-Nye debate took place, you want your best Christian thinker, speaker and debater and that means a professional apologist and the most effective of the current batch do hold doctorates (and I’ve yet to hear why that is a bad thing).
Not all people can (or should) earn a degree in apologetics and only a few of them are gifted enough to debate professionally. But every Christian should learn enough apologetic material to carry on a productive discussion with an interested skeptic (1 Peter 3:15) and every Christian should learn basic debate tactics. Why?
I actually didn’t watch the Ham-Nye debate because I feared it would become…well…what it became. But I understand from buzz on Twitter and Facebook that Ham took Nye’s bait about perceived problems with Scripture such as the construction of Noah’s Ark. Now the debate topic was whether it is reasonable to believe in creationism. So, what does Noah’s Ark have to do with the topic? Nothing and that’s the point.
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Nye led Ham down a rabbit trail lined with red herrings. Ham should have politely reminded Mr. Nye that the topic in hand is not historical questions about Scripture but about the reasonableness of believing that God created the universe rather than its creation by “the nothing” or “the multiverse” or whatever. This is Debate 101. Most high school or debate teams teach their students not to fall for red herrings solely designed to make you look silly and lose focus and it is a lesson many Christians should learn as well.
Again, you may wonder why?
It is easy for a skeptic to lead a person sharing the Gospel or preparing to share the Gospel by defending the reasonableness of the faith off topic. If that happens you can lose your shot at reaching the person you are trying to bring to Christ.
Oddly enough, I recently had a conversation with a skeptic who was torn because he clearly wanted more out of life but didn’t want to give up his sexual freedom. He has asked me several questions about Darwinism and the book of Genesis. When I had pointed out the flaws in Darwinism and that one may read Genesis faithfully in a way that harmonizes with the best of modern science, he tried to shift the topic to other questions like the validity of other religions. I could see that he was getting nervous realizing that his agnosticism was not as intellectually justified as he wanted to believe…