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Why I Don’t Do Debates

gerencser family 2018
Bruce and Polly Gerencser and Family 2018

Smart is the person who understands his skill levels, his strengths, and his weaknesses. There’s nothing worse than watching someone unskilled attempt to do something that is out of his skill set, all because he thought it would be a good idea or his supporters suggested he do it. Years ago, during my Fundamentalist Baptist days, I got into a discussion with a liberal Baptist preacher. We were attempting to talk about psychology, a subject that I knew nothing about. Back and forth we went, with me pontificating, showing that I had no understanding of the subject at hand. If I remember right, it is when we got the subject of Abraham Maslow, that I tried to make my liberal Baptist friend see that I was an “expert” on Maslow, that he said, “Bruce you don’t know what you are talking about. You’re full of shit.” And he was right.

As a preacher, I believed I always had to have an answer for every question. I had to be the smartest guy in the room, the source of all wisdom and knowledge. After all, I spoke for God. Sure, I had a large library, but my all of my books essentially reinforced my beliefs, reminders of the fact that I was right. I had a handful of books on psychology, but these authors, to the person, were anti-psychology. Their theme was the same as virtually every Evangelical book: The Bible Says _______________.

Over time, I learned three things:

  • I had huge gaps in my knowledge and understanding of the world
  • I had good public speaking and writing skills
  • I should focus my time and effort on the things that I am good at

I was fifty years old when I left Christianity and became an atheist — by all accounts, a set-in-his-ways old man. Today, I am sixty-three. While I have learned all sorts of new things since deconverting, I am too old to embark on a new career, to reinvent myself. As long-time readers know, I have a lot of health problems, and it seems that no miracle healing is forthcoming. I have accepted the premise that my life is what it is, and unless I want to live every day in despair, I must take life as it is and do what I can. I am a realist, a pessimist at heart, so I don’t expect doctors to come riding in on white horses to deliver me from my afflictions. Knowing this, it is essential that I focus on honing my writing and speaking skills, not wading into new endeavors.

This brings me to the subject of debates. Over the years, I have been asked if I am interested in debating Christians. The short answer is no. Let me explain.

First, there are numerous atheist and agnostic debaters producing quality — dare I say phenomenal — content: Matt Dillahunty, Bart Ehrman, Steven Woodford (Rationality Rules), Alex O’Connor (Cosmic Skeptic), Drew McCoy (Genetically Modified Skeptic), Aron Ra, and Seth Andrews (The Thinking Atheist), to name a few. I see no need to add my weak voice to an already crowded field of expert debaters. I ask myself, do we really need another hamburger joint in town? The answer is no.

Second, I am a conversationalist, a storyteller. This blog has always been one man with a story to tell. I suspect that if I changed my focus to the rules of logic, philosophy, and debating, my hard-won audience would likely go elsewhere. Most people who read this blog do so because they find my story resonates with them in some way. When doubting, troubled Evangelicals show up for the first time, they find a man who understands their pain, what they have experienced and gives voice to their struggles. Such people have always been my focus, and I see no need to change my course now.

Now, this doesn’t mean I never talk about logic or philosophy, I do. The same goes for science. I do not get into debates (arguments) with creationists. First, I am not a scientist, and second, young earth creationists, in particular, are some of the most obstinate people on planet Earth. If I choose to briefly engage them, I ignore their ill-informed science arguments and, instead, attack the foundation of their beliefs: the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of the Bible. Disabuse Evangelicals of the notion that the Bible is an inerrant, infallible book, and the rest of their beliefs come tumbling down. For me personally, it’s a matter of focusing on what I know, instead of getting into an argument about science where neither participant knows what the hell they are talking about.

You won’t see my on the debate stage any time soon. I will be in the crowd cheering on my favorite atheist debaters. I plan to stick to telling my story. I am working towards, after years of broken promises, putting out a podcast. I am waiting for a laptop I purchased to arrive, and then I will be ready to go. My goal is for my podcast to be an extension of this blog: telling my story and continuing my in-the-know critiques of Evangelical Christianity. If this project goes well, my podcast will be available on all the major podcasting services, including YouTube. I recognize that the video and podcast markets are growing by leaps and bounds. If I believe my story is worth hearing and can help those who have doubts about Christianity or who have left the faith, then it is important for me to take my story and turn it into accessible videos and podcasts. Like it or not, younger people, in particular, are more likely to listen to my story on one of the video/audio services than they are to do a search on Google and come to this site. One-third of the people who come to this blog for the first time arrive via a web search on any given day. I suspect that the age demographic skews older for these first-timers, so my goal with the podcast is to reach people who don’t normally frequent this site. The Apostle Paul said he became all things to all men, and that’s my approach with the podcast. I hope to produce one podcast each week. This should not affect my writing schedule — health-willing. You can subscribe to my YouTube channel here.

As always, thank you for your love, kindness, and support.

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

12 Comments

  1. Avatar
    GeoffT

    Debates have their place, and are great forums to allow people to display their oratorical skills, but the winner of a debate isn’t necessarily the person with the best arguments. The first time I ever saw or heard of William Lane Craig, the Christian apologist, was when I saw him on YouTube debating the great polemicist Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens unfortunately died some years back, but he was one of the best critics of religion (he wrote the book God is not Great, much superior to Dawkins’ The God Delusion) of recent times, and his acerbic style and wit were without parallel.

    The trouble was that Craig turned out to be a formidable debating opponent, at a time when Hitchens was coming to the end of his life, and the latter was insufficiently prepared for the battle. The result was that Craig was able to throw in all of the philosophical soft ball arguments such as the Kalam Cosmological Argument and Fine Tuning, and Hitchens didn’t rebut them in the way he once would have done. As a result there was little disagreement that Craig won the debate. The arguments, however, have not stood the test of time and young Alex O’Connor, who is referred to above (Cosmic Skeptic) was tearing them apart when he was 18 (he’s only 21 now, and I think looks like one of the very few people who might one day emulate Hitchens).

  2. Avatar
    Sage

    Debating a Christian on any topic is a futile effort. You will never convince the believer or their supporters that they are wrong. Even when they lose a debate because their argument has no logical merit they still believe they have one.

    You only need to witness 2 christians debating some biblical point. At the end, both walk away convinced they put the other in their place, because god was on their side proving their point.

    You would be better off debating with your cat. It will eventually give you that smug “you are such an idiot” look and walk away.

  3. Avatar
    Infidel753

    Wise words. It’s best to play to one’s strengths, and what you do on the blog, you do extremely well. You’re already making a greater contribution than most. You’re not obligated to take on yet another arena.

    I don’t do debates and arguments, not only because it’s not what I’m good at, but because I’ve already done enough of that to last a lifetime. Arguing with people is a dreary and unpleasant chore. There are only so many hours in the day — why spend any of them doing something unpleasant that you don’t need to do?

  4. Avatar
    GeoffT

    Sage, you are right of course, but most debates have a winner and loser that tends to be obvious to the independently positioned, and given that many of these debates now are on YouTube means that there’s a much greater such audience than there’s ever been. Case in point. Lydia McGrew, blogger, apologist, and husband of apologist Tim McGrew, recently debated Jonathan Pearce of the Patheos blog Tippling Philosopher on the subject of the nativity stories. The debate was extremely cordial and polite, but Pearce won by a country mile. That was not obvious to McGrew’s Christian audience (who of course thought she was victorious), but uninformed independent watchers will have been left scratching their heads. McGrew was able to appear to handle all of Pearce’s objections, which essentially is every single point in the nativity ‘narrative’, but she was only giving the impression of doing it by virtue of the fact that she’s well practiced and eloquent. She didn’t go in the least way to actually giving substantive answers. I’ve noticed apologist debates becoming much less notable, with better apologists avoiding them, presumably as a lost cause, leaving the dross such as Ray Comfort, Frank Turek, and Kent Hovind, who don’t realise they are being mauled.

  5. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    It’s always best to perform within your skill set and to practice at whatever you are lacking. I don’t debate. My brain isn’t fast on its feet, so to speak. The way my brain works is that for any topic, it will examine the topic from many different perspectives, weighing the pros and cons of each perspective, then coming to a conclusion. That kind of processing doesn’t lend itself well to debates, but lends itself quite well in written word , in conflict resolution, and in problem solving and constructing plans. We all have our strengths.

    If you nerd guests with personal stories to tell for podcasts, let us know. I bet there are some good stories among your readers….

  6. Avatar
    Troy

    I suppose knowing one’s limitations is the prime requisite for any art. And debating is an art, you can lose a debate even if you’re actually correct. I suspect many who have climbed the mountain of rationality forget that it is in fact a mountain with a myriad set of interconnected pieces. A good debater can artfully pull out a few of the supporting pieces and land a few good punches and even so minds aren’t changed, because minds are resistant to change.
    Possibly one of the most disastrous debates was between the YouTuber Thunderf00t (a.k.a. Chemistry professor Dr. Phil Mason) vs. Ray Comfort (Young Earth Creationist wackadoodle who rode child actor Kirk Cameron’s coattails to a very lucrative career writing the same book a myriad of times and just changed the titles) Debate prep is a serious skill, not one for the aspirational.
    Another problem with debate, you can win and still end up losing. Merely by sharing a stage you lend credibility to your opponent. For example the famous debate of Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham. Even televangelist Pat Robertson acknowledged that Ham was wrong after the debate, yet if the debate hadn’t occurred Ken Ham’s Ark Park might not have even been built. The debate put Ken Ham on the map and it was a fundraising bonanza.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      There are several people in the atheist community who should stop debating, not because of a lack of knowledge, but a lack of the skills you mention. The same can be said about Evangelical apologists. I watched Matt Dillahunty’s last two debates. He absolutely destroyed his opponents. His debate with Sal Cordova — OMG, it was so bad that I actually started feeling sorry for Cordova. 🙂

      For me, watching a debate is fun and educational. I always come away thinking, that’s an interesting take on that subject.

  7. Avatar
    BJW

    I appreciate this. Can’t wait to hear some of your Youtube videos. I’m doing more and more listening as opposed to reading, as my eyes get tired. I also don’t want to debate people. If presenting facts, reality, science studies, or really anything that is real doesn’t change someone’s mind, I’m not too interested in continuing a debate.

  8. Avatar
    mary

    it’s better not to waste time debating. evangelical christians never truly debate as they will not change their beliefs no matter what proof or facts are presented. you are wisely spending time encouraging and helping people move on from a toxic belief system to a better life. education will be the key to killing out fundamentalism. that’s why the sect i grew up in was lax about education. they knew an educated person w/a comfortable life would be less likely to believe their bullshit or tolerate their hatefulness. thanks for your writing and look forward to seeing you on youtube. you will be very effective there.

  9. Avatar
    Barbara L. Jackson

    I agree. This is why I try to stop myself from arguing with economist views of other people. I studied physics in college but finished later with an Information Systems degree. Both require tests of software or experiments of science hypothesis. It is impossible to test economic theories this way. It is impossible to do a double blind test on economic theory. You cannot have a group where nothing changes to compare with the group where the theory changes things. As my husband says people deal with economic theories they deal with religion

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Bruce Gerencser