Worst Atheist Debaters

Like my list of “Best Atheist Debaters,” I don’t know of any way to be fully objective about this sort of thing. Also, like the other list, I fully recognize that others may disagree. Nevertheless, for what it’s worth, here is my list of worst atheist debaters, organized by topic.

Topic: God’s Existence

Topic: Morality Without God
  • Kurtz, Paul (for an example, see here)
  • Taylor, Richard

Topic: Resurrection of Jesus

  • Flew, Antony

Note: as with the other list, nothing should be read into the fact that someone’s name does not appear on this list. I haven’t listened to all atheist debate performances; additionally, I am undecided about some of the ones I have listened to.

About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16360897119962486447 Andyman409

    I'd also add Gerd Ludemann- Although I think he may have done badly since english isn't his primary language.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15046482889831292157 Chris White

    Having found no other way to contact you, I'm writing here regarding your Guardian article series. Have you considered contacting Jacob Needleman to consider your propositions, and have you seen his proposals concerning God? There's an interesting, if fairly simplified, piece by Needleman on this matter available here: http://www.gurdjieff-internet.com/article_details.php?ID=358&W;=72

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00389553894464515022 Dathinkingman

    hey jeff can you do a post about debating tactics with examples from actual atheist vs theist debate. e.g. to show where atheist go wrong and where they go right and whats the best way to manage the debate. that would be Awesome

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Just as I wonder who told some people that they can sing, I have to wonder who told some people that they can debate. Live debates before an audience are an entirely different thing from debates in print. You can be really good at the one and really lousy at the other.

    In grad school one term I had an office next door to Kai Nielsen. At that time, over 25 years ago, he had over 400 articles published in the journals. He was a one-man philosophical publishing industry. And his stuff was good, too. Yet his debate with J.P. Moreland, the one turned into the book Does God Exist?, was one of the most feckless performances by an atheist debater ever. How can someone that smart have performed so badly?

    I think that largely it is a failure to understand the situation. Academics are used to academic settings, where, though exchanges can get pointed, the aim ultimately is mutual understanding and the sharing of ideas. This is not the purpose of your opponent when you engage in one of the live theist/atheist debates. He does not want dialogue. He does not want a better, more nuanced understanding of your position. He wants to win. It is not a polite exchange over Chablis in the faculty club. It is a barroom brawl with the lights shot out. If you show up expecting a congenial academic colloquium, he will eat your lunch. This does not mean that you should be rude or arrogant, but you must want to win at least as much as your opponent.

    Wanting to win a debate is necessary but far from sufficient. Many academics have little experience of formal debate in front of an audience (maybe we should bring back the medieval disputations), and do not know what it takes to win. A good debate will have clash; the opponents address each other's arguments and rebuttals directly. Kai unfortunately did not do this, leaving most of Moreland's points unchallenged. He tried to stake everything on his argument that theism is incoherent and simply yielded to most of Moreland's arguments. This strategy was about as effective as France's dependence on the Maginot Line in 1940.

    Fortunately, the disastrous performance of some of the early atheist debaters was a wake-up call that got people like Jeff and Eddie Tabash into action.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Chris — I'm confused by your statement, "I'm writing here regarding your Guardian article series." Who are you talking about? It's obviously not me since I haven't written a Guardian article series.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11030669424412573308 Chris

    I think Chris White is referring to Julian Baggini's 'Heathen's Progress' series in the Guardian.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Dathinkingman — Sure. I don't know when I will do that, so for now I will simply list two of my criteria: (1) understanding the topic, and (2) actually clashing with your opponent's arguments.

    For example, despite Paul Kurtz's impressive credentials as a philosopher, Kurtz apparently didn't understand Craig's moral argument. According to that argument, moral values are objectives if and only if they have an ontological foundation. If my memory is correct, Craig said absolutely nothing about this in the entire debate. He definitely didn't "clash" with Craig's arguments, especially this one, throughout the entire debate.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    "objectives" should be "objective"

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