I used to get a lot of challenges from anonymous internet nobodies wanting to debate me; not just to argue with me online, but to “call me out” in some public forum where they thought they could ‘win’ me. I’ll already argue with pretty much anyone as long as there is some indication that that person is being somewhat sincere and not just a troll out to waste my time. So how do you weed out the trolls? I came up with this rule that I wouldn’t debate anyone who nominates his or her self. I’ll only do it if some collection of people nominates someone else to represent them, someone who will debate me on their behalf. That way, if I beat that person, I’m effectively beating everyone that person represents. That is also the only way to force accountability, something creationists consistently lack, and which is the biggest hurdle when debating them. Disingenuous willfully obtuse or childish behavior may work for an individual, but not so much when representing a group of other people; because some of their own following are likely to call them out for that.
I don’t need to debate anyone, because most of the time, it’s pointless. There are few instances where debates can determine the truth of a matter, and science is never in that situation. So if I’m going to debate at all, I need to get some value out of it. You’ll never change the mind of your opponent, which is why debating an individual is a waste of time; but it is possible to show the audience what the facts really are. So I’m never going to consider invitations from random people who may only be trying to promote themselves, but who don’t have any real following to motivate me.
Consequently I’ve never had an actual live moderated debate. I had a moderated written debate back in 2005. That was against a couple ministers and a couple people on the Texas State Board of Education. Complete records of that debate no longer exist. The archive was hosted by someone else, and the data was lost when that dot-com went out of business. Only fragments of it remain, quoted by different forums that were discussing it at the time.
I’ve also ‘debated’ a handful of famous fundies on the radio, but each of those shows wasn’t an actual debate as much as two guys arguing with each other on someone’s podcast. Matt Dillahunty and Dan Barker and a few others have formal debates with a live audience all the time, but not me; never once; and if it never happens, I’m fine with that too.
I did agree to debate Ken Ham once. I was invited by the Houston Atheists, the world’s largest geographic atheist meet-up group, with over 2,000 active members at that time, but Ken Ham refused to debate me. Nor would he let any of the PhD minions on his payroll face me on stage. A few months later, he debated Bill Nye instead. It seemed to me that Bill Nye was my replacement. Either of us would have beaten Ham of course, but AnswersInGenesis ministries wouldn’t have made tens of thousands of dollars by having Ham debate little ol’ me, because I’m nobody. I’m not even on Wikipedia. I also wouldn’t have done it in Ham’s own venue where he gets to charge for tickets. Instead it would have been a neutral location, and it have cost him. That was my goal.
I was asked to come to a high school in east Texas, to debate some local preacher there. Interest was so high that they were even going to move the event to a church, which had a bigger stadium than the high school, (how sad is that?). That fell through when each of their ministers looked me up. “Oh that guy?! Nevermind, not in our town.” Suddenly both venues retracted their offers. The school who issued the challenge suddenly decided that to have one of their clergymen debate me would have been a violation of the 1st amendment. Religion is full of little ironies like that.
So last week, someone finally tells me that he’s part of some group of people who all want me to debate some other guy, someone they’ve nominated to represent them and debate me on their behalf. I’d never heard of that person, but that doesn’t matter, and I told them so. Then I inquired as to the when and where, who would moderate, and so on.
As I waited for my answer, I looked the guy up. Turns out he’s an underling of Ray Comfort, and promoted by Matt Slick. I’ve already argued with both of those people and neither one warrants any further attention. So if I’m already prepared for them (and who isn’t?) then I’m prepared for this guy too.
This is where it gets funny. I get an email back from the person who invited me, and I’m expecting him to give me a city and a venue and a schedule, perhaps sometime in December. Instead, he doesn’t have any of that because their representative won’t answer their calls. Turns out he never even accepted their nomination either. They issued the challenge to me and named him as their champion, but without his knowledge or consent! So they asked if I would contact this guy out of the blue and challenge someone I’ve never heard of, and who probably never heard of me either, and I should do this because he won’t talk to his own followers otherwise. Why should I do this?
So I refused. I said I’m not going to do this backwards, and it took six more email exchanges to explain to that person why you can’t put people on the spot like that. If that guy hadn’t accepted their nomination, then it isn’t a sincere challenge. They shouldn’t already have me ready before they let him know what they’ve gotten him into. They didn’t even give him any way to refuse discreetly without losing face. With friends like that, who needs enemies, right?
So the next time some organization (that I can actually confirm) asks me whether I will debate whoever your nominee is, make sure that person already knows who I am, and has agreed to debate me anyway.