I watched/listened to a debate last night. It was Blair Scott, Communications Director for American Atheists up against Kyle Butt of Apologetics Press. The debate proposition was "God Does Not Exist" with Blair Scott arguing for the proposition and Kyle Butt arguing against it.
I've heard Blair Scott speak a few times but I'd never heard of Mr Butt.
The debate starts and Mr Butt steps up to the podium. One of the first things he mentions is that he has been trolling a certain "social site" and he came upon a comment on Blair's page. Someone had made a joke about Mr Butt on Blair's wall it seemed. Mr Butt was visibly not happy about being the butt of the joke and his comment about it was presented as if it had come from Blair or somehow been encouraged by him. Blair didn't make the comment, it was put on his facebook wall by a contact. We all know how that goes, none of us ever knows what the hell people on our friends list are going to say. If you post a perfectly innocent status next thing you know someone is telling stories about their bowel moments or some other random thing. Besides if you have the last Butt what do you think is going to happen? Do you expect people who don't know you, are never going to meet you, and probably think you are never going to read any posted comment, to pass up the painfully easy opportunity to joke about your name? Yea okay...
After watching the displeasure flash across Mr Butt's face I thought for a moment He is using a facebook comment to put down the person he is debating about god? It seemed a bit childish to me and as he continued to speak it became clear I was right.
Mr. Butt told his audience that Blair was sure to lose because you can not prove a negative. I almost expected him to reach out and point at Blair, cackle loudly and scream "We got you my pretty!" in a voice very much like the wicked witch. He didn't but he did ramble on for several minutes presenting arguments which have all been found to be incorrect or had still been considered 'debatable' This would have been business as usual but there was a hint of personal attack in Mr Butt's animus towards Blair. It continued through the entire debate, flaring up a couple of times.
Mr Butt told a joke his opening came to an end. Blair Scott then started his opening. I was curious how he would address the fact that he could not win a debate where he had to prove the absolute non-existence of god.
Then something very interesting happened. Blair admitted to losing the debate as it had been presented. He would not be trying to prove god didn't exist, he would be presenting some of the conclusions Atheists had come to and some of the counter arguments to Mr Butt's absolute claims. These would all be presented so that they could be considered by the audience. The audience would have to come to it's own conclusions. There was not going to be an Atheist standing on stage insisting everything he said was factual beyond a doubt.
This approach was perfect for a couple reasons.
1) If Blair had started by telling the crowd he was going to change their minds about god you would have been able to hear the minds snapping shut. He had only asked them to listen.
2) No matter what was said from that point on, no matter how many times Mr Butt took petty shots and behaved like an egotistical prick who had all the answers. Blair was standing in front of a crowd giving them things to think about which would probably never been presented to them otherwise. Things that would help them make informed choices about their beliefs.
I'm not going to go into the issues tossed back and forth between Blair and Mr Butt except one. Mr Butt said at one point the there were absolutes when it came to what was right and wrong. Besides showing that Mr Butt is unable to even consider another person point of view,it also showed how ignorant he is to the diversity of the world.
Some people are going to say that Blair did not do well during this debate. While I can understand how they could come to that conclusion I found his presentation to be accurate and done with class, not by taking cheap shots at Mr Butt. Blair could have also admitted defeat and proceeded to describe exactly what kind of god the other side had shown to exist by using the bible. It would have been easy to paint the picture of a needy hypocritical being who seemed very bored and not very intelligent. That would have resulted in most of the crowd dismissing Blair as hateful or angry, the poor Atheist who just needed to find the love of jesus.
Mr Butt gave me the impression of someone who talks to to everyone but his reflection in a condescending tone. I don't think he even one time admitted that he could be wrong. There is a saying that goes something like this "The wisest man is the one who realizes how little he knows" If Mr Butt possesses any humility at all he must be hiding it where the sun doesn't shine.