Monday, October 18, 2010

RD Extra: Is Christianity Rational?

On October 7'th Jeremy Beahan debated Cliff Knechtle (of Give Me an Answer Ministries) on the question "Is Christianity Rational." The debate covered the following topics: the existence of God, the historical reliability of the gospels and the historicity of the resurrection. The debate was organized by Epic: the college ministry of Riverview Church in Lansing. Chuck Wynn moderated the debate.

To download this or any previous Reasonable Doubts episodes click here. Find the episode you want and right click the "play now" link and select "save target as..."


Unknown said...

Very nice. I think that you acquitted yourself very well! I do wish that you had called out the fact that your opponent was assuming that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were actually written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, however—I don't believe that there's any evidence that this was the case, and there are ample textual arguments to be made that it is not.

Sharkey said...

I agree with Spurll, I feel you were the calm and logical foil to the emotional and illogical Cliff. You countered and preempted his points quite well.

What was the sense from the audience after the debate? Was the debate a worthwhile time investment, or did the audience members and/or your opponent leave with their positions unmoved?

Jeremy said...


Yeah, I had scratched down the authorship comment in my notes and then forgot to mention it in the rebuttal. While listening to the recording I was kicking myself for forgetting it.


It would have been nice to get some exit polling at the debate. Instead I only know what individuals told me after the debate. A few of the Christians there acknowledged that Cliff didnt answer my most important points, but besides that they saw the debate as "basically even." Sheesh...whateva!

Unknown said...

One of the many things that bugged me about Cliff's presentation was the his apparent assumption that either nothing supernatural exists or God exists and is responsible for all things natural and supernatural. Although I happen to believe that the first of the two options is true, this strikes me as a false dichotomy. He posits the existence of the supernatural, and therefore God, when even if the supernatural did exist God would not be the only explanation.

Anonymous said...

u totally wrecked only 35mins in. hope to say something smart later

tf said...

One of the things I really disliked about Cliff's presentation was hit tendency to simply declare things as being true. He does this over and over. It's just sort of a "of course... [insert dubious claim and provide no supporting evidence]", and you should believe me because I spent twenty years working on my voice to sound confident and authoritative. It was easy for me to imagine arguing other wrong points with his same voice -- stuff like "of course the earth is only six thousand years old" or "of course mohammed is Allah's true prophet". It's like he spent a lot of time learning how to persuade people of things that aren't true. It's almost like the whole 'finding good, strong persuasive arguments to support his ideas' took a back seat to the debate tactic of "if I sound authoritative and confident, people will believe whatever I say".

At one point he says the gospels weren't written down right away because early Christians wanted to hear the stories as first-hand accounts from the apostles. This is nonsense. The Christian Church was widely dispersed (which is why Paul traveled so much), so most Christians didn't really have frequent access to the apostles. There was a huge need for written reports immediately after Jesus' death. If his explanation was true, then he should also argue that there was no need for Paul to write letters to the early church, as well. Cliff's explanation completely fails.

I also disagree with the claim that archeology supports the Bible. Sure, there are cases where it does, but also cases where it doesn't. For example, the city of Jericho ("where the walls fell down") was not inhabited at the time of the supposed Jewish invasion of Canaan. Also, I thought I had read that Nazareth was not inhabited at the time of Jesus childhood, but it was inhabited around the time the gospels were written. And, of course, the most obvious one: the global flood (which would've occurred around 2350 B.C. according to the Bible) is absolutely contradicted by archeological evidence.

Lausten North said...

Thank you for your work Jeremy. You are holgalactic! I intrepret the "basically even" comments as "my worldview has just been shaken and I can't express myself right now."

He did kill you with his radio voice though and he was obviously very convinced that he was right. You were simply logical, anybody could do that. He was especially convincing when he spoke really really slow and said, "they died not for a belief, but because of what they saw". (his emphasis added) Or he didn't know what he was talking about, I could go either way on that.

tf said...

Regarding the apostles dying for their belief, there's not that much information on the apostles deaths. I once tried to find out what happened to all the apostles by looking through the Bible, and something like half of them are last mentioned a few weeks after Jesus death in the book of Acts. It's possible that a lot of the apostles gave up on Christianity within a few months of Jesus' death. They are mentioned in legends, but there are sometimes conflicting stories. And maybe those stories are just legends created to give people more claim to Christianity (e.g. the Turks and Etheopians saying "the apostle X came here as a missionary"). It would also give Christians a more comforting explanation than "uh, half the apostles disappeared after Jesus death. They might've deconverted."

The portrait painted by Cliff is that they each were confronted by a Roman soldier who threatened to kill them and they didn't give up their belief. There is absolutely nothing to support this confrontation story created by Cliff.

Regarding Paul's conversion, I've thought for a while that part of the psychology behind Paul's conversion involved the fact that he, as a Pharasee, had to follow lots of rules. Perhaps he became disillusioned with the rules. Also, at one point in Paul's writing, he says that he has some recurring sin that he wrestles with (he's rather vague about what it is). Maybe Christianity gave him the option of forgiveness which was not so available in his traditional, rigid Jewish beliefs. Thus, the idea of Christian forgiveness was a lot more psychologically comforting to him than his existing belief.

Blahface said...

You did a very good job. Cliff is such a bullshitter.

Esoteric said...

Right around the 1 hour mark, when Cliff started getting increasingly defensive, insecure and emotional, and it swapped back to your turn, the disappointment in your voice was palpable. From then on out I was feeling what it sounded like you were feeling. Just an utter: "Sigh, nothing new here. I wish he would actually address what I'm saying."

I missed why everyone was laughing when he was making the Jupiter remark, though.

I'm reminded why it's rare that I listen to these debates these days. I get so incredibly frustrated at how dense the apologists are, how preachy, how insecure and emotional, how illogical, how they weave and dodge, how they don't even really fully know their own texts. Same old drivel.

I did find it funny, though, how he kept saying, "I could just be a nightmare you're having." If only you were *just* a nightmare I'm having, Cliff, but you're actually out there, arguing and promoting this ignorance.

Anyways, Jeremy. Good job on your part. Glad that you just matter-of-fact stated several times that he wasn't even addressing your statements.

llewelly said...

That was sad. Cliff seemed to have no good arguments, and no good responses to Jeremy.

llewelly said...

Jeremy, why did you bring up Gliese 581g (planet with 3-4 times Earth's mass in the habitable zone of a red dwarf star only about 20 light years away) in response to Cliff's "privileged planet" argument?

This strikes me as very weak, because very little is known about Gliese 581g, and only it's distance from its primary, and perhaps its mass, suggest that it may be habitable. No other aspect of it is suggestive of habitability; it is probably tidally locked to it's star, and that does not suggest habitability, it's star was very unstable in its early history, its star provides very few of the relatively high-energy photons needed for earth-like photosynthesis, and so on. And with respect to its most important life-favoring attribute, by some estimations, both Mars and Venus are within our Sun's habitable zone, yet, so far as we know, neither has life. Certainly they do not have life with a tiny fraction of the prevalence and complexity of Earth life. Venus and Mars also have masses more similar to that of Earth, and Mars also has a similar axial tilt and a similar rotational period. If we knew as little about Venus and Mars as we do about Gliese 581g, they would appear more earth like to us than Gliese 581g.

As far as using Gliese 581g to determine how frequently Earth-size planets occur in a star's habitable zone, the fact is that the sample size is only 2. That is much better than 1, but until the sample size exceeds 100 (an event that may be quite near), our knowledge about how frequently planets occur within a habitable zone will continue to be quite sparse.

There are plenty of good arguments against the "privileged planet" argument, but the one you made is not one of them, although Gliese 581g is a very interesting discovery (and made with a technique which suggests more such discoveries may be in the near future).

J Green said...

Jeremy, I loved the way your concise, focused responses cut to the core issues, and how you repeatedly exposed how Cliff's failed to deliver. I recently deconverted after 40 years spent in evangelical Christianity. It's clear that you know the Bible and understand Christian beliefs and that makes your refutations very powerful. This debate and some of the other RD extras are resources I will be using with friends and family who are still believers.
Thanks to you and all who contribute to the podcast!

Esoteric said...

Another comment, after listening again to the podcast for a bit.

Reminded me how I laughed when he started going on about free will and the legal system.

Can I pass him a CD of the whole determinism podcast series? I wanted to pause the debate, have him listen to the whole thing, and then reply.

Still would not likely have been worth anything.

I'm a pure ... ha... Saganist in this regard, though it does shock people. And in a way I think it is somewhat Buddhist. You don't always need to choose one or the other. Sometimes you can choose both or neither.

So.. there can be two things. Reality and the human experience of it. Love might *just be* chemicals in my brain, but the human experience of that is so much more complex.

Free will might not exist, but I *feel* like I'm making choices, and that is enough for me.

There is a difference between absolute reality and the human experience of it.

I think, but it's late and I'm not clear-headed. :) Thoughts?

Fewmet said...

Good show, Jeremy. You did real good.

I want to know how Cliff could justify his high-handed characterisation of the people who died at Jones' Town. Given Cliff's assertion that God is the sole arbiter and ground of morality, if Jesus Christ lead him into the jungle and told him to drink the Coolade, then that is what he should do.

Of course, the idea that God is the basis of morality is what drives the depraved acceptance by many Christians of the terrible cruelty of so many of God's deeds as depicted in the Bible, and it is what allows so many Christians to cling to their atavistic bigotries as though they are virtues. It's easily shown to be a ridiculous idea. If God declared that we should hate each other and seek to make each other suffer, could we conclude that hating and harming is good? What meaning would "goodness", "justice", "decency", "kindness", "fairness" etc. have under those conditions? Morality must transcend any entity's arbitration for it to make any sense.

Unknown said...

An excellent performance, Jeremy. I did find myself frustrated by the ground rules of formal debate, as I am sure you, Cliff and everyone there were. It seemed obvious to me, based on the Q&A segment, that the audience would have enjoyed an unrestricted, untimed and unregulated conversation about secular morality and the historicity of the resurrection.

Nevertheless, you carried yourself with confidence and I really appreciated that.

josh said...

As always you remained calm in light of what others would have gone nuts with and gave good arguments in the midst of emotional arguments. That being said, I found both parties didnt address the point of the debate ie, the rationality of Christianity. He refused to speak like a philosopher and was being a preacher (preachers social/political or religious can serve a purpose though not in this debate) and your arguments rather seemed to point that there are other possible explanations that don't need a god. That does not seem to imply that it is not rational to believe but rather that is is merely not irrational not to believe. For the most party, I basically tuned him out and was only listening to your side because he was just going to appeal to emotion or authority or what not and get angry while you kept your cool and actually dealt with the arguments. That being said, (ignoring the other guy completely.)i did feel your assumption in the moral argument that you can go from I can see what rules I should live by to make me gain pleasure can lead to me any universal morality. Is there a podcast i missed exampling your views on this jump?

JohnFrost said...

I rarely ever listen to debates, because so often it boils down to "who is the better orator?" In this case, Cliff sounded like a preacher until the very end (his "invitation" at the end of his service-I-mean-debate was quite tasteless), but I thought you held your own remarkably well. Indeed, I thought you cleaned his clock. You were way more calm and cogent than I would have been in the face of such lies and willful ignorance. Bravo.

Unknown said...

I was worried in the first 10-20 minutes because he was sounding rather reasonable, even as he was throwing out well-debunked backings for a generalized version of god. To a layman unversed in the standard apologetic arguments, I could see how his first time up would sound extremely reasonable. When you didn't address these concepts right away, and instead started attacking the Christian version of god, I was a little disappointed. I do understand why it worked out that way, it just bothered me a bit.

As the debate went on, however, it became obvious that Cliff was just a regular rabid apologist that had no new arguments to bring to the table. As he sunk deeper and deeper into the proof of Christianity as a rational belief, it was clear he could only appeal to emotions and not logic. The question and answer segment was really telling. You were easily able to come up with concise answers, while he could only ramble on about nothing. When his nothingness gave you the ability to use your 30 seconds for something completely unrelated to the question at hand, it made it clear that he hadn't really addressed the issue at all. I thought that was a brilliant tactic.

The whole thing was just further proof that apologists feel appealing to emotion is a reasonable form of logic.

Anonymous said...

One of the guiding rules of critical thinking is the notion that 'extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence'. During the debate, Cliff used analogies comparing rather ordinary events like an automobile accident to extraordinary claims like someone rising from the dead. He argued that eyewitness accounts for ordinary car accidents will likely differ among different observers. Therefore, accounts of someone rising from the dead should be expected to differ. Somehow, from this, we are expected to accept that a dead person can come back to life, just as we accept that an ordinary car accident happened.

One would have little reason to doubt that a car accident happened. Ordinary claims do not require extraordinary evidence. It is a huge leap, and an illogical one, to just accept an extraordinary (or rather, an impossible) claim such as the dead rising from the grave. This would require a wee-bit more evidence than someone writing about what other people said that they saw, decades after the fact.

Jim Thompson said...

I liked the way you called him out on the Stalin comments. Good job there.

I wish skeptics would just refer to that as dogma.

Keith said...

Jeremy, excellent job. It's good to hear someone with thorough knowledge of the Bible arguing from the atheist perspective.

It continues to amaze me how unfamiliar some apologists are with concepts such as free will (is Cliff really under the impression that libertarian free will is the only type out there?)

Annoyingly, Cliff kept appealing to emotion, for example with his discussion about meaning, and how we would all just be robotic lumps of meat if it wasn't for God.

He also got very preachy, which almost made me laugh: when apologists slip into preach mode, it always sounds as if they're reciting something by rote, and have no real understanding of what they're saying. Preaching is a bit like Tourette Syndrome for these guys, they simply can't help it. Sure is a waste of time, though.

Once again, good job Jeremy.

Unknown said...

Mr. Beahan, I really enjoyed the debate and love your podcast.

I found Mr. Knechtle's semi-theatrical evangelical style annoying and rather distracting. I never have been big on sales pitches.

Your frustration with the same old song and dance regarding such debate tactics is understandable, but apologists have no choice, right? It's either go that route or concede to your position. (I wonder if that will ever happen mid-debate?) ; )

I am baffled at the position of Christian apologists regarding lack of moral law without God. As I have moved away from my former Christian belief system (and trying to make sense of what seems to be the reality), I feel even more compassion for every life form and am compelled to make this world better for all. When I believed God existed, then He ultimately had everyone's back and ultimate justice would result (if not here then after death); but now I realize there is a good possibility we might be all we have. I feel a much greater sense of responsibility to be a help to others and make the world better.

Again, thanks so much for the great podcast and congratulations on a terrific job in this debate.

Mike Aspengren said...

Hey Jeremy,

I'm not learned enough to comment on your arguments and rebuttals (although they seemed rational enough to me) but considering the content of Cliff's theatrical expectorations you could have just let him sputter for the entire debate and the Paine quote alone would have crushed him.

Way to be.

Lyndon said...

I listened to this "debate" today and was quite pleased with Jeremy's incontestable routing of Cliff. I could hear Cliff becoming increasingly apoplectic as his arguments were calmly and solidly shot down, one by one, by Jeremy. Unbelievable. It was so entertaining.
I as well thought there was more you could have said, but given the time, you did a good job summarizing your most important points and presenting them clearly and to the point. Sadly, Cliff had to rely on odd comparisons and allegories that had nothing to do with his actual arguments.

Badger3k said...

I think you handled yourself pretty well, and especially like that you kept pointing out his fallacies and distractions (although I could have played "name that logical fallacy" and filled the board when he spoke, so it was pretty easy for you to do that). I really want to write a longer response, but Cliff really sounded repulsive - he sounded like a used-car salesman, and his emotional, button-pushing non-answers really irritated me. You should have warned not to drive while listening to it - a double-facepalm at 70 mph is not good!

I do wonder who was laughing during some of Cliff's responses, especially the morality ones - it didn't sound like you, and it may have been the moderator, but if it was Cliff...well, creepy stalker comes to mind. Definitely creepy vibe.

As far as authorship, he kept claiming all of Paul's writings as well - and we know that many were not written by him. The hypothesis that Paul was very troubled about his persecution (if it even happened, that is - I've heard arguments against the idea that they could have happened under Roman rule) that an epileptic fit and hallucination could have turned a fairly fanaticism-prone individual from one religion to another in response to guilt...could happen.

I've got more, but I want time to recover from the brain damage from smacking my head in irritation. I do have to say, Jeremy, that you are no William Lane Craig - and that is a compliment! You kept it rational and honest. It would have been better to stick to the topic or rationality - define it, give evidence, then sum it up - and keep it to one of the topics covered. Having three separate arguments, more or less, broke it into three shallow parts. Maybe that was design - if you had more time for rebuttals and counter-arguments and could go deeper into a subject, he might have been left hanging where his pat, rote responses could not have "saved" him.

Unknown said...

I think if Christians were calling it "basically even", then that's close to proof that Cliff was soundly beaten. Still, it would have been nice have had some formal exit polling.

I found it telling that Cliff was constantly overrunning his time limit, while Jeremy frequently had time left over. I sure wish that Cliff had adhered to the time limits better - my ability to listen to sermons from ranting evangelical preachers is limited.

Badger3k said...

I have to add that there were times that I did feel sorry for Cliff. Some of his answers just seemed like desperation. Some of the times when he asked questions or made comments, like his comments on free will and morality, that just had me saying, "yeah, so what?"

I did wonder if he was going to go all-out Godwin, when he was commenting on something and started to say something about 1920-something, but was cut off by the time limit. He also had trouble sticking to the times - I lost count of the all the times the moderator told him "time" and he kept on talking. I do have to say you did respect the rules better than he did, even stopping when you were called for time and the moderator would have let you go on. Nice touch being polite that way.

Anonymous said...

I thought both debaters were okay, but I wasn't terribly impressed with either of them. My main observation was that this debate seemed to have little to do with the 'rational-ness of christianity' and more to do with 'is there a God or not', although it went back and forth between a lot of things. Would have been nice to stay on topic. Proving the existence of the supernatural is an entirely different matter altogether. Dawkins, in his book, made a similar error when talking about Aquinas (I believe). Aquinas made substantial arguments in favor of the belief in something supernatural in part of his reasoning. Dawkins then went on to say that this didn't prove the Christian God at all over some other god. That's okay though for Aquinas; it wasn't his goal in that section of reasoning.

The comments here are a little disappointing too. I understand that Jeremy represented your worldview (many of you), but why does your opponent need to be treated as possessing a second-rate class of intelligence? Neither debater was all that great. There was also no response to the point about determinism. As a scientist (since I want to remain anonymous you'll either have to trust me or not, up to you), I have to accept that regardless of -what- supernatural force one believes in, without a supernatural force, determinism is the only reasonable explanation for the universe. And, if that's the case, we have no business having these silly debates. We only believe what predetermined forces make us believe anyway.

mims h. carter said...

Just listened to the debate. Great job. You stayed in focus and did not fall in to any of Cliff's emotional traps.

mims h. carter said...

Great job on the debate, Jeremy.

Anonymous said...

Very well done Jeremy, as such I can only offer a narrow criticism of your technique.

I recently heard a similar debate where Arif Ahmed (Cambridge Philosopher) began segments with "Ok Good, ..." which had a disarming effect that surprised me. It took the rhetorical energy out of the previous remark. Additionally, you made an awkward exit a few times which distracted from the point you had just scored (in contrast to your exquisite Paine quote finish).

It is important to accentuate that your arguments are not being addressed, but it is easy to then appear condescending or arrogant. Consider a humbler ploy, such as "I am disappointed my adversary is unable to discuss this rationally."

Zyaama said...

Interesting debate, and I agree with most commenters that you were more convincing. Of course I was convinced before I listened to the debate, so I would think that. Nevertheless, during the second part I had the clear impression that you had Cliff on the ropes.

There were two points I thought you could have done better (I freely admit that I never would have done any way near as good as you did, but it's easy to nitpick when you're not the one on stage):

1) I felt like it may not have been a good tactic to answer to Cliff's comments during the answer to the following question. Saying "I addressed this point already, so I'll talk about something else" may look condescending or even arrogant to many people.
2) The topic was "Is Christianity Rational?". Yet Cliff repeatedly stated that you have to believe, that you have to accept the supernatural. At the end you once pointed out that he was using circular logic, but I think that this was a point where you could have nailed him to the wall. He did not provide any rational arguments for his beliefs, he just repeated "I promise you..." (How I got sick of hearing that...)

Anyway, as always a great show.

DrGrinchman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DrGrinchman said...

Very impressive!
Ever since I've been listening to your podcasts, I've been trying to brush up on all the examples of false arguments and fallacies; apparently, Cliff has them ALL memorized! I admire your confident, polite and imperturbable demeanor. I've listened to many debates, and I consider the format of this one my least favorite. Not being able to expound during your responses must have been maddening! Unlike Cliff, however, you were able to stick to the time limit.

I don't usually respond to podcasts or debates but I think you deserve all the praise you've received, and then some. It was bad enough that Cliff, in a desperate, preacher-like appeal to emotion and authority spouted off like an info-mertial pitchman
(with condescending, sarcastic off-topic responses) but when he made that personal attack on you, he may just as well have thrown in the towel.

In case you wanted a recap of his most important points, I've included them here: "No, they didn't. Why? Obviously! No, they aren't....obviously, of course....why? Hardly. Why? Obviously..... "
The moderator did ask for consistency of argumentation, so he may have beaten you there! lol

Would've loved to hear the results of the 3X5 cards and the Q&A session, and I hope you get the opportunity to do this more often. It was a fantastic addition to my favorite podcast: RD
Great job!

Unknown said...

Cliff clearly has rhetorical flair. But when the point of the debate is to evaluate RATIONAL arguments about Christianity, the impassioned rhetoric doesn't necessarily help your case.

I loved how he would finish (typically over the time limit), and your first comment invariably would be, "Well, Cliff didn't address my points. He dodged again."

There really was no contest as to which perspective came across as being more rational.

Andrew Ryan said...

Anonymous: "I have to accept that regardless of -what- supernatural force one believes in, without a supernatural force, determinism is the only reasonable explanation for the universe. And, if that's the case, we have no business having these silly debates. We only believe what predetermined forces make us believe anyway."

Congratulations on being a scientist, anonymous or otherwise, but that strikes me as a non sequitur.

Why does positing the supernatural give humans a get out from determinism? A determining cause is still a determining cause, regardless of whether it is natural or supernatural in origin.

Why would positing that we are designed by an all-knowing entity, who knows in advance everything that we will ever do, make us LESS like pre-determined machines?

And what on earth do you mean by 'we have no business having these silly debates'? No business from whose perspective? When discussing 'predetermined forces', why do you seem to except the debate itself from these forces? If a debate changes someone's mind then the debate is as much a part of the causal chain of the universe as anything else. So why would it be a waste of anyone's time?

Finally anonymous, if you look in this website's archive you'll find several shows that Reasonable Doubts team has dedicated to determinism. Your own misconceptions about what the implications of determinism shows that you would benefit from giving them a listen. To suggest that Jeremy is ignorant of the issues or ignores them is simply false.

Plain Simple said...

For a debate on rationality that surely was one emotional roller coaster: When Cliff was talking my ears started bleeding, I wanted to throw my iPod out the window, and I got involuntary spasms in my arms forcing me to face palm every two seconds (yes, the room is a mess now and I have imprints of iPods all over my face). And then Jeremy came in with calm and reasoned explanations. Aahhhh lifesaver...

Most points that I wanted to mention on the content have been covered in previous comments. Cliff spouted so much nonsense, that you could have brought up dozens more counterpoints, but within the time limit you had I thought it was a smart choice to focus on a couple main ones and stay within the time (btw, I loved the format, because at least I knew Cliff would shut up at some point. I don't know if I could've sat through the whole debate if there had been the risk of Cliff going on and on without end. Thank you moderator! "Time!").

You had a few weak points in your responses. I agree with the previous commenter who said that bringing up Gliese 581-g (the exoplanet) was unnecessary and perhaps even counter productive. If you use a one week old science discovery to counter Cliff's point, it might come across as though before this discovery the point was valid. Surely there are other ways to counter it. And in light of the even more recent news that the existence of Gliese 581-g is in dispute ( this argument becomes even weaker. You run the risk now that people in the audience, when hearing the follow-up news that the planet might not even exist, think back to the debate and chalk this up as a win for Cliff.

But, overall, good job Jeremy! I can only imagine how hard it must be to keep calm and focus on a few main points instead of trying to address all the nonsense of your opponent in a situation like this. I'm not sure though if I should recommend this debate to my friends. I don't want to subject them to all that Cliff. I like their ears...

Anonymous said...

Jeremy, you are King Kong...keeping your cool while eviscerating the giant snake.

I found the Paine quote striking at the very heart of the matter. I then began to think about some of the more recent political comments I've heard. Especially, those coming from certain religious adherents (Palin and O'Donnell). They've taken their religious pattern of "subterfuge" right into their politics. And like Paine, I too grow weary of it and wish to move on to more important matters.

I hope we can soon.

Lyndon said...

"I have to accept that regardless of -what- supernatural force one believes in, without a supernatural force, determinism is the only reasonable explanation for the universe."

As a previous commenter mentioned, they've mentioned determinism before on the show. With the time allotted it was better to steer clear of an abstruse philosophical concept when his other points were making the point just fine.

Emil Sørensen said...


By the gods, that is the most arrogant, deceptive man I've listened to since Dan Barker debated Dinesh D'Souza.
It was just one red herring after the other, and the man was obviously desperate to make emotional appeals that had nothing to do with the debate's question.

I think you did very well in the last half of the debate, but the first arguments you used were sort of incoherent, by which I mean, if you hadn't heard the arguments before you'd have a hard time understanding the logical thread you were going by. I realize you were strapped for time, but I recommend using one really good, coherent argument that everyone can understand, rather than quickly bringing up several ones if you don't have time to explain or defend them fully.
And it would have been nice if the debate hadn't glossed over the question of whether there is a god or not; Knechtle argued as if he'd shown his god's existence, and blamed you when you didn't accept the premise; For example, he insisted that there was evidence of miracles, even though no one had ceded the point about god; meanwhile, when you challenged the historicity of miracles, he suggested you were wrong in not accepting the assumption of god's existence.
Essentially, he was treating it as a premise of the debate, and it was unclear whether or not he was breaking the rules.

Personally, I don't think Christianity is all that irrational until you start talking about miracles. If they'd just drop the magical talk I'd consider it completely rational, though still incorrect. I have no evidence that there is a god, or no god, so that's a question of preference, and I can accept Jesus as a moral teacher; but the miracles are just silly...

Chuck said...

Good job.

Why do Christian Apologists come off as angry pedants?

Unknown said...

I found this debate quite inspiring. What I got out of it was not so much the arguments (they were the same old arguments from the middle ages, really), but your debating style. I think you are a great debater and even though Cliff had a dreamy radio voice and pressed a lot of emotional buttons, you're calm, rational tone was very pleasant. I've noticed that you talked to the crowd always in positive ways. "You wouldn't accept X because you are sensitive human beings", for example. Considering the points made in the recent episode about acommodationism (disconfirming evidence is best framed in a positive way), I believe this was deliberate by your part. All the way you were not just trying to destroy a world-view but also building another based on an impartial seek of truth, intellectual integrity and hight standards of evidence. It may be my own biased perspective, but I think it came through pretty well.

I'm trying to adopt this tactics in my own life. So far, if not more convingcing, at least I found that my arguments are better taken. People actually read and adress my challenges if I framed them in a positive manner. Also, the discussions are more civil, enjoyable and don't tend to degrade in insults so often.

Andrew Ryan said...

Cliffe gave one rebuttal that I found particularly unconvincing. He said that the apostles' writings were too inspiring and insightful to be the work of the mentally disturbed or suicidal.

Thinkof what we know of many of the great artists, writers and poets. Many committed suicide, and many had mental health issues. Sylvia Plath, Van Gogh, Byron etc.

Geoffrey said...

I agree with the majority of the other posters.

Cliff was off-topic, demeaning, illogical, disrespective, untimely, insulting, unproffessionally emotional, childish, and actually noticeably angry. Essentially this debate, which was intended to address faith/belief in God, became a debate about the literal accuracy of the bible. In all honesty, I'm guessing Cliff did that on purpose - it has no affect on most believers. Very conservative Christians are not going to change their opinion and more liberal Christians do not care about that aspect anyway.

As a side note:
As a person that studies self-assembled structures for a living, his intelligent design argument was uninformed and blatently wrong.


"A miracle is simply the changing of a law God created in the first place. There's nothing irrational about that. There's nothing stupid about that."

Yes there is. If the laws of nature change, then the behavior of natural systems do (by definition). Most molecular interactions are on the time scales less than a nano second. Changing the laws of nature long enough to do the things he is implying would result in either everyone essentially disintegrating or changing the laws locally. Changing the "laws of nature" locally while still interacting with "unchanged" systems is contrary to the mathematics (read - laws) of quantum mechanics. This doesn't just mean it's a "new" system. It means the old system (ours) doesn't work and therefore our material systems would disintegrate.

So yes, it is stupid.

PhotoMatt said...

For the love of god, please bring back our Doubtcasters!

Their return next week can't come soon enough for me, for Cliff's idiocy was painful to endure from the start, when he claimed narrative style as a proof of authenticity. I don't remember learning that, either in my literary theory or journalism courses, and my forehead bears similar imprints to those of PlainSimple, above. (Smack!)

You were commendable in keeping your cool against his rage, which seemed only to confirm your assertion that the challenge of a worldview precipitates rage and entrenchment.

However, your "justify your god and then pick on the atheists" point was a welcome release, without which my iPod would certainly be lying on a roadside.

Thanks for posting this, but please, please bring back the boys with brains. :-)

Lee said...

I, too, would have liked to have had some indication of the audience's opinion. Did you win the debate by a landslide?

You must watch this - Tim Minchin's "Storm" - it's intelligent, funny and relevant to the ethos of your podcasts.

Drew Mather said...

Jeremy, I will just add one more positive comment. I'm someone who spent the better part of his first 20 years on the planet buying into everything a 'Cliff-Notes' character would say.

I've since learned that there is a wealth of information and knowledge about how to handle these 'Cliff-Notes' of the world and think rationally about our place in the same world. That learning is in large part due to podcasts such as your own, and the sound arguments that you have made public through debates like this.

I can't thank you enough for taking the time to debate someone so diammetrically opposed to your world views. Many like a Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris would probably pass on doing a debate with an evangelical Christian.

Kudos to you Jeremy for taking on this difficult task, and shining so brilliantly amongst the nonsense espoused by the other side.


You are truly one of my heroes!

Anonymous said...

Holy crap, that was an ass-whooping. Of him. By you.

Anonymous said...

Funny enough, the assertion followed by repetition tactic he used during the debate was just discussed on "Point of Inquiry" when Robert Price interviewed John Shook.

llewelly said...

601 | October 20, 2010 2:47 AM:
"It is important to accentuate that your arguments are not being addressed, but it is easy to then appear condescending or arrogant. Consider a humbler ploy, such as "I am disappointed my adversary is unable to discuss this rationally.""
ha! That comes across about 10 times as condescending as what Jeremy actuallly said. It would have made me smile to hear Jeremy say something like that, precisely because it is extremely insulting to state that someone is not able to discuss something rationally, and still more insulting to claim one is "disappointed"; few will seriously consider that said disappoint might be genuine.

If one wants to avoid appearing condescending, in a contest of any sort, it important to avoid expressing "disappointment" at the opponent's weakness; no one will believe it; most people prefer a weak opponent to a strong one, and the audience will not grant the benefit of the doubt. And it is more important to avoid making remarks about the opponent's abilities. If Jeremy did not want to seem condescending or arrogant, the best thing to do was simply state that Cliff did not address his arguments. And that is what Jeremy did.

Paul said...

Nice job. One of Cliff's three main arguments was the anthropomorphic argument. This has always struck me as extremely weak because it puts the cart before the horse. It does not surprise me in the least that the earth is the perfect environment for earth life--since that it was evolved here, of course. Is it not likely that different life has evolved on different planets in our universe and that this different life would find the earth's environment inhospitable? (On a smaller scale, would a fish be justified in assuming that a god must exists because the fishes' world is perfectly watery?)

Another huge problem with Cliff's presentation was his reliance on ancient texts. Jeremy made a nice point about making a thousand carbon copies of a false story. Another funny point that could have been made would be to pick up on Cliff's reference to the novel To Kill A Mockingbird. Yes, it does ring true, but it's not actually true. In 2000 years there may be debates about the historical accuracy of our greatest novels (or movies).

It also might have been effective to stress some of the possible deceptive motivations of the early gospel writers. They were salesmen---naturally they're going to stretch the truth to move product.

Will said...

Jeremy - Well done. Way to call him out on not engaging with your arguments. Great tactic! I loved your non-emotional, rational response to his high flying rhetoric.

The Stalin hypocrisy call was SOLID GOLD!!!

He really got almost nothing passed you. (Traditional names of gospel writers, and archeology -Bethlehem was not inhabited during Jesus' life.) Minor points - perhaps too distracting with limited time.

In thinking about how this would play for a believer who has never heard any challenges to faith this would have been devastating! To the educated skeptic Cliff was totally unconvincing. Even!!?? No way!

Amazing how Cliff kept saying "if you only read the Bible you will see" - as if you (and all of us out here) had never done that!

This debate was well worth doing and well done!

Thanks for your wonderful podcast!

Unknown said...

Hey Jeremy,

Just had a cursory listen to the recording of the debate you had with Cliffe Knechtle. My preliminary assessment of the debate is that I believed you performed very well and presented your arguments more clearly and rationally than your opponent. Personally, I found Cliffe's style quite irritating and he failed on a number of counts to provide critical thinking, consistency of argument and engagement of the argument from the opposing view. I even found the analogies he used to support is argument flawed. Furthermore, he would arrive at conclusion with out providing any evidence or explanations. For instance, in his introduction (and i paraphrase) he said we or life are complex and intricate, therefore we were designed by an intelligent mind. Where is the evidence? Where is the explanation? Christian Apologia is doomed if the likes of the argument presented by Cliffe is all they have to offer. I will be listening to the recording again.

Unknown said...

Well argued sir. Cliff started the debate sounding very slick, I couldn't help but think of 'Troy McClure' but as the debate went on he appealed to emotion. Maybe that's the way he argues. I haven't heard him before. He then sounded flustered, as he should have. The old believer strategies aren't working anymore. In Cliff's defense (the only one I can think of) he was first up in the first rounds and you got the enviable spot of counter-attack. I think he was ready for some good 'ol fashioned unwarrented 'roll over for the believer' and was upset when you didn't play the game. Slam dunk I say!

Anonymous said...

Per usual JB sounded more like a high school teachers aid (quivering voice and all) and reverted to reading someone else's philosophical thoughts and claiming his opponent "dodged" etc...

No actual philosophy was done, except for the Oppositions logical assumption that the universe was created as it is so that real love can exist! What a brilliant argument for god.

Ever in dis-agreement, JB dodges this concept and attacks (rightly so IMO) christianity-overlooking a key point that though of course it's not entirely rational, many of the memes it uses are.

I guess that's above your reading level material eh JB?


Anonymous said...

Like many of the other posters here, I thought that was an incredibly one-sided affair, in JB's favor. He is obviously waaay out of Cliff's league in a debate.

Cliff definitely has his throaty, passionate preacher-voice down pat, but he offered absolutely no compelling arguments, and resorted to rhetoric and heartfelt rambling for long stretches that made it difficult to try and follow his points. And he was mostly incapable of responding to any of JB's challenges or rebutting anything JB said.

Next time let's hear JB go up against someone who can actually put up a fight!

David A Brooks said...

I guess I shouldn't be suprised at the amount of question-begging on Cliff's part throughout the entire debate. He was using the bible to prove the bible. That's a big no-no in the "game" of logic. Although he was arguing in a circle most of time, you just simply ran circles around him...LOL! He couldn't point to a single outside source to substantiate his claims.

Would love to hear some after-thoughts on a future podcast.

Jeremy said...

Awwwww...RADical Cleric is back and still busted up over us not letting him on the show. It was so unfair. I guess I was just jealous because your long vague condescending pseudo-philosophical rants were just too deep for a mental midget like me to understand.

Tell you what Rad...once they invent a pill for your Dunning-Kruger syndrome, have a doctor fax me over a note that proves you've been on it for at least 6 months. Then I'll let you on the show.

Until then go pester someone else.

Jeff Burton said...

Some observations:

1. I bet there are many christian apologists who could have done a much better job than cliff who, in a debate whose central theme was rationality, used emotion and rhetoric almost exclusively.

2. I don't know how old Cliff is but I found his attempt to sound 'groovy' for the young people embarrassing.

3. I found it interesting that Jeremy quoted more verses of actual scripture than Cliff. Ditto for scholarship.

4. Cliff's breathless enthusiastic delivery grated on my nerves.

In short, a disappointing 'debate' but I must say I admire Jeremy's consistent calm and reasoned style.

Taylor said...


I thought the concise and clear way you presented the rationalist arguments was very elegant and you really went right for the jugular on each topic discussed, unlike so many of the more well-known debaters. Also unlike them, you didn't let your opponent get away with not answering your criticisms.

Perhaps the only area for improvement is learning to develop a rapport with the audience, which would increase your effectiveness in persuading them. The religious people are often better at that than we are. Cliff was an exception. ;-)

Ian said...

I thought Jeremy did pretty good during the debate. Obviously he isn't as experienced at sermonizing as Cliff is, but Cliff made some plausible-sounding points which I think Jeremy refuted fairly well. Jeremy did a good job of reminding the audience that Cliff was not addressing his points and the occasional comment in regards to the double standard of Stalin bad/God good, and the circular reasoning Cliff employs were quite effective.

The point about Gliese 581 g was a bit confusing at first, but thinking about it I gathered the point: just 20 light years away, there's (possibly) a planet that could (possibly) harbor life. Even if there are just 2 possiblies every 40 light years, that's a heck of a lot of life.

Cliff's comment about "meaning" being evidence of God stuck with me. We see meaning in everything--faces in rocks, words and concepts in ink, etc--so when you have to argue against the idea of meaning rather than the idea of the existence of a particular entity it can be a very tough rhetorical position. Cliff is a smart person but it is a profoundly dumb position, one I think could have been hammered much more effectively (or at all).

robert said...

Talk about a one sided debate, Cliff had more sidesteps than riverdance.
The problem with the debate style was that your opponent could not be compelled to answer the questions posed, and so just went off on a tangent.
“Ohh that was never 5 minutes!”

sarah said...

Cliff made me glad I don't go to church any more.

Good work Jeremy!

DagoodS said...

*snaps fingers*

I kept listening to that voice (and also wanting to smash myself in the face with my iPod) trying to remember where I heard it before. Does anyone else think that Cliffe sounds just like the comedian James P. Connolly? Just click on the link “Videos” and then click “Video” and listen for about 5 seconds.

I can promise you it sounds the same.

Jeremy said...

huh. He actually looks a lot like him too. Maybe they are cousins or something.

Osyris said...

After briefly skimming over the responses thus far, I see I have little to add to the conversation.

I did find it bemusing that the "skeptic" was the only one constantly quoting scripture. At least Cliff seemed to out do those who were polled and found to be ignorant of the scriptures in a traditional understanding. Still, it irked me how he dodged so many point, especially considering how many Jeremy confronted multiple times.

I would like to see Oxford-style debating with a poll at the beginning and end of such sessions; if only to see what effects, if any, the audience experiences based on change of opinion/stance.

The argument was not balanced and he dropped the ball. To say otherwise is to be intellectually dishonest with one's self, a sign that they either did not comprehend the debate well, were not paying attention, or they refused to taken in the debate openly and honestly.

This, I fear, along with the defensive nature of Cliff towards the end, only affirms the notions that people when confronted with conflicting views of reality, even up to the truth, dig deeper into their faith and hold even faster to it.

One point I did not see brought up is how do we know which person is being referenced when X writer speaks of Y person. With the amount of similar names both seen in the text itself and what is to be found generally, it would be rather presumptuous to assume just because you reference a Peter means you are referring to Saint Peter.

(I know there has been much study to resolve this and am ignorant as to such results at the moment.)

Overall, huzzah to Jeremy for his efforts; more for putting up with Cliff and his wonderings than his (Cliff's) address of points or argument specifics. It makes me want to have my mother listen to this; if only to judge where she still stands on such issues.

Feel free to quote me if you find anything worthwhile.

Osyris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Osyris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...


You're just awesome, dude. I'm so glad we have you out there.

Thank you.

kenmore parker said...

I have to say that early in the debate Cliff's presentation was smoother and more polished, and he was better able to engage the audience in a conversational tone. Later, he got too emotional and let his rhetoric get too over-the-top. Jeremy, on the other hand, simply offered rational, concise arguments. I worry that early in the debate a lot of what he was saying may have gone over the heads of the audience. But Jeremy certainly finished strong, leaving Cliff unable to do anything other than dodge his questions and present red herrings. Overall, well done, Jeremy. But, slow down and be a little more conversational--like you are on the podcast.

kenmore parker said...

One thing that stuck in mind from the debate was Cliff referencing archaeological finds verifying that places mentioned in the Bible really did exist. This, of course, really proves nothing. I once read a novel set in New York City. Certainly there is ample evidence that NYC really exists, but doesn't "prove" the existence of the protagonist or demonstrate that the events of the plot ever took place.

Anonymous said...

JB: It was frustrating to listen because Cliff was so irrational! Your comment about him being polished was exactly right, and I thought it was a very professional way of venting.


Not much original content on the apologist's side, is there?

Some thoughts: Mentioning gaps between historical events and their documentation, compared to other ancient documents, is a rabbit trail:

* First, I don't care if there is a thousand-year-gap wrt to the biographies of Caesar; I'm not being asked to worship Caesar or believe he's a deity.

* Second, what's the gap between the events of Genesis and their documentation? Several thousand years at least, so by Cliff's criteria the OT is not reliable

* Third, the gap wrt to the Book of Mormon is only seven years, and wrt to Scientology is only three years, so by Cliff's criteria those religious documents are more reliable than the NT

* Fourth, well-copied does not mean well-documented (as you mentioned, Jeremy.)

* Fifth, despite Cliff's tossing around about the thousands of copies, Bart Ehrman has shown that no two of those copies are identical. Cliff made them sound like they were carbon copies.

Mentioning the Gliese planet was a mistake in proving that universe is teeming with life--we're not there yet. Cliff did err, though, saying that if Earth were a little bit closer or farther from the sun we wouldn't be here. Sol's Goldilocks zone is wider than that (from 0.75 AU to 3.0 AU--see Wikipedia's Habitable Zone), and Cliff's assertion assumes the Earth's orbit is perfectly circular. It's an ellipse--the distance of Earth to Sun varies by three million miles throughout the year.

All in all, I heard nothing new from the apologist that Josh McDowell and other popular apologists haven't said for decades. Debates are more about theater and oratory than argument.

Anonymous said...

fantastic job, Jeremy. I was actually hoping you guys would post this soon, as I was wondering how it went. I'd feel worse for Knechtle if he wasn't so rude, incoherent, and... well... just plain annoying. I'm sitting here waiting for him to get to fleshing out his argument, and he's going on and on about Paul. Just horrible to throw in so many emotional appeals in a debate about the rationality of Christianity.

cn2zv5oe said...

It's always amusing to hear someone who survives on shallow charisma (the kind that apparently carries a particular flock along but sounds pathetically cheesy to the rest of us) against a person who survives on wit. Putting all content aside I just want to ask: WTF was Cliff's delivery style all about; the rapid fire rhetorical questions and the bellowing tone of incredulous outrage. I would love to make a parody of that guy ordering a cheeseburger at the drivethrough.

Eric said...

Well-done Jeremy. Beyond the content of your responses, a terrific management of the time.

On the other hand, I almost felt sorry for Cliffe. He just couldn’t seem to cram his faith promoting, emotion pricking, reason-substituting, bromidic dogma into those teeny time slots.

However, as is my habit, I fell asleep sometime after the first 45-minute mark with the debate still main-lined into my brain via iPod earbuds. Soon I was dreaming the debate – listening to and watching Jeremy and Cliffe from the audience!

Now, I’ve never seen Jeremy or Cliffe. But if I ever do, and they turn out to look just like they did in my dream, . . . well . . . wouldn’t the conclusion be obvious? That would be a supernatural revelation!

Now, what should I do? Pluck out my eyes to avoid the possibility of jeopardizing my atheism with a future Jeremy sighting?



Anonymous said...

Absolutely wonderful job. Thanks for doing what you do. Keep it up.

Unknown said...

I thought you handled yourself very well and your calm natural voice was a great antidote to his really annoying preachy shouty tone.

You won hands down. I think you should do lots of these debates with “b tier” apologists to get used to debating, before going anywhere near people like WLC.

The only suggestion i would make on future debates is to try and choose a much more narrowly defined topic. This one was so broad it involved so many things with only the minimum time.

Haveing such a broad topic allows apologists like Cliff to just launch a barrage of claims and arguments so that none can be adequately discussed let alone refuted.

So for the future, try to suggest a debate on narrower topics like:

* is there a soul
* is the bible inerrant
* was the resurrection historic
* is god necessary for morality
* is the judeo xtian god a moral monster ( genocide etc )
* is theism true ( leaving out xtianity )
* does free will exist ?

Unknown said...

I forgot to mention another topic:

* were the 4 gospels REALLY written by first hand witnesses ?

Brad said...

I'd like to comment on something alluded to by, I believe, Josh, above, which is that at least in a certain sense, the RATIONALITY of Christianity was not fully addressed in the debate.
I think that's too bad, and is one reason why some of the believers present could acknowledge that their guy was unresponsive, but would still make the absurd assertion that the debate was "even."

First, let me say up front that my own view is that ALMOST all Christian doctrines and ALL of Christian theology are nonsense and only marginally less puerile than Islam or Scientology.

However, "rational" can be thought of in two basic ways. The first is in a social sense, which takes into account all the evidence available to an educated and even-minded person having broad access to information.

The second sense of the word is best thought of in the circumstances of an individual and his or her circumstances throughout life. In that second sense, "sensible" is an appropriate synonym. In that second sense, for example, we can consider Sam Harris's statements that from within the context of their worldview, what the 9/11 hijackers did was entirely rational.

Or consider a person who grows up in rural or small-town America (or South America, etc.) and who from infancy finds that his or her extended family and also all the good and decent people in the community he or she encounters are Christians. He or she then marries another Christian whose fidelity and dedication to the marriage is explicitly informed by Christian beliefs. The person also sees, as anyone can, lots of depravity in the world that is NOT Christian. Given such circumstances and rudimentary human psychology, is that person's attachment to Christianity irrational? May we even fairly say that that person's resistance to evidence contrary to their faith is irrational?

I understand that the accepted definition in the context of the debate was the first broader social definition, and in that context Jeremy did a wonderful job.

However, I think whenever the word "rational" is bandied about, I think it's good to keep in mind, if not to acknowledge, the more individualized definition, especially if we want to have any worthwhile and meaningful conversations with believers.

Unknown said...

sorry to go on - but heres another topic that rarely gets brought up:

* is “having faith” a virtue ?.

seems to me the act of “trusting in” someone or something ( as in the reliability of an airplane and competency of the pilot ) says absolutely NOTHING about the “truster” that is worthy. And in any situation where the choice is between
simply “trusting” somebody or some claim, and then acting pn it , as opposed to first looking for some evidence supporting the claiim, it is always more prudent to do the checking first.

This is why people who enthusiastically buy “snake oil” are labelled gullible, while people who prefer doctors and approved medicine can be regarded as reasonable and rational.

In any case “having faith” usually turns out to be faith in some person, preacher, church leader etc, and NOT faith directly in any god. The TRUST that is being required is trust in some person and whatever religious doctrine they want you to believe. This hardly ever seems to be mentioned by counter apologists but needs to be said. Even if there WERE a god, trusting in that god and accepting some dogma are very different beast.

Anonymous said...

Great job, Jeremy. I just want to dissociate Cliff's undergrad alma mater, the liberal arts college where I work, from the ideas he espouses. We expect rational analysis and critical thinking from our students, and we of course teach evolution as the foundation of biology. It sucks that some people squeak through to graduation without such skills, but hey, he graduated well before my time.

BibleName said...

The most amusing part of Cliff's presentation (to me): "I can promise you this..." following by a string of something you could almost count on being nonsense. It was his 'tell' that he had no real content, response, or argument to offer and was about to preach the word.

Jon Hanson said...

Uggh, this is painful to listen to. All Cliff does is tell a story in an authoritative tone and expect people to believe it. He's just restating the Bible with some trivia thrown in to make people think he knows more than he actually does.

What an awful debate format too, this should be three debates, not one, too much is let slide. Not that I'd want to hear three times as much from this guy.

Joe Isuzu said...

I just listen to the debate.
Well done Jeremy!
When I was listening to the rules laid down by the moderator I started feeling a little queasy trying to imagine myself debating in this arena. Gulp! But after "Marjoe" started his speech and had two points to his opening, creationism and the anthropic principle (which he just used to get back to creationism) I figured even I could have stayed a round or two. Kudos to you for not biting on his siren's song of emotional justification which is just a trick of coercing people into the illusion of consent. I have 85 other points but 85 others already stated them ahead of me and better. This is a keeper. Case study in apologetics.

Vulpix said...

I rarely comment here, but I wanted to say that I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this debate. It could almost be used as a primer on why the most common arguments for Christianity (argument from morality, anthropic principle, etc.) utterly fail upon critical examination.

Mike in Atlanta said...

Cliff's manner of speech kept giving me visions of a used car salesman. Whenever I hear that particular type of inflection and cadence, I become immediately suspicious of the speaker. I am curious to know if other people respond positively to "radio voice" in these sorts of contexts. I, for one, am very put off by it.

I much prefer to hear points presented calmly, clearly and in a conversational tone. Bravo both to your reasonable arguments and your reasonable presentation, Jeremy!

Whenever I hear people like Cliff, I want to say to them: "We are adults here. Let's do away with the window dressing. Using your 'I sure sound intelligent' voice does not lend you any credibility."

Joe Isuzu said...

Mike's right about the used car salesman pitch. I went back and re-listened for a third time and he used the phrase "I can promise you..." 10 times. Interestingly he used it 5 times in the beginning when he was getting his debate legs under himself, and 5 times at the end when he only had time for a 30 second rebuttal. Perhaps it's like the numbers experiment on Radiolab: keeping a series of numbers in mind taxes your brain and inhibits reason.
Trust me. You have my word on it.

Hermes said...

Jeremy, yep. Very nice.

Props to you again and your cohorts for episode #76. Slick yet natural. It seems that you, Luke, and Dave have hit groove. (The folks at are offering up some geeky and witty offerings worth looking at.)

Comments on your debate ...

I was grinning early on when you brought up Heaven. I was thinking the same thing, and have seen so many of these debates with apologists fly by without that point being made when it is mind crushingly obvious! Thank you for not leaving me voicing my frustration -- fingers held high in mock pain -- over that lost opportunity.

In fact, nearly all of your replies were spot on (IMNSHO) and the grins came frequent and often.

It was interesting to see how on-queue Cliff Knechtle was with so many rehashed fallacies. As he made each one, I was mentally ticking them off and why each was invalid or just an appeal to emotions and preconceptions.

His tactics will work well with other Christians who place faith above facts or evidence and belief above logic, but not because his arguments were better.

You were right to identify when he did not address your comments and dodged what you actually said. I could tell (?) that you were a bit nervous very early on, but you became relaxed and even cordial and commanding within a few minutes of the start of the debate. That you had good humor and restrained yourself from abusing the time limits showed your confidence, while Cliff -- running over the limits frequently -- had a tinge of desperation in his presentation even though he presented a commanding, practiced, and polished voice.

Paul S. Jenkins said...

Just got around to listening to this debate and I concur with the majority of other commenters here: Jeremy was by far the more rational participant. His opponent must have known he was outclassed, and that's why he tended to go into full-blown preacher-mode towards the end.

Jen R said...

I just listened to the podcast, and I'm dying to know if Cliff really was as pissed off as he sounded. It was kind of hilarious.

Gwendolyn Olson said...

It was very frustrating listening to the 'debate' when YOU were debating and HE was preaching. The whole basis for his 'argument' was; ain't it wonderful, and all so mysterious. I can't understand it, so therefore goddidit!

Melissa said...

I read the post and the comments and I thing that Spurll was the most relevant with his comments.

Anonymous said...

Knechtle sounds a lot like Newdow in this debate. Not as much is arguments, but just the annoying tone of his voice.

Anonymous said...

sorry. i'm anonymous from above. i was listening to a debate between knechtle and newdow and didn't have my shit together (drunk). i listened to the whole thing and he actually uses the exact same arguments in this debate as he did against newdow. i had the names backwards. disregard my post.

Villa said...

This was an absolute slaughter, so great job Jeremy. You sounded informed and rational.

Cliff was just agonizing to listen to. It was as if he'd had a ton of caffeine (or something stronger) and then delivered a response to some random other debate.

Chris Holzer said...

From the moment Cliff opened his mouth, I felt like he was trying to preach to me. He lost me a that point. That fast-talking style used by preachers is a sure "tell" that the speaker is going to be spewing nonsense. Nice of you to keep your cool during the exchange, but I sense that you were very frustrated by the format. True?

Jaunty said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jaunty said...


Great job on the debate! I've been listening to the podcast for several months and was looking forward to hearing how apologists would counter your 'counter-apologetic' arguments. Alas, Cliff never really addressed the meat of any of your arguments and the points he put forth were pretty weak, appealing to emotion (especially when he brought up determinism) rather than logic and evidence.

What was strange was that it seemed he was well-read (in the sphere of religion & philosophy at least) and would try to make his points based on evidence, but he couldn't back them up, making them all only superficially logical. For example, the case that religious people come to the table with skepticism and were henceforth overwhelmed by the evidence of Jesus' resurrection is just stated (loudly!) as if asserting it hard enough makes it true. I'm glad you eventually called him out on his circular reasoning using God to justify the resurrection rather than the resurrection to justify God, but wish you brought it up sooner.

The only criticism I have (as an astrophysicist) is, as other people have mentioned, that your rebuttal to the anthropic argument about the Earth's distance from the Sun was a non-sequitor from my interpretation of Cliff's point. The presence (or absence) of other life-supporting worlds says nothing about the implied delicate balance Earth is in. Of course, this 'delicate balance' is anything but - the Earth-Sun distance varies by ~1% (corresponding to ~5 million km) over the course of a year due to the slight eccentricity of Earth's orbit. In addition, the habitable zone of the Sun can range from 0.75 - 3.0 AU; there's a lot of available parameter space. Also, we have no reason to believe Gliese 581g is more habitable than the Earth. The fact that it's likely tidally locked, with the same side facing the sun (much like the moon with us), points otherwise.

Anne Hanna said...

Just catching up on this podcast now, and I've only got a couple things to say.

First, I have no idea who told Cliff that talking that way makes him sound awesome and impressive, but to me he just sounded like Stan, the used vehicle salesman from the Monkey Island videogames. I wish there was video with this so I could've seen if he also waved his hands around like a madman while he talked.

Also, the way he used quotations was disgusting. He'd quote some famous person saying some ridiculous thing and then assume that the ridiculous thing was true because the famous person said it and go on to build a tower of other ridiculous assertions on top of this one shaky quote. Jeremy's use of the Paine quote as simply a particularly eloquent way of expressing his point, rather than as a proof text, was a marked and refreshing contrast.

Damian said...

Hi Jeremy,
I've just listened to this debate and want to congratulate you on a job well done. You came across as reasonable and composed and, imagining myself in my fundamentalist years, I would have found it difficult to ignore what you were saying.

I do have a couple of suggestions though (and please be aware that this is hypercritical and only because I think you do such a good job that I hope you continue to debate successfully often):

1. There was a missed opportunity there when one of the questions addressed to Cliff (~1:17) gave you a softball with regards the likelihood of the resurrection vs a presidential assassination in the context of historical literature. Cliff turned the topic around from empirically impossible vs empirically reasonable to make it sound like the questioner was suggesting that we should not trust anything that's not been empirically proven. I realise you were probably gagging to get the remark in about genocide but there was probably time in that mere 30 seconds to nail him on both Stalin and point out how he twisted the softball.

2. Remembering back to when I was involved in evangelical churches, Cliff uses the common device of loud, earnest speech which I think many Christians have been conditioned to automatically substitute as a marker for truth over the actual content of the words being spoken. If you ever debate with him (or someone who typically uses his style) again it could be a clever idea to take the wind out of his sails early on in the debate to point out to the audience this device so as to either force him to tone down the fervour or at least make the audience wary of this as a tactic (and perhaps even take the wariness back to their Sunday sermons).

Like I say, I think you did an excellent job and these two points are definitely overly picky.

I have a lot of admiration for people who can debate. It must take a lot of practise to not only have an exhaustive knowledge of the subject but to be able to stay sharp enough to pick up on the unexpected bumps and opportunities during the course of it.

Well done and now I'm off to see whether you've been involved in any other debates and perhaps to check out some of these other Reasonable Doubt podcasts.


Lightsleeper said...

I just started listening to Reasonable Doubts, and made my way back to this debate. I think Jeremy did an excellent job. It's important to call out your opponent when they ignore your arguments in favor of their own canned rhetoric...the primary technique that Cliff used.

I was also amused by his disingenuous concessions: e.g. of course if you don't accept a supernatural god, miracles seem crazy. Under the guise of being reasonable, he tries to create the false dichotomy that if we observe any apparent violation of natural law, Yhwh is the only explanation.

He sounded strongest when he was making purely emotional appeals. Not a good sign, given the topic of debate. It's a subject of wonder to me that these people can't understand that if they demonstrate their deity—to anyone's satisfaction—they'll have destroyed the basis of the very faith that they claim is so important.

Lightsleeper said...


You also gave the impression that you still had vast reserves of argument untapped, while he seemed to be running up against the limits of his dogma. (Not that he couldn't have gone on talking all day, it's just that he seemed to be out of fresh talking points.)

Lukas said...

Cliff turned the topic around from empirically impossible vs empirically reasonable to make it sound like the questioner was suggesting that we should not trust anything that's not been empirically proven.

That one annoyed me a great deal. I was like "now he's dodging the questions from the audience, too."