Friday, February 15, 2008

My Debate Video is Finally Available

Back in October 2007, I debated intelligent design advocate Kirk Durston at the University of Waterloo. The debate organizers promised that video would be made available, but it never appeared on the debate website.

Now an e-mail message informs me that the debate video is available here, while the Q&A that followed the debate is available here.

My impression after the debate was that I did pretty well, demonstrating that Durston's claims were not substantiated (and in at least one case, that he blatantly misrepresented his sources). The local campus paper, the Imprint, seemed to agree.

However, the gentle and happy theists at Atheism Sucks! didn't appreciate my performance. They said I "sucked". I think that fairly represents the level of their critique.


andrew said...

Very good debate, I really enjoyed it. I appreciated the fact that it was, on the whole, respectful. I agree completely (as the Imprint said) that Durston simply was unable to argue his case convincingly against your points.

As to the "Athiesm Sucks!" bozos, I think their statement "Durston was so much more smarter" speaks for itself.

Anonymous said...

You can see some more reaction to your debate here. You did well!

Frank Walton said...

With all due respect, sir, I do think your performance sucked. For several reasons. Your insecurity was shown. You were more reactive than pro-active. Your last concluding statement (where you refused to deal with your opponent's rebuttals) was a preaching fest that would make Paul and Jan Crouch look like a wimp in comparison. You brought up homosexuality that had nothing to do with the topic of discussion. You were just venting your anger towards Christians.

Andrew said...

Thanks for posting.
I was opposed to the idea of the debate when it happened, I didn't know that the atheist club was involved. To me it seemed like it would be a bunch of christians patting themselves in the back for being "open" even though they weren't really. I didn't think the people running the debate would really consider alternatives to their religion, but just pretend to others and themselves that they would.

I didn't understand some of the debate, since I don't have the biology background. However.. it seemed like you totally destroyed him.

In his opening statement:
The first two arguments I was skeptical about. It seemed like he was throwing around math and science terms, but since I don't know much about proteins I didn't really understand it. The first argument didn't seem to be saying much.
Then his third argument destroyed all of his credibility to me. It seemed totally ridiculous. I'm surprised people didn't laugh when he said he is more intimate with god than his wife, and that god talks to him. The "miracles" were insane. From what I understand: he was pulling a cow on a rope and the cow stopped??? How is that a miracle? Or even remotely an argument for the existence of god?? The "miracle" of rabbits coming back to life when he was a kid?? Maybe his parents bought them new identical rabbits to make them feel better?

I really liked your closing statement. It focused on the important message rather than whether his cow had a stroke or not, and I really liked how you tied in inclusive ideas such as "we are all brothers and sisters".

Maybe I'm biased, but it seems like there is no question you won the debate. Great job!

paul01 said...

What was the paper you handed to him near the end? Is there an abstract, or the full paper on line? I googled Myron Jensen and came up with nothing. Did I get the name wrong?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

The paper I referred to was this:

Meier S, Jensen PR, David CN, Chapman J, Holstein TW, Grzesiek S, Ozbek S. (2007) Continuous molecular evolution of protein-domain structures by single amino Acid changes. Curr Biol. 17(2):173-178

After the debate, Durston disputed that the paper was relevant, but I continue to think it is.

Erdos56 said...

Thanks for the paper reference. It is available without having to cough up to Elsevier (as google will show). Alas, kept timing out half-way through the main event, although the Q&A vid worked.

There are three basic errors to the protein problem to my mind: (1) the assertion that micro-evolution works but that molecular evolution or large-scale functional evolution (or macroevolution sometimes) does not. It seems unparsimonious to allow evolutionary change sometimes but claim supernatural forces prevent change at other times. (2) uniform priors rule out more interesting structural relationships in the adaptive topography (thus preventing bridges) (3) rather than pursuing a scientific effort to try to elucidate the mechanisms by which protein discovery can have happened, the desire is to rule out any such mechanisms. This leads inevitably to intellectual and professional embarrassment. One should always hold unanswered or interesting problems as just that--interesting--rather than assuming supernatural forces (the "god of the gaps").

Anonymous said...

Awesome debate! You did very well, in my opinion. Your presentation was lucid and to the point, and the chain of your arguments was easy to follow. You did a very good job of outlining the essential differences between science and religion. Anyone sincerely following your presentation can easily see why intelligent people do science nowadays instead of reading theology.

Unlike Durston, you did not resort to technical mumbo-jumbo just to overwhelm the audience. And, though, in the beginning Durston puts forward his arguments intelligently, from the middle of the debate he completely loses track of the topic he is supposed to be debating on. He sounds very incoherent and I am sure the members of the audience felt the same way. Your example about Ramanujan and the Hindu goddess Namagiri was an apt one. It served to counter the Judeo-Christian belief about God that supposedly is the only correct one.

Durston, in my humble opinion, does need to do Evolution 101 and a course on algorithmic complexity theory, first. He mumbled something about algorithms and complexity during the debate, and he didn't know what he was talking about.

One minor quibble: some of your slides could perhaps do with fewer words. Sometimes, the long quotes/paragraphs, I feel, may hinder the audience from following your arguments, though I understand that those long quotes/paragraphs were put up for a purpose.

(As an aside, posting comments on is rather annoying, considering the fact that one must enter a bunch of characters for verification every time one decides to post/preview a comment. Another computer science professor (Luca Trevisan) finally switched to Wordpress :-) Would you consider doing the same? )

Anonymous said...

You earlier post titled Myths about Atheism contains a list of ten myths about atheism that Prof Kenyon outlined in one of his talks. Couldn't we also compile a similar list of items stating why people believe in God or religion, and then examine those statements critically?

For instance, he hear about the following all the time.
"If there is no God, then there cannot be a basis for morality."

It is so easy to prove that such a statement is untenable.

Or, do you know if such a list already exists?

Monado said...

The audio on my backup computer (don't ask!) is so bad that I gave up on listening very quickly. However, among the buzz and crackle I thought I heard Durston lead off with a huge begged question: "All this marvellous universe needs something to get it started." In other words, he's assuming his conclusion. I guess that Step 2 is to assert that if you need something to start the cosmic ball rolling, that something must be God. ANd Step 3, which he'll never reach, is to point out that someone as wondrous and complex as God needs a creator, too.

At any rate, thanks for the links. I'm posting a brief blog article about your article and will listen when I get my decent computer back onine.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't we also compile a similar list of items stating why people believe in God or religion...

Relax, the University of Oxford and the Templeton Foundation are on the job:
Oxford to study faith in God

I'm sure we can trust the Ian Ramsey Center for Science and Religion and the Templeton Foundation to be completely objective about this.

paul01 said...

On the subject of looking for alternative explanations:

Check out this link:

Under the heading Emergencies, the last item (poisoning)

Anonymous said...

Great debate! Thanks for posting this.

Anonymous said...

I must admit i couldn't watch much of the debate. I had to fast forward past most of Kurt Durston's parts. It was getting a little tiring to listen to his mentally retarded statements.

debatepopular said...

Always atheism is based a little comfort in mind: Not all atheists believe in things based around logical but is also a position of comfort.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for weighing in two and half years after the event, but this was good debate. Durston is a gap theologian who has a warm swelling feeling inside him when he thinks of Jesus on the cross.

Typical ID arguments as summed up by P Z Myers: “Complexity, complexity, complexity... DESIGN!!!”

Well done, Jeffrey. Any more like this?

Kudos as well for schooling that hack of an apologist / hard right evangelist William Lane Craig on his erm, “understanding” of mathematical infinites.