Todd Friel: Master Debater?

Hi folks, BoxerShorts here. I'm the newest member of the WOTM Watchdog team. Check out my own little corner of the web, The Underblog, for a different take on evangelical Christianity from an atheist perspective. There isn't much there yet, but I have plans. Oh yes, I do.

Anyway, now that introductions are out of the way, here's what you came here for:

Even among atheists, Mr. Friel has a reputation for being a skilled debater. While this is somewhat justified, it is mostly undeserved. Yes, he appeared to hold his own admirably against Dan Barker, and while I haven't heard the Eddie Tobash debate (I really need to download that one of these days), rumor has it he did pretty well there, as well. But appearances can be deceiving. Todd Friel is not a skilled debater.

Actually, let me qualify that. I don't know if Mr. Friel is a skilled debater, because I've never heard him debate. At least, not honestly. What he is skilled at is cheating at debate. I merely suspect, strongly, that he lacks skill at honest debate, because otherwise he wouldn't have to cheat.

Take a look at the Encyclopedia of Logical Fallacies. For all intents and purposes, these are forbidden in formal debate; a debater who uses them excessively automatically loses the debate by virtue of having used them. Likewise, they should be avoided in informal debate, but the rules there aren't quite as cut-and-dry. Let's take a look at a few that Mr. Friel uses frequently.

Arguments from Ignorance: Mr. Friel frequently challenges atheists to prove God doesn't exist. Well, in the most general possible sense, we can't. But we don't have to. As Isaac Asimov once said, "I don't have the evidence to prove God doesn't exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn't that I don't want to waste my time."

Irrelevant Appeals: Mr. Friel uses these often, usually in the form of appeals to fear, pity, or wonder. While these can be persuasive, they have little to do with the matter at hand. In addition, they are irrational by their very nature, as they are designed specifically to exploit the listener's irrationality. Every time he brings up Hell, he's making an appeal to fear. This tactic is especially dishonest considering that the very existence of Hell is a subject of the very debate he's engaging in. Which also makes it an example of Circular Reasoning, also known as Begging the Question, a phrase that Mr. Friel frequently misuses, much to my annoyance.

Straw Man Arguments: Mr. Friel has a different Theory of Evolution than modern biologists. His version addresses the Big Bang, the formation of the solar system, and the spontaneous origins of life on Earth. The real Theory of Evolution has nothing to do with any of that, it addresses one phenomenon and one phenomenon only: The changes of populations over time in response to environmental pressures. The origins of the universe and of life on Earth are covered by other, separate (though related) theories. Todd's version of evolution also predicts that dogs can give birth to cats and monkeys to humans. Again, the real theory says nothing of the sort (rather, it states that monkeys and humans -- and cats and dogs, for that matter -- had a common ancestor, which is a much different claim). In fact, if either could be shown to have happened, they would disprove the Theory of Evolution as we know it. This is a Straw Man Argument: Todd claims that the Theory of Evolution is absurd, and indeed his version is. But since it in no way resembles the real theory, his argument has no relevance.

These are just a few examples of logical fallacies Mr. Friel has (knowingly, I suspect) engaged in. So how to we counter it? Well, that's the $64,000 question. As I said earlier, Mr. Friel is very good at cheating. He's very slick at sneaking these fallacious arguments past people. If I go through one of his shows line by line, I can catch a lot of them, but I'm not skilled enough to do it in real-time. We need to find someone who is, and send them off to go toe-to-toe with Todd.