The theist/atheist debate video on ABC is available.
Zachary Moore links to some amateur video from the debate, which lead to some optimism about the results of the debate, and ultimately, some dissatisfaction with the end result when the editors at ABC got done with their editing.
Overall, I’ve never been all that impressed with the Rational Response Squad. They do an okay job with the arguments. I disagree with some of their arguments (like the argument from the first law of thermodynamics) – and I think that makes theists think atheist arguments are, in general, flawed or silly. Also, they seem to always have an edge about them. This plays into the stereotype that atheists are angry and unpleasant. Whether you are ‘angry and unpleasant’ doesn’t affect the validity of your arguments, but it does affect people psychologically – making them dismiss your views even if they are through and logical. By in large, I see this kind of thing a lot – atheists and evolutionists don’t have the experience in public speaking. Often times, the people most capable of debating issues like evolution – the scientists and professors – don’t have much experience in speaking beyond teaching students, which is a different type of speaking than debates or persuasion. Quite a few theists and creationists, on the other hand, have made careers out of speaking in churches (e.g. Kent Hovind). They have honed their speaking skills with audiences, know about keeping the audience entertained, using jokes, appearing likable, using timing and pace, using quips, soundbites, and repetition, etc. Being a pastor is a useful way to hone all these skills. They have to appear to know what they are talking about in front of people who don’t know much about the subject, and that means they can put a lot of time and energy into presentation rather than substance. (I also noted that Ray Comfort repeated a lot of stuff he’s said before in his evangelical ministry. Much of this material is the stuff he’s honed through dozens if not hundreds of repetitions. It’s amazing how quickly Comfort switched from “I’ll prove God’s existence with science”, to simple Christian evangelizing and Biblical quotes.) Overall, I think Cameron and Comfort were much more effective public speakers. Their tone, timing, and confidence was actually easier to listen to – in spite of the fact that I disagreed with them.
If you think I’m unfairly downplaying creationists’ and theists’ ideas by offering this kind of an explanation, I recommend going and looking up the debates between spherical-earthers and flat-earthers that happened in the late 1800s. The flat-earthers managed to win quite a few debates, despite the absurdity of their ideas. It depends heavily on speaking skills, and that recognition brings me to the conclusion that much of the public hasn’t figured out yet: public debates are not a very effective way of finding the truth about a subject. They are too short, play heavily on the audience’s preconceived ideas, and can be quickly won by someone with flair and talent – particularly if one side comes inadequately prepared for the debate. It should be obvious that clearing up complex issues like evolution and the existence of God is not going to be cleared up by one person in who is given 20 minutes to make their case. Perhaps the blame lies with the audience, who don’t have the interest or patience to actually understand the issue, but wants the answer quickly. Overall, I think these kinds of debates are a little bit like watching a 10-second boxing match. The boxers come out of their corners, throw a few punches, block a few punches, and then the audience ends up deciding who is the best fighter based on how impressive they looked in those 10 seconds.