Svendsen's Further Denigration of Written Debates & (Obligatory) Personal Attack

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Posted by Dave Armstrong on December 30, 2000 at 15:26:20:

Hi Eric,

Thanks for your lengthy reply (sure beats your one-sentence reply last time). I'm a family man, too (3 young boys). I do understand that. Shortly, I will go out hiking on the frozen river in the foot of snow we have here. And I don't make $200,000 a year like you said you do (not to disparage that *at all*: I am not an anti-capitalist), so I have to spend a great deal of my time making the little money I do make (in addition to much "free labor" doing apologetics and evangelism because I am called to it, and am accountable to God for the stewardship of the gifts he has granted me; "woe to me if I preach not the gospel").

>Who is unwilling to subject his views to scrutiny? Not I.

But I find it exceedingly strange that you view this endeavor as restricted solely to a public, oral forum. As I said in a post responding to another person: we have both written tons of material and hardly ever debated orally (you once and I, never). Yet you now want to frown upon written dialogue (Plato would be surprised to hear that) altogether. I find that very odd. In effect, this means that none of your views can be scrutinized except in a public debate, so that such scrutiny has happened exactly once! That is willingness to be examined? Hardly! OTOH, I have dozens of debates on my website, where everyone can read the other side of any given issue and make up their own minds. That reaches many thousands more than your public debates do, I think.

>And a public debate forum is the best place to do that, for the following reasons. Here are the advantages of a public debate:

>1. No one can easily obfuscate the issues when his opponent is present and is able to correct his error immediately.

So you find immediate, spur-of-the-moment corrections more compelling than a correction which resulted from hours of careful research with primary sources, Scripture, etc. Odd . . . Funny, too, that you folks are the ones so devoted to "written only" in your notion of sola Scriptura, whereas when you jump up to the present day you reverse that and wish to switch over to "oral Tradition," so to speak. Weird beyond my comprehension . . .

>2. There is much better quality control to prevent tangents and rabbit trails.

But not much to prevent various rhetorical tricks and "ambushing" tactics. E.g., last night with James White (though I did think it was a good exchange overall, and I enjoyed it) he immediately confronted me with dense, historically complex claims about the Fathers and what they believed about Mary. I did my best "on my feet," but I replied that if I had to come up with a list of fathers who denied the sinlessness of Mary, that would take a little time, as I didn't have a source at my fingertips (and looking for one would bore the observers). Someone later described this technique perfectly as "quotes without quoting."

That is the sort of tactic and strategy which I find very annoying and unfair, bordering on unethical in some instances. Clearly, spontaneous, unexpected questions about patristic consensus, so-and-so's views on x, y, and z and so forth are much more appropriate either for experts in that area, or for written papers, where the non-expert and non-historian has the time to look up the sources from people who *do* study this for a living.

>3. There is a definite time limit, a start time, and a stopping point.

I agree that this is a good thing.

>4. There are no sideline debaters innundating you with a plethora of
>opinions while you are concentrating on one person.

That is not a problem with a one-on-one dialogue. You simply take it private, away from a list situation.

>5. Perhaps the most important point of all, what takes 10 seconds to say usually takes 10 minutes to write. I just don't have that kind of time.

Truth takes time to find and communicate; sorry. Propaganda, OTOH (such as the norm of today's political rhetoric) is very easy to quickly spout. Evangelicalism lends itself far more easily to shallow rhetoric and slogans; Catholicism does not. It is complex, nuanced, and requires much thought and study. And thought takes time, no matter how you slice the cake.

>6. What takes 10 seconds to clarify in a public debate, usually takes three of four additional posts (over several days) to clarify in a written forum.

I see that as a positive good. Again, truth and the acxquisition of knowledge and wisdom requires time. I understand if you don't have that time: we all struggle with prioritizing. We all do what we can do, hopefully devoting time to theology as our Lord makes a way, within the pressures of daily living (turning off the idiot box as much as possible, etc.). But that is a separate issue: time pressures vs. the relative constructiveness of writing vs. speaking. Apples and oranges.

>Again, the principle of diminishing returns comes into play. I am not
>willing to part with what little free time I have--and I certainly am not going to cut into my family time.

Fine, but give *that* as your initial reason, then, after all your rhetoric about seeking an open-minded person to "debate." Don't give us all the high-sounding ideals and then introduce your lack of time as the primary reason to refuse a person willing to take you up on your offer, albeit in a fashion you despise (writing). That gets old real quick.

Why go to the Steve Ray board at all, and unethically reveal private letters of Mark Shea if you were solely interested in open-ended "dialogue"? I don't see the point. His critiques (whether strong-worded or not) of your *public* website material were also public, and completely permissible, within the context of the usual ethics of the battle of ideas. They were not personal attacks (no matter how often he used the words "dumb" and "stupid," because they were referring to your *ideas*, not you). But you immediately post his private letters and make it a personal thing, which merely confirms - no doubt - in his mind that further discourse with you is futile (as we find is almost always the case with anti-Catholics; they can't seem to avoid ad hominem swipes). Later, in this letter, you take swipes at me, too (gee, why am I not surprised?).

I figure that since you thought nothing of posting Mark's private letters to you, then obviously you have no problem with me posting yours, so all this will also go on the Bulletin Board. And I am forwarding it to Tim Enloe precisely to make a point about the reasons anti-Catholics give for avoiding written dialogue and scrutiny of their claims, which has long been a bone of contention between us, and a pet peeve of my own.

>7. There is much more interest, hence wider audience distribution, of a public debate.

I'm not so sure about that, especially with the advent of the Internet, but you may be right (there are cassettes, too). In any event, that has no bearing on my own objections. It is not public debate per se I am opposed to (let me make this very clear), but the *perversion* of it by unworthy tactics and methods, which is the usual result when one is dealing with anti-Catholics. So I am actually supporting what I consider to be true debate, not the pale imitations of it which pass for "debates."

>Most people prefer to listen rather than read.

That may be true, but even if so, that doesn't justify your total refusal to engage in written debate.

>8. It is more exceedingly difficult to get away with falsehoods,
>half-truths, and the like in a public arena than it is in a written one.

Quite the contrary, it is much *easier* to disinform and misinform, because one can put up an appearance of confidence and truth very easily, through rhetorical technique, ctach-phrases, cleverness, playing to the crowd, etc. (like Jesse Jackson or "slick" Bill Clinton habitually do, or guys like Hitler who were quite spectacular orators). These things are by no means as "certain" as you make them out to be.

>In a written forum you can change the subject, downplay the falsehood, counterattack and hope the smokescreen will be thick enough to erase the memory of the falsehood, etc. That's much more difficult to do in a public forum.

It may be a little more difficult, but the shortcomings of a public debate more than make up for this possible "advantage."

>Witness my debate with Gerry Matatics in which he was forced to admit
>that he could not cite any passages to support his view of heos hou,
>adelphos, and Josephus' reference to James. In short, there is instant accountability in a public forum, whereas in a written forum, several attempts at pinning someone down through several exchanges over a period of several days results in the reader thinking "What was the point again?"

Well, I do admit that this is a good thing, and indeed I looked forward to that aspect in my "live chat" last night. I now know what you mean, from my own experience too, because I asked James White to name me one father who knew what all 27 NT books were, in the first three centuries. He could not, and cited Athanasius, who - I pointed out - came to the age of reason in the *4th* century (c. 296-373), as I am sure he is well aware.

This was an analogical response to his demand of me to name names of fathers who believed Mary was sinless. He named me four eastern fathers who denied this and claimed this proved a patristic consensus. I challenged him (he being supposedly far more versed in the fathers than I, and a credentialed scholar) to give me some western fathers. First he cited Anselm (c. 1033-1109), who, of course, though western, was not a Church Father. More rhetorical and desperate silliness, IMHO . . .

Later he came up with Hilary and Tertullian, and expected me to respond on the spot, as if I were a patristic scholar (so much for the inherent superiority of oral debate). So I asked if this was from Tertullian's Montanist period. He did not answer, but cited his work _The Flesh_ as the primary source. Later, I looked it up and, sure enough, it is from his semi-Montanist period. Protestants use this technique with regard to citing Tertullian so often that it never surprises me any more.

Hilary I knew nothing particular about, with regard to Mary. Just now I looked him up in my book _Mary and the Fathers of the Church_, by Luigi Gambero (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999, p. 186). This is what the author (a priest with background in philosophy and also author of a 4-volume work on Marian thought) had to say:

"Hilary always considered it normal for Mary to have had some small imperfections . . . Our author does not mention any specific defect or imperfection in Mary's conduct but seems to hold that some such flaw exists, if even Mary must face the judgment of God. However, this is an isolated observation [Tractatus super Psalmum 118,12; PL 9,523], to which Hilary does not return."

So we have one western father in a very mild fashion, and another in his heretical period, plus four eastern fathers (which I was already generally aware of - one always finds exceptions to the rule). This is what James White considers a "patristic consensus." I find that a pathetic argument, and I think I did pretty well, given the ridiculous limitations of the situation I was in, forced to name a bunch of names when I had already made it clear that I couldn't cut-and-paste while in his chat room. But names there assuredly are. Ludwig Ott says that the western patristic consensus was "unanimous" (yes, we have Hilary's spectacular, bold dissent, and the heretic Tertullian).

Nevertheless, I will add this material to the debate as a footnote when I put it on my website, so all's well that ends well. I believe I did pretty well, given that White is considered a master of live debate, and I confine myself almost exclusively to writing (but I think fast on my feet, I think). He was trapped by the facts of history, not any rhetorical brilliance on my part. This example, IMO, demonstrates clearly the limitations of this "spontaneous exchange" you so glorify as superior to writing and hard, well thought-out and documented research (which I am spending time now doing in this reply to you).

>Sorry, but it is a completely ineffective way to conclude which position is the stronger one.

People abuse written dialogue just as they do oral. I have no problem agreeing about that (it's self-evident). What else is new? Good dialogue, in whatever form, is always a rare thing, to be treasured when found. That's why I love dialoguing with Tim so much. He is very good at it. We thoroughly disagree, but it's both fun and destructive, as well as amiable. Sadly rare . . . .

>Canned? Artificial? Self-serving Anti-humble?

Yes, because the debater always has to be right in such an event; he can never admit he is wrong because that would not "go with the program." But last night both Tim and I freely admitted it when we didn't know something or other. There's no shame in that.

>All of these apply with at least as much validity to a written forum where it is very easy (because there is no face-to-face interaction) to dehumanize your opponent in an uncivil way. There is far more of a human touch to public debates than written debates.

That's a good point, one I am quite familiar with, as I have often been a victim of scurrilous, vicious, scandalous, and slanderous attacks myself, all in the written medium (some witnessed by you yourself, in 1996). But when, e.g., a Catholic offers to meet the alleged premier Protestant debater, James White, for lunch when he was in Phoenix, as Steve Ray did, White flatly refused, saying that it would "compromise the gospel" to do so. You can bet your bottom dollar, however, that if Steve took up White's offer to publically debate him, the latter would have no problem whatever doing that. So he will debate someone, while he won't have lunch with them. This is "civil" and a "human touch"? Gee, more weird stuff.

ME: ><>

>When you mischaracterize a forum, you can make it appear just as appealing or unappealing as you like.

I attended a debate between Dave Hunt and Karl Keating, and I have also attended political debates and creationist-evolutionist ones. I know the atmosphere very well. I am also thoroughly familiar with how anti-Catholics conduct themselves on lists and bulletin boards. These opinions do not arise from nothingness; they are backed up with scores of experiences (and wounds, in some extreme cases).

>Here are the facts. In 90% of the cases, the
>"zealous partisans" come from the Roman Catholic side, not the Evangelical side.

How do you prove that, pray tell?

>Yet, in a written debate forum, the "zealous partisans" are even more
>multiplied, contributing their caustic opinions in "hit and run" fashion throughout the entire debate. Sorry, I've seen this too many times to know it's true.

Again, that's on a public bulletin board or list forum, not a one-on-one exchange which can later be posted on a website. But one can refuse to read and answer certain people in that situation. I do that myself on the Steve Ray board. Some people have more than proven to me that they do not wish to engage in dialogue, but only to preach or condescend. They therefore forfeit the right to be responded to as respectable, thoughtful participants. We must love all; but we are not required to interact with all.

>None of your points downplaying oral debates are valid, Dave. And
>all of your points apply with greater force to a written forum.

Nice try. But I have answered your points (agree or no) and I have a huge 64K-long paper expounding upon the shortcomings of oral debate (with anti-Catholics) which I highly doubt you will ever interact with (I would be delighted to be wrong). So I am not likely to change my mind unless and until my best arguments on any given point are refuted or shown to be fallacious or ill-supported by the evidence. That's just how I operate. I hold to a view until it is demonstrated to be inferior to another one.

>readers of the Steve Ray board and my website (I will post this on both) make up their own minds as to what *that* might mean.>>

>What *that* might mean, Dave, is just what I said it means above. I am quite willing to take your views to task in a public forum. I would be laying myself on the line just as much as you would be. I have no inherent advantage in such a forum. Both of us would have to defend our views in equal ways. Yet you are unwilling to do that. I will let those same readers make up their own minds as to what *that* might mean.

What I *am* willing to do is what I did last night (and much enjoyed doing): debate you "live" one-on-one in James White's chat room (we would negotiate format and subject, just as Tim and I did). This seems to me to be a reasonable compromise. Certainly that situation is more akin to oral debate than to written debate in my sense of the term. What say ye?

>One final thought. I have read through some of the exchanges between you and me that you have posted on your website. I think your readers might be interested in knowing that what you have posted are "doctored" accounts. In the original version (which I have), there is no "I Dave Armstrong had the final word and Svendsen was unable to answer it." Have you clarified to your readers that you took liberties after the exchange was over to "spruce up" your original comments and add a "final" comment to the end of each exchange in order to appear the victor whom no one could answer? Shame on you, Dave.

Shame on *you* for resorting to personal attack and casting aspersions upon my motives (without sufficient evidence) when you could have simply asked me to clarify and modify these exchanges to your liking (which I am perfectly willing to do, of course). I did not deliberately set these up with any intent to delete some response from you. These are old debates, and - as you well know, even given some of your reasoning above criticizing list debates - they can get pretty confusing fairly quickly. I posted what I had in my files, and was not aware that I was "doctoring" anything.

Now, since you pointed this out (in typically hostile, suspicious anti-Catholic fashion), I will be more than happy to post whatever you have in your files, and add it to the debates, until I get your wholehearted stamp of approval as to the resulting paper. But if I didn't answer any of your replies at the time, I will now, as my custom is to always answer an opponent, excepting instances where he gets personal or radically off-subject. Almost always - as a simple matter of fact -, my opponents cease dialoguing before I do, so is it my fault that I get the "last word" by default? It's my website, after all. I have the "right" get the last word on mine (especially if my opponent quits); you do on yours, too, if you so desire. But at least readers can see both sides on mine. How many dialogues appear on yours?

So now the ball is back in your court. If you want to accuse me of dishonest editing of dialogues, and I am willing to modify the papers (while vehemently denying the charge of deliberate ethical mischief, as you imply), then it's your turn now to put up or shut up. So our "dialogue" becomes ugly and unsavory even before it has begun. What a crying shame. One of the joys of last night's chat was the fact that Tim and I seem to have a respect for each other, and we have transcended the silly personal disputes (which we did engage in at first). I think that is a beautiful thing.

>And now you want me to engage you in yet another exchange that will be "doctored" after the fact? Thanks, but I'll pass. And thank you for
>illustrating one more reason why written debates are to be avoided.

And thank you for illustrating why I object to oral debates with anti-Catholics in the first place, because we almost inevitably get mud-slinging and unnecessary charges. Every word you "spoke" in a live chat debate would appear in the final product on my site. I have the right to add a few clarifying *footnotes* in the website version, because (again) it is my website, and I am interested in the pedagogy of allowing readers to pursue further study on the subject if they should so choose. The goal is education, after all. A footnote is not an interference with a text, or else there would be scores of books (including the Bible and the Fathers' writings) which would become illegitimate.

Yours in Christ,


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