The Rational Response Squad: method over substance


On June 2, 2007, I had a discussion with the so-called rational response squad, an atheist group that claims to mix rationality with atheism and asserts that belief in God is a delusion.  A while back they initiated the so-called "blasphemy challenge" on the internet, where they asked people to video tape themselves committing blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.  They've also appeared on a national television show where they debated Christians Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron.1

The Rational Response Squad has a regular show that is aired over the internet in which they provide a live video feed of the four of them during their discussions with Christians, and others, as they levy their attacks on belief systems--especially Christianity.  My phone conversation/debate with them was under these circumstances:  four of them and myself--as I watched them live over the internet.  It was one of the most frustrating experiences I've ever had with atheists and not because I couldn't answer their objections but because of the four-on-one approach, their repeated errors in logic, their dumping of a plethora of "facts," and their requirement that I answer them all "now."  Let me explain.

Each of them has an area of "expertise" with which they were prepared.  Therefore, whenever I would make a point that touched on one of the areas, one of them would jump into the conversion.  The person would then offer a lengthy response (filled with supposed facts) to which I tried to respond.  In so doing, I would touch on another topic of interest of someone else in their group, and that person would then jump in, introduce more information, and expect me to respond to that as well.  So, I was required to answer each person's area of expertise after he or she fired a series of assertions.  The problem was that their responses were often lengthy, and they would say so many different things that I had difficulty taking sufficient notes.  Often I just gave up writing things down because it was a barrage of comments, logic errors, and supposed facts that I couldn't verify on the spot.  Then when I tried to respond to their comments, I was frequently interrupted; and a new direction would be undertaken, often breaking my train of thought.  As a result, I found myself complaining to them several times asking them to let me finish.  More than once I was so frustrated with the discussion that I remained silent to emphasize my protest, and then would say something like, "May I respond now?"  It wasn't that I couldn't respond; but each time I tried to, they would jump in, interrupt my explanation, introduce new "facts," and expect me to respond once again.  I confess, I then tried to interrupt them back in order to make it fair, but it was too difficult to do against four of them.

One of them repeatedly hammered on the issue of when the book of Acts was dated.  We spent an inordinate amount of time on this topic.  Since I'm not an expert on New Testament documents, I did not have counter facts and scholarly references to quote off the top of my head.  But, I did say that there are scholars on both sides of the argument on when Acts was dated and that I could find scholars to support my position as they have found scholars to support theirs.  I told him I preferred to look at the internal evidence of Acts and judge it from there.  They were persistent.  So, I've written a response on the topic of when the book of Acts was written.

At one point during the conversation, after hearing so many irrational comments from them, I commented that if they wanted to be called the Rational Response Squad, they needed to employ logic properly.  They didn't like that and said it was an ad hominem.  Actually, that is not an ad hominem.  An ad hominem attack is an attack on a person in order to invalidate an argument instead of dealing with the argument; therefore, to say that a person's argument is not rational is not an attack on the person.  Likewise, to say they are not being rational is not an attack on their persons.  It is an attack on their rationality--the very thing they claim to use.

Nevertheless, this went on for about an hour.  Finally, one of them asked how I knew if my presuppositions were true and theirs were not.  I recall that the way the question was asked wasn't very precise, so I wanted to write it down exactly as it was asked in order to respond to it properly.  Someone in the background on their team got angry that one of their own asked the question.  Then I was told to answer the question.  When I told them I wanted to answer it and asked if it could be restated, I was interrupted again, told to answer, and eventually, they hung up on me--even though I repeatedly said I wanted to answer their question.  In fact, before they hung up on me, I said that we would need to use logic to examine their presuppositions to see which were true or false.  Apparently, they would have none of that.  In my opinion, this area of presuppositions is a weakness on their part; and they wanted to end the discussion before it got too difficult for them.  Again, that's just my opinion.

As I mentioned earlier, during the show they have a video internet feed.  I was watching it during our discussion; and after they hung up on me, I listened in on my computer.  They were full of mockery, foul language, and laughter.  I called back during their after-show ridicule and tried to continue our conversation.  They mentioned how I was calling and refused to pick up.

In all, it was very frustrating.  It was more like a gang of atheists attacking a single Christian than it was a serious point counter-point discussion.  Mind you, I don't have a problem tackling atheists in group situations.  But when they become argumentative, interrupt constantly, offer opinions as facts, and quote liberal scholars as proof of their position, it's almost impossible to respond in a competent and immediate fashion which, I believe, is why they use this approach against Christians.  As the title of this article says, it's method over substance.

Kelly on my radio show

On June 15, 2007, I had Kelly (one of the four(?) in the "rational response squad") on my radio show.  I tried to treat her with respect; and when she would interrupt, I let her finish her statements.  Of course, the interruptions went both ways, but it was obvious that she tried to dominate the conversation--at least for the first part of the show.

At one point, she was being coached by someone (I think it was Brian Sapient--though I'm not sure).  I responded about her being coached, and that I was willing to have him on my radio show anytime in the future to discuss Christianity and atheism.  I don't recall any further interruptions or coaching after that point, and he certainly did not take me up on the offer.

A polite challenge to a public debate--June 26, 2007

Option 1:  I don't know if they are interested in public, moderated debates.  I suspect not since it isn't in their best interest.  Nevertheless, I challenge them to provide one (or more) of their own for a public, timed, moderated debate on the validity of atheism.  They hold to the atheistic position, and I would be glad to debate them on whether or not that position is correct.  Of course,  I am open to debate on different topics as well.  Will they accept?  I doubt it.  But the challenge is there.

Option 2:  I would like to get Brian Sapient, the apparent head of the squad, to engage myself and three other Christian apologists simultaneously.  This would be the same arrangement, except reversed, that he likes to work in when tackling Christians.  I figure if it is okay for him to be on the giving end, then he shouldn't have any problem being on the receiving end.  Fair is fair, right?  If he says he doesn't want to waste his time because we don't have anything good to offer and/or that I (and my fellow apologists) would be easy to refute, then that's all the more reason for him to accept since we would be so easily defeated.  So, why pass up such a great opportunity if believing in God is such an obvious mental delusion?  The challenge is out there. I await his reply.

  • 1. Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron are from  Kirk was in the TV series Growing Pains along with various movie roles.

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.