Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
An Attorney on Cross-Examination
07/15/2007 - James WhiteBefore I post the comments made by one Paul Hoffer regarding cross-examination in debate (and how I don't have the Holy Spirit), I wanted to note the irony of the fact that I have found attorneys to be the worst debaters I have ever faced. I assumed, wrongly of course, that attorneys would be trained in logic, in the art of cross-examination, so as to be able, through questioning, to demonstrate contradition and error in the position being examined. Instead, the attorneys I have debated have collapsed under cross-examination, and they have likewise failed to present any kind of meaningful examination of my own claims. Just a note from my debate experience (for examples, see my debates with Martin Tanner [LDS] and Barry Lynn).
So over on DA's comments section an attorney named Paul Hoffer has chimed in. You will note, as usual, the complete lack of examples. Lots of ad-hominem, lots of personal observations and feelings, zero substance. Throw in a little mind reading, or spirit-reading, I guess, and you have another reason why attorneys should probably stay out of the debating field. My comments follow.
As an attorney who uses both written and oral formats to advocate for clients, I wanted to put my two cents in this discussion. Lawyers all know that the use of legalistic cross-examination in a formal debating situation (that is mainly what a trial is-a stylized debate with certain rules as to the manner how that debate is conducted) is a tool that that can be used to obscure or distort the truth as well as expose it. Watching some of Mr. White's debates demonstrate that he is proficient in the use of cross-examination to do just that-obscure or hide the truth. There is no Holy Spirit moving him; he is not interested in being factual or accurate; it is all about winning and beating the other guy. He is truly a hypocrite in the original Greek sense of the word-a play actor- and he is good at it. If he were a attorney, he would probably be a rich PI or criminal defense attorney somewhere.
If getting at the truth is truly the purpose of this exercise, then a written format is more conducive to actually getting there. One can't win using trial lawyer tricks to persuade or obscure. Instead, in a brief, one's arguments are laid bare on paper where they can be sifted, weighed and measured. Sure there is oral argument in appellate practice, but it is that-argument and not a cross-examination.
Furthermore, in a trial setting, we lawyers have certain rules of procedure, evidence and ethics that limit how cross-examination is used because we know how cross-examination as a technique can be misused. From what I have seen of Mr. White's debates, there are no similar rules. Instead, sophistry and trick questions seem to be the guiding principal. Many times, White's cross-examination questions are patterned after the old "so when did you stop beating your wife" or false initial premise type question then anything that is designed to get at the truth.
Don't get me wrong, I rather enjoyed seeing him take apart Spong and some of the other relativistic, theologically liberal goofballs that he has taken on. (On those occasions, I truly wish he would see the light and cross the Tiber. However, for now, I thank God he is a Christian like the rest of us.) But while such debates might make good U-tube, they don't necessarily make for good truth seeking.
Regarding the assertion that cross-examination "is a tool that that can be used to obscure or distort the truth as well as expose it," of course. Yet, the legal system continues to utilize it. In fact, it is basic to our system of justice to be able to face, and question, your accuser, is it not? If a person wishes to use cheap debating tricks to do nothing more than score points (see my discussion below, for example, regarding Gerry Matatics' use of this very tactic regarding sola scriptura), they can do so. I have often said that I debate only for those who are willing to think, reflect, and maintain a high standard of truthfulness in viewing my debates. Those without ears to hear, or who are more influenced by style and flash than by substance, will not find my approach overly useful. But the fact remains that without cross-examination, there is no debate. All you have is competing presentations that could have been pre-recorded. No reason to get together in one place if the two sides are not going to directly interact.
Now, Hoffer makes plenty of accusations. He accuses me of obscuring the truth. No examples given. He says the Holy Spirit is not moving me. No examples given, no basis for his ability to read my mind or heart provided. He says I am not interested in being factual or accurate. No examples given, no reason to accept his mind-reading abilities offered. He says it is all about "beating the other guy," but again, no examples offered, no foundation given. He makes reference to sophistry and trick questions, but, as easy as it would be to offer examples, he offers none. The typical "slash and burn personal attack in the service of Mother Church" methodology that is the norm of RC apologetics these days.
So I'd like to add Mr. Hoffer's name to the list of folks I am inviting to call The Dividing Line so as to give them the opportunity of doing what any honest person must do who has made public accusations against me: step up and back up what these men are willing to say from behind the relative anonymity of the keyboard. I know that if I were to write anything remotely like what Hoffer or "Guardian" have been willing to put in the public sphere about someone else, and they challenged my personal accusations and gave me the opportunity of backing up what I had said, I would feel a very strong moral necessity to either apologize and withdraw my statements, or back them up. But, as we have seen over the years, there is this thing about "Mother Church" standing in the way. In a sense, the Roman Catholics share with the Muslims their own form of taqiyya. As long as slander and falsehood is uttered in the service of Mother Church, all is well. It is OK. Just last evening a Roman Catholic came into our chat channel. During the discussion he posted numerous lies about me, such as, "Why don't you shake your Roman Catholic opponents' hands after a debate?" Given that there is video of me doing just that, dozens of times, I informed him he was lying about me. I told him this falsehood goes back to a single debate wherein my opponent, Art Sippo, had behaved in the most outrageous and childish manner (something easily proven anymore by just visiting his blog and reading for a while), and I refused to shake his hand. One time out of about three dozen, and that for quite appropriate reasons. Yet, folks who do not care about truth will repeat the false rumor over and over again. And it is OK, as long as it promotes their cause.
In any case, Mr. Hoffer, consider yourself invited to join me on The Dividing Line. My audience would love to hear you actually provide substantiation for your assertions, or, your withdrawal of them, whichever is best! 877-753-3341, toll-free, Tuesday, 2pm EDT, Thursday 7pm EDT. Hope to hear from you then!