1. It pits oratory against science in a venue where you'll be judged on your rhetoric.(1) is false. I recommend that anyone who takes it seriously read my write up of the Lowder-Fernandes debate, and watch the whole thing if they have time. Though officially the debate was naturalism vs. theism, evolution was a major sub-issue. Lowder creamed Fernandes, not because of rhetorical eloquence, but because of but because he had the facts down cold.
2. It gives publicity to creationists.
3. Creationists can generate more lies more quickly than you can refute.
4. Debates artificially give equal time to two sides, falsely elevating creationist trivia to equality with scientific substance.
5. The debates are often used to recruit members to fundamentalist Christian organizations.
This isn't to say Lowder just walked in with a bunch of knowledge and no particular skill in debating--far from it. Debaters need to be able to speak off the cuff and use their time efficiently, but that don't mean that evidence and reason doesn't matter in the end. If you make an impassioned appeal to the audience, but it's a non-sequitur, a competent opponent will point this out and you'll look stupid. Watch the Lowder video: you see exactly this kind of thing happening.
(2) is weird. Maybe debates do give publicity to creationists, but how is it more publicity than what they'd get from defenses and attacks on creationism in other venues? If PZ thinks this argument is good, why doesn't he stop talking about creationists on his blog?
(3) can be a real problem. But if you learn to use your time efficiently, this problem will largely vanish. And in extreme cases, you can always say, "Lying takes a lot less time than carefully showing why something's a lie. So, rather than address every point my opponent reeled off, let me just give you a few examples of the kind of problems that permeated his presentation."
(4) has similar problems to (2). What else are you going to do? You can't stop creationists from speaking, and often without debates they're going to be even louder and get more air time than you. There are Christians who haven't heard about the evidence for evolution, or even gotten an accurate presentation of what evolution is, simply because of their upbringing. Does PZ expect them to start reading only legitimate scientists just because?
There is a legitimate worry that people will think that popular-level debates are how science is done, but the solution is to make one theme of your presentation the failure of creationists to produce research in legitimate scientific venues, and pound on it in every one of your statements. For some Christians in the audience, it could be their only chance to hear how science really works.
Last, in the case of (5), it's true that that's how fundamentalist organizations want to use them, but that's not how they'll function if you have a competent representative. Do well and it will work the other way--you'll have Evangelical Christians coming over to your side.
Now let's turn to PZ's recommendations for how to respond:
Find out who is inviting you. If it's the Campus Crusade for Christ or some local fundie church, tell them to take a hike. They're looking for a patsy.If by "pasty" PZ means a weak opponent, yes, they'll be looking for one, and yes, they've gotten them all too often, but the solution isn't to refuse them any kind of opponent at all. If you put out a warning for scientists to make sure they know what they're doing before debating creationists, and force them to debate people who do, they will: the Lowder debate is only one example of this.
Research... offer to find out what you can about the clown coming to town. These people usually have the same stock spiel they always give, and you often don't even need to attend the debate to know what they're going to say.This is a component of good debate prep, not an alternative to it.
Help them find non-scientists. If there is some insistence on that horrible 'debate' format, suggest that they get a speaker who can handle it masterfully. Ask a lawyer. Seriously.Well, okay, that's better, but here don't exaggerate the value of rhetorical power over knowledge. Eddie Tabash handles the technical aspects of debating tolerably well, but there are times when watching him debate that I've wished he had an expert's grasp of the issues.
Encourage them to get wide local support... Recruit people on your side to be in the audience—bus in people to pack the crowd with critics.Still going good...
Prime the press. If you've done your research and know what the creationist is going to say, send in letters to the local paper that preempt their major lines of argument, and prepare the audience with counter-arguments.Okay, still pretty good, but isn't this an admission that the publicity argument is silly?
Have a discussion. Don't argue with the creationist on his turf—organize a post-lecture panel discussion...No, no, no! What you're proposing is like a debate, in that it has linked presentations. All you're doing is not sharing the stage, but everything else is the same. It won't get you out of the need to do the presentation well. It won't generate less publicity for them. It won't change the fact that their presentation may contain more lies than you can refute quickly. It won't guarantee you more attention. It won't create respect for science where it doesn't already exist. The only difference is this: Many Christians won't go to your event. You're cutting yourself off from the people you really need to reach, and that is all.
Lecture on your own terms. If they're insistent, go ahead, give a talk — but refuse to share a stage with the bozo...
PZ's opposition to public debating is really a shame, because he strikes me as an ideal debater. He knows the issues well, and given his blog output, I assume he's good at coming up with things to say on the fly and saying them in a compact manner. That's everything he needs to be a good debater.
So please, PZ, reconsider. Next time a creationist comes to town, do that research, but also watch some videos to learn the dos and don'ts of debating, and maybe call Eddie Tabash for some coaching--he's been fairly generous in volunteering his time for that sort of thing. It would mean a chance for you to shred creationism in front of people who would never read your blog.