I was recently offered an opportunity to debate a creationist, on the existence of God.

I was intrigued by the idea at first, but then I took some advice and turned it down. There’s a stereotype of scientists taking on creationists with the naive notion of presenting some basic science and contributing something to the public understanding of science. They then discover that a debate with a creationist is a totally different proposition. I admit, I have no experience with formal debates with creationists, and I would have got slaughtered. I found some other possibilities—people who do debates regularly—and went back to the less exciting world of making up physics exams.

Still, the notion of a debate is interesting. And when I think about it, asking myself what sort of debate I’d like to witness, never mind participate in, I wouldn’t go for something involving creationists. I, or someone like myself, have too little in common with them for the event to be anything other than a contest. With people that are somewhat closer, there’s enough common ground to make things more of a dialogue than a debate, so there’s more of a chance to learn something. I’ve had a couple of public events with more liberal religious people, and I’ve generally enjoyed them.

Anyway, which would be more interesting: to see a debate between an atheist and a bishop, or two scientists who have no quibble about the modern scientific view of the world, but who have different views on the worth of religion or spirituality? Say, someone relatively hardline atheistic such as Richard Dawkins, having a conversation with someone like Ursula Goodenough? Somehow, an event like that would be much more interesting to me.