Click here to view CMI's position on climate change.
This article is from
Creation 36(2):35, April 2014

Browse our latest digital issue Subscribe

Anyone for tennis?


This is the pre-publication version which was subsequently revised to appear in Creation 36(2):35.
123rf.com/Andriy Solovyov tennis

It was really quite exhausting! The questioner was plying me with question after question, hardly waiting for my answer to the previous one to finish. I had just given a talk explaining the relevance of the creation message and I was standing with a group of people at the book tables engaged in discussion on a range of issues. My questioner had challenged me on a variety of scientific and theological points seeking to discredit biblical creation. A small group had gathered around to listen.

It seemed to me as though I was in a ‘gun battle’ with shot after shot being fired at me. Then I realised that my challenger was not actually interested in my answers so much as in trying to trip me up on some point and thereby discredit biblical creation. It occurred to me that I needed to change tactics. This discussion should be like a tennis match, not a gun battle! In a tennis match, one player will serve, and his opponent will endeavour to ‘return serve’. If he does so successfully, the onus is on the server to deal with his opponent’s shot. And so it continues until one player is unsuccessful at returning the ball, at which point he must acknowledge, “Okay, you won that point.”

So, after my answer to the next question I immediately asked;

‘Do you understand my answer? Do you accept it?’

My challenger was momentarily taken aback by my direct questions. He tried to raise another issue but gently and firmly I brought him back to the topic;

‘Do you accept or reject my last answer?’

My refusal to move on to another topic until the current issue had been dealt with radically changed the nature of the discussion. The antagonist was forced to either accept my answer, in which case that topic was dealt with and closed, or reject it, in which case I would ask him to explain why. That would give me another opportunity to clarify the biblical creation position further and deal with the objection.

What happened next astonished me. When he saw that I would not proceed to answer another question until the current topic had been dealt with, he abruptly terminated the discussion and walked off. What I had done was move the discussion from being like a gun battle, with question after question being fired at me like bullets without serious consideration of the answers, to being like a tennis match. I would return each ‘serve’ by answering the question and then ask if he accepted or rejected it. If it was rejected, I would ask why. By going back and forth on the one topic, digging deeper and unearthing the root cause of the objection, the discussion becomes much more positive and constructive.

I have found this kind of ‘tennis match’ approach is very effective in engaging with people over the creation/evolution issue. It helps to focus the discussion in a constructive way and soon reveals if someone is genuinely seeking answers or is just intent on trying to trip up the creationist without any real desire to seek the truth. If the discussion is like a tennis match, with one topic at a time, I will play all day if necessary. Refusing to engage in gun battles is a good strategy!

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

This is Awesome! Thank you for this technique. It's logical to create an atmosphere in which healthy debate can occur. We know that we are right about creation, so we should set the tone. 2 Tim 2:24-25 comes to mind. Thanks Mark
Adam S.
So very true. How often does it feel like the person you're dialoging with has a basket of balls that they're ready to fire your way. Before you've even had a chance to return, they are ready to swat another ball in your direction. I have always found that despite having a good answer, some people are just not open to the truth. It's times such as these (when your opponent is acting like a tennis coach) that Proverbs 14:7 comes to mind.
Stephen C.
Nice! I had something similiar happen to me at work, not just on the topic of creationism but on almost any other topic as well. My situation is a tad different though; they would fire questions at me without giving me a chance to answer even one of them. I put out those attempts to trip me up by exposing them on what they're doing by asking, "Are you going to let me answer just ONE of your questions, or are you going to keep firing them relentlessly without letting me reply?"

Sometimes they give me the common courtesy that I deserve, other times they immediately hush up and terminate the discussion: They don't seem to like it when you expose them for what they're doing.

You hit the nail on the head: A lot of them don't ask questions for the purpose of seeking answers, but for the purpose of tripping up the creationist for the sake of their own pride/ego.

We gotta watch out for that kind of discussion tactic that they do.
Denise T.
This was a GREAT article! I have been in the gun battle. I absolutely learned something here!
Jim F.
You've done it agin Mark! Great - can't wait to try it.
Stephen D.
Great article. I've had a similar thing happen to me, where I found myself answering question after question whilst the 'questioner' didn't even seem to acknowledge the answers! I'll have to remember this for next time! Again, thanks.
David B.
I must say that 'tennis' approach do dealing with atheists and anti-creationists sound like a really good idea. I will definitely keep that the next time I find myself in that kind of situation.
Hans G.
I know those 'Look - at - ME' people and I give them only two chances. If one is really interested you can sense it and I am happy to answer questions. But if one likes to make a hero of himself on my (God's)expense, I tell that a bad tree can't bear good fruit and walk away as Jesus did with His folks.
I don't waste seed on rocky ground..........anymore.
L. C.
Thanks Mark, great article. Sadly, though, it would be useful not just for debating with atheists but many "creationary evolutionists", as well.
James W.
Such a simple strategy, yet so powerful. Thanks for the article Mark.
Alice P.
I learned to deal with argumentative folks concerning Scripture from Jesus' example. When his inquisitors, whether Pharisees, Saducees, or priests and scribes, asked him questions with the aim of tripping him up or showing they were smarter, he shot straight to the true question. Instead of engaging them in wrangling, he went to the heart of the issues. In fact, even when he dealt with people earnestly looking for an answer like the rich young ruler or Nicodemus, Jesus brought the subject around to the true cause of the problems of his questioners. It is very easy to get caught up in the weeds and miss the life line thrown out for every man.
Paul M.
Superb! When one is armed with the gospel armor, there is no fear of placing the enemy on the defensive.
Nehe J.
Thanks for the concise yet profound message. There have been quite a few articles dealing with "debate tactics". So, may I suggest that you create a sub-Q&A section listing articles that deal with how to deal with non-creationists? :) Thanks for your ministry as always.
HI- Re Tennis -- While not being a Creationist myself, I must say the way you engaged -let me say- a trouble maker pleased me somewhat. Hope I have abided by your notes on left of this page.
Syd H.
I find a lot of the time they don't want your answers,they don't even want to believe. I find this on youtube when I debate with people,it usually ends in ridicule from them,because they don't have an answer. I put it down to the rebellious man that doesn't want to be told.
Syd H.
I find a lot of the time they don't want your answers,they don't even want to believe. I find this on youtube when I debate with people,it usually ends in ridicule from them, because they don't have an answer. I put it down to the rebellious man that doesn't want to be told.
Mike W.
EXCELLENT! Through trial and error I sort of learned some tennis but this short article nails it!! Thanks for this.

michael S.
Mark, I debated at EvC Forum for about 8 years and this was the most popular characteristic of the evolutionist. Nobody cares how good your answer is, Jesus Christ Himself could stand there in your place and they would still have fired the same bullets even though He has all of the answers to how He created the universe. He himself would be stomped on by the tumult.

For me, it was like a wizards duel. (I'm talking fiction now, not witchcraft) - at first, you are duelling one evolutionist, then another comes along, and thinks, "two can take him", then a third comes along, thinking, "ok - he can't handle three". Now the more you stick to your arguments and argued them cleverly, the more they would become aggressive, and personal, and fire the bullets like it is a interrogation. I think that's what they want to do, bully and interrogate because they can't win an honest debate.

You were wise to ask questions back because they don't answer questions back usually, because as you have noticed, they have a very specific agenda that is not intellectual.
Lynn E.
Quite an interesting article here. I often access various atheist web sites where they invariably make a similar claim; that is, that their creationist opponents fail to engage their (the atheists') arguments, and rebuttals to the creationists' own arguments. But from my perspective, if the atheists do actually post a transcript of the verbal exchange (word for word) with a creationist, or an audio/video account of the event, I am usually unable to agree with their interpretation of such an exchange.

Sometimes I just evaluate such situations as good examples of atheist lies and misrepresentation. But I am lately of the opinion that it may be more a matter of being wedded to a false ideology, making them unable to see the hypocrisy and falsehood of their own arguments.
Melki H.
To Dennis,
But the counter question need to be imperative to facilitate your answer to the original question,
In Mark 11, Jesus was questioned about His source, Godly or evil, in this case just a direct answer would yield little resolution, people could just assume He was lying. But by establishing first the standard of faith over John the Baptist's authority, answering the question would likely resulted in more clear resolution.
John C.
I appreciate so much the "message not the man" attitude of all CMI representatives. The 'tennis' attitude in answering questions is just one more example of the supportive way you encourage your readers into intelligent creation ministry.
Grant D.
Wow, this is actually the technique that I use. I thought I was the only person. I just debated a person yesterday on his claims with rape in the Bible and slavery. He asked three questions, one question about all of the killing in the Bible, and one about slavery and one about rape in the Bible. I decided to debate about the "rape endorsement" in the Bible (mind you there is none)- and in the middle of me talking about him claiming that the Bible endorsing rape in a illogical viewpoint, he says to me "Why haven't you answered my other questions?". I told him because I wanted to affirm to him that rape is not endorsed in the Bible and for him to stop using that argument. He refused to do so and said "lets move on".

So then when I explained slavery to him- he did not attempt to counter my argument at all.
Dayeton L.
Excellent response and one I will thankfully adopt in my own discussions! Thanks!!!
Dayeton L.
Excellent response and one I will thankfully adopt in my own discussions! Thanks!!!
Francois M.
I saw Richard Dawkins doing exactly that; firing one question after the other to a creationist preacher. I think these evolutionists realise they cannot defend their stories effectively, so they keep on firing the questions to avoid being caught out themselves and to impress bystanders!
Jack C.
Empty vessels make the most noise. Given the evolutionists have virtually no real evidence to support their nonsense theory, they find it necessary to make the most noise to try and drown out those who can easily refute them. I had a debate with an atheist on similar topics and he kept going around in circles each time I proved him wrong. He eventually gave up by saying there is no such thing as truth! Well with that sort of thinking why does he bother to believe in anything? Atheists are really easy to defeat in any debate especially given the wealth of information on CMI's web site.
Jared N.
Excellent advice! I have found that many people are not really interested in debate but rather assault - intellectual and verbal assault. They don't really want to discuss the issue, they simply want to annihilate the opposition before there is a chance for the opposition to prove them wrong. It's the "hit and run" approach - throw a series of fallacious blows and then run before the truth can come out! My advice is simply to ignore the guy altogether. Nothing is more annoying that trying to be smart and finding yourself talking to yourself. If the guy really wants a discussion, then by all means engage in the rally. If the guy just wants to hit and run, ignore him completely! Good job and thanks for the tip!
Rob C.
Thanks Mark for reminding me of something I heard some time ago - the usefulness of asking questions in Christian witnessing, and paying attention to the answers. This is not only useful in our contacts with folks with an evolutionary/atheistic world view, but also in dealing with the cults, who often use the 'gun battle' approach. It's very difficult to get them to stay on subject. It's so easy to get sucked into a tit for tat battle that gets us nowhere. May God help us to remember to heed your advice.
murk P.
Good work! Jesus thanked His father not only for what to say but how to say it.

Another strategy to take away the gun
is to expose that they must invoke the very thing they are trying to deny.

If the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge then they cant have any (epistemological) so we should press that to them lest they be wise in their own eyes.

The intellect is ethical - it was destroyed at the fall. We must show truth suppressors that they cannot know anything unless they start with God.

(If there is a distant star which can only be seen through a telescope can one first see the distant star and then learn that it can only be seen through a telescope? CVT)

denis W.
Another way to deal with antagonists who are only trying to trip you up, is to do as the Lord himself did, that is to answer a question with a question, when recieving no reply he stated "neither do I answer you".
Johan S.
After receiving an email in which I was asked a few geological questions from a committed uniformitarian (in which he admitted that they mock the creationists' attempts or inability to answer their questions to their satisfaction), I realised the same thing - they were only looking for more ammo to shoot me down. So I made myself available to discuss the issue face to face in their tea room where the humiliation usually takes place to the entertainment of his colleagues. He never took up my offer...
Matthew P.
You have said very well what I have been missing in my discussion armoury. This is something that should be taught in secondary if not primary school. I can hardly believe I missed it. Touché, to you.
Jesse M.
Great article Mark! I get so many people simply trying to discredit something in my arguments (which they can't do, thanks to creation.com!) rather than look for answers. Thanks for showing how to defend against this tactic.
Martyn M.
Great point Mark, I've been on both sides of gun battle discussions, the one shooting and the one being shot at. You've clearly shown a better way for discussion and given me a strategy to work on. I will give tennis a shot.
Wassili B.
Spot on Mark. Throwing criticism is so easy; substantiating it is another matter. And it quickly differentiates the sincerity of the persons asking, or making comments. And his or her willingness, or ability, to think critically.
David C.
Such a simple but useful strategy. The 'ignore answer and ask another question' style is so common too. I can see how this would keep you in the driver's seat of the discussion. Thanks Mark, I'm looking forward to seeing the difference this makes in conversations.

Comments are automatically closed 14 days after publication.