What Is The Goal In A Debate?


I’ve been in several debates over the years. They’re sort of fun, and they help to bring the best out of the debators. Recently there have been a few debate challenges issued in the comments sections here and here.

I’m not opposed to debates. I’m having one in front of an audience with David Wood of Answering Infidels on the problem of evil this coming Fall. I know Dr. Craig and Dan Barker do them often too.


But sometimes it just seems to me that debate challenges are motivated by the desire to be the top dog, or something like it…that is, “who knows the most about the topic at hand?” Is it true that only the most informed person on an issue has the right to believe or not to believe? Surely that cannot be!

This Blog is a debate challenge. Every post of ours is an ongoing debate about some aspect of Christianity. We ask for relevant comments to sharpen our understandings, and this happens on a daily basis. We’re thankful for any intelligent, non-demeaning and relevant comment.

But my unbelief does not depend on winning a debate; just like my opponent's faith does not depend on winning a debate, either. So, what are the specific reasons for having a special one-on-one debate, and why do people issue these debate challenges so often?

I'll share some of my observations later.

19 comments:

Albert said...

From the blog of author Michael Prescott

“Here’s the thing about arguing with people. What we’re really trying to do, when we engage in argument, is to manipulate others. We’re treating people as objects - as hunks of clay that can be shaped and molded by our eager fingers. And what is the desired result of all this manipulation? It’s to make other people into carbon copies of ourselves. We want to make them our clones.

There is something sociopathic about this. Sociopaths, after all, are known for their tendency to treat other human beings as objects. And many of them are also known for their ability to manipulate and control others.

Just stating the facts as we see them and letting other people draw their own conclusions is one thing. But sustained argument almost always entails more than this. It involves bludgeoning the other person over the head with one “logical” argument after the next - and often, such arguments are only superficially logical, mere verbalistic stratagems. Look at the way lawyers manipulate juries, or the way politicians juggle statistics and “studies” to prove anything they like.

There is something ugly and dangerous about argument. We shouldn’t want other people to be our clones. The way to respect people is not to turn them into copies of ourselves, but to go our own way and let them go theirs."

CalvinDude said...

Ah, yes, the irony of someone arguing that there is something dangerous about argument.... :-)

As for me, the reason I asked Loftus to debate is simple: I wanted him to actually address the issues I put forth. I was willing to concede that on this blog (since it's a very limiting format) I didn't answer everything he wanted answered either. A formal debate cures that by requiring both participants to engage in the topic at hand. (It becomes very obvious when someone tries to avoid the issue in a real debate.)

Thus, my desire for debate is not a matter of one-up-manship, but instead simply the easiest way to get all sides to focus on the topic at hand.

Albert said...

Unfortunately most debates have more to do with showcasing debating skills than arriving at the truth.

Paul Manata said...

so your debating here Albert has to do with your showcasing your skills?

You also said:

There is something ugly and dangerous about argument. We shouldn’t want other people to be our clones. The way to respect people is not to turn them into copies of ourselves, but to go our own way and let them go theirs."

Are you trying to make me a clone of your no-arguing position?

Resistence is futile!

John W. Loftus said...

Albert said:
Unfortunately most debates have more to do with showcasing debating skills than arriving at the truth.

Paul, you're an interesting character to me. You'll do a great deal of logical gerrymandering simply in order to win an argument. Unfortunately you don't see yourself doing this.

For your comment about Albert's quoted statement above to be relevant to what he actually said, he would be required to state something like, "ALL debates are NOTHING more than....showcasing one's debating skills." Sheesh. Calm down buddy.

As far as the rest of what he said, I'm not sure either one of us really understands what he means. He surely means something by his comments, but they are not articulated well at all. So rather than jump down his throat, why not ask him to clarify?

And I'll charitably take your final comment as an attempt at levity.

See, this isn't that hard to do.

Albert said...

Interesting to see people's reactions to a quote that wasn't even my own to begin with. For JWL, what I subsequently meant is that the outcome of a debate often reflects more on the debating abilities of the parties involved than the underlying truth/falsity of the proposition being debated. Many of the debates involving William Lane Craig (e.g the one against Gerd Luedemann) illustrate this quite nicely.

Albert said...

Well let me throw out one more for you folks. Again from the personal blog of Michael Prescott. Here's the link to his site (and no I'm not him) http://michaelprescott.typepad.com/

“Blogging is for losers

And who should know better than me, right?

But it’s true. Or at least it’s sometimes true. Blogging is for losers.

Let’s face it. There’s something about an electronic soapbox that is just not healthy. It promotes narcissism and egocentricism and general idiocy. At least, it certainly has done so in my case.

Before I started blogging, I never thought that anyone cared a fig about my off-the-cuff observations and opinions. And, of course, nobody does. Nor should they. My opinions are no more valuable than anyone else’s. Often they are of no value whatsoever. And I knew this.

Then, about nine or ten months ago, I got my very own blogging platform. And slowly but inexorably I began to change. I started to think that my opinions matter. That I am important.

“People,” I would say to myself, “NEED to hear MY TAKE on _________ [fill in the blank with any issue] … and they need to hear it RIGHT NOW!”

Which is just nutty. Who cares what I think about, say, Hurricane Katrina? It’s not as if there aren’t fifty thousand other people out there with opinions on the matter, and most of them are better informed about the subject than I am.

To be honest, even I don’t care what I think about Katrina. The stuff I wrote about Katrina when the flooding was in progress seems overheated and feverish to me now, all of three weeks later.

The thing is, it’s addictive, having an oratorical platform from which to spout opinions to cyberspace. Admittedly, only a few people are actually reading my opinions - but it still feels like I’m “making a difference.” With every new post I publish, I’m puffing myself up just a little bit more, inflating my ego, and pretending that my shoot-from-the-lip pontifications are of lasting significance. What would the world do without me? Heck, I’m not just important; I’m indispensable!

You know the story about the fellow driving past the graveyard, who points to the rows of headstones and quips, “There they are - all the indispensable men.”

It’s good to have a forum to toss out ideas and opinions, as long as I don’t abuse the privilege by posting every stray notion that comes into my head. Well-considered, thoughtful commentary is good. Daily preening before the mirror of my laptop’s monitor is bad.

An example of how to do it right is Iowahawk. He has a satirical blog site, and he posts his elaborate and trenchant satirical pieces only when he’s got something good to offer. As a result, he doesn’t post daily. He may not even post weekly. He posts when he’s written something that’s actually worth posting. What a concept!

I’d like to try this approach. So I am going to exercise a virtue rarely practiced on the Internet - restraint. When I come up with some idea or observation that seems genuinely worth sharing, I’ll put it here. But the vast majority of the harebrained, half-assed opinions tumbleweeding through the arid corners of my mind don’t fall into that category. They will be relegated to the unpublished obscurity they deserve.

In other words, the format of this blog is changing. Following the lead of the old communist who excused the Soviet show trials and purges by saying they would result in “fewer, but better Russians,” my new motto for this site is: fewer, but better posts.

Quality over quantity. Less is more. That’s the idea, anyway.

Who knows? Maybe I can start a trend.”

John W. Loftus said...

Albert,For JWL, what I subsequently meant is that the outcome of a debate often reflects more on the debating abilities of the parties involved than the underlying truth/falsity of the proposition being debated.

This mirrors my own thoughts, for the most part. So let me ask again, why do people challenge others to debate one-on-one?

Albert said...

Why debate? Well I think there's a myriad of reasons and it would take a book to do justice to that question. I think for many people it's a combination of holding beliefs passionately and enjoying the challenge of intellectually engaging with someone who holds differing beliefs. No doubt for some, "winning' the debate is a big plus as well :-)

Paul Manata said...

Poor John, you see, I did get what he said. I wanted to see if he would *deny* that he was guilty of such. When he did so, then I'd ask him to deliniate for us which times it is okay to debate and which times it is not.

You will notice, oh Lofty one, that I asked questions. Only a fool would reason that my questions implied anything more than that.

I knew what i was doing.

I know my methidical sniper method isn't what you're used to, since you use the wild-crazy-eyed guns-a-blazin' method.

So, you're the interesting character, my friend. You're kinda like the Josh McDowell of atheologist apologetics, only not as intellectually sophisticated.

Not Reformed said...

Paul said:

"You're kinda like the Josh McDowell of atheologist apologetics, only not as intellectually sophisticated."

OUCH!!!

LOL! :)

JustinOther said...

I read these posts often and only comment on occasion. I have learned a lot from parties on both sides of the issues and appreciate the education.

What I cannot stand is the child-like insults that are hurled back and forth. Is it at all possible to have a mature debate/argument/discussion without the name calling. To most I think this all sounds childish and diminishes the respect that you all would otherwise deserve.

I understand that each side is passionate about their position on the issues, but name calling and insults do nothing but degrade the integrity of the people involved.

Otherwise, keep up the good work. I do really enjoy the issues and the debates surrounding them.

AnnieAngel said...

Why can't you just leave Christianity alone? What's the big deal, some people are Christian, some are not, this seems to really bothers you I have to ask WHY??

There will NEVER be a debate in which you will prove there is no God. And so what if you are "ex" Christians? It should mean you've MOVED ON. Not become attackists. You have turned your back on Jesus....so get on with your lives!! Get on with whatever your plan was when you started hating Christ! It must have been something unbelievable! It must have been earth shattering! It should lead you forward!! You should be GROWING!

Yet you are stagnating, arguing points that can't be proven for no reason, still clinging to Christianity...maybe you should think about what you are doing wasting your time trying to "debunk" Christianity. You're STILL caught up in the whole "religion" even though you claim to be mostly atheist and agnostic.

It's scary to read this!

Seek Jesus! Not Christianity!

exbeliever said...

annie,

Get people to stop justifying the oppression of homosexuals, the restricted freedom of women wishing to make their own reproductive decisions, the prohibitions against people making their own decisions about how they are to die with dignity, the appointing of justices that side with corporations over people, etc., ad infinitum and I'll "leave Christianity alone." Deal?

JustinOther said...

Annie:

You have turned your back on Jesus....so get on with your lives!! Get on with whatever your plan was when you started hating Christ!

First of all, I hate no one. I especially do not hate Christ, as he was but one man that lived 2,000 years ago. Second, I think exbeliever is right. When The Christian religion stops teaching bigotry is when I will stop trying to refute its claims.

I feel truly sorry for those who have not relized the error of their ways. They hold on to the belief in a god that cannot be real. God is purely a fictional character made up by people who could not understand the things going on around them, therefore to assuage their fears. The Christian god is as real as Allah, Zeus, Appolo, Baal, etc. I'm sure, Annie, that you do not believe in any of these other Gods. Why, then, do you believe in yours when there is as much proof of the others as well?

Daniel said...

Annie,

Perhaps if all of us were not ex-Christians, I could sympathize more with your comment.

Also, perhaps if I didn't visit one of your sites and see your leg icon, I wouldn't be so suspicious that your comment was entirely facetious.

Am I wrong, or right? I mean, being a missionary for Jesus by "fishing for men" with nice legs is pretty unoriginal, but still humorous. I guess I find it hard to take you seriously if you meant your comment that way.

Oh well...

DagoodS said...

AnnieAngel must be a parody. Although good for a laugh.

AnnieAngel said...

I'm not a parody, thanks. I am however pro-choice and I don't care if people want to be gay. Free will and all.

Again, I hope you realise it's man you are angry with, religion.

Not Jesus.

Sorry you are so sexually repressed that you find my legs to be un-Christian or whatever.

(glad you think they're nice)

Kevin Parry said...

I think that the primary aim of debating is not to try and change the mind of the person you are debating against, but to try and reach out - through the debate - to those who might be 'listening' in, to the fence-sitters who have not made up their minds on the issue being debated.

Kevin