This morning I read an interesting post on Daylight Atheism about theist-atheist debates that is related to the post by Mike the Mad Biologist that was mentioned in the quickies and is also related to the idea of Irreligion by John Allen Paulos, our monthly reading selection.
(UPDATE: Here’s another interesting and related post by Greg Laden.)
The Daylight Atheism article claims that debates are useful because, although they rarely change the minds of individuals, they have an impact on the societal level. I am not sure how something can impact society without impacting individuals, but it’s definitely worth reading the entire article to pick up on the finer points of the
debate, uh, discussion.
I personally find debates tedious and grating. It doesn’t matter what the subject is or who is winning. I just don’t like the format and the idea that someone has to win. I believe that story telling is much more powerful form of communication, particularly when talking to believers. That’s not to say that evidence and logic should be left to whither on the vine, but data and factual evidence should be incorporated into a personal message that has emotional as well as intellectual punch.
I see a tendency toward debating being preferred over discussion in the comments on Skepchick at times, often when a troll stumbles onto a topic that triggers them. A few people are having a discussion, throwing out different ideas about a subject, and someone comes in and tries to turn it into a debate. I don’t really understand this need to always be right and to force a friendly discussion into a form of communication that requires winners and losers. But it seems to be very popular, especially when talking about the existence of God or the validity of religious belief.
I enjoy discussions where many different viewpoints and opinions are voiced. And I don’t think it’s bad to point out where you feel someone is wrong or missing some important information about a topic. But something about the whole debate format just makes me want to leave the room, turn off the TV, or abandon the comment thread.
I’m not quite sure what makes the difference between discussion and debate, but it seems to be that when a discussion is ensuing, people feel free to state their ideas, and to comment on others’ opinions without requiring the other people to either refute or agree with every single point they make. They are content to listen to other ideas and to voice their own ideas without necessarily convincing everyone in the room that they are right and everyone else is wrong. In essence, discussion allows for opinion and disagreement, while debate forces the issue and assumes that there is one right answer. (Sometimes there is one right answer, for example 2+2=4, and I’m not sure how that should change the dynamics of dialog.)”
Here’s what I think,” says a person in a discussion, “and I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on this topic, too. I probably won’t change my mind, but you never know. At any rate, it is fascinating to hear differing viewpoints.”
The debater, on the other hand, says, “Here’s what I think, and if you disagree you’d better refute every point I’ve made so I can come back again and tell you why you are wrong. I don’t want to consider changing my mind. I’m just here to make you change yours.”
Which approach do you prefer? Or do you disagree with my portrayal of debating?