Debating for beginners (and others)

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Zzyzx
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Debating for beginners (and others)

Post #1

Post by Zzyzx »

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All of us were beginners at some point. Some have gotten past the most obvious stumbling blocks; others have become frustrated and left; still others seem unable to learn how to be effective in debate – but keep slugging away anyway, being foolish (and entertaining others).

Here are a few things I have learned that might be useful to others.

1. BE HONEST. If your position is valid there is nothing to be gained by dishonesty or dishonor (or disreputable debate tactics). If your position is invalid you may think a con-job will help but it will not do so in the long run – and you will likely join the ranks of those who leave the forum in disgrace after being exposed.

2. Learn to use forum functions such as "quote" and "edit". A tutorial is available in "Members Only" sub-forum in a thread entitled " how to quote and refer to the text to which I am responding"

3. Use spell-check. Spelling errors, while not of major importance, convey an impression or attitude of sloppiness and indifference toward accuracy (which is often foretelling). I personally prefer to compose posts in a Word document rather than in forum reply boxes. That avoids the possibility of Internet or forum glitches "losing" my work, and it makes spell-check convenient (actually ongoing "as you type" as my machine is configured).

4. Learn the "rules of logic" and do NOT make obvious blunders such as "circular reasoning", non-sequiturs , false or faulty analogies, appealing to emotions, incomplete evidence, unsupported assertion, prejudices or stereotypes, argument of popularity, etc. An excellent source or starting point is http://www.tektonics.org/guest/fallacies.html

5. Do NOT use questionable debate tactics such as ad hominems, ducking questions, straw man arguments, feigned ignorance, feigned knowledge, special pleading, etc. Some of these are also errors in logic. They identify an argument as questionable, weak and/or defective.

6. DEBATE do not preach (this applies to any "ism"). In debate ideas are challenged, supported, defended, countered, and critiqued. Critical examination and comment is expected. No one has any right to claim absolute truth or understanding. Your point of view is NOT superior by virtue of your convictions.

7. Learn about the topic. Even if you feel rather competent in the area of discussion it pays to do some research. Internet search engines are a powerful tool for anyone who learns to use them effectively and efficiently. You might even accidentally learn something.

8. Learn about opposition debaters. A great deal of information is readily available about some members. Some are chosen by Admin as subjects for "Member Spotlight" in General Chat. Other information is available in the person's previous posts and ongoing debates. CHECK and ASK. What you don't know WILL hurt you.

9. Do NOT assume that you are right or that you are the better debater. You may discover that you are wrong on both counts. Overestimating yourself and your position while underestimating opposition people and positions is a recipe for disaster. People who make that mistake frequently are usually known as has-beens – no longer active.

10. If you are a Theist do not assume that your beliefs or worship practices make you superior in any way. That may seem true in church but it is decidedly not true in debate. You occupy no moral high ground. You are not "better" than others who worship different gods in different ways – or those who worship no gods – REGARDLESS of what your preacher may have told you.

11. If you are a Theist learn the meaning of the terms "Atheist", "Agnostic", "Anti-Theist", "Non-Christian", "Anti-Christian", "Non-Theist", and "Ignostic". Notice that some members positing here are not inclined to believe in gods but are not particularly opposed. Some oppose specific practices or policies of organized religion. Some are adamantly opposed to all forms of god worship. Learn the difference as applied to the people you attempt to debate. It DOES make a difference.

12. If you are a theist do NOT assume that you know more about religious literature and dogma than your opponents. Many Non-Theistic members are much better informed about the bible and Christianity than any Christians I have debated.

13. If you are a Non-Theist do not assume that Theists are "all alike" and "all stupid" (or variations thereof). There are some very intelligent and capable theistic members who are more than able to "hand you your head". Many of the most respected theistic members are NOT "traditionalists" who subscribe to mainline organized religious sects. Learn the interesting variations that are represented in "thinking theism".

14. If you are a Non-Theist do not assume that theism is represented by Fanatical Fundamentalists (or "Conservatives" or "Real Christians") who seem overly vocal in debate forums. It is suggested that liberal or moderate Christians are not motivated to attempt to promote or defend their beliefs in Internet debate while the more fanatical seem compelled to do so.

15. It is NOT wise to assume that you know an opponent's position. ASK. Unless you are quite well informed about your opponent, you have no idea who you are talking to. Several members are Ex-Christians, some are Ex-Christian Ministers, some are attorneys, teachers, and construction superintendents. At least one is a retired professor of Comparative Religion. Many are seasoned debaters.

16. Do not make statements that you cannot support. This is debate – not preaching. You WILL be challenged. Be prepared to cite evidence to support what you say. If you cannot defend a statement WITHDRAW it gracefully.

17. Read EXACTLY what a person says before trying to rebut or respond. Do not "read into" what they say and do not assume that they mean what you think at first glance. It is particularly important to read carefully anything that touches "tender places" in your psyche or your belief system.

18. Remember that ALL you have in Internet debate is CREDIBILITY which is based upon 1) Respect from fellow debaters, 2) Consistency of position, 3) Accuracy of statements, and 4) Skill in presenting ideas and answering challenges.

19. Your arguments, no matter how powerful, are unlikely to make instant changes in anyone's position (though that can happen with a frequency that approaches winning a lottery). Instead, presenting consistent ideas in reasoned and effective ways is likely to change attitudes (if not positions) over time.

20. Learn from fellow debaters. Learn techniques of debate as well as learning about ideas being discussed. You don't know it all (no matter what you may think).

21. Leave your emotions out of the debate. Becoming emotional reduces one's ability to accurately assess the "terrain" and to reply to "moves" by other parties to the discussion. Some debaters deliberately provoke emotional response by "pushing buttons" to encourage their opposition to become emotional or irrational. Keeping a foot out of that trap is just as important as avoiding one's own "trap" of "leading with your emotions" (and stumbling over hurdles placed by the opposition).

22. Answer legitimate questions. You WILL encounter questions and challenges that are uncomfortable or difficult to address. It may seem appealing to take the weak way out and simply duck and dodge or disappear from the discussion; however, doing so is transparent. Your credibility will suffer.

23. Acknowledge mistakes and withdraw incorrect or inappropriate statements. You are not infallible. Everyone else knows you are not – don't be the only one unaware.

24. Nothing goes unnoticed. This is true in life as well as in debate. What one might think they snuck by unobserved quite often "comes back around and slaps them in the head". Even if no one else mentions things YOU know, and the negative effects on self-image are not worth the gain.

25. Be aware that many people visit this forum every day and that threads are available indefinitely. Many threads are visited hundreds or thousands of times. Your words have the potential to reach those people – with either positive or negative effect (or none at all). It is not wise to assume that readers are stupid or easily influenced.

26. What you write may be far more important to people OTHER than the one(s) to whom you address comments. What is said in threads IS read and considered by readers / visitors – not just debaters. Many read without posting.

27. Don't whine or expect special treatment. Do not claim to be disfavored by moderators. This forum is extremely fairly moderated. It is owned and administered by a Christian and moderated by an even mix of theists and non-theists. The playing field is as level as one is likely to find. DO NOT ARGUE with moderators in threads. If you have any comments to them send a PM.

28. Don't make excuses. If your arguments don't hold water and if you are not respected by fellow debaters look for holes in your presentation and your attitude – not defects in fellow members (or planetary alignment).

29. This list is not intended to be exhaustive.

30. Feel free to ignore all of the above. We need a few examples of "Mr. Before".
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Non-Theist

ANY of the thousands of "gods" proposed, imagined, worshiped, loved, feared, and/or fought over by humans MAY exist -- awaiting verifiable evidence

Beto

Post #11

Post by Beto »

Skyler wrote:Zzyzx, I'm not sure I understand. I assumed from the title of the post that the intent was to present some guidelines for new/inexperienced debaters. As such I'm simply suggesting a revision so as to not set a bad example of faulty reasoning.

Are you suggesting that it may be useful for others to engage in such argumentation? ;)
Do you hold that in debate, the "right to claim absolute truth or understanding" is a "point of view"? By definition, there is no such right in debate. There would be no contention, no discussion, just the initial claim. Defeats the purpose, doesn't it? As such, there is no "faulty reasoning".

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Skyler
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Post #12

Post by Skyler »

Zzyzx wrote:No one has any right to claim absolute truth or understanding.
Is that statement absolutely true?

cnorman18

Re: Debating for beginners (and others)

Post #13

Post by cnorman18 »

Skyler wrote:
Zzyzx wrote:No one has any right to claim absolute truth or understanding.
Is that statement absolutely true?
Yes. And there is no self-contradiction. That statement is not a claim of absolute truth, but a negation of such claims - just as atheism is not a belief, but the absence of belief..

Unsupported claims of absolute truth have no place in rational debate. Period.

Wordgames are fun, but are probative of nothing.

Beto

Post #14

Post by Beto »

Skyler wrote:
Zzyzx wrote:No one has any right to claim absolute truth or understanding.
Is that statement absolutely true?
No one should presume it's true to you. It's true concerning debate, by definition, and this thread is about "debating for beginners". Debating-wise, the claim is absolutely true.

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Post #15

Post by Skyler »

Beto wrote:
Skyler wrote:
Zzyzx wrote:No one has any right to claim absolute truth or understanding.
Is that statement absolutely true?
No one should presume it's true to you. It's true concerning debate, by definition, and this thread is about "debating for beginners". Debating-wise, the claim is absolutely true.
I'm not sure I understand. It's possible to know something is absolutely true unless you're debating someone, in which case anything goes?

It's one thing to make unsupported claims to absolute truth. It's quite another to say that no one has absolute truth.

Beto

Post #16

Post by Beto »

Skyler wrote:
Beto wrote:
Skyler wrote:
Zzyzx wrote:No one has any right to claim absolute truth or understanding.
Is that statement absolutely true?
No one should presume it's true to you. It's true concerning debate, by definition, and this thread is about "debating for beginners". Debating-wise, the claim is absolutely true.
I'm not sure I understand. It's possible to know something is absolutely true unless you're debating someone, in which case anything goes?

It's one thing to make unsupported claims to absolute truth. It's quite another to say that no one has absolute truth.
Unless you want to challenge the forum's understanding of "debate", there MUST be a contention, a discussion on a proposition. A proposition is, by definition, something offered for consideration, for acceptance. A "claim of absolute truth" with no set boundaries within which the truth applies is not a part of debate. In the established universe of "debate", we CAN make an absolute statement, but that's entirely different. We defined it, we know what belongs or what doesn't belong there. This is not an opinion or point of view. It's objectively established by the definition of "debate".

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Post #17

Post by Skyler »

Beto wrote:
Skyler wrote:*snip*
I'm not sure I understand. It's possible to know something is absolutely true unless you're debating someone, in which case anything goes?

It's one thing to make unsupported claims to absolute truth. It's quite another to say that no one has absolute truth.
Unless you want to challenge the forum's understanding of "debate", there MUST be a contention, a discussion on a proposition. A proposition is, by definition, something offered for consideration, for acceptance. A "claim of absolute truth" with no set boundaries within which the truth applies is not a part of debate. In the established universe of "debate", we CAN make an absolute statement, but that's entirely different. We defined it, we know what belongs or what doesn't belong there. This is not an opinion or point of view. It's objectively established by the definition of "debate".
Isn't the goal of debate is to establish what is true?

That being the case, if debate cannot resolve to absolute truth, isn't debate futile?

If debate is not futile, then clearly, it must be able to resolve to absolute truth.

Beto

Post #18

Post by Beto »

Skyler, you can dance around the ambiguity of "absolute truth" until the cows come home.

Your initial contention was that point 6 was self-defeating, by arguing that the claim "no one has any right to claim absolute truth or understanding" was a point of view, and the next sentence claimed no point of view was "superior by virtue of your convictions".

The initial claim is NOT a point of view, it is established by the definition of "debate", to which the point applies. Thus the second statement does not follow the first. It is simply a statement of fact, and to argue differently is to argue for a logical fallacy.

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Post #19

Post by Skyler »

I'm sorry Beto, I see now where the confusion is arising. I wasn't making my argument clear.

What I should have said was, point 6 claims that no one has the right to claim absolute truth. This conflicts with itself(not necessarily the next sentence) in the same way that the sentence "This sentence is not true" conflicts with itself.

I suggested, and Joey suggested as well, that this statement be changed to "No one's personal convictions gives them the right to claim absolute truth."

Skyler

Beto

Post #20

Post by Beto »

Skyler wrote:What I should have said was, point 6 claims that no one has the right to claim absolute truth. This conflicts with itself(not necessarily the next sentence) in the same way that the sentence "This sentence is not true" conflicts with itself.
Sorry, still doesn't work. Simply put, the claim "no one has the right to claim absolute truth" is NOT a claim of "absolute truth". It is a truthful claim in debating context, so it doesn't conflict with itself.

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