Are Debates Useful?

As with my last post, there are many opposing views on this topic. Many say that debating is simply preaching to the choir. Others say that it only serves to alienate people. Some say that debates get those on the fence to pick a side. And many say that a debate can put the initial spark of doubt in an audience members head. So which is it?

I think that a debate can get people of the fence, but I don’t believe that they are good for putting the spark of doubt in someones mind. I think that a panel discussion, an interview, a book, or even a conversation is more likely to accomplish that goal. I also worry about the alienation aspect of a debate. If I’m trying to convince someone that I am right, then I don’t want them to see me lose my cool or become insulting, which is what happens in a lot of debates. I’m not so worried about the preaching to the choir bit though. There are going to be some people who go in disagreeing with you and others who go to watch because they are interested in the topic and haven’t yet made a decision. I think talks are far worse in that regard, because a talk is likely to only attract people who agree with the speaker. 

So are debates useful?

5 responses to “Are Debates Useful?

  • samcroarkin

    I find debates to be very useful; it forces each party to (usually) carefully consider their own position and defend it. And I’ve often learned from debates and have had my mind changed, and at the very least expanded in some way.

    However, debates, as others have pointed out, can be better or worse, and like any thing, it is going to vary.


  • kat

    debate, but only if you know each other well enough to know that neither party will take serious offense. if you are not sure the other person will not become greatly offended or snub you after, then perhaps either silence or listening is the choice. even when listening, one can still plant seeds.


  • Dena

    I’ve watched a lot of debates and I rarely, if ever, see someone lose their cool. Now, I’m talking about legitimate debates in front of an audience, generally with a moderator. “Debates” on the internet might be a bit different.


    • hessianwithteeth

      I was talking about legitimate debates as well. I don’t watch many anymore, but I found that debates between people who are not trained debaters turn into arguments quite quickly. I’ve seen good atheist vs. theist debates, but I think I’ve come across more bad ones. Though Christopher Hitchens was a great debater.


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