I am listening to the debate between Matt Dillahunty and Sye Ten Bruggencate. This debate is the perfect example of why I don’t really like debates. The debate started off with Sye straw-manning Matt. It was very obvious that Sye didn’t want to allow Matt to respond. He wanted to use videos of things that Matt had said in the past in order to predict what Matt would say and thus shut him up on stage. That is incredibly dishonest and rude.
Matt did a better job of sticking to the rules of engagement, but he was clearly impatient. He talked very fast and sounded annoyed. I can’t say as I blame him, but tone carries a lot of meaning to those who are listening.
Sye seemed to ignore what Matt was actually saying and kept attacking past (straw) Matt. He repeatedly mocked Matt as well. He then went on to the discussion period and demanded that Matt answer a question while refusing to clarify it for Matt. When Matt was given the opportunity to ask a question, Sye refused to answer it claiming that it was irrelevant because Matt couldn’t prove that “he’s not a brain in a vat.”
The most brilliant part of the debate was Matt’s rebuttal. Matt wrote his rebuttal ahead of time and was able to predict exactly what Sye was going to say in the debate. It was brilliant because it made a great point.
While I believe that Matt did a great job in the debate, I do not believe that it was a useful exercise. The people who were watching were obviously either on Matt’s side or Sye’s. You can determine this because of who would clap for who. And, since people will clap just to be polite, you can also tell based on the laughing and the whispered comment. You can tell when someone thought that a persons comment was ridiculous because they’d laugh at something clearly meant to be taken seriously.
I have no doubt that some of the people there were on the fence. But what were they to take away from the event? Sye was insulting and went out of his way to attack his opponent. Matt sounded annoyed. Neither one seemed to really respect the other. If we could ignore emotion and take their words at face value, then it would be possible to support one over the other. But keeping emotion in mind, how can someone who doesn’t already support one person over the other determine who they support?
This isn’t to say that a debate doesn’t have a time and a place. Even getting annoyed, I enjoyed the debate. But these debates show me that debates aren’t enough. We aren’t going to convince many of the fence-sitters with debates. I never would have been convinced with a debate.