What determines that you have won the debate?

I pose this question, since I have watched many of William Lane Craig's great academy award winning performances. I have heard many atheist say that he has won most of the debates against atheist, but I have always come to the conclusion that he has not provided anything with substance. He uses the same old arguments that are known not to be very strong. Therefore from my point of view he lost. I think a person wins a debate if their claims are true, if they provide evidence, and if the arguments are strong. A weak argument that has been adorned does not meet my standards.

I have heard people say that Craig has won the debate because "X argument" was not rebutted, but if there is not enough time to shut down every single argument he proposes (which are about 5). How can that be considered a lost for his opponents?

Craig tries to make an argument for a creator ( the kalam cosmological argument), and then extrapolates that argument to apply to the christian god (but never saying it explicitly, unless he is pressed). If that argument can apply to many other deities, than how can it be considered a winning blow? It is a weak argument. Also, I consider the exploitation of the debate format for those purposes to be intellectually dishonest. 

In short, what determines that you have won the debate?

Is it the exploitation of the debate format?

Is it the truth of the claims or the strength of the argument?

Is it that the other side is unable to answer convincingly even if the argument proposed is weak?

Most people will say "oh well is a combination of all those aspect", but to me the strength and logic behind the argument trumps all the other aspect of a debate.

Views: 527

Comment by James Cox on May 27, 2012 at 1:38pm

Dear Folks:

One test I have used is: Does the other party become very quiet and start looking for the exit?

This only 'feels' like a win. The other party might just rather not bother with you. Sadly, atleast one philosophy prof., in my colorful history of education, used this ploy with sometimes painful results.

Another test: Do they vocally concede defeat?

Sometimes they do this just to save face or maintain a respectful connection with you and the audiance.

Another: How loud is the clapping, and for whom?

I have been to public debates. Sometimes you can tell what the audiance consists of by looking for T-shirts, bibles, friends from the local atheist/humanist groups, folks from the philosophy department/sciences, etc. There will often times be a blow by blow clap that can help to indicate your success/failure to connect! There was one debate preceeded by a book sales for the local student christian group, I just wish I knew the total sales of the books as a metric for the debate success/failure.  

Comment by Doug Reardon on May 27, 2012 at 1:42pm

If your opponent commits sepuku,  that is a good indication that you won.

Comment by Lewal on May 27, 2012 at 3:27pm
I'm with Doug. Dishonor determines the loser. Even if you're a really really smooth talker. Even if you're Obama. Even if you're the anti-Christ. Even if you're a Jedi.
Comment by Obfuskation on May 27, 2012 at 6:34pm

I would say it’s a combination of factors on a sliding scale, to include; strength of position, organization of argument, presence and presentation, and the strength of counter argument and cross examination. Another major factor would be the intellectual and emotional impact of the argument.

Theistic debaters understand the weakness of their position, and seem to rely on strong presentation and organization, while using strong (if intentionally dishonest or distracting) counters. They target emotional response over intellectual response for their ‘win’.

Non-theistic debaters tend to use intellectually solid positions, but on average I would say that they have weaker presence and presentation. I say ‘on average’ because there are some very notable exceptions like AronRa, Matt Dillahunty, and Sam Harris. While a lot of non-theistic debaters also tend to go for intellect over emotion, these three combine both elements and get far more consistent ‘wins’.

I think the only way to get a good measure of who won a debate is to have a private audience vote afterward. The vote will be influenced by bias, but can serve as a statistical baseline.

Comment by matt.clerke on May 28, 2012 at 1:03am

What you are noticing about WLC has been called the shotgun strategy. Basically, you fire off a bunch of different statements in the hope that your opponent will fail/forget to rebutt one. This leads the audience/judges to believe that it was a valid point when in reality it was merely overlooked.

Is it the truth of the claims or the strength of the argument?

No, but it should be. Time should be allowed for debaters to make a full rebuttal to each other so that the result of the debate is closer to truth than popular opinion.

Comment by Eric Diaz on May 28, 2012 at 10:17am

@ Courtney. Even tho that is ideal, Knockdown arguments are not common in most debates. 

@ Matt.clerke I have consider that when someone debates WLC, they should just focuse on one or two arguments in detail, and offer another debate some other time for the other arguments because of time restraints. Even if the second debate does not take place it lets the audience know that one is not avoiding the argument, but that there is not enough time to deal with all of them.....in fact WLC did this against Harris on their debate about morality, where Harris implied that there is no reason to believe morality comes from god since there is no evidence that god exist in the first place. Craig's response "I don't have enough time to argue for the existence of god, but I'll be happy to do so in another debate"

Comment by Karen Lollis on May 28, 2012 at 11:07am

Unfortunately, the question of who won the debate is different than the question of who is right.

I think @Obfuskation is on the right track with a private audience vote, but you need the vote both before and after. That way, even if the audience is skewed, you can potentially measure a net gain or loss for either viewpoint.

Also, in formal debate clubs or classes, there are scorecards. Scoring may be done by the whole audience, or by a panel of judges. You could find a few examples online with different criteria and score a video debate or two for giggles. I bet the exercise would help you see and hear things you would miss in a more passive viewing.

Comment by Tom Holm on May 28, 2012 at 12:00pm
Lol dammit blaine you took my comment !!
Comment by Logicallunatic on May 29, 2012 at 12:17am

He is a pro debater, that's all he does. He has his act polished to perfection over the last 25 years or so. He is robotic in his presentation. It's all style and no substance, it's all about emotion. He cares only about what is persuasive but not what is most likely to be true and of course not a damn about evidence. 


You need to be a member of Think Atheist to add comments!

Join Think Atheist

© 2018   Created by Rebel.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service