Why debates are a good idea (and a bad idea, too)


Some debates never end.

Most of the endless ones are pointless, too.  Aggies or Longhorns?  County Line or Rudy’s?  Hymns or praise songs? Momo’s or Cactus Café?  In our heads we care about them, but deep down in our hearts, we don’t. Not really.

But not all endless debates are pointless.

“When we behold the heavens, when we contemplate the celestial bodies, can we fail of conviction? Must we not acknowledge that there is a divinity, a perfect Being, a ruling intelligence, which governs: a God who is everywhere and directs all by his power? Anybody who doubts this may as well deny there is a sun that lights us.” 
Cicero, 1st century BC

“The idea that every organism was meticulously constructed by a great Designer provided a significance and order to nature and an importance to human beings that we crave still. A Designer is a natural, appealing and altogether human explanation of the biological world. But, as Darwin and Wallace showed, there is another way, equally appealing, equally human, and far more compelling: natural selection, which makes the music of life more beautiful as the aeons pass.”   
Carl Sagan, 20th century

The debate about the nature of the universe and life has been going on for as long as there have been human beings and shows no sign of ending soon.  But despite its persistence, it’s not a pointless discussion. There’s a lot riding on whether or not we and our world are creations or lucky accidents.

With this in mind Hill House and the UT Biomedical Engineering Department are sponsoring a debate at 7 pm on April 28th in Gregory Gym on the UT campus. The topic?  Was Darwin Wrong? 

The speakers will be Hugh Ross and Fazale Rana of Reasons to Believe and Michael Shermer of the Skeptics Society. Dr. Juan Sanchez, UT Vice President  of Research will serve as moderator, and a panel including Dr. Sahotra Sarkar (UT Integrative Biology/Philosophy) and Ken Diller (Chair, UT Dept. of Biomedical Engineering) will respond to their talks.  The event is free to UT students and faculty; tickets are $10 for the general public (want a ticket? contact me).

What’s the point in debating a question that humans may never resolve? Points of view that might otherwise never get a hearing can be presented and considered.  While belief in God is popular on campus, even among the science and math faculty, a belief that he is creator is not. It’s our hope that this debate will give people something new to think about on this point.

Why are debates often bad ideas? We can win and still lose.

Fifty years ago one of my teachers, the late Francis Schaeffer, accepted an invitation to debate the head of the Oxford Humanist Society. They met for coffee prior to the debate and got along really well . Dr. Schaeffer was encouraged that his opponent was genuinely open to considering the gospel. That is, he was until after the debate. He lost. Badly. And the sting of the defeat so wounded him that continuing to talk with Schaeffer or any other believer was the last thing he wanted.

Schaeffer learned a lesson that day, too:  remember that our goal isn’t to win, it’s to persuade.

“Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”  I Peter 3:15.