From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Thinking hardly
or hardly thinking?

Icon philosophy.svg
Major trains of thought
The good, the bad,
and the brain fart
Come to think of it
It is better to debate a question without settling it, than to settle a question without debating it.
—Joseph Joubert[1]
There is largely no point in trying to rationally rebut an irrational or emotional belief. But I hold the irrational belief that it can’t hurt, and I will not be rationalized out of it.
—Philip Bump[2]

In common parlance, a debate means a discussion of a particular subject in which people express different opinions. Formal debates are a regulated discussion of a proposition between two matched sides, generally ending with a vote or other decision.

Debate and democracy[edit]

Debate has been inextricably intertwined[citation needed] with the concept of the open society,Wikipedia as democratic societies depend upon the free and open exchange of ideas, providing a contrast to totalitarian regimes which may impose a limited set of ideas as absolute truths.

Totalitarian societies sometimes allow a certain amount of debate (see, for example, the concept of democratic centralismWikipedia), but it is not free and open, and being on the "wrong" side of a debate could get you made persona non grata (or worse) by the winners the person/people in power, even if you make your point better than they do. Thus, to have an open society, it is more important whether debate is unrestricted (i.e., whether there is freedom of speech) than whether debate takes place or not.

Note that one can close down debate retroactively: vigorous and robust debates took place in socialist circles in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, but mass arrestsWikipedia of wrong-thinking Trotskyite, Bukharinist,Wikipedia and deviationistWikipedia[3] losers holders of non-state-supported opinions occurred subsequently in the 1930s.

Formal debates[edit]

Formal debates are debates that take place between a number of debaters (usually two) in front of some sort of audience. The audience can be live in person, televised, streaming over the internet, all of the above, etc. The exact dimensions of the debate formats vary, but generally, each debater takes a turn, usually a few minutes, giving an opening statement summing up their position on a said topic at hand. A moderator is also present to ensure that the debate doesn't trigger a civil war remains civil and constructive. In many debates, the debaters will take turns, with time limits implemented, to give their side of the evidence before their opponent gets an equal amount of time to do the same. Some debates, after a few minutes of uninterrupted opening remarks, will then turn to a slot of real back-and-forth engagement between the debaters. Other debates will exclusively switch back and forth between sections of uninterrupted time for each debater to rebut the other's remarks. This latter format is often favored by those who want to watch debates with as little "fighting" as possible, as sometimes (though certainly not always) live engagement can turn ugly: literally anyone who watched the first 2020 Presidential debate can testify to that.

Informal debates are, in some ways, similar to formal ones, but without very-specific formats. These usually take place over the internet in places like forums, blog posts, and YouTube comments. The biggest difference between these and formal debates is the lack of a moderator. Understandably, many people don't waste their time trying to fish out information from these kinds of informal debates, as most of them accomplish more in killing brain cells than in providing valuable information. Also, depending on the website (like YouTube for example), comments have a voting system of thumbs-up or thumbs-down. This can quickly turn the debate into a bullshit popularity contest, with the debater having the most "up-votes" as being hailed the "winner".

Causal conversation between family and friends can also constitute as informal debates. Usually, these aren't quite as hostile as the ones over the internet with strangers (hopefully not, anyways).

What debates are (and aren't)[edit]

While debates can be very useful in gathering information, many people have severe misconceptions about what debates are, or more specifically, what debates aren't. As a result, most televised debates, in modern times, often end up being about as authentic as professional wrestling.

Formal debates are not about winning or losing, contrary to popular belief. Viewing debates as such causes a lot of people to misinterpret the debate's purpose. To them, a debate suddenly becomes an attempt to savagely "destroy" an opponent as if it was a professional wrestling or boxing match. To be fair, though, this is not a surprising misconception. After all, isn't the goal in a debate to provide better arguments than your opponent? In a way, yes. But true debates are about educating, that is the key. They don't educate in the "WATCH A DUMBASS [FILL-IN-THE-BLANK PERSON] GET EDUCATED WITH FACTS AND LOGIC!" sense, but rather, they educate by providing lines of evidence for a position, or against the opponent's position, to give the audience as complete of a picture as possible of the topic at hand. From there, the audience is encouraged to think the evidence through, then conclude with what they (and only they, not the person sitting next to them) believe is true. This is the key to a debate, getting the audience to think. Obviously, declaring a specific "winner" essentially does the "thinking" for the audience. That might sound convenient, but just like your trainer can't do pushups for you (try asking next time you go into the gym if you think it's possible), debaters cannot think for their audiences.

People who fall into this debate-equals-WWE definition end up completely losing grip with the entire purpose of them in the first place. If a debater agrees to a debate under the impression that there will be a crowned "winner", obviously, they will want to "win" that hypothetical gold-medal for themselves to keep (duh, who wouldn't). But in their quest to "win" the debate, they make a huge mistake: often, they end up spending less time and energy finding true arguments/evidence for their position (or against their opponent's). and, instead, more time looking for the great "knockout punch", so to speak. In debates, this mythical "knockout punch" is usually defined as some kind of "unanswerable" argument that their opponent might not be able to necessarily answer in the immediately moment. The idea is that if an opponent cannot answer an argument immediately, that is the equivalent to "losing" and that their argument is hence "unanswerable" and therefore "right", and thus, they "won".

For several reasons, however, this big "knockout punch" is almost bound to fail for a number of reasons. Knockout punches tend to fall into the following categories:

  1. A fairly cheap style of knockout punch is when a debater attempts to "shut down" their opponent with a single line of humorous, snarky humor which is usually irrelevant to the actual debate topic at hand. This aims to embarrass the opponent, so much that he or she cannot adequately respond, falsely implying that the opponent has "lost" the debate. Watch literally any rap battle video for a gold-mine of examples of this sort of thing.
  2. The debater might also Gish gallop all over their opponent: this is when a debater throws so many arguments at their opponent, like a machine gun, that they either do not have enough time (due to the debate's time constraints) or they cannot mentally keep up with rebutting all their bottomless arguments, making it look like their opponent has either given up trying to rebut them, or has left several arguments as "unanswered".
  3. A debater might also "win" by throwing out "facts" that are not even wrong. Sometimes, debaters will throw out "facts" that are so dumbfoundingly irrelevant, and incoherent, the opponent's jaw will fall to the floor, leaving them wondering if someone spiked their breakfast milk incredibly baffled and, hence, "unable" to respond. As you can guess, this is frequently twisted into an opportunity to "demonstrate" that the opponent has no counter-argument, and has hence "lost" the debate.
  4. Finally, a debater might try to ask a question in-which the opponent simply does not know the answer off the top of their head, forcing them to say, "I don't know". Cheap debaters will relentlessly use these moments as "proof" that they "won" the debate. The truth is that anyone who knows anything about debating will tell you that saying "I don't know" says absolutely nothing about whether or not someone's position is true. The most book-smart scientists in the world don't go into debate venues with fifty-mile-high stacks of books ready to refute any possible argument that might come their way. Anyone with a micro-gram of dignity will tell you that saying I don't know is actually an example of honesty, not getting "owned" by an opponent.

Using any one of these fallacies can give the debater a convenient moment in time to officially declare that their opponent has now been "schooled", while likewise declaring themselves the "winner". As you can see, this is tantamount to getting an epic "KO" in a wrestling/boxing/Street Fighter match.

A nice consolation prize then would be to upload video footage of the debate (or some sort of 30 second clip of the big "ownage"), then self-bill it as themselves "DESTROYING" their opponent with some sort of Clickbait title (preferably in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS for optimum effect), for the sake of earning views and/or ad revenue, as well as increase their fanbase and (usually already massive) egos. This is why videos with titles like "SJW RETARD GETS DESTROYED WITH FACTS AND LOGIC" spread like rabbits on websites like YouTube and Twitter. Sometimes, even entire compilations of these clips, like "1 HOUR+ OF SJW KARENS GETTING SCHOOLED COMPILATION BEST OF 2024" are posted to video sites like YouTube. Clearly, these types of videos are more about getting views/attention, usually from people who are already converted, than they are in actually engaging in useful conversation and evidence presentation. For optimum effect, these videos are also frequently accompanied by something like an airhorn sound effect, or some generic stock clip (from another video elsewhere) of a bunch of dudes screaming "OOOOWWWWNNNNEEEDDDD!!", to signify the audience of the great "ownage". It's similar to a laugh-track, which signals to an audience that they're supposed to laugh at certain jokes[note 1].

Ironically, this is the exact opposite of what a debate is supposed to do. As already explained, true debates provide opportunities for people to change their minds by presenting them with information against their current position that they might not necessarily have been aware of beforehand. While you definitely cannot force someone to change their mind, you can certainly give them good reasons why you think they should. But this kind of rabid clickbait filth, however, is pretty much only going to attract the already-converted, who get way too much enjoyment out of watching some hapless debater get "schooled". Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the sheeple these videos are geared towards have zero interest in rational thinking whatsoever. They only care about feeding their brains with truckloads of what they call "logic" that already conforms to their biased preexisting beliefs.

This is pretty much why anyone who demands or attempts to bully a potential opponent into a debate (especially with threats of "destroying" or "exposing" them out in the public rink) is all but certainly not even worth debating. A simple test to determine whether or not someone is worth debating is to see if they are attempting to put themselves (whether intentionally or not) in a win-win situation. People like Ray Comfort are prime examples of this kind of win-win bunk. They frequently shift the goalposts to allow them to brag about being "undefeated" in any debate, when in actuality, they are just nobodies who have no lives besides wasting people's time (including their own).

People who do this usually match the following criteria:

  • If their opponent accepts their offer of debate: they will parade their views around as being legitimate. Seeing as how they are, supposedly, qualified enough to appear on the same stage as their opponent, they have essentially "proved" that their views are some kind of a "threat" to the minds of anyone who do not agree with them, hence proving them right.
  • If their opponent does not accept their offer to debate, they cackle and howl that their opponent is afraid of debating due to their "indisputable facts" and is trying to "wimp out", hence proving them right.

If you discover that the above applies to them, immediately turn them down. These people will always "win" no matter what because they have already pre-determined that. They are never worth debating because they have no interest in changing their minds (or anyone else's). Why would they be? If they're going to "win" no matter what, there is no point in even letting them waste your (and the potential audience's) time and brain cells in the process. Their only purpose in debating is actually not to debate at all, but to preach to the choir, often by Gish galloping and spewing brain-smouldering bullshit that's so wrong that it becomes not even wrong, before declaring themselves the "winner" by default due to a lack of "rational" rebuttal. The best thing to do is to ignore these people, because eventually they may finally realize that their bullshit "logic" won't get them anywhere anyway and that almost nobody will ever take them seriously (even if it takes them a looooonnngg while of vain attempts to "own" everyone in their path). They may finally just give up and go away and actually do something more productive in life… like sweeping gas station floors, for example.

Creationists and debates[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Creationism

Debates have been greatly abused by young Earth creationists, who use them to push their agenda in the following manner:

  1. Challenge "evolutionists" to a debate.
  2. Goad themWikipedia by yelling, "Evolutionists won't debate us! They know they'll be trounced by the hammer of our irresistible logic!"
  3. Wait for a scientist to take them up on their challenge.
  4. When the scientist and creationist are in the debate venue, have the creationist Gish gallop over the scientist — or possibly start declaring things that are not even wrong.
  5. Declare the creationist the winner.
  6. Use the debate as further evidence of the claim in step 2.

This is pretty much why people such as Richard Dawkins refuse to debate creationists.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. The show Friends is probably the best example of why laugh-tracks exist. Without it, nobody would ever laugh watching it. Click here to see what we mean.


  1. ThinkExist: Joseph Joubert
  2. Somehow, we’re still learning the depths of Trump’s dishonesty by Philip Bump (September 22, 2021) The Washington Post.
  3. See the Wikipedia article on Right Deviation.