The Nature of Debate

I’ve made it clear right here on this blog that I don’t debate any more… No! I’m done with that, period!

Yet just because I’m done with, doesn’t mean that plenty of others don’t still play the game, and it is to you who like to engage in debates that I appeal to today. Oh, don’t worry, I won’t try to talk you out of it; nope, I’m not going to come out of “retirement” to debate about debates.  Instead, I’ll try to do a little coaching here…

In a formal debate, the subject of the debate is set in concrete; it’s a Proposition that you are either in favor of or against, “pro or con.”  In a free flow debate, like I see many of you engaging in with your blogging, there is no set “proposition” so you are free to frame the debate in any way you choose. The way the debate is framed will usually determine the winner… so why would you want to frame your persuasion to favor the other side? Consider some subjects that have been publicly debated in the political realm, and I think you’ll get the idea…

Remember the great National debate on abortion?  Yes, I know, who ca forget!  Those who favored abortion on demand won a big victory, and even though some will still argue against it, I can assure you that nothing is going to change in this generation, the debate in politics is over for now. (Please don’t leave comments wanting to debate that last point!)  Now, here’s what’s important for us to learn: The reason that the pro abortion crowd won that debate is because they framed the nature and scope of the debate!  They were pro abortion, but they framed their position as “pro-choice.”  The whole scam was that the mother has a sacred consitutional right to choose… it became a debate over freedom versus oppression, and the anti-abortion argument spent the next 20 years playing defense. Want another example?

In the late 90’s and early 2000’s “defense of Marriage” laws were passed in many states, and even in Congress, related provisions were added to a variety of measures.  The argument was that marriage, as the basis for family was under attack. The debate was framed as protecting families and children… a proven winner.  Then, in the mid 2000’s the debate shifted and became about freedom and fairness.  It simply isn’t fair that gay couples can’t have equal rights, and the battle turned, and quite frankly the rout is on… now Christians debate each other over this issue, and it looks to me like the issue is as good as over. You see, the real issue is seldom the one that is debated. In both the abortion issue and the gay marriage issue, the debate ended up being about freedom, but freedom wasn’t the actual issue that was decided, was it… No, it was abortion on demand and same-sex marriage.

OK, now to the “issue” that prompted me to write this:

Science vs. the Bible

If you are a Christian who values the Word of God, can you give me one reason that you would engage in this debate?  Hello….! It is a loser for you!!! That isn’t even what is under discussion! What is under discussion is whether or not the Bible is reliable and valuable, not the Bible against Science.  “Science vs. the Bible” is how those who wish to demean the Word of God in general and the Christian faith in particular frame the debate. People, it is a trap, for it means you will play the entire game on defense!

Here’s why: “Science vs. the Bible” is based on a false premise, that there is a conflict at all.  There is no conflict at all between the Bible and Science, unless they talk about the same things… and they don’t!  Well, not unless they start telling us that the purpose of Science is to reveal Jesus Christ to Mankind. You see, that’s what the purpose of the Bible is; to reveal Jesus Christ.  It isn’t a science book.

Unless you like losing debates, don’t accept the premise; it is false.

Both science and theology have theories in them. Sometimes these theories turn out to be correct, and sometimes they turn out to be false.  In both disciplines, theories are useful for testing ideas against evidence, and sometimes that evidence may take a very long time to accumulate.  Both science and theology have a tendency to assume a theory to be correct before it’s demonstrated to be true, but assumptions aren’t always facts, so they can be attacked when the debate is framed correctly. In science vs. the Bible, the assumptions of science are placed on offense, and your assumptions about the Bible on defense: You Loose.

Rather than accept the premise that science is the opponent of the Bible, why not embrace science as a wonderful journey of discovery into how God’s creation works? Why not turn the tables, and speak of how they go together to give God glory?  When the other guy aggressively attacks you, then he is set up for you to suggest his “hate-speech” is out of order and guess what?  You’ll win.

Why not stop wasting time in phony debates, and just live to glorify God!

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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23 Responses to The Nature of Debate

  1. fairyneedle says:

    Another wonderful article, Don! After years of buying into the nonsense of debate, I also gave up. As a youth worker, I saw the fruit of this in the minds & hearts of our teens!! They followed the adult “apologetics” of the last few decades and argued with teachers and other students only to be left feeling like fools. It only served to weaken their faith. We should have been showing them how to have a relationship with Jesus rather than putting them on the defense. Christians have become so afraid of losing their kids to the culture, that they don’t even see that that very mentality is making Christianity seem weak!! I know there is a proper defense of the faith since the Bible speaks of it, but debating political issues or retrying the Scopes monkey trial over and over again is not it! The Church will prevail over the gates of hell and greater is He who is in us than he that is in the world. I personally believe that none of this has anything to do with the Gospel but rather that the American church world bought into the mentality of empire long ago. The fact is that their influence is crumbling purely because they thought just like many before them that they could legislate morality rather than winning the world one heart at a time. Politics can never solve what is a heart issue, and any time the church tries to use the world’s tools rather than the ones He gave only to us; we create the kinds of messes we see all around us. We can only be salt and light by living the faith in such a way that people see it as the pearl of great price. For too long the church has cast aside the simplicity of the Gospel in favor of argumentation and political activism. We are reaping the whirlwind of that choice.

    • Don Merritt says:

      Wow, great comment! out of the many points you made, one rises above the others for me: ” greater is He who is in us than he that is in the world” so very true! And while we are debating all of the wrong things, and fighting political battles and all of that, who exactly, can ever see that greater “He” who is in us? No one! Thanks for a great response!

  2. Wm says:

    Two questions…
    First,did you watch “Cosmos” last night on FOX?

    Second, besides the creation controversy, is there anything else wrong with science?

    • Don Merritt says:

      Hey William!

      1. Nope, I don’t have cable.I’ve seen the old one several times; great show… oh, and I read the book, too.
      2. In all the years you’ve known me, have you ever heard me say there’s anything wrong with science? I only comment when people apply it where it shouldn’t be applied, or jump to rash conclusions based on spotty evidence for political gain, kind of like what is going on in the senate at this moment. That is politics, not science!

  3. I agree and thanks for your support!

  4. Little Monk says:

    Thank you for this, Don. At first, as I read, I was concerned that perhaps my reflections on “the spider versus the scorpion” had caused offense. By the end of your post, I was assured that they had not.

    You issue so profound a caution… and you do it from a position of true experience and the authority of truth… do NOT enter in to the arena of “debating science”, you step into a “sucker’s game” doing that. And I know so many… so many I truly and deeply love with all my heart… who do not see the trap, and blithely enter into that arena, trying to defend their identities as “Literalists”. Such debate inevitably leads them to the necessity of making statements that are patently false, and undermining their very credibility as Christians and as people of integrity.

    Here, as in so many places, we see the wisdom of Jesus and His model of “witness”. He simply WOULD NOT be suckered in this way. Once the boundaries of “the game” were set up, He simply stepped across them with a glorious disregard… even to the extent of providing the “poll tax” by miraculous “FedEx Fish” when legalists tried to trap Him on this through Peter. (Wonderful post on that btw!)

    Yesterday, or Saturday, whichever… when I read your post about the “Science vs Religion” viral picture… my heart was so sad. I learned, long ago, that “Truth lies in the synthesis”. There is always Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis. I’ll not discuss that here, now… it’s too big to address. But nonetheless this is what I always see Jesus “cut to the chase” with… Temple (Thesis), Mountain (Antithesis), Spirit and Truth (Synthesis). Time and time again we see this.

    As I pondered your post on the little girl picture, the same pattern formed in me. Religion (Thesis), Science (Antithesis), SACREDNESS (Synthesis).

    It may be my own personal bias… I know I say this word probably vastly too often…. perhaps it is but my own “hobby horse”, in that understanding this concept… TRULY to embrace this concept of the Sacred is comparatively “new” to my life. I find this word primary in understanding scripture, Kingdom, the Church, myself and my relationship with God, definitions of both “sin” and “righteousness”… everything… this word… “SACRED”.

    But anyway, THAT to me, is the critical element missing in nearly all of these debates. That little girl’s sign addresses “psychology”, and “theology”… but neither position addresses her “sacredness”.

    I would love to point a finger and say, “see? see how vastly unfair that is?” And so it is. BUT, truth be told, all too often… neither do WE. We “churchmen”, we “theologians”, we “religious leaders”… we seldom address the fundamental “Sacredness” of people AS people, as fashioned by God’s hands. We address people’s value, largely, in terms of their “relationship with US, with the Church”… there’s US and there’s THEM… US being good… THEM bad.

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    Thank you, Don. YOU do not do this. You keyed on “sacredness” immediately, and that warms my heart hugely. These commentators tend to make the same focus.

    Closing, I was struck deep and hard, with interior affirmation of fairyneedle comment above:

    “I know there is a proper defense of the faith since the Bible speaks of it, but debating political issues or retrying the Scopes monkey trial over and over again is not it! The Church will prevail over the gates of hell and greater is He who is in us than he that is in the world. I personally believe that none of this has anything to do with the Gospel but rather that the American church world bought into the mentality of empire long ago. The fact is that their influence is crumbling purely because they thought just like many before them that they could legislate morality rather than winning the world one heart at a time.”

    This struck me deeply with a profound realization…

    I am often critical of the church in our day and age. But it is not The Church of which I am critical. It is the frequent institutional organizational EXPRESSION of the Body of Christ… without the Presence of Christ… that makes me more “sad” than “angry”. It’s trying to run church as a “savvy business, and sophisticated political entity”, that sometimes fills me with near despair. I have a beloved pastor brother, who doesn’t realize that I seek the renewal and revival of the local church up and out of this worldly morass, back to her noble calling as the Bride of Christ.

    What I realized was a WONDERFUL concept that came from fairyneedle’s comment…

    I object, protest, and resist… The Imperial Church!

    I am a committed member of an underground resistance movement. I want to be part of a miracle… the renewal and revival of the millions of church bodies on the face of the earth. To see them, their members, their hearts, return to their “first love” and renounce the Six Sigma model of “let’s make ourselves bigger and badder than everyone else…”

    I’ll post on this later, I think.

    Anyway, thank you, both Don and fairyneedle, for setting out these ideas here.

    Grace — LM

    • Don Merritt says:

      Wow! Thank you Little Monk! I don’t even know where to start! I loved the spider and the scorpion, one of your very best ever!! The Nature of Debate really happened because I had just read yet another post where a good brother fell into that trap. I had a whole series of “flashbacks” to my prior life of detecting, avoiding and setting political traps and ambushes… and I started writing… not that our “debaters” will ever take notice or listen! I grow weary of Christians providing so much good fodder to those who oppose the Gospel!

      You are so right… Jesus gave us an example of when and how to engage or disengage; He only commented on the real issues and blew right past the false premises and straw men: Great point!

      And then “sacredness” and fairyneedle’s comment… you spelled out so nicely what I see as my calling, thanks for that. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one and it’s nice to be reminded that many more are called as well!

      Looking forward to your post!


  5. Although not directly related, I do find it interesting that my husband also blogged about debate today, and that he, too, refuses to do it (although for different reasons). If you’re interested you can read his post here:

    Your post today made me interested in your previous post, “Why I don’t debate anymore.” I liked your story and was amused that you tore a page from your bible to “win” the debate. But more than that, I appreciate the lessons you learned from this experience and, as a result, the heart you have to keep the body of Christ unified. It seems everywhere I turn Christians are turning against each other as if we are in competition. I fully agree with you that we ought to live to glorify God. Thank you for another spirit-filled post. May you continue to glorify God through your writing.

  6. vwoods1212 says:

    Debates are like the isms and schisms Apostle Paul spoke of. Giving God the glory sounds just about right. VW

  7. Neon Fish says:

    I’m definitely not a debater. I have grown up watching my mom and her 3 siblings debate, and it is so ingrained in their pattern of relating. It hinders relationships. Agenda, agenda, agenda! Ugh! My personal experience with debate is that those who, for whatever reason, need to win the argument often overlook the person they debate with. It’s a battle for the last word, and in the process some very important things get lost. I find it sad that I can’t share an observation or a pearl of wisdom or an insight with my mom because it always gets a rebuttal, a one-up, an attachment, a “further more”. I don’t feel validated at all, yet when I talk to people who aren’t such strong debate-oriented people, who actually listen, I feel as though I am important, that I’ve contributed in some way by having something, no matter how small, significant to say.

    Just wanted to share this and encourage those of you who enjoy debate, are good at, to pay attention to how the strength of your presentation of debate is affecting the other party. As human beings we have 2 eyes, 2 ears, 2 hands, 2 arms, 2 legs, but one mouth. It’s so we can better see, hear, reach out to, and walk with people 😉

    • Don Merritt says:

      That’s is a great observation, thank you so much for it! I guess there can be “good” debates and not so good ones… like most things… but most are just pointless, and you made that case very well!

  8. Elaine says:

    Wonderful post Don! The points you make are spot on. Debates are one thing I avoid whenever I can. I don’t do well at debating and probably because I just hate that I might be made to look wrong. probably self esteem. however, I am not unhappy that I am not a debater by any means, just never thought about in the way you explained it–the truths of what is really being debated!

    • Don Merritt says:

      Thanks Elaine, i appreciate what you say here. Funny thing is that I always enjoy debate; I was on the team in college, national champions at that… but I retired, for it serves no real purpose for me other than taking our eyes off the ball!

  9. Pingback: Journey – Timothy Leary Meets the Borg | The Postmodern Mystic

  10. paulfg says:

    “for it serves no real purpose for me other than taking our eyes off the ball!” to Elaine’s comment. The thought “God wastes nothing” comes to my mind.

    Simply because your debating skills have great value for me spotting so many “smoke and mirrors” topics I keep missing.


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