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Debate is good, Dialogue is better

August 14, 2009

All of this crazy Thomas Society goodness began when I sent an email to the campus president of the Students for Free Thought at Ohio State. I wanted to approach the atheists on campus about maybe doing some things together. I had some vague thoughts about debates between the two groups. Ashley replied with a very gracious email and we met.

Not only did we become friends, we both quickly learned the idea of debates didn’t exactly thrill us. We had find some new ways forward. We came up with ideas such as the Hemant/Jay dialogue (which won an award from the University if I might brag), Jesus and Dawkins go the Movies and speaking at each other’s group meetings.  

The key concept that we learned in all of this? Debate is good, dialogue is better.

So, what’s the diference? Well, think about the debate format for a moment. It takes on different forms, but the idea is usually the same. You have two people on a stage and moderator. If it’s a good debate, it will be a fairly narrow topic such as “Can we trust the Gospels?’ Rather than, “Does God exist?” It’s usually good to hear the give and take. You hear the issues laid out fairly clearly.  No one goes home with a changed mind (usually) and both sides remain confirmed about what they believe. It’s a fairly bloodless exchange. 

Dialogue is different. It’s full of blood, passion and personal investment. It forces you to take another person seriously and to take their views seriously. In a dialogue, you are called to engage in messy conversations and engage with what the person is trying to say. A dialogue ought to wipe away agendas that we so often bring to debates. It forces us to really try to understand what the person may be saying. It makes us really look at the evidence for both sides of a debate so that we can either change our minds or really argue a counterpoint.

Even better, a dialogue is concerned with finding truth together and not treat each other like straw people that we can take our weedwacker’s to in a manic fit of verbal diaherrea.

This is one of our core values here at the Thomas Society, good, bloody, honest, fair, and intelligent dialogue.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. AdamK permalink
    August 14, 2009 5:27 pm

    Brilliant. Couldn’t agree more.

  2. Jerome permalink
    August 15, 2009 12:43 pm

    I think there’s a place for both approaches, and frankly, debate is kind of fun. But I agree that if you want to actually build understanding and respect, or even *gasp* camaraderie, that debate, especially the formal type, generally tends to build walls rather than bridges. Plus, the rigid debate format tends to favor rhetoric and sound-bites over reasoned arguments and evidence…

    Great post. I’m really enjoying these, thanks.

  3. August 16, 2009 12:58 am

    I like the distinction. Debate tends to focus on winning the argument, but dialogue suggests a common ground fir discussion.

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