Saturday, August 4, 2012

A former debater shares his expertise

While reviewing and commenting on the 1995 Craig-Pigliucci debate (here and elsewhere), I ran across a nice explanation on debating by UncredibleHallq commenter jimfoster, who summarizes debate tactics for the uninitiated:

"I debated in high school. Craig debated in high school and/or college. His presentation style comes across as holdover from that training: Look good. Stand tall & straight. Speak clearly, neither too fast nor too slow. Be the incarnation of confidence and scholarly appearance. Be well organized with arguments streamlined in advance. Keep arguments few, simple and crystal clear. Real evidence and real logic are acceptable but you can let them play second fiddle to persuasion. Invoke authority. Use "most experts agree". Don’t give anything up. Most counter arguments may be ignored. Tell the audience what you are going to tell them; then tell them; then tell them what you told them. The point is to win the debate. If you also happen to be right that’s OK, too. Student debate clubs are not hot beds of critical thinking. Craig curls my toes."

With this in mind, it might worth my while to spend less time micro-analyzing the style and tactics of the two debate participants, and focus more on

  1. "are the arguments good or bad, and why?"
  2. "do the counter-arguments refute the arguments, why or why not?"
  3. "are there any egregious errors, omissions or ethical transgressions that would affect the persuasiveness, validity and - hopefully - truth of the arguments and the conclusion they support?"

I think I've determined that Dr. Craig runs through his prepared material without a hitch, appears to have somewhat anticipated the objections, and has prepared responses for them. Dr. Pigliucci, while representing a position I agree with, appears, even in writing, to be less direct, his presentation doesn't flow as well, and he gives the impression of being too conciliatory of Dr. Craig, even conceding a tangential point or two that he didn't need to. This last bit is more of an opinion from me, as I can understand not wanting to offend believers. In light of the exhortation above to "Don’t give anything up", in retrospect, it's probably a mistake to do this.

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