How to win debates (and lose in life)

With the political primary season in full gear (at least for one party), I thought it would be appropriate to use the primary process to make a point or two regarding core values and the comparative dangers and benefits of adaptation.  (Check out last week’s article if you missed it.)  Since then we have had a debate, so I thought it would be appropriate to follow up with a lesson or two on civil discourse (or uncivil, depending on the parties and circumstances involved).

Tracie and Taylor were both in debate years ago (not together, of course).  They both assure me that the political debates we see on the news channels have virtually nothing in common with classical debate.  Debate is supposed to be about assertions and refutations, laying facts out in clear relief for all to see, empowering listeners to come to a rational, information-based decision.  But political debates lean strongly toward “political” and not so much toward “debate.”  That’s not necessarily a bad thing; with multiple candidates on the same podium, it’s impossible to have a real exchange.  It inevitably deteriorates into a sideshow of showboating, grandstanding, quote-delivering, and rumormongering.  The debater is not so much trying to effectively deliver a point of view — although he or she may take the opportunity to “clarify” (read: radically alter) a position that has proved to be unpopular.  Instead, he or she is trying to show charisma, poise, relatability, and commonality with a broad constituency — all intended to show a likelihood to perform well in the general election.

“Facts” are to be cited loudly and proudly when they prove the point the candidate needs to prove; otherwise they are to be dodged, marginalized, challenged, ridiculed, used out of context, and generally subverted.

That’s a problem for me.  I deal in facts as deeply and consistently as I can manage.  The more truth I have in my life, the better.  I take Proverbs 23:23 to heart — “Buy truth, and do not sell it, get wisdom and instruction and understanding.”  I do not care about the source of the truth, or the reputation of the ones to whom I align myself in the truth, or the implications for my life that the truth brings.  This quest for truth has brought me to Jesus Christ and His gospel.  It is the only philosophy in the world that provides real answers to questions regarding our origins, our destination, and our purpose.  It lights my path (Psalm 119:105).  It provides power for life (Philippians 4:13).  It empowers me to be a child of God (John 1:12), complete with all the blessings that come with it (Ephesians 1:3).

Some philosophical types might interrupt at this point in the discussion to distinguish between “facts” and “truth.”  And they are different, granted.  “Facts” are points of data, information nuggets, things that can be examined, measured and tested.  “Truth” is philosophical rather than substantial.  But all true “facts” support the truth; it is impossible for them to do otherwise.  And any “truth” worth asserting needs to have facts that support it; otherwise it is a figment of our imaginations.

The “fact” is, the information that has poured into our history books and laboratories over the last century or two has confirmed the Bible account time and time again.  Some information is subject to interpretation, certainly.  But no measurable, quantifiable, discernible bit of information has emerged to call the Bible into question.  As large as the Bible is, and as much information is contained in it, compiled over such a long period of time, that is absolutely astounding.

I believe Jesus’ words in John 17:17 — “Sanctify them the truth; Your word is truth.”  But I do not ignore facts when I do so.  I have yet to find God’s message for me to be incorrect in anything — historical accuracy, internal consistency, etc.

Someone else may prefer the “truth” of atheism.  I can argue “my facts” with them and they respond with “their facts.”   And we don’t seem to get anywhere.  It’s because we are forcing all the facts into our own perceptions of truth.  We are on the same platform, responding to the same questions.  But we are not really having the same discussion.

I am sure the atheist would accuse me of being closed-minded, just as I would accuse him.  The difference is, I have enough faith in God that He completely fills the gaps in my knowledge and understanding.  The atheist places the same confidence in … what, exactly?  Science?  Future human beings?  That sounds a lot more like “blind faith” than anything I have experienced.

God wins this debate, it seems to me.  No contest.


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