Sunday, March 20, 2011

Debates can be funny things

Over the years, I've seen a number of live debates. This past week I was in Kansas City for the annual EMNR (Evangelical Ministries to New Religions) conference, where I delivered a workshop paper on the Qur'an and Islam. On the opening night, there was a debate between a Muslim and a Christian.

Debates are very interesting spectacles. The participants come not to listen to the other side but rather prove their own sides as truth. The audience comes with their presuppositions, internally rooting for their candidate to "smoke" the opponent. What usually happens is that frustration is in store for almost everyone involved.

This debate in front of a packed audience at Midwestern Theological Seminary was no exception. In essence, the Christian from England did indeed smoke the ill-prepared Muslim, a convert who apparently doesn't even know Arabic. (I never heard of a debater for Islam not knowing this vital language; I would think most Muslims would not take such a person very seriously.) This man seemed to concede from his opening statement when he looked back at his opponent and said, "Well stated." He never had a chance. Even though I like the fact that the Christian "won," I'd rather have the very best from the other side and have there be more of a match.

Here are the things that I believe would have made this particular debate a more satisfying experience:

* Choose a different topic: The one here dealt with "America" and the Bible and Qur'an. I felt the topic was much too general, as the Christian picked one aspect and the Muslim a completely different aspect. Why not pick something more specific, like the God or Jesus of Islam/Christianity, the truthfulness of the Qur'an vs. the Bible, or the way of salvation that the two religions have?  This would have kept the debaters on a more unified theme.

* Provide a chance for the two to interact. This particular debate offered no real interaction. The formate was 20 minutes each in opening statements, 10 minutes each in rebuttal, and 40 minutes in taking questions from the audience. Perhaps this question/answer section could have involved the two men sitting in chairs, with the moderator asking questions and letting them talk back and forth.

* Stick to the issue. Tangents were very common in their presentations.

I would never want to be the debater--wow, what pressure!--but there were a number of occasions when I thought, "Ahh, why don't you bring this up?" How rarely that happened. I might be biased, but what I wanted to say seemed to be so much stronger than what the debater offered. The Christian also talked very fast and used some technical terms that I was able to understand, but I'm sure most of the audience could not. My favorite debater is William Lane Craig. The guy is super intelligent, yet I find that he is very clear in his logic and speaking that many informed laypeople would be able to follow.

Overall, I enjoyed the experience. I guess I'll have to be content to realize that there is no such thing as a perfect debate.

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1 Comments:

Blogger jasonmelling said...

I can only imagine that the conference invited a Muslim "expert" to be the opponent of the Christian because they wanted their side to win. I agree that it would have been more enjoyable and informative if there was more of a fight, but it might have been for the good of the conference that they ensured the Christian side would win. I would be very disappointed, as well, if I were there.

8:00 PM  

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