Formal debate is not something to be watched by the masses. The problem is that, with a formal debate, the viewer is left to make their own conclusions on what they just saw, and each person will score it according to their own biases and views. This is, of course, by design — while trying to convince each other, you are also trying to convince the watchers.
Because of this you are left with a strange fallout to any debate, whether political, religious, or just about whether Goku and Vegeta could defeat every hero in the Marvel universe with only the two of them (obviously, they could). The fallout, though, is that you end up with figureheads on either side, trying to convince people who share their views that their side won. Obviously, both sides cannot “win”, there is no “win condition.” Perhaps one side persuaded more people to join their side than the other, but a score of 55-45 in something like a debate is not something that, to me, constitutes a win; maybe I don’t even want a winner, I just want more information.
I am going to choose a recently televised and WILDLY popular debate as an example; Ken Ham versus Bill Nye. Those in the Creation camp have said Ken won, those in the science camp said Nye won (statistically speaking, Ken Ham won the United States while Bill Nye won most of the world, just given various poll numbers), but I don’t know if either person really changed anyone’s mind. People already in the Creation camp were going into the debate knowing Ken would win, people who stood on the side of science had decided Bill’s victory prior to the debate, and as for Ham himself, he went in knowing Bill could not change his mind, and Bill went in knowing Ham could not change his mind. Hell, they didn’t even formally debate, now that I remember back to any of the formal debates I have taken part in (I was in Debate Club in high school), as they didn’t rebut each other almost at all. They made their own points, presented their own views (part one of a debate), and then halfheartedly spoke to the points of the other before answering audience questions. The thing even about the audience questions is that they each answered in their own way, again very seldom referencing the answer of the other.
But the interesting thing is what happens after this debate, or really any debate.
Creation Today dedicated two episodes of their show and podcast to telling everyone how much Ken Ham totally won. Reddit and 4Chan, two of the largest (but certainly not the only) bastions of progressive thought (and havens for atheists (alternate reading: echo chamber for atheists)) proclaimed that Nye won the debate so handily that it was as though Ham didn’t even show up.
I know I am not the average viewer, and the problem is that most people don’t bother to even look at the other side (the lay person certainly). The problem is not the figureheads, not at the root, the problem is a complacent population. Your average person in the Creation camp will see that everyone on his side is saying Ham won, and become even more entrenched in his belief that Creationism is truly the Truth and the word of God. Do you know what this means? This means that, just for having the debate, Bill Nye has helped bolster the Creation crowd. Conversely, the already science-based crowd will be firmer in their own beliefs. How many people changed their mind, or made their mind up as a result of that debate? I’d argue that it was a handful at best. That being said, if you are on the fence on this issue, I won’t lie; there is lots of charisma on the Creation side, and their data (at a glance) looks very convincing (though if you go and do independent research, you will find that it falls apart under close scrutiny, and that almost all of their science has been disproved (and I only say almost because we still don’t know how life started, not exactly)). If that debate found more converts for Creation than for science, a little bit of reason died in the world.
And that is why I think that one of two things should happen. Either you go Richard Dawkins’ path, and reject all debates (for what is the point if you know you are not going to change minds), or just take the argument off the table of “entertainment”, for that is what the Ham/Nye debate really added up to.
That isn’t to say stop fighting, it is just to say that we should stop fighting, but we need to make it not a spectacle of charisma but a war of reason, of minds, and of data. Data can lead to differing conclusions, but data itself cannot be falsified. Whether you say that the sediment layers in the grand canyon are evidence of a global flood or of a river eroding the valley over millions of years, you still have the undeniable FACT that there are layers of sediment there. And you know what? I am happy to let true geologists publish papers explaining how they got there; I am not qualified to say *how it happened*, but I am qualified to say that an OVERWHELMING majority of geologists agree on how it happened, and I am happy to listen to the near consensus.
You can side with 3% of scientists who disagree with the other 97%, that is a freedom you are certainly afforded… But if you are siding with that same 3% because Ken Ham (whose highest level of scientific literacy is that of a school teacher, which he will happily tell you) told you to, I believe you have erred in exercising your brain’s astounding capacity for discovery. You are not discovering anything, you are just doing as a parrot does, and echoing information told to you by someone who is incapable of forming an academic opinion on the subject. I will, of course, freely admit that I, too, am acting the parrot, but I am parroting those with incredible depth of knowledge in that specific subject.
The above is a deep reason why I believe that the battle between science and religion should not be a spectacle of entertainment, it should be a battle of the greatest minds, a chess match behind closed doors, and I believe that once the match is won (as I believe in some arenas it has been), the winner can be simply and easily declared by viewing not the match itself, but the chess board after game; seeing the player who has the other in checkmate. There is no argument, no speculation, no 3rd move guessing as to who will win in the end, just an outcome.
The loser will admit loss, the winner will declare victory, and it won’t be a spectacle any more.
But maybe I just want a perfect world, and maybe I am asking too much.
I am sorry.