Debate versus Dialogue - Thoughts?

RJS had published a thought-provoking post on this topic a few days ago at Musings on Science and Theology.

She included this breakdown of the differences between debate and dialogue presented by the Public Conversations Project:

[quote] Debate: Participants tend to propound a carefully crafted position.
Dialogue: Participants may or may not be committed to a position.

Debate: Atmosphere is threatening. Attacks are expected and permitted.
Dialogue: Atmosphere is one of safety. There is an agreement to respect one another even in disagreement on the issues.

Debate: Participants speak to represent a group.
Dialogue: Participants speak as individuals from their own experience.

Debate: Participants speak to the already committed.
Dialogue: Participants speak to each other.

Debate: Difference within a “side” are denied or minimized.
Dialogue: A broader continuum of personal positions are expressed.

Debate: Participants express unswerving commitment
Dialogue: Both deeply held beliefs and uncertainties are expressed.

Debate: Participants listen to refute.
Dialogue: Participants listen to understand and gain insight.

Debate: Participants aim to win.
Dialogue: Participants desire to learn and grow. [/quote]

As it says on the top banner, Biologos aims to be a place of “gracious dialogue.” But, in the course of dialogue, some debates on certain points usually arise and sometimes they are necessary and helpful.

I’m interested to know what people think about the breakdown between debate/dialogue above, or anything else mentioned in the linked article. What could we do better as far as promoting genuine dialogue? Is there a role for debate in dialogue, and if so, how do we engage in debate in more productive ways, ways that do not shut down conversations?


I appreciate the contrast presented in the table RJS shares. That said, I have tended to “rescue” (IMO) the concept of debate by elevating it into the realms reserved for dialogue above. I.e. I have often thought to myself that “true debate” or the “best kinds of debates” would fit the descriptions under the dialogue side.

Not that learning can’t or won’t happen by somebody trying hard to press their own point. We can learn from the hard knocks, too, of losing arguments. And some of us (I include myself in this --especially in my teenage years) have had somewhat contrarian styles of engagement with others. Our way of learning is to pick up the other end of a rope and engage in a little tug-o-war just because argumentation has become habitual. Some people have this in the extreme, and are usually considered very annoying by everybody else. But if others can exercise patience, there may be reward in it … and the other person may be more malleable in their opinion than they are willing to let on in the moment.

So I guess I’m critiquing my own critique above in admitting that I/we shouldn’t totally devalue the argumentative and contrarian aspects of debate. It’s just that so many have become so sensitized to any forms of micro-aggression today, that those go down those roads deliberately, may lose a substantial fraction of potential audience before their cause even gets out of the starting gate.

I think Fr. Robert Barron’s take on ‘safe spaces’ here has some good insight that could be added to the list above. [warning --for those sensitive to verbal aggressions-- Barron does mock some things that he maintains deserve to be mocked.]

RJS does a wonderful job, and I look forward to the posts . One thing I read somewhere, probably here, is that we should strive to understand the other persons position well enough to articulate it. This insures we are truly listening, and also insures we see them as a person with a viewpoint, rather than just arguing a position.

Interesting topic. The answer depends on the reasons why one is here. Some people come here specifically to push an agenda, or to attack a view they hate. They, of course, are here to debate. I don’t mind reading some of these debates, if those on both sides actually have a defensible point of view. That doesn’t happen often. So, unless BL is prepared to delete and ban posters based on the worth of their ideas, the status quo will reign.

For myself, I’m not much interested in debate, as I’ve said elsewhere on these forums. I certainly don’t mind when someone challenges my own stupidities and errors, but not everyone feels the same.

I would take issue with just a few things on the above list.[quote=“Christy, post:1, topic:5634”]
Debate: Participants tend to propound a carefully crafted position. Dialogue: Participants may or may not be committed to a position.
I can have a dialogue about Christ with a non-believer without relinquishing my allegiance to him.

I can have a dialogue about Christ with a non-believer and still actively listen to him/her without disrespecting their personhood.

Again, I don’t have to give up my unswerving commitment to Christ in order to have a dialogue, rather than a debate, with an unbeliever.

These are the two biggies, in my opinion. I think you can boil the whole list down to these two, with a little bit of No. 2 thrown in.

Me too, in an ideal world. Because the best kinds of debaters have minds open to new information and perspectives. Unfortunately it does not appear that the best kinds of debaters hang out on the internet.

I think it was well enough to articulate it in a way the supporters would agree is accurate, which is a bit of an extra burden.

Of course. I think the allegiance is to a position not a person. In debates between Christians, both people may share the same basic allegiance to Christ but feel that allegiance is manifest in commitments to opposing positions or values that are mutually exclusive in a given context.

Agreed. :slight_smile: I think we could reduce the gracious dialogue guidelines down to “Don’t focus on winning, focus on understanding.” But we have some pretty incomprehensible folks around here.

The epitome of graciousness. :wink:

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