Is Debate Wrong?

I train debaters. My daughters (right) are debating their friends at a tournament, this being a cross-examination in front of judges. There is nothing wrong with the training, and the skills learned are impeccable.

In April I linked to an online debate between noted apologist William Lane Craig and an atheist he debated over the resurrection of Christ. Quite good, and I commented on how thoroughly Craig “clobbered” the atheist. Craig often “humiliates” and “annihilates” his opponents. Tough words, sure, but that’s how I perceived it. Listen to the debates and you’ll probably think the same.

I was surprised to have a couple people take issue with me. One poster, Nuala, apparently from outside the United States, claimed I had “power issues” in my heart, and that debate was not “valid spirituality.” Another poster agreed, claiming debaters (like Craig and me) are somehow “proud,” so therefore wrong.

Really? So…

  • Atheists should write their books and spread their worldview throughout the collegiate world without ever being challenged?
  • Christians should just preach to their choirs, their churches, and keep to themselves?
  • Attempting to refute or engage the thoughts of others is somehow wrong?

I don’t buy it. In fact, I have problems with those who refuse to debate. To me, they’re insisting on remaining ignorant, holding to opinions that, well, may be wrong. Worse yet, they cling to a worldview that is likely wrong.

Nuala refused to answer a few simple questions I shot back at her. Her simple reply, “I wish you well, and I wish you peace,” then telling me to look up a Catholic philosopher she recommended. She engaged only with her opinion, but refused to engage in the rebuttal presented to her. Ultimately, “I’m not going to stoop as low as you and debate the issue that I brought up.”

Perhaps this is similar to the atheists’ responses to William Lane Craig. They don’t stoop so low as to actually prepare for these debates. They just rattle off their thoughts from the top of their heads, and Craig follows their logic and then exposes their weaknesses, and their most common response is haughtiness, sometimes pure ad hominem.

Debate is a very good thing, and I wish people wouldn’t be so against it. People like Nuala wish to be heard, but they don’t wish to be challenged. If she would have engaged, the dialogue may have been enlightening and refreshing. Too bad, really.

But that’s just me. I train debaters, host debate camps, and national champions go through my program. My main camp starts tomorrow in Estes Park. I can’t get enough of it.

I love debate. It’s an activity worth appreciating and participating. I believe the world would be a better place if people humbly challenged one another with discourse and logic. Opinions would be less dogmatic, and sweet truth would be more welcome.

What about you? Do you think debate is wrong?

About Chris Jeub

Chris is the father of 16 children, busily running the family businesses and learning the depths of love along the way.

  • Jennifer Mull

    Well, I agree with you! I get frustrated when someone says, “I don’t want to argue about it…..” when it isn’t really an argument. I think it actually takes a certain amount of humility to debate because you have to be willing to learn something that you didn’t know before. It is possible to be wrong on a point or for the other person to have a perspective you need to hear. 

    For myself, I often find that as I am sharing my conviction about something, and sometimes restating it in different ways to explain it, I find that suddenly I can see the truth of it more plainly. It becomes more solid within me, and in the future, I can state it more specifically because it is a part of me. 

    Now, truthfully, I have never been on a debate team. Too shy when I was in high school! But, I do come across people all the time who are afraid to think critically ….and I think that is getting worse all the time! So, my “debates” are usually in conversations on the internet, which is helpful because I like to write and I enjoy the challenge of how to state my concerns clearly, while also injecting as much grace into the situation as I possibly can. But, that is just me! 😉

    • Chris Jeub

      Exactly! You are a good rhetorician, Jennifer. You would have been a fantastic debater.

      • Jennifer Mull

        Thanks, Chris! I can honestly say, I’ve never been called a rhetorician before! 😉

  • Guest

    I don’t know. Are you willing to be “enlightened and illuminated” by an athiest in a debate, or do you come to the debate already certain of your own view? You cannot learn anything if you are willing to hear it.

    • Jennifer Mull

      I agree that you have to be willing to learn, however, if what you believe is really true, then is there something wrong with believing you are right?

      For instance, suppose I know that a wall is painted red… I’ve seen the wall and I recognize the color and I have seen the paint can, and it says “red,” but a person who is color blind comes along and begins to debate that  the wall is brown.

      Should I back down, in case he has something to teach me about color? Am I arrogant or proud if what I know is true and I am sincere about sharing the truth? If the other person is just as firm and sincere, but sincerely wrong, am I being arrogant if  I refuse to back down from my position?

      Your question assumes that an athiest’s viewpoint is equal to that of a Christian. His WORTH as a PERSON is equal, but not all opinions are equal. Some are right, some are wrong. He may teach something new about how athiests think about God, but for those of us who believe in Christ, he cannot teach us something that goes against what know deeply as fact.

      There are humble ways to get this across and we don’t have to resort to tearing down the person’s worth to state our opinion. However, we also don’t have to compromise on something we know to be true.  

  • Guest

    Sorry, I meant “You can’t learn anything if you are not willing to hear it.”

  • LF

    Well, I’ll admit, I’m the other poster who thought that debaters are proud. I suppose I was wrong. But i think that pride can be an issue,  and that’s kind of what I see in debate sometimes. I suppose it’s evident on both sides of anything.  I suppose the true strength in it is admitting that you’re wrong when you’re wrong. It’s like this other poster said, we must inject grace into the debate too.

    I watched some of the debate between Craig and Harris. Craig was well prepared, but I think that the audience (if we were watching the same debate) sided with Harris, especially given the nature of the questions that the students asked afterwards.

    • LF

      Wow, I “supposed” alot too!

    • Ginger

      You may be right that pride is a big issue, but people often mistake confidence for arrogance. It’s not arrogant to have strong convictions and be intelligent enough (trained well enough) to articulate them well. 

  • Eduardo


  • Sue Barber

    I’m for the debating!  I have no fear that God’s Word won’t hold up or that it will be proven wrong.  Respectful discourse is so necessary to all of us as we form our thoughts and beliefs.

  • Olivia B

    I think debate is a wonderful thing! If there were no debate, then no one would learn anything new, and you seem like you want your children to learn new things every day.

  • Rasquith

    I don’t know much about formal debate, but debating is probably good, and I think informal debating is probably done on quite a regular basis throughout life especially as teens when we are growing up and debating/arguing with our parents.  I remember many times my mother saying she wasn’t going to “argue” with me any more.  The only thing I remember about formal debate is that our public school did have a debate team.  What exactly is the purpose for debates, who sets the rules in public debates, and how do you know who “wins”?  I think I’ve seen the answer for the purpose.  Also, what, if any, is the difference between debating and arguing??  I looked up debate on Wikipedia and I’ll try to post a link to the definition.  I think the words debate, argument and formal stood out to me.  (I hope the definition on wikipedia is good to use.  I think some Christians may think Wikipedia is not good, and think they must use Conservapedia.  I have decided I am not one of those Christians).  Also, how are people supposed to enter into debates??  If the purpose is to learn something, are you supposed to go into debates objective and with an open mind, or are people supposed to go into debates close-minded and with pre-set beliefs they are trying to persuade others of?  How is all this supposed to work??  I can go read up on debating some more.  Also, do you always think the Christian is the victor and the Atheist is the evil scoundrel???  Do you always think the Atheist is the oppressor??  I think you said things like: “they always have their hands in their pockets….they don’t stoop to prepare….they insult the audience, etc.”  Are these comments you made correct??  I think above you said their responses were usually haughty.  If debate is supposed to be objective, why do you come across as wanting to “paint” or portray you “enemy” as such a negative creature???  It’s pretty obvious where you stand, but why not just be objective and let the facts speak for themselves??   I think you also said something in this post like: “should atheists be able to spread their worldview/write their books, and should Christians just keep quiet, etc…..??  Objectively, can those statements be reversed????  Christians do go on school campuses and other places and they write books,too.  You write and sell books, too, don’t you?? But you made, in my opinion, a negatively slanted comment about Sam Harris selling books??  Is what you do any different??  Or is it just that your belief is different than his??  Pat Robertson and John Hagee, and many other Christians write and sell books–they are probably all over my parents’ and my house, and I’m guessing they fill up yours, too???  (Benny Hinn, Kathryn Kuhlman, Oral Roberts, and Billy Graham have written and sold books).  Christians even have fiction books, historical fiction books, and romance books…….and Amish Christian books are a big hit these days, too.  Also, if the Christian is always the automatic “Victor”, then WHY are there so many different beliefs in Christianity about very important key Christian elements, including The End Times, Christ’s return, What exactly happens after we die, etc., How one actually gets saved, Baptism, Communion, Wearing pants, Having long hair?????  I’m not sure I’ve ever had all my questions answered by people in Christian Authority who are “supposed” to have all the answers.  I guess I have reached a point in life where I cannot automatically assume that everyone with a specific “label” acts a certain way.  The big one for me lately has been Republican/Conservative vs. Democrat/Liberal.  Someone posted on Facebook about reading a book at a bookstore and they got a good laugh bc the book was against Liberals, and the word “Libertard” may have been used.  I think when you have to resort to “mocking” your opponent–whichever side you are on, one has gone too far.  In life, I can no longer assume that “ALL” Republican-, Conservative-, or Christian- labeled people are speaking truth and are “good” ………and I can no longer assume that “ALL” Democrat-, Liberal-, or Atheist- labeled people are automatically wrong or “bad/evil”.  (I was raised in a Conservative, Christian, mostly Republican home)  I have seen many cases of immorality (adultery, divorce, etc.) with Conservative people lately to make me think this way politically.  And many Christian people are not much better morally.  Why do some Christian churches fall apart or split apart???  Also, I don’t think many Christians can really even explain, much less debate, what they really believe.  Also, just wondered if you have ever gone into a debate and been changed on anything, or is your worldview always correct and never needs changing???  I wasn’t able to find the video when I looked real quick, so I did not find the Sam Harris debate.  I’ll try to watch the video that looked like it was posted about the resurrection and I will try again to look at the Sam Harris debate, and I’ll let you know if I think these people acted in the way you portrayed them.  (I just wanted to go ahead and comment tonight)  But once again, since I’m fairly new to all this formal debating, why not just be objective??  And are all of your descriptions correct??  (Was Sam Harris really “humiliated”)??  Or are you the same as the person I mentioned above who seems to ignore the wrongs of people on the same “side” as him and seems to really enjoy making the other person “look” bad, …….I think when people get more like that, then maybe that is where some bad pride can come in.  So, debating isn’t wrong.  I guess it’s how we act when debating, and just as important is what we are debating/saying actually truth (since God, the Bible and what Christians believe/say is supposed to be Truth–bc God doesn’t lie).  Also for me, if I start getting angry or arguing just for the sake or arguing I know I need to back away and cool off some, as that does no good, and is probably just my ugly pride surfacing up.  For me personally, sometimes it is good to debate, but sometimes I just need to let it go.  I do want peace like the girl who commented and wished you peace.  I don’t want to argue 24/7, especially if it is the wrong kind of arguing…….I’m naturally an emotional/subjective girl, but I’m trying to learn some of these rules of debate and to learn to debate objectively and then just let it go…….with all that being said, I hope some of this was clear and perhaps relevant……I’ve just seen your page a few times, but I do wonder if you are slanted and biased sometimes, and perhaps enjoy making an Atheist look like a “slimeball”  (my words)??  Some of them might actually be nice.  I hope you don’t hate them like some Christians seem to love hating homosexuals and others at times (Pastor Steve Anderson in Arizona, The Westboro Baptist Church, The Pro-White (anti Black/Jew) website I just saw with scriptures about Jehovah on it…………Thanks  :)  And, anything I said that is wrong or subjective please correct me…….Like I said, I’m fairly new to any kind of objective formal debating……Thanks again.  Robyn

  • Robyn

    me again.  I just listened to the debate with brian about the resurrection…….But first I just wanted to add another quick comment about what I think you said or implied about Sam Harris selling books.  I thought of it before, but did not add it.  I commented on something one other time, and at the end of your comment you mentioned that what we were discussing was in your new book………Should I assume that you were just trying to “peddle” a book to me???  With trying to be objective, I will say that I think you were kind and nice to me, and I think you kind of joked sheepishly about the book.  Some comments and questions I have are pretty deep and may take some time explaining, and I got the impression that maybe you thought your book could do a more indepth job?????  But, still you were suggesting I buy your book.  How is this different than Sam Harris or any other atheist explaining their beliefs and asking to be compensated for their time???  About the debate…….apparently more callers voted for Bill than Brian, but I don’t think they announced the stats????  What was the percentage difference???  90/10%, 70/30%, 60/40%, or did Bill win by 51/49% like many of our presidential/gubernatorial races?????  If I don’t know the exact stats, how can agree with you that Bill annihilated Brian.  I personally didn’t pick up on that.  I also cannot say that he clobbered him.  I also did not pick up on any spewing from Brian, and I don’t think his answers were canned.  I will agree with you that Bill seemed to speak very kind and considerate.  But, I never heard Brian be rude or haughty.  I never heard him say anything disrespectful to Bill…….They both seemed to debate facts and they both brought up personal stories……the debate seemed to swerve off to other areas about God and not stay just on the resurrection.  Bill, the atheist, even congratulated Brian, the Christian, on his win…….I want to listen to a couple of points on it again……but, as a 43 yr. old who grew up in a Christian home with Christian tv and radio, I don’t think I heard much new.  John Ankeberg was on at our house a lot, and I also remember an Indian apologist–Ravvi Zachariah or something like that–I may be way off on his name.  I also remember someone, maybe Josh McDowell, with a book: Liar, Lunatic, or Lord……..Not only do Christians write books, there are plenty of Christian radio stations, and there’s a lot of Christian tv stations–CBN, TBN, Sky Angel……..and there are plenty of Christian organizations on college campuses……Also, about the debate, I want to go back and rehear about how I think they said there were 4 explanations for what happened maybe??  Bill’s answer that the eyewitnesses were deluded didn’t seem vey strong to me.  But, I like how they brought up that how can you know what really happened in the past.  I have been thinking about that for a while now.  I was born in 1968.  How do I really know for a fact what happened before I was even created and here on the Earth.  All I know is what my parents and others told me growing up, and I have books I have to decide whether are true or not????  Anyway, now, I’m off to find the Sam Harris debate to see if he was actually “humiliated”, and to see if he spewed anything that was canned, and if he was unprepared………………:)

  • Anonymous

    I work with a man who feels the need to debate EVERYTHING.  Honestly debate is fine and good but there is a time and place for it.  Working with this man is frustrating and trying because not only is EVERYTHING up for debate he WILL NOT listen to the other side.  I think part of what debate is (or should be) is an opportunity to learn to state your case but also learning to listen and comprehend what someone else is saying.  If that other person is right then its learning to be humble enough to admit it.  I have never been involved with debate (so obviously if I volunteered in some camp, etc I could learn otherwise if I am wrong) but sometimes it seems like debaters are one sided.  Their stance is right and they will defend it to the end even if they are proven wrong.    

    • Robyn

      This sounds to me like some politicians and some political followers I know—defend no matter what, even if we are hypocrites???? –point out all the wrong on the “other side”, but ignore all the wrongs and immorality on our own “side”……….I admit I don’t know to much about a lot of things, especially govts., economics, etc……I wish I new more, but I’m still trying to understand.  The word humble you used and I think Chris used stood out to me.  I still remember my Sunday School teacher teaching on the difference between being humiliated but still not being humbled.  On the other side, maybe, I guess, if you are truly walking in humility, you would not want to wrongly get excited about “humiliating” someone else??? idk……..maybe this is just a debate term I’m not used to……just like some Christians seeming to get really excited on the internet about wanting to “expose” other people, even other Christians who differ with them…….I know there is still right and wrong and truth must be revealed and lies exposed, though……and I think Paul or someone in the Bible may even say some people are “enemies to the cross of Christ”????  Also, thinking about the Bible, I think a ruler says maybe to Paul, that he was almost “persuaded” to become a Christian……………I’m still waiting on the Peaceable Kingdom, though, or that 1000 yr. reign, or Heaven I’ve heard all about……..I just can’t even find Christians that agree on all this………So, does someone out there want to explain Exactly, and Correctly, Why I am here and What is going to happen to me????????–The resurrection—resurrected to live forever in Heaven?? or to live on Earth in the New Heaven and Earth, or like John Hagee will I come back “to rule and reign with Christ for 1000 years”……or is it like a family member who says this is all symbolic and the resurrection could be your Salvation……..I was taught Rapture and End Times theories, the AntiChrist in Europe and all that……, Anyone, Anyone………What’s the truth??????  I’ve also been thinking about resurrection bodies…….what are those like exactly and what’s the truth on that??  Anyone???  I know the Bible says some things, but I’m not sure it explains everything in a lot of detail……I’ve also never been a great reader……I’m sure if I read some more some more understanding will come…….Absent from the Body/Present with the Lord a Preacher/family friend said when I talked to him and asked what exactly happens……Then he said something about “or some people say there’s Soul Sleep”……ok, what’s the right answer??  When will my soul and body reunite, and what will my body be like, since we won’t be reproducing???????  Some things I still don’t understand………Oh, and is the AntiChrist “living in my lifetime over in Europe somewhere”, or was that another Error Teaching of Mere Man?????  :)  Just wondering……I have Tons of Questions………:)  Have a great day everyone.  :)

    • Jennifer Mull

      I have a brother who is like that…. he debates everything, and if you tried to convince him that the sky is blue, he would stand firm that it was green… or whatever color he chose… LOL! For him, it is part of his “learning style.” It is part of his external processing, as he is trying to make sense of something that doesn’t make sense to him. I think he is looking to be convinced otherwise. We used to get into very heated debates.

      However, what seems to affect him the most when I have these “debates” with him is if I say, “Well, you might be right…. and  I might be wrong, but I believe I am right.” Then as he continues to bring up points, I just shrug and say, “You might be right.” A little while later, he will say something like, “I know I should listen to you….. I know the sky is blue, I just struggle with xyz….. etc…… ”

      Why it works, I am not sure, but it usually does… something about the disengaging from the debate in a humble manner causes him to disengage as well…. and then we can really discuss it…. but, maybe this is also a big sister/little brother thing. LOL!

  • Amy A

    I do not think debate is wrong at all. In fact, I have been exposed to completely different ideas, been challenged in some of mine because someone took the time to debate. The things that stayed with me though were people that spoke to me, not at me or down to me. They were willing to listen to my POV and respect it even though they disagreed with it. They did not try to beat my views out of me through being sarcastic or demeaning. If someone told me the most important thing in the world, but told it in a very degrogatory manner, I tend to be defensive. Is it my fault or theirs ? A little bit of both I suppose. But fwiw, kindness and humility tend to make me willing to listen more to another POV completely different from my own.
    As for debating the gospel, I am not against it. It can be a learning experience. But does it help in spreading the gospel ?  It is my firm view that we cannot debate, badger, challenge, convince anyone to accept Christ. We cannot quote verses at them or throw apologetics at them. We may show our bible knowledge, but can we convince them to follow Christ ? I have not seen it happen. But I have seen praying for someone and living a Christian life draw people to Christ.

  • jenny

    I have a question, although I don’t mind at all if your children are debating, If your children are taught to debate, how does that carry over into your home, do they tend to be more arguementive??  Do they tend to challenge each other over everything?

    • Chris Jeub

      I LOVE this question, Jenny! I’m going to paste it into a draft to give it some careful thought and make it into a future blog post.

      Real quickly: In debate, children are taught to THINK, which is the tool for DEBATE. There is a vast difference between contradiction (something a testy teenager is prone to do) and debate (the logical process of thinking and analyzing a proposition).

      Contradiction is a more of a natural discovery of a young person’s boundaries, a test of Mom or Dad to see how far they will bend. It’s adolescence, really.

      Debate is the articulation and defining of thought processes, something adolescents need to be encouraged to do much more these days.

      Thanks, Jenny!

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  • Unknown

    I’ll debate you easily. You seem to disrespect atheist by claiming the Christians name but not the atheist in the debate on here. You also claim he won and he clobbers most opponent. Wrong, he makes an absolute fool of himself, like with Christiphor Hitchans.

    Good guy, but your statements are clearly bias.

    Challenge me, an atheist, and I will debate you for the fun of it. We will have fun.

  • Craig

    I prone to debate even enjoying it and nothing wrong with that, but I don’t truly fond in debating in internet, because :
    1. People may misread your intention in your post. They refuse to understand what the statement truly mean and ignorantly use their own perception of the statement. (which is funny because it other people statement)
    2. People have free time to responding your statement, thus giving an unlimited (read : 1-3 days) time for researching. In IRL you can’t do that, you need to answer immediately, if you have more information and knowledge in the topic, you will likely won and prove your argument.
    3. I Find instead we debating for the best answer, I feel like it just a battle of “arguing”. Just like sibling fighting for which one better pencil 2B or HB, but instead, by grown men with intellect and knowledge.

    Most debate I took part in Internet is not enjoyable, they tend to be insulting and disrespectful, love to add unnecessary comment that lead to anger of other side.

  • Bruce Wayne

    I agree with Craig. I’ve been debating for 5 years now, and would like to say online debates aren’t good. The people being asked questions usually can search it up, and can search up new arguments to use. These debates are pretty much endless, until someone quits.