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Science and Debate

  1. Mar 5, 2010 #1
    Is 'debate' a dirty word in science? I've always thought so, and am always weary of those who relish in it. The word comes up every once in a while as if it should be some means of establishing foundations within the realm we call science. On the contrary, I think of it more as a tool of propaganda where the more clever argument rather than objective, honest evidence is the basis of establishing common ground of perception. To make this point, debate is notably absent in mathematical enquiries. It is also a rarity in deciding the winner in a game of chess where observing the position of the pieces throughout the game has a larger contribution.
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2010
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 5, 2010 #2


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    I agree, overall. Debates shouldn't really be used to settle an issue. I participate in debates to learn more about a subject. The result of the debate is rather meaningless, but you can learn a lot by participating in it if you're interested in the subject and your opponent is genuinely interested in the subject as well.
  4. Mar 5, 2010 #3
    The results may be meaningless to you in personal terms, but in larger, sociological terms, they can have great impact to our personal lives. Science has it's foundation in the age of enlightenment. A pyramid of experimentally collected evidence, and extrapolated theory is the result of a 300 year endeavor to discover things we grade as variously 'probably true' though 'maybe true' and finally, 'probably false'.

    One may argue one way or the other whether this accumulated objective material has improved the lives of us today, but it has certainly had an impact, or we wouldn't be having this discussion today.

    In any case, I should make some falsifiable statements or be at risk of making this thread a debate, itself:-

    1) Debate is a means of establishing desired beliefs or opinions in others, of a nature neither necessarily true nor false.

    2) Debate is a process disjoint with the scientific method of inquiry.

    I hope these statements are not too mushy. Can you improve them? Especially the last.
  5. Mar 5, 2010 #4
    This is what a debate is.

    Take for example R. Dawkins forums.

    If they where a science forum, I can understand that you filter incoming data to conform to the stricter rules of science.

    If they where an atheist forums, then it has no use whatsoever to filter incoming data. You cant have a debates on atheism without allowing other humans to express their believes, regardless how illogical or irrational are. If you filter one side, what you have is either:
    - a scientific forum
    - a propaganda tool
  6. Mar 5, 2010 #5
    Clearly not. The founding fathers of science were avid debaters.
    There are, obviously, people who debate exclusively to win, by any means possible. At the other end of the spectrum there are people who debate because their honest observations don't match other people's assertions. It wasn't enough for Galileo to observe that all objects fall at the same rate regardless of their weight. He was put in a position where that observation had to be debated with people who asserted that heavier objects fall faster.
    The winner may not be disputed but as soon as any observer asserts he knows how the winner won, there may well be a debate. The behavior of light is not disputed but as soon as someone asserted it was the behavior of a wave someone else had to point out he had observed the behavior of a particle. Each side felt they were in possession of the "objective, honest evidence".
  7. Mar 5, 2010 #6
    debate is definitely not a dirty word. personally, debates are very affective for me to learn about a subject. I find that when I explain things to other people, I myself gain a more thorough understanding of the subject. And when you have a mix of explaining your point, and being exposed to a separate point of view, I think that it is a valuable tool. However, I do agree with you when you say that they are not objective and should never be used as a final answer to anything. There are reasons for that as well. I tend to be quite a powerful and confrontational debater, and a few times I have maybe overwhelmed the person I was debating with. Because of that I was not able to learn everything I could from that person, and I had realized after the debate why I was wrong. But yeah, love debates.
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