Rules for Debates

Ask Mr. Religion
Site Founder
Joined: 9:13 AM - Jul 28, 2008

6:23 PM - Nov 08, 2016 #1

Here are the general rules for all debate requests. Requests to modify these general rules are considered on a case-by-case basis. Please contact one of the moderators for consideration.

All formal debates will have a hard stop deadline, determined once the two parties have agreed to all terms, so settling on these points is essential.

Getting a Debate Off the Ground
A person wanting to engage in a formal debate with another must seek out that person and discuss the matter beforehand. The RTI Debate Challenges, Requests forum is not the place to do this. Engage your potential debate partner in one of the appropriate ongoing RTI threads to determine if there is interest. For example, if AMR is discussing election unto salvation in a thread and another member wants to debate the topic with AMR, that member would make the debate offer in the thread in question.

Once you have determined interest by another party make your request for a debate by starting a new topic in the Debate Request forum:

A debate "challenge" is not an ambush call-out opportunity. That is, the forum is not a place to publicly call out another out of the blue, as it were, e.g., "I challenge AMR to a debate on philosophical necessitarianism."

Instead, a member may post an open challenge to anyone so interested indicating one's willingness to debate some specific topic. Persons interested would then respond to the member issuing the challenge by Private Message or email. Please do not post your responses to debate challenges in this forum. In summary, issue a challenge to anyone so interested, then take it behind the scenes via PM or email until you all have agreed to the basic parameters of the debate.

Statement of Debate Topic
A clear statement of exactly what is being debated and who is arguing for the affirmative and for the negative must be made and agreed to by both parties.

Debate Rounds
For all debate requests both parties must agree on the number of rounds each would be required to post.

I generally suggest that 6 rounds with 48 hour maximum delay between rounds (excluding the Sabbath), but the number of rounds (not the delay between rounds) is just a suggestion.

The 48 hour limit is non-negotiable, and begins to count down from the exact time a response is posted. In other words, one's opponent has 48 hours to respond to a post made by one's debate partner. This gives some advantages to those who are well prepared in the debate process. As in when someone posts and the opponent responds within hours (or even minutes!) of said post. This limitation is by design, as from my own experiences in public debates, I think debates should not be proffered unless both parties are well prepared. Part of that preparation is anticipating the direction one's opponent may take and having a response at the ready beforehand. Accordingly, one requesting a debate may ask that the debate be scheduled up to one week after the two parties agree to all terms in order to do some prep work beforehand.

Opening rounds should clearly lay out all the key reasons one views as giving support for their affirmative or negative position. Opening rounds are not an occasion for playing twenty-questions in hopes of later claiming "Gotcha!" Instead, make your agenda and position clear to the reader.

In all debates the person arguing the affirmative position for a topic is required to post firstly. The "burden of proof" is the philosophical or forensic "burden" on the one making a claim to provide sufficient proof or evidence for the claim. In a debate, provided that the question is well-stated, the affirmative side of the debate enters firstly with the burden of proof, while the negative side has no such burdenand until and unless the affirmative side makes a prima facie case, the claim may, in principal, at least be dismissed without any argumentation at all from the negative side.

The last round would be each participant's final response.

Rounds would be limited in length to 8,000 words, including quotes of one's opponent, per round.

Formatting of Specific Questions
During the rounds, questions to one's opponent may arise. At these times each debater must post a running boldface header that identifies the name of one's opponent, for each specific question asked of one's opponent as the rounds proceeed. For example, my opponent (assume his username is AbrahamLives) asks me specific questions in his response. These questions would be formatted as follows:

AMR-1: What is you view of the following statement made by....."
AMR-2: Why did you claim....."

In my response to my opponent I would then reply in one of the two manners shown below:

First method:
You asked
AMR-1: What is you view of the following statement made by....."
The statement you have offered up suffers from two major presupposed defects etc. etc....

Second method:
AL, your question, AMR-1 suffers from two major presupposed defects etc. etc...

Note that I included boldface formatting in both methods above. This helps everyone keep up with specific issues each party expects to be answered in the debate.

Following my response, my opponent, AbrahamLives, may respond with specific questions:

First method:
AL-1: You earlier claimed that election unto salvation means....


Second method:
AL-1: In response to my AMR-6 you claimed to support election unto salvation means...please explain how....

Debaters are expected to keep track of specific questions asked in their rounds and assign an increasing number to each to identify them specifically as shown above. By the last round there may have been 10-20 questions asked and each should be numbered as shown above.

Use of Biblical Languages
Use of Greek or Hebrew must be accompanied by English transliterations (Romanizations) of each Greek or Hebrew term. For example, Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος would be accompanied in parenthesis by (En archē ēn ho logos). These transliterations must accompany the Greek or Hebrew in each and every instance they are used. Posting transliterations one time and omitting them in subsequent posts is prohibited. Persons using the Greek or Hebrew extensively are encouraged to use tools such as Logos' Shibboleth, available here:

Proper Quoting of Another
Both participants are expected to properly quote another using the forum's BBcode quote tags. If I have to spend time repairing poorly quoted items the time I take to do so will be deducted from that person's next response deadline. In other words, the 48 hours you have to respond to a post may end up being 45 hours if I have to spend 3 hours cleaning up your poorly quoted posts.

Along these lines, proper debate also relies upon wise principles of consideration...
[+] Spoiler
1) The Fallibility Principle: Each participant in a discussion of a disputed issue should be willing to accept the fact that he or she is fallible, which means that one must acknowledge that he or she might not hold the most defensible position.

2) The Truth-Seeking Principle: Each participant should be committed to the task of earnestly searching for the truth or at least the most defensible position on the issue at stake. Therefore, one should be willing to seriously explore and examine other positions and look for insights in them.

3) The Clarity Principle: the formulations of all arguments should be free of any kind of linguistic confusion and clearly separated from other positions and issues.

4) The Burden of Proof Principle: The burden of proof for any position usually rests on the person who set forth the position. That person should provide an argument for his position.

5) The Principle of Charity: If a participants argument is reformulated by an opponent, it should be expressed in the strongest possible version that is consistent with the original intention of the arguer. The arguer should be given the benefit of the doubt in the reformulation.

6) The Structural Principle: One who argues for or against a position should use an argument that meets the fundamental structural requirements of a well-formed argument.

7) The Relevance Principle: One who presents a position should attempt to set forth only reasons that are directly related to the position.

8) The Acceptability Principle: One who presents an argument should use reasons that are likely to be accepted by a rationally mature person and that meet the standard criteria of acceptability.

9) The Sufficiency Principle: One who presents an argument should attempt to provide reasons that are sufficient in kind, number, and weight to support the position.

10) The Rebuttal Principle: One who presents an argument should attempt to provide an effective rebuttal to all serious challenges to the argument and to the strongest arguments for viable alternative positions.

11) The Resolution Principle: An issue should be considered resolved if the proponent for one of the alternative positions successfully defends that position by presenting a structurally sound argument that uses solid premises and grounds of support.

12) The Suspension of Judgment Principle: If no position comes close to being successfully defended, or if two positions are defended equally, one should, in most cases, suspend judgment about the issue.

13) The Reconsideration Principle: If a successful or even good argument for a position is later found by any participant to be flawed in a way that raises new doubts, one is obligated to reopen the issue for further consideration.
Constructing Lengthy Responses
Given the time and effort to create lengthy responses in a debate, I strongly urge debaters to construct their rounds offline in a plain text editor and then copy and paste them into the RTI post editing window when they are ready for viewing, then adding any style formats afterwards. Do not attempt to create long posts online. Doing so will avoid the issue of experiencing browser, fumble finger, or Internet crashes "lost" one's post, as this is an unacceptable excuse for failing to meet the deadlines. If you are adventuresome try one of the following BBcode editors that allow offline construction of posts with easy formatting that is then converted to the proper formatting BBcodes RTI uses in posts:

1. SCEditor - (paste a word doc with formats and convert to bbcodes)
2. bbEditor - (Add bbcodes as you type plain text)

Please take special care to spell check your posts and review your grammar.

Technical Difficulties
Given the online nature of the debate forum, there occasionally will arise technical glitches. While the internet may be functioning elsewhere, our RTI forum may be unavailable during posting time due to maintenance or unforeseen issues. Contact RTI mods when experiencing these issues. Or contact me, AMR, at:
AMR AT (<--you know how to properly format this anti-spammer rendering).

As discussed earlier, do not contact RTI management if your post was "eaten," or "lost, "by the Internet because you were inadvisedly constructing your responses online and foolishly have no offline backup.

Properly Identify External Sources
If a debater is relying upon other sources they are expected to properly cite or give a link to them such that all may review the original sources should they so desire. Keep in mind that debates are not link fests. Merely pointing to the work of another as one's "answer" is no substitute for substantively engaging in a debate.

Behavior During Debates
All formal debates are subject to RTI's Standards of Conduct. That said, given the clash that is expected in formal debates, some leeway will be allowed. Nevertheless, the moderators reserve the right to edit posts that exceed sound prudence and ninth commandment admonitions as described in the WLC.

Premature declarations of victory during the progress of the debate is frowned upon and usually evidence that one is desperate. Too much of what passes for debate online is mere assertion and ad hominem. Persons availing themselves of this sort of tactic will be obvious to the reader. Mud slung is ground lost.

Each debater is encouraged to deploy sound practices related to rebuttal of another's views. For example, here are four that are found in ample evidence in good debates:
  • 1. It is always helpful to consider first the worst case scenario, namely, that the objection is correct, and then assess the damages. In many cases, they are often slight or even non-existent.

    2. Always ask what warrant there is for the objection. An objection has no force unless it has some warrant. Make the objector bear his fair share of the burden of proof.

    3. Look for plausible counter-examples to the objectors claim. Sometimes these may be mere thought-experiments, not something that actually exists.

    4. Attempt to rebut the objection by giving an argument for what it denies. All too often Christians, when faced with an objection, jump immediately to this sort of response, thereby shouldering unnecessarily a burden of proof, as well as the supererogation, that properly belongs to the objector. We often see this happen in discussions of the problem of evil, where the believer is called upon to demonstrate the compatibility of God and suffering.
In the final round of the debate each person may lay out their reasons as to why he claims to have prevailed. Merely stating that one's opponent failed to meet their burden is considered unacceptable unless said assertion is accompanied by substantive support from the debate's contents. At this juncture, the fact that questions have been properly identified and numbered will become very important.

Promotion of a Debate
Members are encouraged to direct others in their family, church, or social circles to the debate in progress. Debates at RTI are only approved if they possess the potential to edify and bring glory to God. Keep this last bit in mind. People are watching, including perhaps your local session. Your behavior and views in a debate may subject you to discipline by your local church. RTI bears no liability for the legal, social, or church-related consequences of one's participation in a debate.

Persons in the debate retain rights to the debate content to do with as they so please, including publishing the debates in more formal means and receiving income from them. The owner of RTI also may also do the same, but only on a non-profit basis.

Public Agreement Required
Both parties must post agreement to all the rules once they have settled upon the terms of the debate amongst themselves.

A mod will make a post before the debate is to be scheduled asking for written responses by each party that affirm they have read and understood the rules and debate parameters. Once agreement has been made public the moderator will announce the debate is now open, the start of the debate clock, and the specific location for the debate posts to be made. After each round is posted a mod will then announce in the debate thread the time required for a response.

Moderators may also create a Debate Peanut Gallery thread for others to discuss the debate.Web Page Name
AMR (a.k.a. Patrick)
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