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big questions debate

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i'm wondering what people on this site think about big questions debate. Personally, i think I would be terrible at it. "Resolved: Science leaves no room for free will." What does that even mean?? Do they mean like does psychology/biology necessitate human beings react a certain way to a given situation or do we have some transcendent Will?

 

Has anyone ever watched or done big questions debate? How do these rounds normally play out?

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To someone who has only a minor idea of what Heidegger says from whispers I've heard, that sounds a lot like "Resolved: Heidegger had the right idea"

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I did BiQueD for a tournament for my IE, I usually do congress. People normally run the affirmative and neg cases provided on the NSDA website if people aren't particularly amazing in your area (and because it's really new). I wrote my own cases and it seemed to trip people up a whole lot. I would recommend looking at the provided resources on the NSDA website for it (they have cases and an actual round you can watch). If you have any specific questions, then I can answer them.

 

Also a note: not really a place for K Affs or anything that could be interpreted not as the topic because if someone decides to call you out, the penalty if it is determined to stray too much from the topic is an automatic loss.

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I did BiQueD for a tournament for my IE, I usually do congress. People normally run the affirmative and neg cases provided on the NSDA website if people aren't particularly amazing in your area (and because it's really new). I wrote my own cases and it seemed to trip people up a whole lot. I would recommend looking at the provided resources on the NSDA website for it (they have cases and an actual round you can watch). If you have any specific questions, then I can answer them.

Thanks, I found the sample cases you were talking about and they're pretty helpful. I will say I'm surprised to see how short the speaking times are. For a topic this deep, I would want a lot more than 5 minutes to lay out my case. Especially without spreading

 

Also a note: not really a place for K Affs or anything that could be interpreted not as the topic because if someone decides to call you out, the penalty if it is determined to stray too much from the topic is an automatic loss.

Yeah i learned my lesson running k affs outside of policy. took a major L and double 21's plus a 2 page long RFD for trying it in PF. I guess BQD is making extra sure they can maintain the purity of their event

Edited by Nonegfiat
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My friend did BQD and said it was the ultimate clash of logical fallacies... but the interesting part was the slow talking that occured, it was like actual public speaking on nes behalf instead of that intense non-stop clash, like nobody really preps out other positions you just have to be a pretty speaker.

I hope my input helped 

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That topic might as well be Resolved: Neg wins.

yeah now that i think about it, the affirmative has quite the burden. Science leaves no room for free will? I mean geez that's a bit much. Sounds more like this resolution "leaves no room" for weighing impacts. Because if the neg wins any of their offense, that's the end of it

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My friend did BQD and said it was the ultimate clash of logical fallacies... but the interesting part was the slow talking that occured, it was like actual public speaking on nes behalf instead of that intense non-stop clash, like nobody really preps out other positions you just have to be a pretty speaker.

I hope my input helped 

sounds like lay LD

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Quoting the NSDA Big Questions Format Manual:

 

Big Questions is designed to pit opposing worldviews against each other in an effort to lead students to explore levels of argumentation that are rarely reached in other debate formats.

 

Do they really expect deeper levels of argumentation than policy debate despite each team having only one five-minute constructive speech? I'm welcome to being proven wrong here, but it certainly seems that these incredibly brief speeches (contrasting the massive literature bases of the, "big," questions under examination) are a good way to guarantee rounds made up of blippy soundbites and butchered philosophy. I mean, if you thought K debates were guilty of that sometimes, imagine them under even more restrictive limitations.

 

The above quotation also appears fundamentally at odds with a later one from the same manual:
 

Debaters will focus on identifying the areas they are garnering the best advantage and strengthening the analysis and argumentation in those areas; the form will not resemble a strict “line-by-line” treatment of the debate.

 

No line-by-line analysis or thorough, interacting levels of argument and counterargument - pick one.

 

Then you have gems like these about the Rebuttal and Consolidation speeches, respectively:
 

These speeches are known as the Rebuttal speeches, though their content may not be entirely made up of rebuttal.

Additional evidence or analysis on existing points of contention will be given, but new arguments are discouraged.

 

As it turns out, only the very last speech from each side (the Rationale) explicitly disallows new arguments - and the Negative gets the last word. Considering that, under the current resolution, the Negative only has to win a modicum of offense in order to win the round, this feels incredibly unfair for the Affirmative.

 

I think that this format has potential, but it first needs to work out some serious structural kinks - either smaller questions or longer speeches - and stop trying so hard to be, "not policy."

Edit: Speaking of trying to be, "not policy," at all costs, I later found this while rereading the manual:

 

...the assumption that every argument must be explicitly refuted or deemed to be conceded and true – is unlikely to be enforced. A common-person understanding of which arguments are important and which are not is a better method to evaluate what must be refuted.

 

This simultaneously seems to encourage judge intervention and discourage the deep levels of argumentation that this format ostensibly seeks to promote. Although I suppose it does mean that the brief nature of the speeches (perhaps my biggest complaint) doesn't matter as much, that's more so because the speeches don't appear to matter very much to begin with.

Edited by CynicClinic
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The neg doesnt have an actual advantage, the aff gets to decide what free will is, if they define it aggressively enough the playing field gets a heck of a lot bigger, for example defining free will as the beliefs that we share and dont share

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Quoting the NSDA Big Questions Format Manual:

 

 

Do they really expect deeper levels of argumentation than policy debate despite each team having only one five-minute constructive speech? I'm welcome to being proven wrong here, but it certainly seems that these incredibly brief speeches (contrasting the massive literature bases of the, "big," questions under examination) are a good way to guarantee rounds made up of blippy soundbites and butchered philosophy. I mean, if you thought K debates were guilty of that sometimes, imagine them under even more restrictive limitations.

 

The above quotation also appears fundamentally at odds with a later one from the same manual:

 

 

No line-by-line analysis or thorough, interacting levels of argument and counterargument - pick one.

 

Then you have gems like these about the Rebuttal and Consolidation speeches, respectively:

 

 

As it turns out, only the very last speech from each side (the Rationale) explicitly disallows new arguments - and the Negative gets the last word. Considering that, under the current resolution, the Negative only has to win a modicum of offense in order to win the round, this feels incredibly unfair for the Affirmative.

 

I think that this format has potential, but it first needs to work out some serious structural kinks - either smaller questions or longer speeches - and stop trying so hard to be, "not policy."

 

Edit: Speaking of trying to be, "not policy," at all costs, I later found this while rereading the manual:

 

 

This simultaneously seems to encourage judge intervention and discourage the deep levels of argumentation that this format ostensibly seeks to promote. Although I suppose it does mean that the brief nature of the speeches (perhaps my biggest complaint) doesn't matter as much, that's more so because the speeches don't appear to matter very much to begin with.

I agree with everything you've laid out here. I think the more events try to downplay the flow and "line-by-line" debate in favor of a "common person's" understanding of what's important in a debate, the further those events will move from the deep argumentation that makes debate special. If you want an event that doesn't emphasize deep argumentation, Public Forum I think does a great job of that. Deemphasis on tech and short speeches work well when paired with monthly topics which are all focused on current events and limited in scope. But not when it comes to "big questions" and a yearlong resolution. That's another issue I have with BQD. Yearlong topics work in policy only because the topic functions an umbrella for the cases and offcase which evolve and develop over the course of the year. 5 minutes constructives + lopsided resolution + emphasis on sounding pretty is not a good foundation for a yearlong resolution.

 

Also, I feel like mentioning, I'm a little annoyed by the way BQD seems to be full of itself. "Exploring levels of argumentation rarely found in other debate formats"? That doesn't sound very fair to policy and LD. For all the hate that kritiks get, I certainly credit them for bringing "big questions" into debate. Plus the BQD slogan: "Bringing life to debate". As if debate was dead before they came on the scene. I don't know, that level of conceitedness bugs me, especially when paired with all the flaws pointed out. 

The neg doesnt have an actual advantage, the aff gets to decide what free will is, if they define it aggressively enough the playing field gets a heck of a lot bigger, for example defining free will as the beliefs that we share and dont share

 

Regardless of how they define it, their burden is still to prove that science leaves no room for free will, whatever that may be, in every instance. Every other debate format leaves room for weighing in their resolutions. They ask the question of "should" or in the case of some PF resolutions "do the benefits outweigh the harms". All of those leave it up to the debaters to argue how their impacts implicate the resolution, which is important because it's unreasonable to expect a team to disprove every single thing the other team says.

 

Also, does the neg not get to contest the aff's definition of free will?

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The neg doesnt have an actual advantage, the aff gets to decide what free will is, if they define it aggressively enough the playing field gets a heck of a lot bigger, for example defining free will as the beliefs that we share and dont share

I agree that that feels like how it should work, but, due to the absolute nature of (at least) the current resolution, that is not how it would work.

 

The Affirmative is free to provide interpretations of, "free will," and, "science," but the Negative is also free to provide counterinterpretations. Because the resolution specifies, "no room," for free will, the Affirmative has to somehow shut down every possible counterinterpretation that would allow for free will, as the existence of even one of them would no longer satisfy, "no room." There is no word like, "should," or, "ought," to give the debaters room to weigh impacts - even if you win that the Negative's counterinterpretations are bad, you still lose unless you win that they are completely wrong.

 

Even if we disregard this weighing problem in the current resolution, defining, "free will," as, "the beliefs that we share and don't share," or any other strategically exclusive definition under any future resolution, while theoretically placing the Affirmative in a better starting position, would almost certainly be at odds with the, "common-person understanding," that the manual advocates. With the event's stringent positions on topicality that have already been discussed in this thread, you're risking losing the round outright for straying too far from what the topic is ostensibly, "supposed to," be about.

 

Also, I feel like mentioning, I'm a little annoyed by the way BQD seems to be full of itself. "Exploring levels of argumentation rarely found in other debate formats"? That doesn't sound very fair to policy and LD. For all the hate that kritiks get, I certainly credit them for bringing "big questions" into debate. Plus the BQD slogan: "Bringing life to debate". As if debate was dead before they came on the scene. I don't know, that level of conceitedness bugs me, especially when paired with all the flaws pointed out.

 

That's kind of my take on it as well. As of right now, BQD looks like someone sat down and said, "Policy debate is just soulless speed-reading, so let's make a debate format that's as unlike policy as possible - consequences be damned." The other "new" debate formats don't tend to have these massive fundamental problems because they deftly constructed their unique identities on the shoulders of giants, rather than throwing out decades of knowledge and defining themselves as, "not X," in an attempt to be different.

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With the event's stringent positions on topicality that have already been discussed in this thread, you're risking losing the round outright for straying too far from what the topic is ostensibly, "supposed to," be about.

 

Speaking of their stringent positions on topicality, if you look at the survey that they want people to fill out after tournaments, there's a section which asks: "Did you listen to, debate, or judge any arguments that were not specific to proving or disproving the topic - Resolved: Science leaves no room for free will?*

If so, please explain."
They literally want you to report to them if someone runs anything critical or unorthodox. That speaks volumes to what you were saying about the "not policy" mentality.
Edited by Nonegfiat
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Despite the stringent restrictions on T, the affirmative might best be served by arguing that the concept of "room for free will" specifically is bogus. "Either free will exists, or it does not." That line could probably be used verbatim. There's a kind of vague line of thought that says "if science doesn't disprove free will, free will is a reasonable concept to believe in". That position can be reasonably criticized. This would require some persuasive stretching of the topic that I know I personally wouldn't be able to execute, however. Persuasive debate sucks.

TBH, I expect that the judges for this event are basically lay judges. And lay judges, in the event they aren't so biased they automatically vote for one side, will always vote for whichever team's arguments sound the strongest. That means that as long as you do a good job attacking your opponents points and defending your own, it doesn't necessarily matter how good a job those points do at upholding or disproving the resolution. These sort of judges want to vote for whichever team wins the most number of arguments in the most dramatic ways, not the team who wins the arguments that are most strategically important.

None of this is to say the restrictions on T should not be taken seriously. I would not read this as a standalone position. I would make it the trimming/spin/outgrowth of arguments more directly germane to the resolution, to trick the judge. Do not make it blatantly obvious that you are attacking the concept of "room for free will" rather than the concept of "free will" itself. Yes, I'm advocating tricking the judge as the best path you have to winning with this resolution. I think it's possible. But that it's necessary speaks to how bad this resolution really is. It's embarrassing me and I've only even heard of this event once before now.

A similar approach to the resolution would be to attack the notion of separate magisterium. Take a historical approach to the question, build Gould up, make him your strawman, then knock him down splendidly. Try to bait your opponent into embracing Gould's ideas and rhetoric, along with this. Maybe not possible to do this in five minutes. Ugh.

Also, lol if neg reads one of those fake scientific studies proving the existence of the soul. Bet it would win rounds, too. So bad nobody would anticipate it.

Also, I checked and apparently these guys are throwing lots of money around to get schools to use this event. They're paying schools to debate this topic. I was kind of wondering why this exists, now I know. Feels really tacky.

Edited by Chaos
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Also, I checked and apparently these guys are throwing lots of money around to get schools to use this event. They're paying schools to debate this topic.

 

They're sacrificing their money for the greater good. They're on a mission to save the debate world from the evils and excesses of policy, and for that noble cause one must spare no expense. 

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They're sacrificing their money for the greater good. They're on a mission to save the debate world from the evils and excesses of policy, and for that noble cause one must spare no expense. 

on a more serious note, i agree the whole thing feels really tacky and i hope it either dies out once they stop paying people to host their event, or it adapts to become a more workable format for competitive debate. But do we really need more debate formats at this point?

Edited by Nonegfiat

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Also, I checked and apparently these guys are throwing lots of money around to get schools to use this event. They're paying schools to debate this topic. I was kind of wondering why this exists, now I know. Feels really tacky.

 

"Tacky," doesn't even begin to cover it.

 

See, I did a bit of digging into who exactly is funding this event, and I am now absolutely convinced of its illegitimacy. The donors are called the John Templeton Foundation, and they are, "a philanthropic organization that funds inter-disciplinary research with a fundamentalist Evangelical Christian inclination." (Wikipedia said it better than I could.)  They are also frequently professionally derided for the actively biased projects that they choose to fund. When viewed in this context, the totalizing nature of the resolution and the overwhelmingly Negative slant in the debate structure makes complete sense.

 

Pardon my tinfoil hat, but these people crafted, "Resolved: Science leaves no room for free will," with the intention of it being unwinnable on the affirmative; the rabid anti-intellectualism in the supporting documents and post-round surveys is similarly engineered to prevent debaters from thinking in patterns that the John Templeton Foundation finds unacceptable. They have co-opted debate as a method through which to push their warped political agenda - and, quite frankly, the NSDA has tarnished their own reputation by proving that they can be bought out.

 

I have no problem with personal religious beliefs, but I absolutely take issue with those beliefs distorting the sanctity of debate and of education as a whole.

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getting back to the OP, it's basically like truth testing debate. It's more or less a (much) more broad-topic version of LD (my main event kiddos).

But yeah no this is all sketchy as hell. The topics are all totally neg biased in record, almost certainly due to the more progressive/liberal slant of the aff positions. Not that liberalism/progressivism has no faults mind you (after all I am a Foucault and Nietzsche debater), but the hugely conservative leanings of the "debate" format itself is both intrinsic and intentional. Sickens me.

Edited by pdfox0513

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Pardon my tinfoil hat, but these people crafted, "Resolved: Science leaves no room for free will," with the intention of it being unwinnable on the affirmative; the rabid anti-intellectualism in the supporting documents and post-round surveys is similarly engineered to prevent debaters from thinking in patterns that the John Templeton Foundation finds unacceptable. They have co-opted debate as a method through which to push their warped political agenda - and, quite frankly, the NSDA has tarnished their own reputation by proving that they can be bought out.

 

Before I get started on what I want to say here, let me just reiterate my distaste for Big Questions Debate, its resolution, and the Templeton Foundation's attempts to force it upon the debate community with their grants. As I have said above, I also disagree with the staunch opposition to critical arguments. And I do find the whole thing tacky.

 

At the same time, I don't think what they're doing in debate is intrinsically bad or anti-intellectual. Just because we agree that the absoluteness of resolution makes it slanted in the context of competitive debate doesn't mean the question itself is inherently biased in one direction or the other. And neither does the fact that the Templeton Foundation clearly agrees with one side. They're simply facilitating philosophical dialogue which I think is a good thing. You may disagree with their agenda (which I don't think is political but that's beside the point), but I wouldn't say that their having an agenda necessarily amounts to rabid anti-intellectualism. Lots of reasonable people think that kritiks and nontopical arguments are the antithesis of a productive dialogue and while I (strongly) disagree, I don't think they're crazy for thinking that. I think their obsession with topicality is more likely them trying to maintain the focus of the conversation which they see as important, and I don't fault them for that.

 

Look at this: https://www.templeton.org/signature-programs/big-questions-essay-series. They facilitate these types of dialogues among intellectuals and academics all the time. And all of the questions on that page are just as absolute as the BQD resolution. So I think the slantedness of the resolution comes from a lack of understanding competitive debate rather than an explicit attempt to undermine one side of the question. 

 

Yes, I agree that they have an agenda. But I appreciate the fact that rather than creating an echo chamber or putting up a strawman when engaging with the other side, like so many people and organizations do nowadays, they facilitate serious, genuine discussion. Yes, there are lots of problems with BQD and yes some of the things your articles mentioned about what they choose to fund were eyebrow-raising. But at the end of the day I'm not going to fault them for what they're trying to do with BQD, anti-policy arrogance and all.

Edited by Nonegfiat
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Before I get started on what I want to say here, let me just reiterate my distaste for Big Questions Debate, its resolution, and the Templeton Foundation's attempts to force it upon the debate community with their grants. As I have said above, I also disagree with the staunch opposition to critical arguments. And I do find the whole thing tacky.

 

I respect you greatly for giving them the benefit of the doubt; the ability to play devil's advocate is an admirable quality that reflects your wisdom as a debater. The difference between our two positions is but a matter of degrees, and (much like the central issue with the BQD resolution), it's difficult to declare either interpretation inherently wrong. That said, I would like to refute a few points.

 

At the same time, I don't think what they're doing in debate is intrinsically bad or anti-intellectual. Just because we agree that the absoluteness of resolution makes it slanted in the context of competitive debate doesn't mean the question itself is inherently biased in one direction or the other. And neither the fact that the Templeton Foundation clearly agrees with one side. They're simply facilitating philosophical dialogue which I think is a good thing. You may disagree with their agenda (which I don't think is political but that's beside the point), but I wouldn't say that their having an agenda necessarily amounts to rabid anti-intellectualism. Lots of reasonable people think that kritiks and nontopical arguments are the antithesis of a productive dialogue and while I (strongly) disagree, I don't think they're crazy for thinking that. I think their obsession with topicality is more likely them trying to maintain the focus of the conversation which they see as important, and I don't fault them for that.

 

The central idea behind BQD - that of provoking philosophical discussion - is a wholesome, educational endeavor, but the problem lies in its execution. I do not consider an opposition to kritiks and non-topical positions to be anti-intellectual. However, I do feel that the debaters should be the one to decide and to define what is acceptable. The BQD manual encourages the judge to intervene in weighing arguments from the perspective of a, "common-person," and that is where my claims of anti-intellectualism are directed. Whole disciplines of philosophical and critical thinking are closed off just by enforcing that framework. If the JTF truly sought to promote philosophical argumentation for its own sake, then they should not predetermine what arguments matter and box off the debaters from figuring out what it means to, "matter," in the first place.

 

Look at this: https://www.templeton.org/signature-programs/big-questions-essay-series. They facilitate these types of dialogues among intellectuals and academics all the time. And all of the questions on that page are just as absolute as the BQD resolution. So I think the slantedness of the resolution comes from a lack of understanding competitive debate rather than an explicit attempt to undermine one side of the question.

 

I do not believe that we should make allowances for their unfamiliarity with debate. By their own manual, "the current topic has been designed with input from our pilot debate expert panel." This creates somewhat of a double bind - either they're lying about consulting with debate experts (doubtful, as the NSDA is theoretically overseeing all of this) or they've actively chosen to disregard competitive debate norms. In consideration of this organization's history of funding efforts that are very much in agreement with their ideological leanings, I think that is fair to say that the slanted resolution (in accordance with their bias) is an intentional construct.

 

Yes, I agree that they have an agenda. But I appreciate the fact that rather than creating an echo chamber or putting up a strawman when engaging with the other side, like so many people and organizations do nowadays, they facilitate serious, genuine discussion.

 

If not for the myriad problems with the construction of the discussion, I would agree with you here. To illustrate my point, here are some examples of JTF-approved evidence from the NSDA resource page:

  • "If God had so made us that the activities and effects of our minds were also determined, we would be no better off regarding free will just because our minds were separate from our bodies."
  • "And it seems that the (2) sources or origins of our actions would not be “in us” but in something else (such as the decrees of fate, the foreordaining acts of God, or antecedent causes and laws of nature) outside and beyond our control.”
  • "What do we know of how God moves without being moved? And are we humans really like God in this respect, since we are clearly moved, at least in part, by many physical, psychological, and social factors, some of which are beyond our awareness."
  • "Or in layman's terms, the soul does not die but returns to the universe."
    • Shout out to Chaos - they actually are using those "scientific" studies!

The nature of the question (and acceptable answers), in combination with the structural problems of the event, means that the JTF has essentially created the conditions for the echo chamber and straw man argumentation that you refer to - or, at their very least, brought their religious matters into the context of academic debate, where they are thoroughly improper.

 

Yes, there are lots of problems with BQD and yes some of the things your articles mentioned about what they choose to fund were eyebrow-raising. But at the end of the day I'm not going to fault them for what they're trying to do with BQD, anti-policy arrogance and all.

 

This is where it is important to note that the JTF is a research-based organization. They throw money at activities that reach conclusions that agree with their agenda. With that in mind, consider their post-round survey. It does not take much of a stretch of the imagination to think that the JTF has engineered this format to produce very specific results in rounds that would translate to that survey, which they can then use to prop themselves up.

 

With all of that being said, I would absolutely love to be proven wrong in this case, so how about this?

 

I would like to extend an open invitation to the community to join me in the creation of an affirmative case like Chaos described - arguing that science leaves no room for free will because the concept of, "room for free will," is faulty - which would then be released publicly for free. I think that this is the best response to the given resolution that is, on the face of things, topical, and a good way to test some of the stated concerns about this event while preserving its ostensible original aims.

 

Any takers?

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I think we should remain neutral for now, though I'm saying this partly because I think it's very important to be charitable to other people's ideas. Reform might still be possible for this event.
 

The central idea behind BQD - that of provoking philosophical discussion - is a wholesome, educational endeavor, but the problem lies in its execution. I do not consider an opposition to kritiks and non-topical positions to be anti-intellectual. However, I do feel that the debaters should be the one to decide and to define what is acceptable. The BQD manual encourages the judge to intervene in weighing arguments from the perspective of a, "common-person," and that is where my claims of anti-intellectualism are directed. Whole disciplines of philosophical and critical thinking are closed off just by enforcing that framework. If the JTF truly sought to promote philosophical argumentation for its own sake, then they should not predetermine what arguments matter and box off the debaters from figuring out what it means to, "matter," in the first place.


This complaint applies to most of public forum, about half of LD, and at least a quarter of all policy in the US. I used to be a staunch anti-interventionist, and to an extent I still am. But putting limits on the ways in which debaters are allowed to argue makes sense for some events because if those limits don't exist research burdens will explode. I think we need to preserve room for more casual forms of debate, and that probably requires saying that only some sorts of approaches are allowed.

 

 I do not believe that we should make allowances for their unfamiliarity with debate. By their own manual, "the current topic has been designed with input from our pilot debate expert panel." This creates somewhat of a double bind - either they're lying about consulting with debate experts (doubtful, as the NSDA is theoretically overseeing all of this) or they've actively chosen to disregard competitive debate norms. In consideration of this organization's history of funding efforts that are very much in agreement with their ideological leanings, I think that is fair to say that the slanted resolution (in accordance with their bias) is an intentional construct.

 

A fairly high percentage of past LD and PF resolutions have been worded badly or unfairly. Policy topics are often flawed too, by being overly broad. I don't think it requires malice to write a bad topic.

I think that as this event is in its infancy, it's likely still malleable. Taking a combative approach at this stage might put the people behind this event into a defensive stance where they ignore legitimate criticisms. It's possible that the person or people writing the resolutions are unintentionally writing their biases into the resolution, and would stop doing this if they became aware of it. It's also possible that they simply don't understand the importance of balanced topics to debate events. Whatever the cause, I think it would likely accomplish more to try to work with the person in charge and give her some well-intentioned feedback about how the topics so far have been structured. If they receive well-thought out, compassionate advice, then proceed to blatantly ignore all of it, at that point getting angry would be justified. But giving people the initial benefit of the doubt probably opens up more opportunities for positive change.

Can you link to the past resolutions that BigQ has debated, please? I'd like to see for myself if they are similarly biased.

 

 If not for the myriad problems with the construction of the discussion, I would agree with you here. [Note from Chaos: I am adding letters to these.]

To illustrate my point, here are some examples of JTF-approved evidence from the NSDA resource page: 

[A] "If God had so made us that the activities and effects of our minds were also determined, we would be no better off regarding free will just because our minds were separate from our bodies." 

"And it seems that the (2) sources or origins of our actions would not be “in us” but in something else (such as the decrees of fate, the foreordaining acts of God, or antecedent causes and laws of nature) outside and beyond our control.” 

[C] "What do we know of how God moves without being moved? And are we humans really like God in this respect, since we are clearly moved, at least in part, by many physical, psychological, and social factors, some of which are beyond our awareness." 

[D] "Or in layman's terms, the soul does not die but returns to the universe." 

Shout out to Chaos - they actually are using those "scientific" studies! 

The nature of the question (and acceptable answers), in combination with the structural problems of the event, means that the JTF has essentially created the conditions for the echo chamber and straw man argumentation that you refer to - or, at their very least, brought their religious matters into the context of academic debate, where they are thoroughly improper.

 

They aren't citing studies and claiming those studies prove the existence of the soul, I'm not sure how you got that out of any of these quotations.

I agree some of the language used is problematic, but I think you're misrepresenting these quotations to an extent by quoting only pieces of arguments rather than the entire arguments. It also might be helpful if you compare and contrast the language used in their papers on this side of the resolution to the language they use on the other side of the resolution. On this side of the resolution, they talk about God and the soul in relation to free will. But on the other side of the resolution, they talk about neuroscience and biology in relation to free will. I imagine there are some people who would be offended by either approach. We shouldn't read the papers as endorsing either side of the resolution. If they were as biased as you claim, I think the evidence that's cited in the affirmative side of the resolution would be lower quality. Instead, the evidence actually looks fairly good. It's the resolution's wording that's biased, not the topic papers.

Past philosophical literature on the question of free will involves religion to a significant degree. Even if it did not, sometimes talking about what "God" might do or not do is helpful even for secular inquiries. I think argument A makes a legitimate argument for the position that substance dualism is irrelevant to the question of whether or not free will is true. That point stands regardless of one's faith, but using the language of faith makes it easier to consider the relevant counterfactual.

In the interest of honesty, I'll note that the place where I've seen Big Questions debate in the past is in the South. If they are more prominent in the South generally, that would add fuel to the idea that they're working with the motive of promoting a religious agenda rather than with the motive of promoting education. However, religion is important to a lot of people in the South, and I don't think it would be valid to say that people shouldn't be allowed to debate religious-relevant ideas in public schools. As long as the topic remains neutral, discussion of God should be allowed. (Also the backlash you'll get if you say people shouldn't talk about God with public funds will be INCREDIBLE. Don't go there.)


All else being equal, I prefer informed Christians who know how to make an argument about their ideas over uninformed Christians who don't know how to make an argument and aren't even sure what ideas they really believe in. Even if this event involves hidden religious motives, that doesn't necessarily mean the net impacts will be negative. I think that switch side debate as an event is really good at getting people to question their preconceptions, even if you hamstring it. So this could be a step forward despite all the limitations of the event. What's important is that people are thinking. If the side-bias of the resolutions goes away, none of the other problems you mention will matter to me much.
 

 This is where it is important to note that the JTF is a research-based organization. They throw money at activities that reach conclusions that agree with their agenda. With that in mind, consider their post-round survey. It does not take much of a stretch of the imagination to think that the JTF has engineered this format to produce very specific results in rounds that would translate to that survey, which they can then use to prop themselves up.

 

This is actually highly plausible and I'm irritated I didn't consider it. I take pride in being simultaneously paranoid and correct when opportunities for it arise, but today I failed. They might also be using this as a means to crowd test different approaches to debating the free will question. This is a legitimate concern. But I don't think the quality of their data will be very high, given the bias of their resolution. And fake surveys will exist no matter what. So, somewhat more reluctantly now, I agree with the idea that we should try to give them the benefit of the doubt. This should not preclude wariness about actions they take in the future, though. If their pattern of behavior doesn't improve, I'll soon come to agree with you that they're illegitimate. Waiting for more definitive evidence costs very little, however.

Edited by Chaos

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Or we could create an event called Big Answers Debate and make it "not-not-policy" where you get voted down for discussing the topic and you only get to run kritiks.

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Or we could create an event called Big Answers Debate and make it "not-not-policy" where you get voted down for discussing the topic and you only get to run kritiks.

"Interpretation: The Affirmative must not defend a topical advocacy.

Violation: They read a plan text."

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