Consider the typical debate. There are carelessly-researched items reported as facts, distortions in how information is presented, selective use of evidence. There are questionable techniques such as character attacks, or conveniently placed displays of anger or shock that may be used tactically. Regardless of how common these things are, should a Christian engage in them?
I think Christians would do well to develop a full-fledged ethics code covering conduct during a debate. It would make debates more productive. It would lead to deepening mutual respect among Christians rather than deepening divisions and hostilities. It would also - let's not forget the big picture - keep us from sinning quite so often. We do want to behave ethically, don't we?
Here is a first shot at a debater's code of ethics.
Debater's Code of Ethics
Preface: The goal of a debate is to firmly establish which position has the most merit. Any conduct that does not live up to Christlike standards weakens the position of Christianity, regardless of which side wins the particular debate in question.
- Nothing should be presented as fact unless the debater has personally checked the original source material and verified its accuracy.
- The debater should present facts accurately, without stretching or distorting the information.
- The debater should never present facts in a way different than how they appear to him, or deny the reality of his own hesitations in order make his position seem stronger than he himself feels it to be.
- The debater should honestly review all evidence and arguments, being more willing to change his views, acknowledge a mistake, or even lose a debate than to engage in dishonesty.
- The debater should not smear, mock, belittle, or otherwise disparage the character of his opponent, or engage in any form of character attack.
- The debater should be familiar with logical fallacies and should completely reject their use, regardless of any tactical advantage that might be gained by them.
- The debater should not engage in tactical displays of anger, outrage, shock, or sorrow, or make other theatrical displays intended to play the emotions of the onlookers or distract from the lack of an adequate response.
- The debater should assume the honesty, integrity, and good faith of the opponent.
- If the opponent makes a mistake of fact or logic, or engages in unethical debating tactics, these are to be answered with honesty and good faith, leaving a clear conscience.
- The debater should give a fair hearing to his opponent and should be willing to change his views, not allowing himself to become blinded by partisanship or ego, or prevented from taking the best course by fear of embarrassment.
- The debater should develop his skills and knowledge so that he can support his position solidly, state his position clearly, and defend his position honestly.
- The debater should always be civil and respectful: in victory, gracious and free of arrogance; in defeat, showing good sportsmanship and holding steadfastly to the truth.
What have I forgotten? Or what changes does that need?