More and more I'm coming to realize that debating is less and less relevant in today's world. The idea of a debate is simple enough: two (or more) debaters have different opinions on a course of action or truth claim and they each present compelling arguments to convince the audience to their point of view. However, the problem is that most debates use arguments, not evidence, to state their case. Arguments, however, are not always based on scientific evidence and instead are based on emotions.
When listening to someone present an emotionally-charged argument I'm beginning to realize that as the emotion increases, the evidence decreases. In other words, when you have little evidence (or in the face of contradictory evidence) appeal to the listener's emotions. This works because our emotions are far more developed than our logic and we are more likely to react to, and remember, our emotions. The 'truth' of the argument now rests with how it made us feel not the logic behind it.
Churches and pseudoscience purveyors have known this, either consciously or unconsciously. Blaming atheists, homosexuals or Jews for the ills of society is easy to do. Simply show that they displease god and when god is upset, god causes bad things to happen. Why? Because the Bible says so. Bad things bring out negative emotions therefore believers now connect these people to their emotions.
Now, try to use logic to show that atheists are not the cause of the problem. It takes a long stream of logic and there will always be questions requiring answers. But the listener must work to follow the logic and may forget the reasons whereas the emotional response is almost instantaneous and easily recalled.
It seems that believers in religion and pseudoscience have stalled in their evolution of thinking. Arguments that rely on emotion are no longer relevant now that we have the scientific method of acquiring evidence and actually testing ideas. We know this works because science has allowed an exponential increase in human knowledge and technology.
As Jonathan Haidt outlines in his book, 'The Happiness Hypothesis', our mind consists of an elephant and a rider. The elephant represents autonomic brain functions and our emotions. The elephant, for the most part, does what it wants. The rider is our logic and reason but it is not in control of the elephant. Instead it is a slave or advisor to the elephant. It is given control only when the elephant wants to be controlled. It's important to recognize that in this model, the elephant came first and has been very successful through its evolution. The rider evolved to assist the elephant and add variety to the elephant's choices. This, too, was successful in evolution.
To move forward we must work hard to train our elephant to give more control to the rider. Debating through emotions can no longer be accepted, we must teach through science and reason. Maybe our next leap in evolution will be to give our rider a whip.
Here's a talk by Jonathan Haidt that inspired me to read his book: