“The debate is over” – this is an argumentative gambit I’ve noticed quite a few people using recently around the web. It’s a subtle rhetorical device, designed to make people who disagree with you sound petty and ill-informed.
The three debates that I’ve noticed it being used in are as follows:
- The debate concerning the place of faith and works in the Christian life, related to the so-called “New Perspective on Paul”
- The debate concerning God’s sovereignty and human responsibility in evangelism, related to mission strategy in the Diocese of Sydney
- The debate concerning evangelism and good deeds in mission, related to the Lausanne Conference
Here’s how the device is used:
- You raise the issue
- You declare with authority that “the debate is now over”
- You observe that nevertheless, certain people are still debating the issue
When you use this device, you are implying two things:
- You belong to a privileged circle of people who are properly qualified to talk about the issue (i.e., in the cases I mentioned above New Testament scholars, a group of Sydney Anglicans, missiologists), and who are no longer interested in talking about the issue.
- Those who are still debating the issue don’t belong to the privileged group. They are therefore ill-informed, or petty, and clearly not qualified to talk about the issue, and not worth listening to.
I don’t like this device, and I think it should should stop. Why?
- It’s elitist. Just because your own circle claims to have worked out the issue, doesn’t mean that other areas of discussion about this issue are irrelevant.
- It’s illogical. If people are still debating the issue, then the debate is not over.