How the Formal Debates forum works

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James R

Just this guy, you know?
Staff member
The Formal Debates forum is for organised debates that occur according to a set of rules previously agreed by the participants.

1. Thread Titles in the Formal Debates Forum

Apart from threads relating to administration issues in the forum, all thread titles in this forum are to be prefixed by one of the following three titles, which also specify the general process under which debates will be conducted. More information on the specific rules and procedures appears below the thread categories.

Proposal thread
(For example: "Proposal: Does God Exist?")

A "proposal" thread suggests a topic for debate, and also acts as an invitation for particular members to participate in the formal debate, which will take place in a separate thread.

The proposal thread is also the place where members must agree to the rules of the particular debate before starting the actual debate. Once there is agreement as to who the participants are, and what the rules will be, threads in the next two categories may be created. Ordinarily, the "Proposal" thread will then be closed.

Note: the aim of a Proposal thread is to set the terms of the debate. This is not the place to actually debate any of the matters of contention.

Debate thread
(For example: "Debate: Does God Exist?")

The debate thread is where the formal debate actually takes place between the agreed participants. The most important restriction here is that ONLY the participants agreed to in the "Proposal" thread may post in the Debate thread.

The debate thread will be closed once the debate ends. The conditions for the end of the debate must be previously agreed in the Proposal thread.

Discussion thread
(For example: "Discussion: Does God Exist?")

When a "Debate" thread is created, a "Discussion" thread with the same topic heading should also be created. This is the place where members who are not involved in the formal debate may make comments or discuss the debate.

Ordinarily, discussion threads will stay open for as long as discussion of the debate is ongoing among members, following the conclusion of a debate.

2. Debate proposals and rules

There is no set format for formal debates, but here is an example of how a debate might be conducted:

The person proposing the debate posts a thread whose first post might look like this:

Thread title: "Proposal: Does God exist?"

I, AvidAtheist, challenge GodsArmy to a debate on the topic "Does God Exist?".

I suggest the following rules for the debate:

1. We will each post one "introductory" post, setting out our main arguments.
2. There will then be exactly two follow-up and rebuttal posts from each debater, in which the debaters may address and refute points made by the other person, as well as adding any new points that may come up.
3. Finally, each debater will post one concluding post, summing up their side of the debate. Following the concluding posts, the thread will be closed.
4. Debaters each have exactly one day from the time of posting of a post by their opponent to post their next post. If they do not post in the required time limit, the debate will be declared finished, and the thread closed.
5. Debaters may not post more than 4 posts in total. Once the 4-post limit is reached, further posts by that debater will be deleted from the thread, but the thread will remain open for posts by the opponent, until either his or her own 4-post limit is reached or until time runs out.
6. Debaters may include links to any supporting information or references in their posts. They may also quote extracted sections of text from other sites.
7. Individual posts may not be longer than 1500 words, including any quotes.

The member "GodsArmy" should then post in reply to this in the same thread, either agreeing to the debate under the suggested rules, declining to debate at all, or suggesting rule changes.

Negotiation over the rules can continue either until the parties lose interest or reach agreement on the format.

Note again that Proposal threads should not discuss the topic - just the parameters of the debate.

Debates are not limited to only two participants, although debates with more than two participants may take longer to negotiate.

Standard Rules are available, if debaters wish to use them rather than to negotiate their own rules.


Once the rules have been agreed, the first debater (according to the agreed rules should start a thread under the same topic name such as "Debate: Does God exist?", as well as a separate thread called "Discussion: Does God exist?"

The debate is then conducted in the "Debate" thread. Non-debating members may post their thoughts and comments in the "Discussion" thread. Participants in the debate may NOT post in the Discussion thread until after the debate has finished.

Only agreed debaters may post in a "Debate" thread, and then only according to the rules agreed in the "Proposal" thread.

Moderators will act if necessary to enforce the agreed rules of a debate.


3. Administrative rules

This is a forum for formal debates, as the name says.

Moderators reserve the right to exclude any debate topic from the forum if they think it is not suitable for the Formal Debates forum.

Members may only post in this forum within the limits set above. Members who post in violation of the guidelines above may be excluded from posting in the forum.
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