The Instigator
darnocs1
Pro (for)
Losing
22 Points
The Contender
Ramshutu
Con (against)
Winning
38 Points

It's impossible to know or prove anything absolutely

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 13 votes the winner is...
Ramshutu
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 9/7/2010 Category: Miscellaneous
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 15,029 times Debate No: 13097
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (38)
Votes (13)

 

darnocs1

Pro

Throughout history, humans have sought after questions such as "what is knowledge?," "how do we know things?," or "how can we prove things?" While these questions are ones that deserve an answer, often times, the answer is more simple, and yet more complex, than many people consider it to be. Because it is impossible to know or prove anything absolutely, I urge you to vote Pro.

For clarification purposes, I'll define a few terms:
Impossible: not able to be done [1]
Knowledge: be aware of through observation, inquiry, or information [2]
Prove: demonstrate the truth of (something) by evidence or argument [3]
Absolutely: totally [4]

To give support to my position, I will be offering some justifications for my position.
Also, please note that I am not attempting to prove my position, as this would run contrary to my argument. I am, however, attempting to show that the truth of my position is highly probable.

Justification 1: The Theory of Epistemological Skepticism [5]
The theory of epistemological skepticism is one that denies the ability to know anything to an absolute degree. In essence, this theory is the position I am taking. While a common argument against this theory is the statement, "if no truth is knowable, how do you know this to be true?" The logical response is that we don't–and that's precisely the point. Epistemological skepticism is a *theory* (a set of principles on which the practice of an activity is based; a system of ideas intended to explain something), not a law. With the basic foundation of my position more clearly established, let's look at:

Justification 2: Probability versus Proof
While it can be argued that we can, in fact, prove things–such as DNA testing in a crime, the theory of cause and effect, or the laws of science–it is even more probable that we cannot prove anything to an absolute extent. This can be readily demonstrated through history: often times, scientists have formulated so-called "laws" that attempt to explain how things work. However, throughout history, scientists have consistently been incorrect. Whether in the belief that the universe revolves around the earth or the belief that cells are very simple structures, science has proved to be inconsistent at best. While I am by no means discrediting the ability of science to demonstrate the high probability of something to be true, science itself can be used as a reason to support the theory of epistemological skepticism. Human knowledge has been shown to be inherently limited (at least, the probability is extremely high), and because of this, it can be concluded that it is not possible to know or prove anything to an absolute degree–totally. While it is highly probable that a the death of a deer lying on the side of the road came as a result of a car hitting that deer–even with the blood of the deer across the bumper, damage to the deer's body and damage to the car's body, it is also possible (but highly improbable) that a person could have killed the deer, impacted it's body very hard, smeared the blood onto the bender of the said car, and then damaged the said bender. While some may laugh at this example, this is just one way of showing that the human ability to *prove* anything totally and completely is not actually there.

Justification 3: Truth (Probably) Exists
Despite the high probability that it is impossible to know or prove anything absolutely, it is highly probable that truth–in some form or another–does exist. For example, it is highly probable that the so-called "law" of gravity is true–that is, that there is a force that attracts a body toward the center of a physical body having mass. Despite the high probability that gravity exists, it is also possible (but highly unlikely) that gravity does *not* exist. Perhaps we shall be enlightened in the years to come. Perhaps not.

Conclusion
In the end, the theory of epistemological skepticism is one that is highly probable, and this can be readily demonstrated (though not proved, mind you) throughout human history. If my opponent can provide a way to absolutely and totally prove or know something, I challenge them to provide an example of such. As far as we have seen, however, total knowledge of the truth of something, and total proof of something, is unlikely. Despite this, things can be deemed as being "highly probable;" this is what the court system refers to as "proof," as even this so-called "proof" has proven (pun intended) to be incorrect at times.

Thank you, and I ask you to vote Pro.

Sources:
[1] http://oxforddictionaries.com...
[2] http://oxforddictionaries.com...
[3] http://oxforddictionaries.com...
[4] http://oxforddictionaries.com...
[5] http://en.wikipedia.org...
Ramshutu

Con

There are indeed many things that cannot be proved absolutely; much of science and theories based upon evidence and observation only hold because there are no measurements that deviate, or disprove the theory. Such theories are only true until a measurement is obtained that disagrees.

For science or any other system of knowledge based on empirical observation and measurement, the statement that nothing can be proved absolutely is completely true.

However, there are many other types of knowledge that are based on logical deduction; such as mathematics, which given a set of assumptions, can give a logical set of answers that can be proved to always be the same.

For example, if you take a right angled triangle, the square of the hypotenuse is ALWAYS equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides; this can be proved using mathematical methods only based on the initial set of assumptions about what a right angled triangle is, the theory can simply be proved by drawing the triangles in two square arrangements.

The field of mathematics is one of the most important branches of knowledge, as it's application enables science to describe the real world. Without the terms "e" and "pi", the values of which can be proved to always be the same, science would not be possible. All mathematics stem from a simple set of logical statements, from which the rest can be proved.

As a result of this, while the statement "It's impossible to know or prove most science absolutely," can be considered truthful; the statement "It's impossible to know or prove anything absolutely" is absolutely incorrect.

Because of the logical deductive process that mathematics follows; the only way to claim that these proofs cannot be proved "absolutely", is if the very nature of reality is subjective; in that we cannot be sure that a triangle is a triangle, or anything we see, touch, feel or measure can be relied upon.

While this is a valid philosophical position to take; it invalidates the whole premise simply by proving that it is impossible to prove or know anything absolutely, leaving this simple statement the one thing that can be wholly proved.
Debate Round No. 1
darnocs1

Pro

Thanks to my opponent for accepting the debate.

To start, I'll refute my opponent's main argument: that of logical deduction being proof.

Using the example of the hypotenuse and a right angled triangle, I agree that the likelihood of the square of the hypotenuse always being equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides is highly probable. In fact, it is so probable that we consider it to be a "fact." The problem, however, that exists is this: how do we know that our analysis of mathematics is accurate? It's interesting that while my opponent accepts that science is unprovable but that mathematics are not, mathematics itself is a science: the Oxford definition of mathematics is, "the abstract science of number, quantity, and space." [1] My point behind this is that mathematics, like any other form of science, is "the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment." [2] In short, science is the study of how things work–that study involves observation and experiment. Mathematics, like any other form of science, is only a demonstration of reality as what we believe it to be.

In the end, most of history points in the direction that humans' knowledge is inherently limited, and as a result, it's not possible for humans to know anything or prove anything to an absolute degree. While my opponent has done an excellent job of showing the credibility of mathematics, the question remains: how do we know that our interpretation of this science (which mathematics is) is accurate? Perhaps we are on the right track, and perhaps our study of mathematics is absolutely correct. We still can't prove it, merely show that it is highly probable that the science of mathematics are a very concrete standard–but not an absolute standard, as humans are the ones who study the concept of mathematics itself.

Thank you, to both the voters and my opponent for your time.

Sources:
[1] http://oxforddictionaries.com...
[2] http://oxforddictionaries.com...
Ramshutu

Con

While I would agree with my oponent, and the dictionary with regards to classification of mathematics as a form of science, both mathematicians and scientists would vehemently disagree with the suggestion that we cannot be sure about the veracity of our mathematical analysis.

More specifically, I would contend that the statement that "mathematics, like any other form of science, is "the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment." is absolutely incorrect.

The reason for this is fairly simple and is down to how mathematical proofs are determined. This is specifically down to the fact that maths uses various types of logical reasoning, rather than empirical evidence and measurement to show that a particular statement is not just true, but necessarily true.

With regards to my oponents above statement, I would also contend that no formal mathematical proof has ever used observation or experiment as part of it's logical statement or to validate that a given mathematical statement is true. Some mathematics, although not formal proofs, may use observation or experiment to estimate or model the real world; but this becomes part of empirical, rather than mathematical science.

Going back to pythagorus; given that a right angled triangle has three sides, two of which are perpendicular; that the area of a square is the square of a single side; and that a square is a four sided shape where all sides are equal, and meet each other at right angles; and a square with an identical length of side has the same area as any other; it can be shown that pythagorus is not just true; but necessarily true. Necessarily true simply means that one has to be true because of the other.

To be unsure of this proof is not to be unsure about the mathematical analysis as this analysis is purely logical; but to be unsure of logical reasoning itself.

For example, to be unsure as to whether 1=1, or true != false. If such fundamental logical concepts were uncertain; then the statement that nothing can be proved has been proved, and therefore disproved.
Debate Round No. 2
darnocs1

Pro

The reason scientists and mathematicians disagree with the theory of epistemological skepticism in regard to math is due to the fact that, although nothing can be absolutely proven, we live as if it were the case.

The argument that math is based on logic is true to a great extent. But this brings us back to how we know about logic. The definition of the word gives us a foundation: logic–"reasoning conducted or assessed according to strict principles of validity." How are these "principles of validity" decided upon? Where do they come from? In essence, the answer is that it is based on our experiences which have been shown to be flawed. Logic–like any other form of philosophical endeavor of inquiry is based on human experience. The argument of "cause and effect" would be one of logic…but the only reason this is so is because we have observed this to be the case. Had humans not observed the "law" of cause and effect, it would be assumed that cause and effect was, in fact, not a fact at all.

The point being, all knowledge comes from our experience, and human experience has been repeatedly shown to be inconsistent. While it is commonly agreed that basic laws of logic and mathematics exist and are valid, the only reason we have this knowledge of them is because of human experimentation in these matters–a method shown to be relative.

As my opponent put it, this is to be unsure of logical reasoning itself.

Now, while this argument may seem controversial, it itself makes logical sense: if in fact, logic is based on our experiences (that is, we discover logic through experience), and our experiences have been shown to be flawed, then we cannot be entirely certain of logic. Take the following algebraic example, in contrast with the claim that mathematics are complete knowledge:
a = b
a^2 = ab
a^2 - b^2 = ab - b^2
(a+b)(a-b) = b(a-b)
a + b = b
2b = b
2 = 1
2 + 3 = 1 + 3
5 = 2 + 2

While most people would consider 5 to = 2+3, 4+1, or something along those lines, mathematics itself can be inconsistent in it's end result.

My opponent claims that if I were to prove logic unprovable, then I would have disproved my position. While this is true, I haven't actually proved anything in this entire debate–and that is precisely the point. We can't be certain that I am correct, we can't be certain that my opponent is correct. Based on past history, we can conclude that it is *very likely* that complete knowledge/proof is unattainable, even that mathematics and logic itself–because they are based on human experience–that it is possible that we cannot be sure of those.

Despite this, my arguments still stand: it is entirely possible that a level of absolute truth (such as logic) does exist. But we can't prove it–we can't be absolutely certain.

Because of these reasons, I ask you to vote Pro, in favor of epistemological skepticism.
Ramshutu

Con

My opponent seems to be in two minds about what he is trying to argue; on the one hand he is stating that he cannot prove that nothing is provable, but on the other hand is going out of his way to prove that it is; and so therefore isn't. Dancing around words and terminology like a drunk on a saturday night, however, does not move the argument forward.

There are two counter arguments proposed here; both of which are based on false assumptions.

Firstly, the argument that Logic is somehow based on experiment and experience is absolutely wrong, almost laughably so.

We do not need to investigate that 2+2 = 4, nor do we have to raid cupboards of litmus paper to state that "A statement that is absolutely true, cannot be absolutely false." Logic itself is all about inference; about A necessarily following B because of C; You do not ever have to see a right handed triangle, or to use meter rulers to prove pythagarus's theorum, nor do you have to hijack telescopes to prove simple logical induction; with certain statements, we can infer, induct or dedeuce that other statements MUST be true.

To paint logic itself as somehow subjective or falsifiable; that were you to repeat the phrase "A statement that is absolutely true, cannot be absolutely false," again and again, it will somehow be incorrect; does not follow as a result.

Logical reasoning; provided the correct logical process is followed, always gives the same answer through simple steps showing that if one thing is true, then the other must be. This is not because of measurements made, or objective evidence gained, as if somehow the logical framework relies upon them; it is because the starting statements are such that the resulting conclusion MUST follow.

The second counter argument, and one that somewhat baffles me as my oponent seems to be making my case for me, is that somehow logic cannot be trusted.

To put the case forward that we cannot be sure of logic, a mathematical curiousity has been quoted; which to anyone who has not paid a great deal of attention to the problem in question or mathematics in general will see is mathematics killer.

Unfortunatley for my oponent, but fortunatley for all the thousands of mathematical genius's that have ever lived; who I am sure now breath a sigh of relief from beyond the grave; the mathematical example is fundamentally and critically flawed:

In the step:

(a+b)(a-b) = b(a-b)

to:

a + b = b

We are dividing both sides by (a-b), but as a = b; (a-b) = 0; we are dividing by zero and both sides are equal to infinity:

[inf](a+b) = [inf](b)

While I await my oponents proof of how to resolve such infinities, as does the rest of the mathematical community; as such a logically consistent proof would open doors to resolving all sorts of physical theories, including resolving the resulting terms of string theory; I suspect that this was a simple error on his part.

Going deeper to this argument, however, and the reason that this argument seems to be one sided in that we are both argument the same point; is as I stated before; to be unsure about logic; to be uncertain about whether true=true; is to be uncertain about everything, and if we are uncertain about everything, there is one thing that can be proven absolutely; that we cannot be certain about everything.
Debate Round No. 3
darnocs1

Pro

As I stated in my original speech, I am not attempting to prove anything, but merely show the high probability of the truth of this theory.

1. Logic is different than math, and while the two often work together, just as often logic is without math. How do we discover how logic works? Through experimentation. And experimentation has been flawed. Therefore, it is possible (albeit highly unlikely, very highly unlikely) that some of our knowledge of logic is flawed.

Additionally, we can have a logical statement such as a syllogism, but the validity of the statement itself can be false (at least, very likely to be false). The syllogism:
Birds can fly
An ostrich is a bird
Therefore an ostrich can fly

The previous statement is sound in the terms of logic that my opponent is using, however, it is easy to see that ostriches cannot fly (at least to our limited perceptions).

2. The argument as to the algebraic equation is simply to point out that what we perceive to be "common knowledge" isn't necessarily consistent.

We cannot prove that the math equation actually works, although some would argue that it does. The illustration here is not that math can be proven, but that it can't be–not absolutely (totally).

But aside from the example and addressing the argument as to being unsure about logic, I agree that we cannot be completely sure about logic. Why? Because history shows that even our logic has been inconsistent at times. While it can be argued that reason we have this "sensus logikos" is because logic is innate, our sense of knowledge is still inherently limited, as can be seen throughout history. While I believe it is highly probable that logic is, in fact, truth, how can we be totally sure, seeing as people make mistakes?

Even the argument that it can be proven that we cannot be certain about anything isn't true, because we can't be certain that this belief itself is true, and thus that disputes the argument that we can prove that we can't be certain of anything. The whole theory of epistemological skepticism is that we can't know anything totally, or prove anything totally–even this theory itself–because experience has shown human knowledge to be limited. Of course, the entire premise of this theory could be incorrect. But once again, it's a theory.

All knowledge stems from a sense of faith in one aspect or another. We have to put faith (complete trust or confidence in something) in order to be able to argue for anything at all. Even the argument of math is one that is based on the belief that math is accurate. If it were shown that math can be wrong, then it would mean either that math is probably wrong or that humans have improperly interpreted math. This concept, therefore, (like all others) is based on a belief in something. The key thing to remember is that our beliefs can be flawed, and thus it is highly probable that we can't know or prove anything absolutely.

The resolution is affirmed. Vote Pro.
Ramshutu

Con

At this point, I could summarise the arguments that have already been made; that logic, by virtue of being a formal and self consistent approach, demonstrates that some things MUST follow others; I think the above rounds speak for themselves, and any significant re-iteration would only serve to make peoples eyes bleed.

What I will say, however, is by the very nature of his argument; my oponent is in a logical paradox; in that he is always wrong.

It all boils down to whether or not we can trust logic statements; can we trust where something that is logically "True" is logically "True?"

This seems silly, but this is the fundamental argument my oponent is making, that we cannot be sure.

This is where the paradox lies.

If we CAN always be sure that something that is logically true, is logically true; then you MUST vote CON; as there is at least one thing that we can prove something.

However, if we cannot be sure that "True=True", then there is absolutely nothing we can sure about; and thus you MUST again vote CON; as there is at least one thing that we can prove.

There is no middle ground; there is no way where we can be both sure, and unsure; and even if we were, it would only serve to re-enforce the very principle that we can only prove that we can prove nothing; in which case you MUST vote CON.
Debate Round No. 4
38 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by insurgentnation 6 months ago
insurgentnation
Although it cannot be proven, lol, Pro is correct that we as humans in our current state of mental development cannot prove anything to an absolute. The argument that math is not based on observation and experimentation is laughable. What do you think a 2yo is doing when he is learning 2+2. He is observing his environment and experimenting with the concept of value. The reason the con argument won this debate is that the majority of people are close minded and believe they know what truth is. As a scientist cannot prove the absolute existence of a fourth and fifth dimension, they cannot absolutely disprove that another level of existence does exist either. Given that this one example cannot be proven one way or the other absolutely, we must logically deduce that with the uncertainty behind the existence of a fourth and fifth dimension and without knowing how these dimensions influence what we perceive to be reality, we cannot prove to an absolute, anything.
Posted by btor 1 year ago
btor
We cannot prove that anything will happen. We can only suggest anything can happen. The reason is that temporally, I can come up with a scenario that has never happened in the past and may only be unique just because I make it so. Prior to my unique suggestion, anything hasn't happened, thus we can't prove that anything will happen.
Posted by btor 1 year ago
btor
@mongoosecake What if I drew a circle on a square piece of origami paper? It is impossible for these two things to coexist? One of your arguments, only after the fact, would be that they are two separate objects, but that is not the case. You can only adjust your argument after it has been refuted. So you cannot prove that a circle and square cannot occupy the same space.
Posted by btor 1 year ago
btor
I agree with the original poster, we cannot prove anything. Since everything is viewed from a human perspective, it is impossible to know if anything is proof. We can't even prove our own memories. Think about that for a second. Can you even prove your own memories? Beyond any doubt, can you prove that your entire existence is anything beyond your own construction? The answer is no. People are primarily driven by strong beliefs in absolutes, and we are inherently flawed as individuals. Over the course of anyone's life, you will be me wrong than right. Think about every time you've made a wrong turn, had to press backspace to correct a spelling error, times when you've counted wrong, these are all mistakes. In our inherent flaws we can not achieve a God's eye view. We only have ours, the human perspective. People just get offended when it's clear that nothing can be provable -- as a result, their stubbornness is what causes them to actually believe in proof. It is one of our flaws. We go through life being guided by assumptions. Can you prove the existence of any one item after you die? No. Can you also prove the existence of anything when you are not in its presence? No. You just strongly believe it exists. Proof, at best, is a moment to moment construction that is lost once the moment is gone. We can't prove anything and I can't prove that we can't prove anything. Therein lies the paradox through which people struggle. Proof is more of a security blanket. Even math is a human construct. The arbitrary assignment of numbers is inherently flawed. Look at cultures who count differently than the Western world to further understand that point. Since proof is a matter of perspective, you may hold proof near and dear to you, but that may or may not hold true to any other person. This whole proof ideology is how wars have started -- accept that we are inherently flawed and nothing can be proven as a result.
Posted by blessedcovenant 2 years ago
blessedcovenant
I can prove something and that is you cannot prove anything, you have proved this by your own words and therefore have created an anomaly , and the bi-product of that anomaly is that something can be proven.
Posted by Trismegistus 6 years ago
Trismegistus
In order to understand consciousness you must realize the nature of the subject-object relationship. Also, and perhaps most importantly one must see the importance of language in the study of consciousness.

When we speak of consciousness we are objectifying the subject therein. Consciousness is not an easy thing to talk about because it is something ubiquitous. It is also much more than that, it is perhaps what we consider to be ourselves, our center, and our being. But what I am referring to could be more accurately described as self-consciousness.

When it comes to epistemological questions I think one should consider the role of language. What exactly are we objectifying in language? What do 'knowing' or 'proving' even mean, and do they *really exist*?

(*Can't escape ambiguous language)
Posted by Ste93 6 years ago
Ste93
There is at least one thing which is absolutely certain, that we can always predict with 100% certainty and that is that anything at all will happen.
Posted by darnocs1 6 years ago
darnocs1
@mongoosecake: its only possible because we base our definition of a circle as having no corners. does that mean that our perception is correct? not necessarily. all of our "ideas" are based on flawed human knowledge…so we can't use flawed data to prove something absolutely.

@launilove: some things that had been "proved absolutely" like spontaneous generation were actually "proved" wrong. just because humans demonstrate the likelihood of something doesn't prove it to an absolute degree.
Posted by launilove 6 years ago
launilove
When things are proved absolutely in science, they become scientific law. Until then they are just a theory... math is proof?
Posted by Esuric 6 years ago
Esuric
I can't believe con didn't introduce the cogito or the principle of minimal contradiction.
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