Classics wins annual Lifeboat Debate

By: Justin Worthing

The world hypothetically ended for the third year in a row at the annual Lifeboat Debate last Thursday. Founded by Dr. Timothy Quinn and organized by the philosophy department and Xavier’s Ethics Bowl team, the debate pitted six academic disciplines against each other to compete for one spot in an imagined post-apocalyptic “lifeboat.”

Each discipline was represented by one professor: Dr. Leon Chartrand for theology, Matt Dunch, S.J., for philosophy, Dr. Alexander Hall for classics, Dr. Steve Herbert for physics, Dr. Matt Lang for economics and Dr. Dena Morton for mathematics.

Dr. Mike Goldweber, a computer science professor, also participated as the devil’s advocate who argued against the importance of any of the academic fields above.

Professors had two opportunities to make their arguments: an opening argument followed by a rebuttal. The order of the professors was chosen randomly.

Strategies used by each professor took various forms. Morton drew attention to the foundational nature of mathematics, while Lang stressed the practical application of economics.

After over an hour of discussing, debating and laughing about the academic disciplines, the audience voted in favor of Hall’s argument for classics. He argued that the knowledge in the other represented departments can be recreated in the future, but to not choose classics for the lifeboat is to lose classics forever.

“(Participating in the debate) was surprisingly nerve-racking,” Hall said. “In some ways it was a lot like teaching, but the competitive side of it made it more exciting.”

Along with the entertainment value of the event, there is hope that it will foster interdisciplinary collaboration and help students appreciate other academic fields.

“I think what emerges from having all of these professors present the reasons why their discipline is important just right in a row is a realization that all of these disciplines are important and that we learn much from studying things outside our field,” Michael Petrany, captain of the Ethics Bowl team, said. “In a way you get the sense of the whole university and how these things come together.”

For anyone considering participating in next year’s debate, Hall offers advice.

“Look for what makes (your discipline) unique. What was most persuasive was finding the argument that nobody else could make,” Hall said. “And try not to be mean.”