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Big Questions Debate

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What is Big Questions?

Big Questions is a form of debate designed to open students’ minds and encourage them to engage in life discussion that may not align with their previously held beliefs. Whether or not students change their opinion, the rich experience of this debate event will advance their knowledge, comfort, and interest in learning more about the subject matter based on the intersection of science and philosophy.

Thousands of students have debated Big Questions since 2016! As a result of the incredible success of this event, the John Templeton Foundation has generously decided to support Big Questions with grants through the 2023-2024 school year.

Earn Funds for Your Team

When you hold a Big Questions event during the 2023-2024 school year, you can earn money for your team! 

Thank you for your interest in Big Questions debate. Our application is still open, and we welcome you to apply, but please know that we are currently waitlisting for financial grants. Our team will follow-up with applicants within two weeks of receiving the application and we will keep applicants updated on waitlist progress. Reach out to Kellie Etzel at kellie.etzel@speechanddebate.org for more information.

How do I get started?
  • It’s easy! Pick a date to hold your event between now and May 30, 2024. Then, complete the online application form.
  • It takes less than 10 minutes to apply.
  • You can even change your event date after you apply – we are flexible. All events must be concluded before May 30, 2024. 
What do I have to do?
  • The format requires a minimum of 10 students and 3 rounds of debate.
  • The goal of the format is for high school and middle school students to grapple with complex worldview questions as they debate both sides of the resolution.
  • We provide digital topic primers and format guides for download.
  • BQ doesn’t have to be held as a formal, all-day Saturday tournament. Many teams do this after school, and some space out the rounds over 3-5 weeks.
How much can my team earn? Who can receive funds?
  • The general format for BQ grants is as follows: Grant Amount = $50 + (# of Students * $15)
    • You need to have a minimum of 10 students participate, therefore the minimum grant amount is $200.
  • We will not be able to provide funding that exceeds the estimated number from your application after the event.
  • Any speech and/or debate team can receive funds.
    • Yes! Even a speech team can hold a Big Questions debate and receive funds.
  • You can partner with other school clubs if the topic is of interest to them. For example, if it’s a math topic, partner with your math club to meet the number requirement.
What do I have to do with the funds?
  • Funds will be made payable to a school or booster club. We cannot provide checks directly to individuals. Use the money in any way that benefits your team and school!
  • Summer camp, team celebration, NSDA Membership, travel or technology for the NSDA National Tournament, whatever makes sense for your team.
  • We’re here to help if you have any questions. 
Earn Funds For Your Team!

Big Questions Debate Topic – 2023-2024

Based on a nationwide vote, the 2023-2024 Big Questions topic is:

Resolved: Belief in the supernatural is incompatible with belief in science.

A total of 563 coaches and 1,557 students voted for the resolution. The winning resolution received 55% of the coach vote and 65% of the student vote.

Get to Know the Big Questions Format

Big Questions Topic Specific Resources

2023 Big Questions Debate Champion

Big Questions Details

2023-2024 Updates
  • Grant Amount = $50 + (# of Students * $15)
  • In order to maximize the Big Questions opportunities—schools, booster clubs, or non-profit organizations may be given a maximum financial award earned per year.
  • The full grant amount will be awarded following the completion of the reporting requirements.
  • Printable certificates are available here.
  • We will not be able to provide funding that exceeds the estimated number from your application after the event.
  • Check out the NSDA’s Trophy Shop to purchase any awards needed for your Big Questions tournament, or other events you host throughout the year!
  • Applications will no longer be accepted on a first come, first serve basis. If your application is not immediately accepted, we encourage you to host your event and turn in the reporting information to be put on a waitlist to receive funding if your application status changes.
Big Questions Debate is a debate format that allows students to debate with a partner or as an individual. Debates may be one-on-one, two-on-two, or two-on-one. Topics last all year and concern the intersection of science, philosophy, and religion. Students are assigned a side of the topic before each round and present cases, engage in rebuttal and refutation, and participate in a question period. Often, members of the public are recruited to judge and observe this event.

 

Grant Requirements
  • Rounds must follow the Big Questions format described in the Big Questions Format Manual
  • Each student must compete in a minimum of 3 rounds.
  • A minimum of 10 students must compete. A partnership counts as two students.
  • High school and middle school students are eligible.
  • To be eligible, schools must be in the United States.
  • No institution will receive more than $2,000 in the 2023-2024 school year. 
  • Due to the demand for the Big Questions grant, only NSDA members will be eligible to receive funding. If you are currently a non-member school, you can apply part of your Big Questions grant to cover the cost of membership! Applicants affiliated with the school’s speech and debate program will be given preference.

Additional Opportunities

  • Elimination rounds are encouraged, but not required.
  • Your own school’s students qualify under the grant and may be counted toward your total number of student participants.
  • You are encouraged to charge an entry fee to increase the likelihood that students have thoroughly prepared for the event and as an additional way of raising money.
  • You may apply to host multiple events by filling out the application more than once.
Judge Training
Print Ballots and Judge Primers
  • The tournament will use Big Questions ballots designed by the NSDA.
  • The tournament will print a copy of the judge primer for each judge to keep. The judge primer will be distributed before the start of round one.
Plaques
  • Check out the NSDA’s Trophy Shop to purchase any awards needed for your Big Questions event, or other events you host throughout the year!
Topicality Requirements
  • The tournament must have a staff member checking Big Questions ballots. They must check that all parts of the ballot are filled out properly, as well as receive verbal confirmation from each judge that the winning debater(s) did not run any non-topical positions.
  • If a judge votes for a side that did not run a topical position, the following will occur:
    • The winning debater(s) on the judge’s ballot will be forfeited by tab.
    • The judge will be permanently removed from the pool, forfeit their payment (if hired by the tournament), or the school that provided the judge will be fined.
Survey Completion
  • The tournament will request that student participants and judges in the Big Questions division fill out the survey after at least three rounds are completed. The tournament will also request that any audience members who watched at least one Big Questions round take the survey.
  • The survey should take no more than 10 minutes to complete.
  • Please have your participants fill out the online survey.
Materials
  • All materials need to be submitted within one week after the final day of your Big Questions event. Missing this deadline will result in forfeiture of your grant award.
Survey Data
  • Judges, students, and audience members must complete the online survey. Any paper copies must be manually submitted online by the event host.
Reporting Form
  • The reporting form allows us to determine how much you have earned in your second grant installment. The final question on the reporting form will ask you to submit the results within this excel spreadsheet.
Provide Certificates to Students
Qualification
  • The two top placing students at each district’s Big Questions division will be invited to participate at the National Tournament. Only entries composed of individual debaters may compete at Nationals. 
  • District tournaments are not eligible for grant funding.
  • Big Questions entries will not count toward a school’s district entry limits. District committees may choose to add a limit to the number of students that each school can bring in the division, but this will be separate from the district entry limits.
  • All competitors must be NSDA members.
  • The district Big Questions division may be held in conjunction with the district tournament or as a stand-alone event on a separate date.
  • The district event will meet the following requirements.
    • Minimum of 10 high school competitors.
    • All students must compete as individuals.
    • More than one school in attendance.
    • The event must be organized through or with the permission of the District Chair.
    • The event will follow the tabulation method chosen by the District Committee for all other debate events. For example, if the district is using the double down method for the other debate events they must also use the double down method for Big Questions.
    • The top-placing students will not be eligible to compete in the Big Questions division at the National Tournament if they have qualified in a main event. A Big Questions qualifier may choose to attend the National Tournament in Big Questions over World Schools Debate.
    • If the Big Questions district event is held before the district’s main national qualifying tournament, the top-placing student’s name may be withdrawn and replaced with an alternate’s, if the top-placing student qualifies in another event.

Big Questions Final Rounds Archive

2022 Nationals Final Round

Resolved: On balance, societies benefit from religious belief and practice.

2021 Nationals Final Round

Resolved: Mathematics was discovered, not invented.

2020 Nationals Final Round

Resolved: Objective morality exists.

2019 Nationals Final Round

Resolved: Humans are primarily driven by self-interest.

2018 Nationals Final Round

Resolved: Humans are fundamentally different from other animals.

2017 Nationals Final Round

Resolved: Science leaves no room for free will.

As a coach and educator, I like Big Questions because it allows students to discuss big philosophical ideas in a format that all levels of students can attempt. In a time where teachers are constantly told to increase the rigor and broaden the curriculum, this style of debate offers debaters and teachers an opportunity to do both.

Jeff Stutzman

Concord High School, IN