The Big Questions debating format involves opposing contestants debating a topic concerning the intersection of science, philosophy, and religion. Students can compete as individuals or as a team, this means rounds can be 1 vs. 1, 2 vs. 2, or 1 vs. 2. Topics will address deeply held beliefs that often go unexamined. 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. Recruiting average members of the public to judge and observe this event is encouraged but not required. In the event that a Big Question entry is composed of two students, the number of speeches shall be evenly divided between both members.
Considerations for Big Questions Debates Schools which opt to host Big Questions debating format should know that the event is supported nationally by the John Templeton Foundation. While hosts should know there is the opportunity to apply to the NSDA for grant money to support the activity, in no event should the MSDL be held responsible for any financial support, barring the grant-making process described in the MSDL governing documents. Meeting the requirements of any grant is solely the responsibility of the hosting school.
Structure of the Debate Each debater will make an opening presentation, laying out the arguments and reasons to prefer their side of the resolution. These are called the Constructive speeches, and they are five minutes long. The Affirmative side will always speak first. Following these speeches, there is a three- minute question segment. During the questioning segment, the Affirmative side will ask the first question. Following the first question, the questioning period is a free- flowing question and answer period where both speakers may ask each other questions.