The debate rages like a fire. Which is better? Camping stove or campfire? You will find extremists from both lots. Ones that swear by their preferred heating apparatus and swear off the other, clearly inferior method. But we are not here to deal in absolutes. We know that any argument that never listens to the opposition is one made concrete; unmoving and unlearning. Instead, let's look at both.
Leave No Trace
If you are an outdoor aficionado you know about the Leave No Trace concept. Many pro camping stove users are quick to bring up Leave No Trace. The gist of their argument is that a campfire takes needed habitat from a weakened environment, burns it up, and leaves the ground burned and scared. This is fairly myopic. They are not focusing on the fact that their camping stove had to be made, processes, and shipped. Sure, a camping stove effects this area, the exact spot of fire, much less than a campfire. But it is not immune to the process of production.
Any time you introduce a fire into the woods, there is a chance for destruction, from match to roaring fire. A single mistake with the smallest of fire can burn down a country side. With this concept both camping stove and campfire are equally dangerous. But in real life application, an open fire is notoriously more dangerous. Now, this is not the whole of it. A campfire is not dangerous by design, but by neglect. Human neglect. A neglectful person can burn down the world with just a spark. But it probably takes a little bit more neglect with a camping stove than needed to turn a campfire into a disaster.
Make no mistake, any time you apply fire to an object dirt and soot will happen. It's what fire does. But if you were to compare two campsites; one that used a camping stove and one that used a campfire, odds are the campfire campsite would be dirtier. A good outdoors-person, one with extreme fire knowledge, can really keep this amount of dirt down. But all things being equal : a campfire is much dirtier than a camping stove.
Taste and Feel
Some people simply enjoy a fire. They want it more than just for stories and s'mores. They want it to be the heart of their campsite. Their campsite that is their home for the next couple days. A single point that breathes life into their whole experience. And they can only get that with a campfire. These people claim a fire makes their food taste better. Then there are others that feel it adds grit and soot, ash in their mouth. And time. Cooking on a campfire is a slow process, sometimes painfully so. A camping stove is efficient and quick and clean.
So, as you can see we haven't really come up with any definitive answer. And that's because there is no clear answer. Both are good, both have merit. Instead you should learn both practices. Learn how to build a roaring fire and slowly cook delicious foods. Learn how to appreciate the ambiance and feel a campfire offers. But also learn how to use a camping stove. Learn how to be quick, clean, and calculated. Once you embrace both you'll realize picking one over the other is silly. Pick both. Be the master.