Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Often when I disagree with an aspect of someone else's faith, I'll take it on board for a while to challenge my opposing belief with, in order to better understand why I am right.

Sometimes, after maybe a year has passed, I find that I have at some point come to agree with the other person's perspective, and realise that my own long-standing assumption has always been flawed. In other words, I discover that I was wrong.

Nearly five years ago - in May 2005 - new friend Brett published a blog-post in which he expressed a minor viewpoint with which I flatly disagreed.

He had listed four invalid ways of arguing a point. I disagreed with one of them, and after the statutory year had passed, I realised that he had been right after all.

However he had also listed three other methods of arguing unreasonably, and I couldn't remember what they had been.

I ploughed back through his blog, but couldn't find it. I checked some of the comments from Rhett's late lamented blogspot, in case I had actually read it there, but no joy. I kept intending to ask Brett personally at some point what they had been, but as usual never got around to it.

Today I checked Brett's current blog, and saw that some random blogger / spam program had left a new comment on an old post of his, which had automatically created a backlink to it in his sidebar.

So I clicked on it, and suddenly there it all was again...

"I've been pondering the past few months on how frustrating it can be debating important issues with other Christians (no wonder Paul warned against it). What I've noticed is at best a laziness in debate; at worst intellectual dishonesty. I've seen this on discussion boards, blogs and in real time. Here's just some of what I see:

• The straw man argument - you take something someone said, exaggerate it to a point that they themselves did not take it to, and then proceed to knock down the exaggeration instead of the actual proposition. Its very effective as a tool of argument but ineffective in promoting understanding;

• Arguing from the abuse to the abolition. Simply put: the abuse of a thing does not logically lead to its abolition. That does not mean that the abuse is justifiable but the thing which is abused may well be. Here's an example that Christian readers might relate to: Christians act hypocritically, therefore Christianity must be wrong. A relatively well know Christian, Augustine was his name, wrote that a thing ought not to be condemned because it lent itself to abuse - his subject was gold - kinda makes the same point;

• "Play the man, not the ball" At the risk of being tautologous...this sporting metaphor carries the foulplay analogy into the realm of debate. Its always easy to find something personal to criticise;

• The irrelevant crititque - when you're getting beaten in an argument, a good tactic is to select something irrelevant in a person's statement and start crtiquing that - its easy to do because most people don't express themselves perfectly 100% of the time.

My point is that it can be awfully tiring attempting to pursue truth in a discussion when you have to clear your way though the murkiness of the approach to discussion."

It turned-out that Brett hadn't quite made the exact point that I had taken from his post and reflected upon. However the broaching of the subject in general has, down the years, led me to identify some of my own sloppy methods of discussion and opinion-forming:

- Using an analogy to replace the argument, instead of to demonstrate how the argument works.

- Quoting a famous person, not to give them their due credit, but so that my argument gains credibility.

- Taking the subject under discussion and placing it into a new context, which can be the same as:

- Replacing the subject under discussion with a different one, which may at first appear to be the same.

- Boiling three or more opposing viewpoints down into just two.

- Polarising those opposing viewpoints, by labelling them 'right' and 'wrong'.

- Believing, for some crazy reason, that there can only be one answer that is 'right'.

- Tending to listen more to opinions that I already agree with.

- Discrediting a source as unchecked by quoting another source, also unchecked.

- Disagreeing with a viewpoint because of its popularity, in order to make myself feel wiser. This is similar to:

- Distancing myself from every viewpoint in order to feel that I can see a bigger picture than everyone else. (belittlement)

You want proof? Just read some of my own previous posts! (not to suggest that I don't still practice the above...)



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