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08 June 2005 @ 07:08 pm
How To Argue ...  
Received this via mrpsyklops.

How to Argue With a Conservative Christian by ladysisyphus

I would put forth that, barring the Bible-specific advice, this is good advice for having a discussion with anyone, especially insofar as it advocates respect on both sides of the issue.
 
 
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madfilkentistmadfilkentist on June 9th, 2005 12:53 am (UTC)
There's something important missing there: Don't accept your opponent's methodology.

Doing this while respecting your opponent is a tricky matter. But if a conservative Christian says, "It's true because it's in the Bible," it's necessary to answer, "I don't accept that as a criterion of truth."

The Christian may say, "My claims are beyond the realm of proof, so you can't show I'm wrong." The person who asserts a positive (e.g., the existence of something) needs to provide evidence. An unsupported arbitrary assertion has no cognitive standing. A variant on this is the claim that knowledge of spiritual matters comes from faith (which means by assertion alone) rather than reason.

If someone argues that way, the right response is, "If you can support your claims by reason, I'm interested in what you have to say. But if you believe something on faith, regardless of the evidence, there's no point in our arguing it."
Keriskeristor on June 9th, 2005 06:39 am (UTC)
And remember that it works both ways. They may not regard your evidence as a criterion of truth (people who don't believe the lunar landings took place, for example, what actual proof do you have that they did?). They may be more likely to think that they can change your faith, however...

(The person who asserts a negative is arguing even more from a position of belief, because there is no proof possible for their position. It may be very unlikely that there are pink unicorns living on the moon, but unless you have searched every part of the moon (simultaneously, so that they couldn't hide from you) you can't prove that there are none, whereas I could have seen one and have my proof that they exist without being able to demonstrate it to you. Either way, it's not worth arguing about unless the argument itself is entertaining...)
madfilkentistmadfilkentist on June 9th, 2005 10:02 am (UTC)
The person who asserts a negative is arguing even more from a position of belief...


I think we've been arguing this one back and forth for the past ten years.

The negative is the default assumption. In the absence of that default, one has to worry about the possible existence of pink unicorns, or green and blue elder gods (name the filk reference) everywhere. Thus, there is no need to assert a negative; in the absence of positive evidence, I just go my way as if the notion hadn't been brought up.

It can be tricky, to be sure, to determine what constitutes a "positive" or "negative" statement. What's relevant is the metaphysical status it implies, not the grammatical form.
Keriskeristor on June 9th, 2005 12:34 pm (UTC)
I think we have *g*. The point is that your defaults and the defaults of others don't necessarily match. Someone who believes in fairies doesn't worry about whether they exist, that's a given and to change that default takes proof (which a non-believer can't supply, since nonexistence can't be proven). Now if they want /you/ to believe in them as well, they need to provide proof (and I assume that you won't accept their assertion as fact, which is a reasonable position).

The believer often has an advantage, though, because they can point to things which convince them. "I prayed for the weather to be dry and it was!" The reverse isn't true, though, because if it doesn't 'work' there are many reasons why not (someone else needed the rain for the crops, for example). Any positive example helps the belief, whereas negative nes are neutral (you're depending on that default state)...

There are certainly a number of things in which we share beliefs, and that's what I try to emphasise when I'm talking to people with a different belief ("know your opponent" is essential there, a lot of times I find that it's mainly differences in terminology). For the others, "We'll agree to differ on that" generally works.
madfilkentistmadfilkentist on June 9th, 2005 04:28 pm (UTC)
It's impossible to personally verify everything we "know," so there are things on which we accept the word of those we consider trustworthy. For instance, I have no firsthand knowledge which demonstrates that carrying around an ounce of plutonium would be very bad for my health, but I consider those who have reached that conclusion trustworthy, because I can understand the basis of the claim in principle, the people who have said so appear to have used valid methods, and so on.

Most people don't think as carefully as we do about the reasons they believe what they do. They regard them as true because "everybody says so." Convincing them that they need to ground their conclusions in a valid epistemology can require teaching them a whole way of thinking. In just about all cases, other than one's own children or students, it isn't worth the effort and the resentment. So it's often best just to limit oneself to saying, "I don't agree with you, and I don't think your grounds for believing that are valid."
pbristow on June 9th, 2005 10:15 pm (UTC)
Something that leads to unnecesary strife in "discussions" is when the two parties aren't actually clear what's intended as an *argument* (as in, "I am trying to convince you that this point is true") and what's intended as an *explanation* ("I am stating what my beliefs are on this topic as background that may be helpful in *understanding* my main arguent"). The trap to fall into is to challenge every comment you disagree with, rather than tracking their argument and seeing where its actual weak points are. The result is that your opponent feels attacked on all fronts, rather than part of a reasoned discussion, which leads to unnecessary acrimony.