Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Guide To Winning Arguments: (Advice for Atheists and Christians)

We're All Bad At It.....But We Really Should Be Nice....

Some may call me a hypocrite  when they read this blog, but I really don't like it when people use forceful and harsh words to explain their position. I think its bad taste, unnecessary, and potentially alienating. (Feel free to apply these criticisms to me if I have ever done so. I'm pretty sure I have). For example, certain political videos I watch sometimes absolutely berate the author of a certain opinion piece, or even their own friend in a debate! I haven't been a fan of people who just beat each other up when arguing. It's like your taking a fun and interesting thing (mutual discussion), into a personal thing with hard feelings. It just seems like a bad idea to me. Obviously this is different than clearly stating your position. Here, what I am referring to is harshly stating your position.

How To Add Rhetorical Force to An Argument...The Easy Way

However, stating your position in a way that your opponent feels the rhetorical force of what you are saying is necessary at times. This is to make other people "feel" the weight of the argument, so that its not too abstract. I think atheists employ this technique a lot (not successfully in my opinion, but they still use it). It's a wise technique to use. Here, I am not advocating referring to "empty rhetoric" (i.e. yelling at someone and telling them they are a racist). I am advocating the translation of your argument into everyday terms that make people "feel" how untrue or absurd something is.

For Example....

For example, some people say that the disciples had visions/hallucinations of Jesus after he died. This in turn caused them to believe he had actually come back from the dead.

Now, I can point out all sorts of flaws of this theory based on psychological research on hallucinations, historical data that discounts the hallucination theory (i.e. the empty tomb). I can also tell you that group hallucinations are, in theory, unfalsifiable.

I should do those things, and I should do due diligence with the arguments.

....But those things will not ultimately be the most persuasive argument...

Translating A Scholarly Argument Into An Everyday Argument

The most persuasive thing I can say is to translate the idea into another situation so that the listeners can "feel" the weight of the objection I am making. Instead of listing all sorts of things about the psychology of hallucinations, I should just propose a "group hallucination defense." Imagine proposing to police officers that they merely hallucinated you breaking into someone's house. Or someone proposes a historical theory that the Roman senators merely hallucinated the assassination of Julius Caesar, but it didn't really happen.

Examples like this readily illustrate to the listener how absurd the argument is. It doesn't change the substance of the argument very much, it just translates it into a more rhetorically useful statement. For example, in this case, the "hallucination defense" example, it shows to the listener that in any other circumstance, they would consider group hallucination to be a ludricrous suggestion. It helps them "feel the weight" of the objection.

Now, in debate, good arguments with a good scholarly basis must be used. You cannot lie, or just make up a totally irrelevant analogy, just to slam an idea. However, good arguments must be translated into terms that help people feel the weight of the objection.

I recommend that every person who has a viewpoint on anything use this technique.

But we really should be nice when we do it.....

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