Archive for the ‘How to Fail at Arguing’ Category

Talk with people who disagree

04 Jan

I’m at an independent (Christian run) coffee shop listening to someone talk about how religion is horse-**** (she’s said this extremely lady-like term at least 15 20 times in the last few minutes to describe people who disagree with her) and what idiots people are for wanting prayer in school or Christmas to be called “Christmas.”

Clearly she’s not thinking objectively and is speaking out of real anger and disrespect, likely in reaction to something negative she experienced. It also seems that she’s getting her impression of Christians from news stories who portray religious people as dolts, as I don’t know people like those she describes.

Her friend is listening and agreeing with everything, about how right they are, how ignorant everyone is who disagrees, etc.

As ignorant and inappropriate as the discussion sounds, it reminds me of a few recent gatherings of people equally like-minded loudly agreeing on political and religious issues, declaring anyone who disagrees to be an idiot. The attitude is identical.

We should be talking to people who disagree with us, not just those who will pat us on the back. We should have enough respect for people who differ from us to not refer to them as “full of horse-****” or use more church-friendly terminology to insult them as people. None of us are the standard for truth, and all of us can have our opinions refined and corrected if we’re willing to listen.

But we don’t listen. We’re more concerned with saying that we’re right rather than becoming more right by realizing we always have room for growth; we always have room for our views to be refined or changed altogether.

We’re equally as guilty and judgmental and derogatory to others – not loving our neighbors as ourselves – as the potty-mouthed woman in the coffee shop. We’re just slightly censored potty-mouthed people in churches.


Turning “Follow the Money” into Heroic Leadership. Obama on Gay Marriage.

10 May

How is Time considered credible to anyone with garbage like this?

They say the arc of history bends toward justice.

Who says it? Who are you quoting, or rather, misquoting? It was the Republican Baptist Pastor Martin Luther King Jr. who made this quote by Theodore Parker famous. Parker, it seems, was referring to the end of slavery, a world wide immorality that characterized the entire world until movements of Christians in England and Republicans in the US changed everything. King would respond to the question of how long it would be until equal rights with “Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

So “Toure” starts by framing the argument on MLK’s belief that denial of people’s Declaration rights (life, liberty, pursuit of happiness) would end, but misquotes King to remove the absolute morality (inserted “history” and removed “moral universe”), which was the basis of King’s statement.

If that’s true then as a nation we’re having a hard time bending on the issue of gay rights.

Ok… If the arc of history bends toward justice, we’re having a hard time bending on one issue. So if the arc of history doesn’t bend toward justice, then we’re not having a hard time bending on this issue? We’re only at sentence 2 and the writer’s ability to construct sentences is already in question.

“gay rights.”

This is a curious phrase to apply to a discussion of marriage. My marriage is a marriage and would be regardless of whether the state recognized it. People were married before the government granted marriage licenses, thus it doesn’t seem that the government’s distribution of certificates actually affects marriage.

What are rights, anyway? Looking back to the founding documents, we see rights to life and liberty, to speech, gun ownership, the press, etc.

  • The Right fights for the right to life, even for unborn humans and people in comas. The Left seeks death in both cases.
  • The Right fights for the right to liberty (to do what one wishes with one’s self and the product of one’s labor without infringing on these same rights of others) by pushing for less regulation and lower taxation. The Left believes the government can decide what to do with you (Obamacare) and your stuff (taxation and redistribution of wealth) better than you.
  • The Right fights for the right to the pursuit of happiness through pushing for private property ownership and less regulation. The left fights against this, believing you are too dumb to pursue happiness and can’t be trusted with tough choices such as what food to eat and what snacks your kids can buy.
  • The Right fights for the right to free speech and press by pushing back against Leftist policies like the fairness doctrine.
  • The Right fights for the right to bear arms. The Left consistently seeks to limit this right.
  • The Right fights for the free exercise of religion by working to preserve people’s ability to live out their religious beliefs. The Left has made it illegal to do so in many situations and with Obamacare are working to force religious hospitals and other businesses to either cease exercising their religion or cease providing health care.

Rights are consistently defended by conservatives, and consistently assaulted by progressives. Apparently they’re just seeking progress in taking away your rights.

But this week will be remembered as an historic turning point because President Obama threw political caution to the wind and came out as the man who can put principle over politics in announcing his support for marriage equality. “I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married,” Obama told Robin Roberts in an interview to appear on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Thursday.

After Joe Biden came out of the closet as a gay marriage supporter, news broke that several big dollar donors would stop supporting Obama unless he changed his position to support the same. That’s what the article’s author means when he “threw political caution to the wind and came out as the man who can put principle over politics” : He did what would get him more money. Wow. Caution to the wind, principle over politics. Reversing positions to get more money. That’s inspiring! It’s heroic!

With Obama’s declaration that he “personally” thinks one thing, and publicly thinks the opposite, believing the federal government should stay out of it, we have clarity: instead of still trying to hold both sides on the issue, he’s… trying to hold both sides on the issue. So, with his public policy as the president remaining exactly the same, what’s changed?

  • Obama’s earliest record on the issue was in 1996, when he answered questions, in writing declaring “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages” as he ran for Illinois Senate.
  • In 2008 he spoke on stage with Rick Warren, saying “For me as a Christian, it’s also a sacred union… God’s in the mix”

The only change here is that Obama’s temporary pro-traditional-marriage position was picked up when it would benefit his running for office to claim Christian values, and dropped when politically expedient as a fundraising effort for re-election.

The “Toure” article goes on to get facts wrong, contradict itself, and commit most logical fallacies you could name. If you enjoy pain, you can read the entire article. It’s disappointing that this type of poorly written inflammation of an article is considered reputable and worthwhile, but I’m not a leftist, so I’m not calling on people to destroy him and his employment as he has done with Rush Limbaugh.


How to Fail at Arguing Revisited

14 Apr
YouTube Preview Image

Some time ago I wrote a series of posts about how people fail at arguing. I’m not saying that I never fail at arguing, but I try not to. There is an objective truth. Through study, thought, and dialog, we ought to be moving closer to that truth. Failing at arguing is usually disrespectful to others and works toward destroying the movement toward truth.

In “How to Fail at Arguing #4” I wrote about the argument “That just doesn’t make sense.” Today there was another sighting of this argument right here on the SecondJon blog!

Evidently not a long time reader of my blog, Thad left a comment last night failing in this way on my post about Jason Gray’s song that re-defines what it means to love God away from it’s biblical meaning. Thad wrote:

This comment thread blows my mind. The song could scarcely be more clear. The fact that it’s causing this sort of non-sensical dissension is going a long way toward proving his point I think. Some of these comments make it seem like folks are going out of their way to deliberately misunderstand the song. Wow. Just wow.

I’ve never seen the benefit of this style of argument: You disagree with me, therefore you’re nonsensical. You’re so dumb and I’m so brilliant, I can’t bear to bring myself to lower my mind to try to understand you.

It reminds me of an early scene of a movie I walked out of because of the crass humor – Anchor Man. Various characters are arguing about something and Steve Carell’s character yells “I don’t know what we’re yelling about!” In the end, it just makes him look like an idiot for yelling about not understanding what the other guys are saying.

For the benefit of others you are interacting, and for the benefit of firming up or refining what you think, it is worth the effort to figure out where someone else is coming from. How could you ever convince someone else that they’re wrong when you refuse to put any work into understanding what they think?

In addition to subverting any constructive conversation, it’s intellectually lazy.

If I say something that doesn’t make sense to you, think about it, ask for clarification. If you simply respond “you’re being non-sensical,” all you’re saying is that you’re lazy and it’s not worth continuing the conversation with you because you’ll pretend to or try to not understand. It’s the equivalent of plugging your ears and shouting “I CAN’T HEAR YOU, LA LA LA!”


Bambi’s mother: Materialism’s moral self-defeat

20 Oct

Bambi's Mother

I was recently speaking to someone about materialism, and I was curious as to how someone who believed only in the natural realm would argue morality.

Evil is that which a good person would stop if they could.

This naturally begs the question: If evil is solely determined as being the opposite of what a good person wants, then what is a good person? An example was given to disprove the existence of a good God.

If Bambi’s mother dies a slow and painful death, that’s something a good person would stop if they could. Therefore, that’s evil and if someone had the power to stop this and they were good, they would stop it. An all powerful God could stop it, but doesn’t, therefore, there is no morally good all-powerful God.

There are many fallacies in this example, but perhaps one will suffice. Materialism rejects God because God would stop that which is morally evil. Having removed the concept of God, the naturalist has also removed the concept of good and evil. In removing the God of the Bible, they have removed that which justified their question the God of the Bible.

In the perspective of materialistic evolution, the natural is all that exists. Some atoms banging together became rocks, and other atoms over time, became Bambi’s mother. There’s no moral superiority of Bambi’s mother. She’s just an accident of nature and though prettier than a rock, has no moral superiority over the rock. In the materialistic world, how is a deer morally superior to a deer’s corpse? Certainly the deer feeds Bambi, but the deer’s corpse feeds the entire forest with nutrients. From the perspective of the naturalist, then, the illustration is that a blob of matter changes due to the world around it. There’s no moral evil there.

“But,” one may object, “the question isn’t just about death, but about agony and pain.”

Yet the same naturalist will argue that pain, like pleasure, is merely the cause and effect of matter and energy bouncing around. Again there is no morality there. The real “evil” is that the deer evolved an ability to feel pain.

Or perhaps the real “evil” is that blobs of matter we call humans evolved a sense of compassion for the pain of other blobs of matter.

While the materialist may say a Christian’s worldview has to deal with the problem of evil, the materialist’s worldview has to deal with the problem of not being able to explain either evil or good.

In other words, the materialist says that human suffering is evil and disproves any moral deity, but they will say in the next sentence that humans are inconsequential byproducts of the evolutionary process and are nothing more than small blobs of matter that are part of the gigantic blog of all matter. They will say that human suffering is an insurmountable challenge to God, but then declare the human suffering is of no consequence at all.

Evil is only defined as that which a good person would stop, and a good person is only defined as a person who stops that which is evil. Evil is only a concept in that it relies on there being a firm definition of goodness, until we ask about goodness, and we find that it can only exist if there’s a firm definition of evil. Having removed any non-material moral force, there is neither a definition of good or evil, so the entire moral argument fades into non-existence.


White House Soteriology: Praying daily makes one a Christian

19 Aug

"The president is obviously a Christian. He prays everyday."

In an attempt to redirect attention from recent polls about up to 25% of Americans believing President Obama is a Muslim and less than 40% believing he’s a Christian, the White House declared:

“The president is obviously a Christian. He prays everyday.”

If the statement was just “The president is obviously a Christian,” that would have been the error of mere assertion: Merely because you assert something is true, that doesn’t make it so. Luckily, they offered a proof: “He prays everyday.”

There’s a few problems of course:

  • Not everyone who prays everyday is a Christian. Muslims pray every day, for example.
  • One isn’t a Christian on the basis of how much one prays.

While prayer is part of being a Christian, you’re not a Christian because you pray. By “Christian” I mean someone who is following the biblical model of following Jesus.

Becoming a follower of Jesus has to do with living out one’s belief that Jesus is master (Lord) of your life. It is evidenced by what grows out of your life, what actions you exhibit. It has nothing to do with being perfect except that a Christian will, over time, change on issues as (s)he lives more as Jesus as their master.

While Obama’s family is Muslim, and while he has Muslim names, anyone who believed he was a Muslim for those reasons already thought so during the election, and that doesn’t explain the dramatic increase in those numbers. That has to do with Obama’s actions:

This isn’t necessarily new to Obama – there have been questions about previous presidents faiths. Whether or not Obama is a Muslim isn’t the point of my writing. The point here is the flaw in reasoning and the glaring misconception of faith.

Praying daily does not make it obvious that someone is a Christian. Saying so makes it obvious that you have no idea what you’re talking about.

Clearly White House overall has no idea of what it means to be a Christian. No wonder they misunderstand Christians so much!

How do you feel about the White House defining Christianity this way?

Another issue here is that the media are declaring the state of a person’s soul – the article linked to above states:

The number of Americans who believe — wrongly — that President Obama is a Muslim has increased significantly since his inauguration and now accounts for nearly 20 percent of the nation’s population.

Can you imagine an article beginning: “The number of Americans who believe –wrongly — that the Tea Party movement contains extremists…”?

Why is it necessary for reporters to be inserting this commentary? Even the punctuation around “wrongly” makes it the word that stands out most. This isn’t reporting. This is commentary.

“The president is obviously a Christian. He prays everyday.”


How to Fail at Arguing #6: As others do to us

28 Jul

A 15 story mosque and Islamic community center has been approved within blocks of the site of 9/11. Naturally many New Yorkers and others are outraged because this is the site of a national tragedy and those who attacked civilians there did so in the name of Islam. Planting a mosque at the site seems incredibly insensitive and offensive to the memory of those who died on 9/11. The leader of the mosque project has said 9/11 was America’s fault and at least somewhat justified, refuses to call Hammas (not to be confused with hommus) a terrorist group, and the project is being funded from Islamic groups in Islamic countries. There’s a lot of reasons people are concerned.

That’s the story, here’s the argument I keep hearing:

We’ll let mosques be built anywhere when every Muslim country lets churches and synagogues be built freely.

Mosque at Ground Zero Protesters

Image from article on

Whatever the right thing is, it is not to lower our standards, as a country that champions religious liberty, to those of countries to not allow religious liberty.

By justifying your actions by those of another, you’ve walked away from your own principles. If the above argument is all you have, you’re saying you want to belong to an anti-freedom country, though you condemn them.

This failure in arguing happens frequently, thanks in part to the short length of political terms (though it isn’t limited to politics).

That Democrats manipulated Republican primary elections is not, in itself, reason for the Republicans who champion ethics and character to manipulate elections. That liberals expand government is not justification for “conservatives,” who champion smaller government to expand government.

If you violate the principles you claim as your own, you lack character. Your choices are not justified by comparing them to those who don’t claim to hold the same principles you do.

There are legitimate reasons for wanting this Mosque moved to another location. But the more conversations and airwaves are filled with poor arguments like this, the less likely real dialog is possible.

Edit: Added new image and fixed some typos. (8/18/2010 – Second Jon)


How to Fail at Arguing #5

20 Jul

radioOn my way home tonight I heard Randi Rhodes of Air America. In her very loud rant, she kept repeating two lines for the duration of my 10 minute drive.

First, she was responding to charges that the Democrats under Pelosi and Obama have grown the size of government. She listed the dozens of government departments that were created under the 8 years of Bush, totaling hundreds! I agree Randi, Bush shouldn’t have grown government so much. And conservatives said so at the time.

How to fail: Take the 2nd grade “I am rubber you are glue” approach.

When someone says your party is growing government bigger, respond with, “Your party grew the government bigger!” Randi’s response didn’t deal with whether a bigger government is good idea or a bad idea. Presumably Randi is in favor of the bigger government that her party is bringing, so her response is meaningless. All someone has to say is, “I don’t like that Bush grew the government by so much either,” and her argument is totally deflated.

Here’s how the argument could have gone:

Obama is growing the government! That’s bad!

Bush grew the government by huge amounts!

Right. That’s one of the ways Bush wasn’t very conservative. I agree that Bush expanding the government so much was a problem. I said so at the time.

Then the conversation could have gone somewhere productive, like talking about what the government should or should not do.

I think this usually happens when someone knows the negative claim against their position is true. Instead of explaining or justifying where they’re coming from, they simply deflect and say, “You too, you too!”

Another example I heard recently was in response to concerns that Obama could use the oil spill for a government power-grabs, to enforce huge new government programs. The response?

What – like Bush’s illegal wars against countries not even related to 9/11?

The original concern is still valid, but what’s worse is the double-standard. It’s good when Obama takes sweeping action in response to a crisis, but bad if Bush does it? How can there be any logic with such inconsistency? To respond by insulting when Bush did it is to say that it is a bad idea. If a power-grab during a crisis is a bad idea, it’s a bad idea.

Don’t say something is a bad idea when one person does it, but when another person does it, it’s pure righteousness.


How to Fail at Arguing #4

15 Jul

Often heard in political, theological, and other arguments is the line “That just doesn’t make sense.”

This insults the person making the argument – how foolish they must be to believe in something that doesn’t make sense. But this isn’t just an insult, not just an ad hominem attack.

It insults idea itself. Some ideas don’t make sense – but this is not shown by calling an idea stupid – it’s done by working through the argument with logic.

Usually an idea does make sense – at least from a certain perspective. If any thinking person has ever believed the argument, it made sense to them.

For example, anyone who says the idea of believing in God doesn’t make sense is judging some of the smartest minds in the history of the world. If brilliant minds believe it, it must make sense to them.

If you can’t understand how an idea could make sense to others, the first problem is with you, not the idea.

If you can’t understand how an idea makes sense to someone else, how can you ever think you could argue against that idea?

It pays to seek to understand before seeking to be understood.


How to Fail at Arguing #3

14 Jul

Dole vs. Clinton

In 1996, senator and military veteran Bob Dole ran against Bill Clinton, who fled the country to avoid the draft at the time Dole was serving. We elected Clinton after being told that military experience was irrelevant, and it wasn’t a big deal that Clinton dodged the draft.

Eight years later, veteran John Kerry was running against George W. Bush, who served in the reserves and never saw combat. The same people who discounted military experience and defended draft-dodging in ’96 were now saying military experience mattered, and that Bush serving in the military wasn’t good enough.

This brings us to How to Fail at Arguing #3:

Reverse positions as it suits you.

It’s a quick way to lose credibility and make everything you say irrelevant.

W. Bush vs. Obama

Do you remember this picture of Bush and McCain with a cake during the Katrina days? How dare he eat a piece of cake during a disaster?! What about Bush playing golf, as villainized by Michael Moore in a documentary as shown in this clip (it seems an insult to the word “documentary,” but that’s what it was called):

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And now, only two years later, Obama is excused for spending all sorts of time throwing parties and playing golf – in fact more golf already than Bush played during his 8 years in office – all while saying he “wont’ rest” until the Gulf of Mexico disaster is resolved.

If you criticized Bush for golfing but you don’t criticize Obama for the same thing, you fail at arguing.


How to Fail at Arguing #2

09 Jul

My copy of A New Kind of Christian is full of notes in the columns of all the times Brian McLaren fails at making his argument. Here’s the first one that caught my eye when I read the book:

Claim unquestionable authority for your argument.

God’s Unquestionable Authority

This isn’t often in the form of “God told me to tell you this,” but often God’s unchallengeable authority is bestowed on one’s self of, as in McLaren’s case, a fictional character invented to be McLaren’s mouthpiece but with divine authority.

Neo said, “My pastor at Saint Tim’s tells me that I have the spiritual gift of putting into words thins people already know but didn’t know they know – or didn’t want to know. On several occasions I’ve offered to return the gift to the Lord…. It’s not always a pleasant job. People often don’t thank you for it.” – A New Kind of Christian, Chapter 1. (That’s not an added ellipsis “…”, it’s how McLaren wrote it in the book.)

For the rest of the book, Neo’s words are absolute truth. To deny Neo’s words is to deny God’s gift.

Certainly there are arguments where Divine authority can be claimed, at least in a conversation between Bible-believers – when you’re making an argument from scripture. Then again, most of the time when this happens, we’re assigning our interpretation and eisegesis God’s authority, which is another way to fail at arguing.

Experts’ Unquestionable Authority

Outside of religious circles, how can you claim unquestionable authority? One way is to exalt “experts” to godhood. ‘

global warming - the globe is burning, according to experts

We’re told global warming is true because experts say it is. We’re told children are raised better by schools than parents because experts say so. Often experts are invoked with unquestionable authority because the conclusion drawn from these experts contradicts common sense.

If you can’t convince someone without pulling out the sledge hammer of unquestionable authority, you’ve got a lousy argument indeed.