Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Thinking clearly (part 1 of who knows how many)

Peter told us to always be ready to give reasons (I Pet 3:15-16). That's one reason why I'm writing this blog and having monthly (or so) meetings to discuss faith and reason. However, Peter goes on to say that we should give our reasons with gentleness and respect. Therefore, we also need to be ready to not give not reasons. (Eh?)

What I mean is, when we're in a debate with someone, whether it's over religion or politics or philosophy, or whatever, we should always be prepared to treat their argument fairly and to stay away from giving arguments that sound good, but really have no content. In other words, we should avoid using logical fallacies.

Some of the most common logical fallacies I have seen are:
  • The red herring argument: an argument that looks good, but is actually irrelevant to the content of the discussion. It will often lead people down the wrong path.
  • Ad hominem attacks: this is when you attack the character of the person you're debating rather than their argument. (This one is very popular...)
  • Straw man argument: this is when you mischaracterize your opponent's argument, making it sound weaker than it really is, so you can easily dismantle it. (This is also quite popular.)
  • Begging the question (aka, circular reasoning): this is when you assume your conclusion, and use that to prove your conclusion is correct. Once discovered, this one is quite easy to point out to people.
  • Burden of proof fallacy: this is when you unfairly shift the burden of proof on the other party.
In addition to avoiding using these (and all other) logical fallacies in your arguments, you should also be ready to recognize and point out these fallacies in others' arguments. But be nice about it.

In fact, you should be nice about everything in these sorts of discussions. (And by the way, there's a difference between being "nice" and being a pushover.)

Geez, I can't tell you how many times I've been in a debate with someone about my faith, and have been a butt about it. When I act like that, I really can't convince anyone of my point of view, even if I have a convincing argument.

Anyway, in future posts I'll give some examples of using logical fallacies to sort of flesh out what I mean.