10 April 2008

Evaluating Arguments and Godly Behavior

The final day of debate between James White and Steve Gregg was the most beneficial day of the five. The two men posed and answered questions in a controlled manner allowing the listeners to hear and absorb more information. I was relieved. There are a lot of comments regarding the debate on the web- sadly some are downright nasty. Normally I provide links or citations to allow my readers to see for themselves, but at this point I find no benefit in reproducing or highlighting something that troubles me so greatly. In fact, most of the comments have been cut and pasted to me and I haven't bothered following or searching for the links to the authors. It wouldn't be productive to my post and my objective here.

What is my objective? I want to encourage believers to learn how to make evaluations and assessments of positions or arguments while exercising control of their sinful desire to attack people personally.

You may well ask what lends me credibility in this area. It is a fair question. I worked in public safety as a supervisor and trainer. Thus, I had the responsibility of writing performance evaluations for civil service employees. Supervisors of public safety civil servants receive extensive instruction on how to train and evaluate employees. Additionally, during my employment in higher education, I served on the accreditation assessment team. Accreditation is taken quite seriously as well. An institution without accreditation may not receive government financial aid for their students. I have received hundreds of hours of specialized training and have over a decade of practical experience. I have also studied biblical counseling at a master's level and have been counseling believers for years.

In order to evaluate performance you must have objective standards or a set of criterion by which to measure the performance. Subjective standards lead to relativistic results. This is why the more productive debates have rules or a set of objective standards to follow and a moderator to make certain participants adhere to them. And why yesterday's debate was more beneficial, in my opinion. Generally speaking the rules are agreed to by both sides in advance of the debate.

To fairly evaluate the merits of an argument, you must be able to look at the premise of the argument and identify what type of argument is being made. Is the argument based on a false premise? What is being presupposed in the argument? In regard to arguments, they are either valid or invalid (fallacious) and not right or wrong. It is quite possible to have a valid argument and come to a faulty or fallacious conclusion.

Most arguments use either inductive or deductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning starts with specifics and draws conclusions about the general. Deductive reasoning works by starting with the general and working back to specifics. Here is a quick and general way to tell the difference between the two. If adding evidence increases how convincing the argument is to you, it is likely inductive. If adding a dozen more examples of the same thing does not make the argument more convincing, it is likely a deductive argument.

It takes discipline and stamina to fairly evaluate the merits of an argument. You need to be able to recognize when someone fouls an argument by using fallacious reasoning. Are you able to identify circular reasoning? Do you know how to recognize a loaded question? An appeal to authority? A red-herring? An argument from silence? An Ad Hominem? This is by no means a complete list of commonly used tactics and fallacies. I list these only to show that evaluating an argument is not passive. It's work.

Let's be really honest here. Most folks don't put themselves through this sort of rigorous mental discipline when listening to a debate. We all have our own set of assumptions and a side we cheer for. However, there are a few who are legitimately wrestling with one side or the other. I am tenderhearted for those people who go looking for more information and are subjected to the emotionally driven opinions and unkind characterizations made regarding the participants of the debate.

Here is the heart of what I want to say. If you are reading reviews and opinions of the debate, keep this in mind. Those folks who, professing Christ, are being unkind and uncharitable to the debaters and who insist on personal attacks- are in sin and need to repent. Cheap shots and slander are not helpful to those who are honestly working through these issues. Not in the slightest. Further, if a Christian truly believed that one of the men was being sinful- the first person to whom they should voice their concern is the man himself, not the people who read their forum or blog.

I am not saying that Christians should avoid criticizing an argument. By all means, go through the argument and identify where it is wrong and supply proof when you do. If you were swayed by one argument, say so and give supporting reasons for it. It's OK to process the information and be undecided. Heck, I don't even mind when someone says they like one position over another simply because it appeals to them. That's honest and doesn't impugn a brother's character. But please do not fall into sin yourself by believing and/or perpetuating ad hominem attacks. By the way, I am not saying that debaters cannot be bizarre or downright crazy, but a criticism of such behavior should be followed with specific examples and be given in the kindest way possible.

And lastly, to those folks who cringe over confrontation. It's not a sin to be tenderhearted or to dislike debates- but please remember not all confrontation is evil. Nor are those people who are willing to confront necessarily mean spirited. Confrontation can be a wonderful tool and blessing when used biblically.

Thanks for the challenge, Jenny G-does this help? :)

1 comment:

Carla said...

Regarding confrontation...

I know people that really dislike Christian debate and give all kinds of reasons for it. Most are simply personal preference. That's fine, we all have those.

As for me, I dearly appreciate a GOOD debate over Christian doctrine. Not only does it allow insights into why folks believe the way they do, but it can be a tremendous blessing to listen to a brother lay it out from the Scripture why he takes the position that he does. It's a gift to be able to do this and maintain a godly composure, and it's a gift that is a blessing for the church.

As for attacking one side or the other...

I did comment about this debate at my blog and hope I did so fairly and accurately without being needlessly rude to Steve Gregg. He seems like a rather nice guy, until backed into a corner to prove his position from the Scriptures. I think how he handled himself in that regard was rather telling that he was unable to back his own position Biblically.

I actually gained quite a bit from this debate, and have not read the ugly criticisms from others on it. That stuff doesn't edify me, so I have no use for it.