The Art of Argument

Argument is one of the greatest forms of communication we humans have.

If you really want to get to know someone, argue with them. You will find out if they are well-studied or a regurgitator of information. You will find out if they are adaptable. You will find out if they are kind, patient, and gracious. You will find out if they are short-tempered, angry, and hostile.

The eyes are the windows to the soul, but a good debate will blow the doors right off the hinges.

Though debate is incredibly important for getting to know another person and gaining information, too many are quite bad at it. Even more are bad at understanding the difference between a well-crafted argument and a poor one.

I’ll save you a bundle of cash and dozens of hours of philosophy courses – a “good” argument requires a logical flow from the initial premise through the conclusion with as few holes as possible.

This is similar to science. You basically want to see that there is a relationship between variables that are temporal and non-spurious. You want to control for as many variables as you can, and limit intervening variables that might also explain the correlation between an independent and dependent variable.

In other words, your argument should have premises that make sense, follow a flow, and cannot be explained by other factors.

It also helps to be open to the idea that there are intervening variables, and acknowledge their validity (so long as they are valid).

The biggest issue I find is when interacting with others is the lack of acceptance of alternative explanations when arguing.

EXPERIENCING COGNITIVE DISSONANCE

Cognitive dissonance is a real thing. It occurs when new information challenges your presupposition and your mind does not want to accept that you might be incorrect.

For instance, I used to believe that legalizing drugs was an insane proposition. I grew up during the Nancy Reagan “Just Say No” campaign that epitomized the “War on Drugs.” As a Christian, I am also vehemently opposed to illicit drug use.

However, I have read a significant amount of research that shows that the “War on Drugs” is a failure in that more people are using, while we have spent billions of dollars over the decades. Furthermore, the most violent periods in the last century (the 1920s-30s and the 1980s-90s) were during times of intense prohibition by the federal government.

That is not to mention that incarceration of drug users leads to a much higher recidivism rate than treatment.

Thus, I had to reconcile these two competing ideas. Drugs are a major social problem, but drug laws are even more so. The data contradicted by presupposition. The result is that I have amended my position. I now believe that we should end the “War on Drugs,” replace incarceration with treatment, and legalize drugs at the federal level – but with some restrictions such as age requirements and no public consumption.

We might also consider letting the states decide criminality and restrictions, but anti-federalism has become a foreign idea in today’s America.

I acknowledged that new information was stronger than previous information. It is possible to separate my personal morality from public policy, and that some policies should be utilitarian – for the greater good.

MANY CHRISTIANS ARE POOR DEBATERS

The inability of Christians to debate one another is quite troubling. On one hand, we are all supposed to believe in the Bible, but an increasing number of Christians no longer view THE BOOK as the final authority.

Whenever Christians disagree on a matter, a new denomination springs forth. There are over 200 different Christian sects in the United States – and I believe that number is low. There are sub-denominations within denominations.

In a postmodern society that continually breaks social categories down into their most basic form, it makes sense that Christianity is fragmenting – but it should not be happening.

Not only can we not agree on what version of the Bible is correct, but we cannot agree on interpretations of various passages. This is why there are debates about Gap vs. Young Earth or Calvinism vs. Armenianism.

What’s worse is that not only do the vast majority of Christians not care about these things, but those of us who do often resort to name calling one another.

The common reflex seems to be “if you disagree with me on any point, you are a heretic.”

 Some of my views are seen as heretical by my own pastor. I have fewer “heretical” views at my current church than I did at my last one. Both claim the same denominational heritage, but both claim the other is apostate or Pharisaical – see some of my latest writings for more details on the insanity.

Like rock music? Apostate. Dislike it? Pharisee.

The whole thing is quite frustrating, especially since is essentially boils down to the understanding that the other person might be misinformed or is misinterpreting Scripture. They might not have the worst intentions.

Love, grace, humility are Christian ideals – unless you’re talking about other Christians, of course.

SPIRITUAL DISSONANCE

As Christians, not only do we suffer the same cognitive dissonance that every human does, but we also experience spiritual dissonance as it runs into cognitive problems. Some might call this “conviction,” and it can be described as that uncomfortable feeling you get when hearing a sermon that attacks your lifestyle – and you know you must choose between the Bible and your personal preferences.

Coming full circle, we must assess the arguments. We must assess our values and determine whether we should follow tradition, charismatic leaders, or our own comfortability over biblical principles.

We live in a society that values comfort and entitlement. Many organizations focus on lowering stress through mindfulness and mental health breaks. Psychology is the new religion. Therapeutic culture is the new church, psychiatrists are the new priests, and prescriptions are the new opiate of the people – sometimes quite literally.

Those of us who put God above all struggle when confronted by secular religions. We often fail to convince fellow “believers” of what we know from the Bible. How can we possibly argue Truth with those who reject our fundamental doctrines?

Instead of learning how to debate, we give up. Because we are frustrated by our Christian family, we stop communicating and learning from one another.

We quench the Spirit inside ourselves and disbelieve those who are still on fire for Jesus Christ.

We must be rooted in biblical Truth, but be open to new ideas that do not contradict sound doctrine.

We must rightly divide the word of truth, not each other. This, of course, applies to those of us who are otherwise equally yoked with other believers.

Do not be conformed to the world and keep on arguing.

We can get to know each other better that way. Who knows, we might even win a soul or two for Christ in the meantime.

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