Facebook, for all of its great features and potential for connecting the world, is not often used well when it comes to dialogue, sharing and communication on controversial issues. Arguments that might be civil (or at least restrained) in a face-to-face setting quickly devolve into back and forth “soundbite fights” that are just plain mean and unfair. And, unfortunately, it often comes from both sides.
I know….you want to defend your position or your belief. That’s fine. However, there are a few things to remember as we tackle some of the very difficult questions and controversies of our day. In the end, though, lets all remember that winning an argument is never our highest priority. Proving ourselves right rarely gets us where we want to go. Ask any married man about that one…
Nonetheless, for those must argue and in those times when we are called up on share out thoughts or our position on a particular topic or question, here are a few good things to remember:
- Don’t attack another persons character–this is known as an ad hominem attack. Stick to the topic or the argument at hand. The moral character of a person does not make their opinion right or wrong. The temptation to attack someones character rather than argue a position may well mean you don’t know enough about your argument to be defending it. To see examples of this, look no further than most peoples reaction to anything said by Donald Trump. More often than not the response is something like, “His position is ridiculous because Donald Trump is a(n) ___________.”
- Don’t misrepresent the other persons argument for the purpose of making it easier to attack or to make the other person look incompetent — this might be called a straw man fallacy. This is just playing dirty–lie to people in order that to make your position look better. If you have to lie to make your position look better then you might need to consider that your position is not all that good, either. We can only make wise and good decision when we know the true facts–both pros and cons–of our own position and the positions of others. This is the foundation of most American politics, unfortunately. With elections season coming up be wary of the straw man being tossed (perhaps flung?) about until bits of straw are strewn about the room and nobody knows any more what true and what’s false; who’s right and who’s wrong.
- Don’t base your argument on assumptions — we might call this building your house on the sand. Sometimes people base their entire argument on things that simply are not true or that, in the least, could be subject to the same criticisms that are made of the other persons arguments. Christians often wander into this area when attempting to point out the shortcomings of other religious groups without considering that the same argument could be made, in many cases, about the Bible or of Christianity as a religious system. When this happens sandy foundations begin to crumble.
- Don’t base your arguments on a small sample size — we could call this hasty generalizations or skewed assumptions based on small sample size. There are white police officers who have killed black people, therefore all white police officers (and probably all white people) must hate black people and want to kill them. Oh, and there are also black people who have killed white people so therefore all black people must hate white people. Ridiculous! If truth was determined by small sample sizes and isolated case studies then this world would be a mess. As a nation we tend to so this with the the Muslim world. The radical element is such a small sample size of the Muslim world yet we tend to put them all in a single group and define them all by the actions of a few. They do the same thing, by the way.
- Don’t reduce an argument down to two possibilities–the world is rarely this simple. This is known as a false dichotomy. Among theologians and church people one fo the most well-known and oft-used examples of this is the statement that goes something like this — “Either the entire Scripture is literally true of none of it is true.” We also go in the other direction with other holy books and sacred writings, “If it’s not all true then it’s completely false.” This simply isn’t the case. As the argument goes, if I don’t believe that the world was created in seven 24-hour days then I don’t believe any of the Bible is true. That’s ridiculous.
A few more things to be careful of include:
- Don’t assume that because “A” occurred before “B” then “A” necessarily caused “B” to occur–Post hoc/false cause
- Don’t conclude that a lack of information or understanding makes an argument false (or true) – Ad ignorantum
- Don’t put the burden of proof on the one questioning a claim. Also, an inability to prove that something did not happen or is not true does win an argument or constitute proof of anything — Burden or proof reversal and Negative burden of proof
- Don’t assume that “B” must follow “A” if there is not logical connection between the two — Non-sequitur