User:Philip J. Rayment/How to debate

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Very often I find evolutionists, misotheists, and others arguing their point in a particular illogical way.

When debating an issue with someone, the only sensible way to do so is to start from common ground and go from there.

For example, both must be speaking the same language. If one is talking in, and only understands, English, and the other only understands French, then the debate will get nowhere. This point is, of course, obvious, but I often see things that are almost as bad. That is, even though both might be using English, I often see two sides using words with different understanding of the meaning of those words. For example, when a creationist is saying that there is no evidence for evolution, he is likely referring to the entire evolutionary "family tree", whilst the evolutionist claims that evolution is observed, because he understands evolution to be changes in gene frequency. Unless both parties are speaking the same "language", the debate will not only fail to convince, it will likely end up getting heated and be a big waste of time.

If both sides don't agree on anything at all, then no debate is possible. But this is very rarely if ever the case. That is, two people debating will normally agree on the following points:

  • The language they are using (e.g. English)
  • That logic is a valid method of argument
  • That hard evidence must be accepted
  • Numerous commonly-accepted facts, such the existence of historical documents, the boiling point of water, and so forth.

There may be more, but these three should be sufficient, in principle, to convincingly argue a point of view. That is, one starts with points of agreement and argues, using evidence and logic, for something that the other person doesn't currently accept.

The meaning of words is but one example of a wider problem, the presuppositions behind our arguments. I frequently see people starting with presuppositions that the other person doesn't accept. A common one is an atheist starting with a presupposition along the lines of the Bible being a collection of fireside stories from an obscure Middle Eastern tribe. If an atheist wants to argue that that's all the Bible is, he is welcome to. But when he starts with that view, he should not expect to get anywhere when debating someone who believes differently.

Of course, quite often we are not consciously aware of our presuppositions, especially when we all share, or at least believe that we all share, the same presuppositions. That's why the example above of both using English sounds silly: because it's a presupposition that we all subconsciously accept.

So sometimes arguing from a presupposition that the other person doesn't accept is inadvertent and understandable. But in the case of the origin of the Bible example, I don't believe that atheists have any excuse. That is, Christians have always believed that the Bible had God as its ultimate author, and this is widely known. So very few atheists would not realise that Christians believe this. Therefore, for an atheist to start with the presupposition that it wasn't written by God simply shows a gross inability to put together a coherent argument.

More formally

This is not in the language of formal logic, but is another way of looking at the discussion above.

Some arguments are of the form because A, therefore B. For example, because God doesn't exist, therefore life evolved. This is logical, but relies on A, the premise, being correct. That is, if God does exist, the argument that life evolved has no merit (which is not to say that it is wrong). This is the problem with the cases above: the argument is of the form because A, therefore B, but A is not accepted by the other party. Therefore the argument is pointless.

A different form of argument is if A, therefore B, and we have B, therefore A is true. An example might be if evolution is true, we should see speciation occurring, and we see speciation, therefore evolution is true. Assuming that both agree that we have B (speciation is occurring), then this is a valid logical argument if another condition is met. That other condition is that we can rule out other causes. It may be that the argument could be made that if A or C, therefore B. So if we have B, does that mean that A is true? Not necessarily; C might be true instead. This is another fallacy that evolutionists frequently make. They might argue if evolution is true, we should see speciation occurring, and we see speciation, therefore evolution is true. But if creation also predicts speciation, then the occurrence of speciation does not mean that evolution is true.