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Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.  (2 Timothy 2:23 NIV)

So it goes in America:

“The Russians were involved in the 2016 Presidential election to help Trump get elected.”

“How? There is no evidence that anyone tampered with voting machines or the vote count. How did they effect the vote?”

“Well look at the conversations between Trump’s associates and Russian officials. It all points to collusion. There needs to be an investigation.”

“What would investigators be looking for? There’s no evidence of wrong-doing.”

“I don’t know but there has to be something there between Trump and Putin. We’ve got to get to the bottom of it. There’s plenty of smoke, and where there’s smoke there’s fire.”

Most in the U.S. are justifiably tired of hearing about the Russians and the election. The argument continues despite its baseless premise. If politicians had to stay within the bounds of logic, we would have civil discussions. But, no, we have legislators who engage in arguments that cause quarrels.

In my opinion, this is due to the legal system’s influence in government. Law students learn the art of argumentation. So, when they become lawyers they can win cases, not based on justice or truth, but on their skill as arguers. Clever sounding arguments often win the day. God help us!

Tragically, the art of argumentation has infected our Christian fellowships. One of the first things we should teach new converts is Logic. If the new Christian knows Logic, then they can detect when a fallacious but clever argument is headed in their direction. After the mental red flag goes up on a few fallacious arguments (“ad hoc ergo prompter hoc,” “the straw man,” “the red herring” and “circular reasoning”), the new convert could excuse themselves—that is unless they want to quarrel or test their ability to argue.

Recently, I became locked into a conversation that, unfortunately, became a quarrel. My head was spinning. My emotions got the best of me. I was frustrated and wanted to walk away. There was an answer for everything I said. It was more like a wall. After more than a half hour, I blurted out “Your argument is foolish,” and then it really turned into a mess. (Thank God I didn’t say “foolish and stupid” like 2 Timothy 2:23.)

I saw no good way out. I was entangled in a circular argument—the very thing the Apostle said to avoid. On the ground, I drew a circle with my finger. I said “This is how our discussion is going.” Of course, they did not see it that way. Had Paul’s warning been fresh in my mind, I would have bowed out as soon as the circular reasoning came into play. Believing I could reason successfully, I had to go around and around and around to find out my effort was useless.

Next time, Part 2, The illogical invades the Christian church.

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They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth. (2 Timothy 3:6-7 NIV)

Decades ago, I went to a mechanic for help with a “knocking” noise in my automobile. He convinced me the only solution was to replace the engine. As it turned out, I needed an oil change. The expensive fix was prescribed by a man with clever speech. There was nothing clever about my friend who changed my oil and saved me a lot of grief.

In Part 1, I attempted to highlight a group of very clever people. They are gifted talkers and writers. They love to dominate political and spiritual discussions. They have mastered a strategy for winning arguments. They are skillful at deception persuading trusting souls into making unwise decisions.

In terms of their argument, I want to break down what I have observed: First, they are acknowledged as experts. (Who can disagree with an expert?) As an authority they are able to frame their argument (ex. climate change is man-made, it is a woman’s right to choose because it’s her body, the Russians interfered with the U.S. election, etc.) Whoever frames the argument dictates the direction.

Next, I notice they talk fast.  After their initial premise they rip off several other assertions in rapid-fire order. The pace is so fast the first point usually gets lost, therefore, it cannot be addressed separately.

Generally, they stress their first assertion is “accepted by scholars” so who dares question it. In other words, one would have to be a heretic to disagree. It comes out like this: “Of course, we know that…” and goes from there. The second point is built on the foundational statement–disputable though it may be. Since they launch a continuous string of sentences, it is impossible to interject without sounding rude.  Three or four questionable statements can be made while thinking of the first faulty assumptions. (My mind tried to wrap around the idea of an engine replacement while the mechanic droned on about the why.)

(Note: If the foundation is laid on an error, all that follows has to be wrong also. In logic, a premise that creates a diversion is known as “a straw man”.)

The next thing I notice is how arguers subtly misrepresent their opponent’s position. (“Did you really say in your book…?) Twisting some words, attaching meaning to a sentence other than the one the writer intended, or taking a statement out of context, are all techniques to undermine credibility. They make the opponent look bad and place them on the defensive. No writer or speaker wants to be misunderstood or accused of questionable orthodoxy. Trying to correct the record leads to the next phase of the attack.

Once their opponent defensively tries to explain themselves, the arguer shuts them down. (For example, the arguer will say, “May I finish! I did not interrupt you! Please  allow me to at least complete my thought? Thank you!”) The arguer is cool and controlled while their opponent suffers a rebuke. To remain on the attack, the arguer inserts little digs, such as, “I know you are an educated man, but surely, you do not believe what you just said.” The attempt is to make the opponent feel small.

Imagine what it is like to be the opponent. To stay above the attack is a challenge. To the arguer, opponents must be humiliated. From where does the hostility come?  For arguers it is war. The goal is to win. Prestige among their peers follows. Who then, according to Ephesians 6:12, are the arguers serving?

More could be added including the circular reasoning often employed. Be aware of the arguers strategy, but, in humility, eagerly pursue truth. Stand to defend truth, speak it in love and take the abuse. It isn’t always about winning.

In Part 3, we will present a diagnostic question with which we can determine if the people with whom we share it are truth-seekers or unable to acknowledge the truth.

 

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