Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Tale of Two Disputers

I've gotten into a lot of arguments with people over the course of my Christian life. I actually don't tend to argue over anything I don't think is important, so my arguments are not a result of my being argumentative. In fact, before I became a Christian, I was very passive among friends and strangers. I argued at home with family, but that was about it. When I became a Christian, I guess you could say my family became larger and so did my responsibilities, but it was really the Spirit of Christ in me that caused me to argue more boldly and actually take a stand, because it caused me to care about other people. It was through caring, ironically, that caused me to argue with people about what was true. I realized that before I became a Christian, I didn't argue with others because I didn't care. Still today, however, I stay out of, or even try to calm, disputes that I think are without merit. However, having been in so many, there is one thing I have learned above all else: not everyone wants to know what is true.

Now, many people would just say that observation is simply my perspective. I'm merely believing that my view is true and whenever anyone doesn't hold my view, it's because he doesn't want to come to the truth. But it's not the truth. It's just my opinion.

Here is why I think this is false. I actually don't often have a problem with someone who very thoughtfully disagrees with me. I just can't stand illogical and inconsistent stances of people who believe what they do and have no clue as to why they believe it. So my issue in arguing is not so much that I think everyone will come to my position (which I obviously want and hope for, as I think it is the truth), but that they would understand and consider what I believe God has declared to be true. Only God can actually bring someone to the truth, however, so there is no point of me getting frustrated when someone does not come to it. What does frustrate me is false argumentation.

Let me explain. There are really two types of arguments, because there are two types of people (and this accords with what I wrote yesterday). There are those who enter arguments to test claims, evaluate the options, are aware of their foundational belief systems that filter everything, and seek to know the truth by choosing which option is best in terms of consistency and logical probability in light of all of the arguments. These people want to argue because they want to know the truth.

But there is the other group of those who enter arguments, and these are perhaps much more numerous than the first, in order to defend what they believe and practice no matter what is really true. They will attempt to undermine truth by appealing to a relativism that is neither logically consistent/viable nor even held by them on other subjects in life. They will attempt to argue from personal experience, which any basic philosophy course, i.e., a basic course in cognitive argumentation or logical analysis will tell you is the weakest form of argumentation, as one can establish anything based on self interpretations of personal experience. And when all else fails, when all of the logic and evidence is against them, when they have not succeeded in undermining the nature of authority and truth itself, they almost always resort to an ad hominem fallacy, i.e., they start to attack you personally. As Steve Hays in a post today recalled a common thought:

It’s like the old adage of the crooked lawyer: when you have the facts on your side, argue the facts. When you have the law on your side, argue the law. When you don’t have either one, attack the witness. 
This sadly often works, as one must remember the purpose of this person is not to know the truth, but to win the argument in the popular eye. Hence, name-callling, painting the person as arrogant, which is the worst sin in our culture (you can kill babies or sleep around but don't be arrogant about it), say they're being judgmental, as people usually think Jesus commanded everyone to not judge truth claims or warn people of the consequences of their obvious sin. In other words, you have called their beliefs into question. Rather than consider the possibility that their beliefs are wrong by looking deeply at the arguments and the reasons for which they hold those beliefs, they would rather protect those beliefs by attacking you. Because everyone is a sinner, whether guilty of the actual claim they're making against you or not, their accusations are easily believed. The problem is that they have nothing to do with the arguments being made, or the truth or falsity of the positions being held.
Hence, what this person is really doing, to the trained eye, is conceding that they have no basis for believing what they do, and in all actuality, they're wrong. In other words, when you see an attack of the person in an argument that carries no real argument with it, that is a white flag sent up saying, "I surrender. You're completely right, but I hate the truth and don't want to have anything to do with it, and don't like you for making me face it." If they had a real argument, and actually knew why they believed what they believed, they would have presented it, as they really want to win the argument.

This goes hand in hand with my post concerning people who are unteachable. That's what these people are. They are apologists for their positions. They're just bad ones, because real apologists can at least make logical arguments and know why they believe what they believe. These are lay apologists, defending their wayward beliefs at the cost of logic and at the cost of your dignity, as they are not afraid to slander your character, even though that is not the topic at hand, in order to raise themselves back up, as they now, down deep, understand that they have been refuted and humiliated by what has more support in the light of logical argumentation.

Even when people say things like, "That's just your opinion," and "Let's just agree to disagree," or "You think you're so smart," or "You think you're better than everyone else." These are all deflections, red herrings, meant to take everyone off topic, precisely, because the individual knows they have and will lose the argument if they stay on topic. In reality, the person just wants to shut you up, because if you keep talking, they'll have to think about what is being said more, and they don't want to. They want to believe what they want to believe, even at the expense of all things. If they really had a solid reason for believing what they do, however, they would in fact shut you up by refuting you. There would be no need to try and end the argument by attacking you or just getting everyone to stop talking, even though nothing had been resolved (i.e., the truth was not vindicated and God was not exalted). In reality, most of these types of people do want to continue the argument, because they want to feel vindicated. They just don't want to continue it with you involved in the conversation. They'd rather just continue behind your back. It's just easier to win that way.

Others, however, get into arguments because they want to know the truth. They don't mind being humiliated by being wrong. Well, OK, everyone minds, but they are appreciative of it after all is said and done. In fact, they will often thank the person who corrects them. They will, in fact, often become a friend to that person and seek him out when he or she needs some counsel when seeking the truth on other matters.

Do both of these people get into arguments? Yes. Do both of these people argue the same way? No. Because the trajectory of their argumentation follows the reasons for which they are arguing in the first place. They want to be validated in their making truth claims out of false assertions, but they don't want that examined. They want their listeners to just affirm it. In essence, this type of person doesn't really want friends, he or she just wants fans, i.e., drinking buddies but not thinking buddies, as thinking buddies challenge and question in order to come to the truth. Drinking buddies just want someone to hang out with while they booze themselves up, so they'll just try to get you to stay longer by telling you whatever you want to hear. 

It would be great if all of those who just want to believe whatever they wish kept quiet and didn't try to evangelize everyone with the gospel of self, but that is not the nature of self worshiping argumentation. This person wants to exalt their ideas over others. They just don't want reciprocation, and they certainly don't want to have those ideas scrutinized, for that would ruin the lives they're building out of them. So, unfortunately, the war between those who like to enter substantial arguments in order to learn what is true and those who enter them in order to justify what they already believe is true, regardless of whether it can be easily refuted, will rage on. But wisdom is not only vindicated by all of her children, but whenever a person is slandered in place of an argument refuted, as one's intended use of argumentation is revealed therein.

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