Let's Grade Us, Okay?

In debating the issues we do, there are obviously different levels of understanding between us. We have different educational backgrounds. There are also maturity factors. Younger people generally exhibit a kind of certainty with the arguments that older people do not. This is not always the case, but is a general observation.

Also factor in that we’re dealing with control beliefs, which, like glasses, color how we see the arguments. Because of this, an argument that seems stupid to believers is seen to be a very strong one by non-believers, and vice versa.

Furthermore, factor in that we do not usually know which level of understanding each person has, unless he tell us, or unless we can figure it out by how he understands our argument, how he responds to it, or what he makes of the strength of his response. But these things give us plenty of clues. Let me explain.

There is very little by way of refuting anything, so when someone says his argument has refuted me, that person lacks some understanding. In our debates no one refutes someone else, for the most part, and none of our arguments are "worthless" either. This is a big clue.

Next, does this person understand my argument? The more often I have to say that this isn’t what I said, the more the other person lacks some understanding. Now sometimes it might be the fault of the person making the argument, in that he wasn’t very clear, but this can be seen if pointed out sufficiently enough. And if a person can do that, then he has a good level of understanding.

Also, is this person being charitable with my argument or rather is he creating a strawman of it for the purposes of gaining a quick and easy "refutation"? This is the most common problem here at DC. Sometimes, of course, it’s a matter of how we each “see” things, but most of the time it’s because someone has failed to try to understand what the argument is really all about. This may take some intellectual work. The most ignorant people won’t even understand the argument.

Lastly (but not exhaustively), does he respond directly to the main point of an argument? If someone fails to understand an argument, he or she cannot properly respond to it. Let me suggest to people that before you critique what we say, first state what our argument is so we know you’re on the same page. This is what professional philosophers do when they write. They always state the argument of the person they are about to criticize before they critique it. When I was debating David Wood on the problem of evil I had asked him several times merely to state my argument, and he could not do it. How can anyone offer a good criticism of an argument if he cannot state what it is? I'll tell you how...he can't!

People who have a deeper understanding are simply better at understanding the arguments and responding directly to them. And they do not claim their arguments carry any more weight than what they actually have. These people do this much better than other people who lack in understanding.

Why do I bring this up? Well, I’m always curious to see how people argue for what they believe, and I want to teach people what to look for and how to properly respond to an argument. Let’s say I simply claim this: “the problem of evil is an insurmountable problem for the theistic view of God.” And let’s say that’s all I write, okay, and you know nothing about how deeply I can argue for this claim, if I can at all. The glib responses will flow from believers, until I continue to write what I know and challenge their responses. If I write enough, they will probably come to think I do know what I’m talking about. But I neither have the time nor readership attention span to write everything I know about the problem of evil in one long post. Even if I did, a Christian will still probably disagree with my arguments, if for no reason other than the fact that he just “sees” things differently, even to the point of thinking I’m ignorant. I’ve seen this. I have likewise discussed these issues with some very knowledgeable Christian apologists, like Drs. Paul Copan and Norman Geisler, and concluded they are ignorant too (in some sense). However, at that point it’s really about "seeing" things differently, not about ignorance, since I don't really think they are ignorant at all.

It’s just being intellectually lazy to assume our opponents do not know what they’re talking about, so we jump on them in order to prove them wrong. In so doing, some of our answers seem initially glib to our opponents, until we each hear the other out.

In order to discuss some issues with some people I first have to bring them up to speed on the problem I’m trying to address, and that can be time consuming and frustrating for me. With G. K. Chesterson I say, “It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It is that they can’t see the problem.” I’d much rather discuss these issues with people who at least see the problem, even if they still disagree with me. But I realize people are trying. To them I tip my hat.


Sandalstraps said...


That was an excellent post! If we would all take posts like this to heart, the blogosphere would be a less noxious place.

Jospeh said...

So to clarify, If I interpret this correctly, are you saying that everyone (regardless of educational background) should evaluate their arguments and responses in this forum using the A-D grading criteria? (i.e. "My post is more D-level stuff, than B. Maybe I should give this post second thoughts if responding to a B level argument.") Or are you saying that you prefer to have exchanges with individuals who have specific degrees in theology, philosophy, and religion? I suspect that if I have this question, others might as well. Thanks!

John W. Loftus said...

jospeh, I think I was rambling a bit, and I even made a major revision, deleting the grading system. I made several points, so it's probably hard to understand a main point from it all. I'm mainly curious as to when I can know if a person is lacking in understanding or whether our disagreements are a matter of "seeing" things differently. I offered some clues as to which is which, and I suggested a way we can all try harder to understand each other.

Jospeh said..."My post is more D-level stuff, than B. Maybe I should give this post second thoughts if responding to a B level argument."

Sure, why not?

Jospeh said..."Or are you saying that you prefer to have exchanges with individuals who have specific degrees in theology, philosophy, and religion?

Yes I do, but that doesn't mean anything more than that.

Jospeh said...

Thanks, John. I read your post yesterday and didn't re-read it before responding. Though I consider myself well educated, my degrees are all in business. However, having been immersed in apologetics and ministry for two decades, I feel I can at times provide substantive comments or questions. Having said that, I am perusing the archives to become better versed in the various POV's and philosophical roots of DB’s contributors. I am both excited and nervous about where this journey is taking me.

Super Happy Jen said...

I was watching a Richard Dawkins program where he was talking to Ted Haggart. These are clearly two people who "see" things differently! Anyway, Ted said to Richard (this is from memory don't expect an exact quote)..."As you get older you're going to find yourself wrong on some points and right on others, but please in the process of it, don't be arrogant." I realize that was Ted's polite way of calling Richard arrogant, but he makes a point (I love when people I disagree with make points that I agree with). We may see things differently, but we can still have civilized conversations (and arguments) if we avoid arrogance (easier said than done).

IrishFarmer said...

Hey, John. I've responded on exposingatheism.blogspot.com

Check it out, if you please.