Daniel Dennett On "Four Steps to Arguing Intelligently"

Dennett offers what he calls “the best antidote [for the] tendency to caricature one’s opponent.” What he says (below) is a good reminder. Sometimes I need that. I have gone on record arguing that ridicule is an effective weapon in disabusing believers of their faith, and it is. It does not characterize what I do though. Most of the time I deal with the arguments of believers respectfully until it appears they are unwilling to think. Sometimes I can spot them quickly, on the first comment here. They will mindlessly quote-mine from the Bible or the theology based on it. These are people who come to preach to me rather than learn from me. I've said it before and I'll say it again, there is nothing significant believers can tell me that I have not considered before. So it takes a great deal of my time before they will realize this about me. I'll even tell them to read my books but hardly any of them are interested. It doesn't occur to them that I have more to teach them as a former believer and an intellectual than they could ever teach me. Not even Randal Rauser has yet read my magnum opus. In many cases after dealing with the same believers for months or years, I lose respect for them and turn to ridicule (Think Victor Reppert, Randal Rauser, David Marshall and Matthew Flannagan). In my mind they are beyond hope. But after regrouping and re-adjusting with some time off from them I start being respectful again, until it becomes clear all over again they are unwilling to think. This is a vicious cycle. Nonetheless, what Dennett writes is a good reminder to us all (along with the further commentary). Enjoy.
How to compose a successful critical commentary:
  1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.
  2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
  3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
  4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.
If only the same code of conduct could be applied to critical commentary online, particularly to the indelible inferno of comments.

But rather than a naively utopian, Pollyannaish approach to debate, Dennett points out this is actually a sound psychological strategy that accomplishes one key thing: It transforms your opponent into a more receptive audience for your criticism or dissent, which in turn helps advance the discussion. LINK.