Friday, August 24, 2012

How Not to Debate

I'm already working on a bunch of new talks for various conventions. At Archon 36 this year, I'll be an invited Guest and will be debuting a new talk I'm nearly finished writing, entitled "Everything You Know About Quantum Mechanics Is Wrong" looking at how QM is actually used in science vs. how it's portrayed in pop-media like Sci-fi and new age spirituality. I also apparently volunteered myself to do a talk I haven't even started, on the history of Mars rovers and exploration.

But I'm thinking I may have to write another new talk on how to actually debate. After going to several years of things like Skepticon, it seems that people have become equipped with huge amounts of information to use in a debate with pseudo-scientists and the like, but there hasn't been any discussion of how to debate them effectively, to diffuse the intellectually dishonest tactics they use, and to make your own position clear.

For example, this morning a friend posted a link on facebook decrying religious intrusions into government. A friend of his left a comment stating:

This nation was founded as a Christian nation. It's because of our Christian forefathers that people in this country have the right to worship as they please. Maybe a little more appreciation for Christians is in order...don'tcha think?
Obviously I took this apart. Founding fathers had many Diests some outright hostile towards Christianity, the sources they refer to and draw inspiration from even more so, treaty of Tripoli, most religious references on money and in pledge only added recently, etc...

I closed it off by stating I'd give respect Christians when it was earned "by collectively understanding history instead of trying to rewrite it; when they use their faith to help others, not oppress them; when they can admit their vast power and privilege instead of trying to constantly play martyr; when they know as much about their own faith as those outside it."

For good measure, I even linked to Myth of a Christian Nation by a Christian pastor as an example of someone that does earn that respect.

The response was pretty typical: He ignored everything that was said and demanded I "explain ... why God is quoted constantly by almost every forefather". Note that he didn't even dispute my points. He just threw out a new one as if that somehow negated everything I said.

He went on to prove my points on playing the victim card by whining about me stating conditions for respect when he demanded it via entitlement. Lastly, he tried to claim it didn't matter because "the case for Christ still stands." Thereby changing the subject away from the original discussion on America being a "Christian nation".

It was pathetic, but ever so common.

My response was to point out that founders cite the bible in many other works because, "bible because it's the single most read book in history. It provides us with a common language by which to communicate, grounded in something nearly universal. Excellent communication tool. If Star Wars were as universally watched, people would likely be quoting that just as much".

An easy argument to knock down, but it doesn't stop them from throwing it out in desperation. I called him on these things and stated that I was through debating with him until he could make a salient point.

His final response?

"I bet you get laid about as much as I win the lottery."

This is the caliber of people skeptics often face. The tactics are depressingly common and I think it's time for a summary of how to deal with them.

So does anyone know if something like this already exists? If not, what sorts of things do you think should be included in a discussion?


Chet Twarog said...

When one can't even get professionals to rethink semantics of sunrise/sun up for dawn/sunsight or the clouds clearing/scattering instead of the "sun comes out" or "flat Earth talk" like going "up" north instead of just leaving "up/down" out. Even professional, experienced astronauts in LEO still think/talk "flat Earth".
So, how are you going to change creationists belief/think unless they really want to change? Even showing them hundreds of different creation myths from the many different cultures through the ages won't matter.

cdoswell said...

Unfortunately, 2 things make it difficult to do as you request.

First, no logical argument can ever result in the "conversion" of someone holding an irrational belief. As Chet Twarog notes, it's not possible to change their minds with logic and evidence when their belief is not based on logic and evidence.

Second, arguments don't always follow scripts. The evolution of point-counterpoint is not necessarily predictable. Yes, many believer "talking points" are repeated and most of them are relatively easy to refute, even when the believer isn't even aware of how thoroughly they've been demolished.

When you face someone with such massive intellectual horsepower that he resorts to insults about the frequency with which you get laid ... you're wasting your time carrying on with the discourse.