people arguing at Columbia

(Photo by David Shankbone)

Invalid argument is the scourge of rational discussion. A debate, discussion, or argument is an absolutely useless endeavor if one or both sides are incapable of making their point in a valid manner. As we have witnessed, undisciplined debate often degrades into a name-calling exercise.

So, what makes an argument valid and how should we argue in the future? First and foremost, debate has rules. If you violate these rules your argument is invalid. It doesn’t matter if you are right, if you violate these rules your argument has not validated your claim. This doesn’t mean that your claim is invalid, just that your argument in support of your claim is.

Lets take a look at a few of the things that either violate the rules of debate or handicap your position:

  • EVIDENCE – You must produce evidence that backs your claim. If there is no evidence then your argument is invalid. If the evidence that is presented later proves to be false then the evidence is thrown out.
  • EMOTION – Keep emotion out of it. This may be the most difficult part of our discussions. Challenging the very foundation upon which one’s life is built is almost guaranteed to incite a venomous counterattack, but you must keep your cool. A discussion that disintegrates into name-calling doesn’t educate anyone.
  • KNOWLEDGE – Learn as much as you can about your own position as well as your opponent’s. Understand your strengths and shore up its weaknesses.
  • LOGICAL FALLACY – This is the most common form of error in our posts. Most come from the supernaturalists, as one might expect, but I do see quite a few on the secular side as well. Remember, when you have valid evidence on your side you don’t have to guess and you definitely don’t have to make things up.

Next week I will post an article on Logical Fallacies. Most of you understand what these are but there are certainly a few that need a knowledge upgrade.

The goal of debate is to get all of our cards on the table. Then to throw out the illogical, irrational, and that which is not supported by evidence. Ultimately we arrive at the truth.

The topics of our discussion are worthy of more effort than we are giving. Hold each other (even me) to these basic rules and courtesies and we will all benefit.