Monthly Archives: February 2013

On Rational Discussion

The following meme is making the Facebook/Twitter rounds that shows how to have rational discourse:


As usual, I think that this is incredibly simplistic.  When you unpack some of these, red flags start to go up.  The person who created this, I think, has an agenda and is so focused on that agenda that he is no longer concerned with truth.

Can you envision anything that will change your mind on the topic?  The key word here is “envision.”  I can’t envision anything that would change my mind on the existence God.  That, however, doesn’t mean I will be irrational in a discussion.  Perhaps during the conversation we can find something I had not thought of that would change my mind on God.

Just because I can’t envision it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.  I have an open enough mind to accept that I may be wrong about the existence of God, while being confident that I’m not.  Aristotle observed, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”  I can entertain thoughts I don’t accept — my goal is truth, not comfort.

As a further point, I think that it is easy to use this as a crutch to end an inconvenient discussion by equivocating irrationality and passion.  I passionately believe in God, which is why I can’t envision anything changing my mind on that.  But that is not the same as irrationality.

Are you prepared to abide by the basic principles of reason in discussing this topic?  Two rules are given as an example:

  1. The position that is more reasonable and has more supporting evidence should be accepted as true.
  2. The person who asserts a position bears the onus of demonstrating its truth.

With regard to (1), “evidence” is (as it always is with atheists) left undefined.  Empirical or peer-reviewed scientific evidence aren’t the only forms of evidence.  Only accepting empirical or peer-reviewed scientific evidence is a form of logical positivism called either empircism or scientism (depending on which form you accept).  Neither position is consistent with itself, since there is no empirical or scientific evidence that would support a belief in those position.

Both positions, in fact, rule out the knowledge we gain from history, mathematics, and philosophy.  They also exclude eyewitness testimony from discussion.

Meaning that we accept things as true without “evidence” all the time — if that’s what is meant by “evidence.”  Remember that when we get to the farcical rules of discussion below.

I agree wholeheartedly with (2) provided you understand atheists share a burden of proof.

Once entered, four additional rules are given to govern the discussion:

Do not introduce a new argument while another argument has yet to be resolved.  I don’t, but every atheist I’ve had a discussion with has done this to me.  So, I won’t start doing this but please, atheists, don’t do this to me, either.

Do not move on to another argument if it is shown that a fact you have relied upon is inaccurate.  I’ll just admit my mistake, but this doesn’t happen to me often.

Provide evidence for your position or arguments.  Again, atheists should be doing this, too.  Atheists seldom back their own unbelief in God up with evidence or arguments.  This is both lazy and a direct violation of one of the basic principles of rational discussion (that the true position is more reasonable and has more supporting evidence).  Argue it’s reasonable.  Give me the evidence.

Do not argue that you do not need evidence.  Again, the obsessive requirement for evidence is logically inconsistent, because there is no evidence for accepting it as a true premise — and atheists say they only believe that which we have evidence for.

While I accept the spirit of this meme, I still find it the product of a simple mind concerned with winning online debates rather than seeking truth.