Thursday, March 11, 2010

Why we talk past each other

I've noticed a bad habit that it seems nobody is immune to, and I think it explains why we talk past each other. We all have standard ways of responding to particular arguments, and we become so used to responding in a particular way that it becomes automatic. But every now and then, somebody will make an argument that is similar to the one we've got an automatic answer to. Since we've heard the argument a million times before, we don't notice the subtle difference in what is being presented to us. We don't listen carefully. We just give our pat answer. And then the other person gets frustrated because our answer doesn't really deal with the argument they gave.

I think that is probably why atheists so often misrepresent the moral argument. That is something that has baffled me for quite some time because in a lot of debates I've seen, the Christians are always very careful to nip the common misunderstanding in the bud, but they are never successful. Their atheist opponent still misconstrues the argument when they respond to it. And even when they are corrected, they continue to misconstrue it the next time they have a debate with a Christian who brings up the same argument.

I guess there probably are a lot of Christians who have said atheists can't be moral, so whenever an atheist hears anything like the moral argument for God, their knee-jerk reaction is to respond to the accusation that atheists can't be moral. They don't notice that no such accusation is made in the moral argument because when Christians argue that there can be no objective morals if there is no god, it sounds similar enough to the accusation that atheists have heard before.

That's just one example. I see it happen all the time. I'm not just saying atheists do this, either. Like I said, this is a problem I've noticed that nobody is immune to. I've heard Christian talk show hosts do it when people call in. It makes me wonder how many times I've done it. I do generally try to listen carefully to what somebody is saying before I respond to them, but that can be tedious.

Sometimes I feel a little anxious whenever I present an argument to somebody. I feel like I've got to spell the argument out as fast as I can before I'm interrupted with a response based on a misunderstanding. That's why I prefer written dialogue to spoken dialogue. Solomon said, "He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him" (Proverbs 18:13). Let's try to avoid the folly, shall we? Maybe we can have productive conversations if we just try a little harder to make sure we understand each other before we respond. And if we're just feeling too lazy to make sure we understand, maybe we shouldn't bother to respond.


At 3/15/2010 11:13 AM , Blogger DagoodS said...

I agree we often talk past each other in theistic discussions. You are spot-on regarding the moral argument being misspoken. I hear this in oral debates (I think because such debates are more about making talking points than learned discussion.) Because morality is complex, it is easier for the non-theist, with a few simple sentences, to tear down the other person’s argument via strawperson and build up their own by utilizing this tactic.

I was listening to a lecture on philosophy, and the professor made a good point. “When I say to use charity in a discussion, I mean to approach it as if it is more probable I have misunderstood the other side’s position than that their position is incorrect.”

I like that as an initial approach.

At 3/15/2010 7:12 PM , Blogger Sam said...

I think that is good advice.


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