Monday, September 04, 2017

Letting an argument go

Some people will embrace (or pretend to embrace) any absurdity before conceding a point in a discussion/debate. For example, let's say you run into somebody who says all knowledge comes by way of our five senses, and you can't know anything apart from your five senses, yet there's quite a lot we can know about the external world. You respond by saying the only way our senses could tell us anything about the external world is if we already knew our senses were giving us true information about the world. After all, it's at least possible that we're plugged into the matrix. To press the point a bit farther, you say that their epistemology leads to solipsism when taken to its logical conclusion since you'd then be stuck inside your head with no epistemological way to make a connection between your perceptions and whatever external reality might exist outside your head. Rather than concede the point, or even qualify their epistemology, the person you're talking to will say, "Okay. Solipsism it is." Yes, I have actually had this very conversation with somebody, and that is what they did.

A long long time ago, I used to argue with people like that. I would argue with them with the goal of convincing them they were wrong. I would take any absurdity they threw at me as if it were a serious argument, and I'd try to respond to it. I'd basically run the argument into the ground. I wasn't really trying to embarrass the other person. I was trying to get my point across because I took them seriously.

Then I read J. Budziszewski's book, How To Stay Christian In College. There was a section in there about what to do when somebody throws up a smoke screen--something you suspect the person doesn't really believe. The example he used was of a moral relativist who, when asked about murder, says, "How do we even know murder is wrong?" Budziszewski suggested that instead of arguing with the person about whether murder is wrong, say something like, "Are you in any real doubt that murder is wrong?" I started using this technique in a lot of discussions, tayloring it to the occasion. I would say that about half the time, it works. The person will come clean and admit they aren't seriously entertaining solipsism, that murder is okay, or whatever the case may be. The other half of the time, I either try harder to get the person to come clean, or I press the argument and go back and forth with them.

A few years ago, I started doing something different, though. You see, sometimes people will dig in their heels in order to save face. They will defend any absurd notion rather than admit to being wrong. Reductio ad absurdum doesn't work with these people because they'll embrace the absurdity rather than concede the point. So what I started doing is once I've made my point, and once the other person has started to dig their heels in defending something that's absurd, I'll drop the subject. I'll let them get the last word. This is the way I look at it. If you push somebody into a corner, causing them to dig in their heels, they'll just get more entrenched in their point of view. They'll convince themselves of the absurdity, and they'll be even more comfortable defending that absurdity later on. But if I allow them to save face, then they'll be able to go off by themselves when the pressure is off and think about it without any fear of embarrassment. I figure people sometimes say things they don't believe in order to save face. So if I resist the urge to argue with them, they'll be able to see the force of my argument. It shouldn't matter to me whether I got them to admit it or not as long as I got my point across. So once I think I've gotten my point across, I'll drop it. I won't argue with them anymore.

I don't know whether it's working or not, but I can tell you it has saved me a lot of frustration. Going back and forth with people--especially people you suspect are just pretending--can be exhausting. Sometimes it's hard to let an argument go and not respond, but I'm a much happier person since I started doing that. Plus, it frees me up to enter new conversations without being bogged down in the old ones.

You might wonder about the audience, though. If you're arguing with somebody on a public forum with other people watching, you might feel the need to continue arguing for their sake. I don't worry about the audience, though. They're not in the position of having to save face, so there's no worry that they're going to dig in their heels. You have to just give people some credit and let them judge for themselves whether or not the other person is just being silly. Trust them to see the force of your argument. You don't have to run it into the ground.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Forgotten arguments

When I first started reading up about undesigned coincidences, I thought of an objection to them that was pretty strong. Now, I've forgotten what that objection was. That causes a problem because no matter how much I read about them, and no matter how persuasive arguments from undesigned coincidences seem to me now, I still have doubts because I know there's this objection I once had that I can no longer remember. I can't do anything about it either. I can't think about whether it's a good objection, and I can't ask anybody else if they think it's a good objection. So I'm stuck.

This is kind of the opposite problem I brought up on my blog a long time ago in a post about "phantom arguments." Sometimes, we study something out in depth and become convinced of some conclusion. Once we've become satisfied that the conclusion is true, we don't worry about it anymore. We stop studying it and we stop reading about it because we're satisfied. But then years later, we forget why we were so convinced. Now, when we run across objections, those objections may seem on the face to be entirely persuasive, yet we are not convinced because we know we once had good reason to believe. That makes it impossible for us to judge the merits of the objections we're hearing without going back and doing all that studying again.

If you think about it, these forgotten arguments, reasons, and evidences can keep up from progressing in knowledge. Maybe the objection I once had to undesigned coincidence is not a good objection. Maybe the reasons I had for accepting some conclusion were not good reasons or would be overcome by the recent objections I've heard.

It just shows to go you that epistemology is not always tidy. But it's also another reason to cut people slack who don't immediately change their minds when you present them with what you think is a pretty good argument. You don't know what's inside their noetic structure that's keeping them from changing their minds. They're not necessarily being irrational.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Ezekiel 36:26 and regeneration

24 For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. 25 Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. 28 You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God.
Ezekiel 36:24-28

Calvinists (and I include myself here) often point to Ezekiel 36:26 as an explanation of what they mean by "regeneration." Regeneration, so they say, is when God takes out your heart of stone and gives you a heart of flesh. The result is that you stop resisting God and willingly come to Christ for salvation. But I'm not so sure that's what Ezekiel is talking about. First of all, Ezekiel appears to be referring to the eschaton when God gathers all his chosen people from around the world into the promised land, which is something that happens at the second coming. Second, Ezekiel says the result of this renewal (which includes putting his Spirit within us) is that people are caused to walk in God's statues and observe his ordinances. It's not until the resurrection (or at least death) that we become sinless, though. Regenerated people continue to sin. Maybe you could sort of wrap regeneration up with sanctification and say that the change of heart is a process that takes place over time and is never completed before you die, but I'm not so sure about that.