finding truth matters

The 7 Principles For Making A Strong Argument

Dr. Andrew CorbettWhat makes for a strong argument? By ‘argument’, we don’t mean quarrel or fight, we mean case. Perhaps a court room context is a better way to think of making an argument or case. It becomes very important during election campaigns and public debates to be able to distinguish a strong argument from a weak one. Of course, issues of public debate don’t always involve matters of Public Policy. Strong or weak arguments also happen when people discuss matters matters of history, parenting, religion, or the arts. Here’s some things which might help you to distinguish a strong argument from a weak one.

A strong argument – 

  1.  Is based on reason rather than assertions.
  2.  Shows respect for differing points of view rather than ridiculing their proponents.
  3.  Resonates with what is known to be true.
  4.  Is not built upon an emotional argument. (For example, “If you don’t agree with me I will be very sad.”)
  5.  It distinguishes the issue from the personalities involved.
  6.  Might be able to be put simply, but it can rarely be reduced to a mere slogan.
  7.  Is not grounded in who is making it, or how many agree with it. 

 

1. Reason Rather Than Assertions

Reasons are grounded in evidence, facts, or logic. For example, if we made an historic claim, such as Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969, we need to give sufficient historic evidence to support this claim. This might involve verifiable eye-witness accounts – which could easily be supplied. If we made a claim which we stated was a fact, such as the earth has a moon, we would have to be able to verify this, which might include direct observation. If a claim was actually false, such as the claim that there is a pink porcelain tea-pot orbiting Mars, there would have to be ways to show that it was false, which again might include observation. (This is called ‘falsifiability’. Any true claim needs to be falsifiable – that is, if  it was indeed false, it could be shown to be so.) If we made a logical claim, we would have to demonstrate that our premise was correct, our second premise was correct, and that our conclusion followed from these premises. For example, Men are mortal > Socrates was a man > Therefore, Socrates was a mortal. This is called ‘a logical syllogism’.

If a claim lacks evidence, factual support, or logical coherence, it may be an assertion. To assert something is to make a claim without any good reason supporting that claim. 

Questions:

Is the claim, “Men and women are equal”, using reason or making an assertion?

How could the claim, “Men and women are equal”, be made reasonably?

If someone made the claim, “Men and women are equal”, how could you tell if they were being reasonable or being assertive?

 

2. Respect Rather Than Ridicule

A respectful argument fairly represents an opposing view. Someone has said that you never understand your opponent’s position until you can state it better than they can. This is showing respect. Sometime ago I was invited to give an address at a University where there were protesters who objected to what I was about to say. Before I was introduced, these protesters brought their placards into the auditorium and were primed to make their objections known as I spoke. But something unexpected happened. I began my presentation with the case for the other side. In fact, I presented their side of the case better than anyone from their side had publicly done. I saw these protesters put their placards down and give me their attention. After my introduction, I gave the rebuttal to these arguments. Several hundred people, including the protesters, gave me their attention and were very respectful. I haven’t always been shown this level of respect when making a public policy presentation. If you have a reasonable case and want to ensure that you at least get a hearing, you are more likely to attain this is you show respect for your ‘opponent’s’ case, rather than ridiculing your opponent.

Examples of ridicule:

Of course you would say that, you’re a woman.

What would you know about science, you’re a Christian!

That’s stupid!

Everyone knows that’s wrong!

You’re a bigot for believing that.

 

3. Resonates With Truth

A claim resonates with truth when it corresponds to reality or to what we already know to be true. There is an old saying that says, What is new is probably not true. What is true is probably not new. This is why good science is fundamentally sceptical. When a new scientific claim is made, it must be rigorously tested by qualified assessors.

Conversely, when a claim is made which doesn’t resonate with the truth and does not offer evidence, facts, or logic, as its basis, we have good reasons to at least be sceptical of the claim, if not to be dismissive of it. This especially applies to conspiracy theories. This requires a comment about the value of circumstantial evidence.

Indirect clues form circumstantial evidence. For example, if you are inside a building when someone opens the external door so that you can hear rain, and when this person walks into the inside of the building where you are, they take off their dripping wet raincoat, you could have good circumstantial evidence for believing that it is raining outside. This is despite you not directly seeing any rain at the time. It might surprise most people to learn that nearly 99% of murder cases are successfully tried on the basis of circumstantial evidence. Conspiracy theories leverage the power of circumstantial evidence. Therefore, circumstantial evidence is subject to a special test: Inference To The Best Explanation. Did Lee Harvey Oswald shoot JFK? There are several popular conspiracy theories which accuse the Mob, the FBI, or the CIA. But the circumstantial evidence pointing to any of these conspiratorial suspects is not able to account for all of the data associated with JFK’s tragic assassination, whereas identifying Lee Harvey Oswald as the shooter does accommodate all the circumstantial evidence.

 

4. Reasonable Rather Than Emotional

A claim is based on emotion rather than reason if the one making it –

  • states that to disagree with them would be hate
  • says that opposing their view would make some people depressed
  • asserts that it must be true because it’s what their father taught them.

You will note that none of these are reasoned arguments.

 

5. Addresses The Issue Rather Than The Person

This is particularly needed in a heated quarrel between a husband and a wife where it is all too easy to attack the person rather than address the issue. Ridicule mocks a person, attacking hurts a person. Comments like, “The problem with you is…” “You’re just like you mother!”  “You’ve always been hopeless!

If you’re ever under attack, try to take the steam out of the fight, with an apology and an appeal: “I’m sorry for hurting you. I’d like to make things right. Can we talk about the issue?

 

6. More Than A Slogan

In an age where digital distraction has reduced concentration spans to little more than that of a gold fish, slogans work! A slogan takes little more than two seconds to share. For those attempting to solve complex problems or make something good something great, the needed ideas cannot possibly be stated in 2 seconds! Great ideas may be be simple but they are rarely simplistic. Slogans may be popular and garner popular support, but a strong argument needs to have substance and reasoning behind it.

 

7. Not Who, But What And Why

“Professor Such And Such believes it!” is not a strong argument because a strong argument does not hinge on who believes it, but why they believe it. A strong argument has substance and reasoning not merely signatories (that’s called a petition not an argument).

The next time there is an election, political campaign, family disagreement, or Public Policy debate, consider who is making the strongest argument before casting your vote or making up your mind one way or another. And if you are seeking to persuade others to your way of thinking consider how you could frame your argument around these seven guidelines to making a strong argument.

Dr. Andrew Corbett

Impossible Faith

Some people find faith in God to be impossible. These people have reasons for their impossible faith. Their objections may be intellectual, moral, or emotional. There are three well-known figures who each exemplify each of these objections to faith in God. Charles Darwin, Thomas Hardy and Bob Hawke each respectively held these particular objections to Christianity.

The Reliability of The Bible and How Best To Interpret It

The Bible is the most influential book of all time. It’s contents have changed the course of history. It’s story has formed the pattern for all the great literary classics. It also makes the astounding claim that it is the uniquely authoritative revelation from God and therefore has the authority to command our moral behaviour. But if the Bible is not reliable, then its claims are indefensible and Christianity is without foundation! Yet despite this glaring vulnerability, the Bible has withstood rigorous scrutiny and repeated attempts to refute it. Here’s why it is indeed reliable.

What Is Heaven Like?

I honestly used to think that Christianity was all about having the assurance of going to Heaven. But as I learned more about the Gospel and the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth I became curious about the relative scarcity of references to Heaven in the Bible. Yet, while my understanding of the place of Heaven in my Gospel proclamation has been refined, some God-Channel evangelists have headed in the other direction and made Heaven central to their Gospel. Some of these evangelists now even claim to have the spiritual power to make repeated visits there!

Presumably God, the Supreme Being, has a supremely beautiful home, in a supremely magnificent neighbourhood. Amazingly, God invites mankind to move into His neighbourhood- for eternity! But what is Heaven like? Is it possible, as some are now claiming, that we can visit Heaven? While I am going to lead readers to conclude that Heaven is not the Gospel’s focus, if it is the only reason someone is motivated to convert to Christ, then we should rejoice!

The Tragedy of Suicide – And How We Can Help

Suicide hurts. It is motivated by pain, but causes much greater pain. For those affected by suicide the guilt and anguish it produces is almost unbearable. But since suicide is in the Bible, how can we know that it is wrong? How should we regard the sinfulness of suicide? Is it unforgiveable? How can we help avoid suicide? What should those affected by it know after its happened?

The funeral celebrant rang me to warn me. He was used to dealing with sensitive situations but this one had a few extra layers of complexity. He decided to get me involved. He outlined the story to me and then told me the purpose of his call. When a loved one dies there is often a measure of guilt for those left behind. But when the death is caused by suicide that guilt is compounded. Suicide hurts. The funeral celebrant told me that a young man with a diagnosed mental illness, who had professed Christianity, had taken his own life and his devout mother (who we will call “Betty”) was devastated. The celebrant told me that Betty would ring because her guilt was beyond his expertise due to her Biblical understanding of suicide.

True For You But Not True For Me

Have you ever heard someone say, “That may be true for you but it’s not true for me!” It’s the kind of sentiment which might be appropriately limited to our experiences and our emotional responses to them, but it can not be true about those issues which effect us all, known as universals. These include what we consider to be morally right or wrong, whether a fact is true or false,  or whether we should regard something as either good or bad. For example, one of the universal laws that is not subject to personal opinion is gravity. Someone may disagree with it, but their disagreement doesn’t change its reality.

The kind of judgment needed to distinguish right from wrong, true from false, or good from bad, must allow for those things which are universal and thus common to all. This kind of truth, what Francis Schaeffer called ‘true truth’ is also not subject to context, circumstances, popularity, or fashion (Beckworth & Koukl 1998, 20). Neither is it restricted to a time or place. Thus, what can be known as true has generally been acknowledged as such down through the ages by various peoples located in different parts of the world. Philosophers refer to this kind of truth as…

How To Handle A Crisis

The definition of a crisis is a calamity or event which disrupts a person’s sense of well- being and lifestyle. It is generally short term and requires immediate action in order to restore balance and control in the person’s life.  The results of crisis are: anxiety, bewilderment, confusion, desperation, anger, helplessness and even apathy. There is an increased sense of dependency upon others, a sense of urgency, and decreased efficiency in decision making and performance. The account of Judah being sieged by the Assyrians in Second Chronicles 32, involves all the aspects of a crisis. The major distinctive is that it involves a nation of people rather than just one person. The “helper” in this instance was their leader – King Hezekiah.

Roman Catholicism Compared With Christianity

Any discussion about religious wars, clergy violations, or child abuse, and it won’t be long before the The Roman Catholic Church unfortunately features. But I want to have a different discussion. And unlike most of the ‘discussions’ of this nature, I’m not on a mission to attack, ridicule, or mock anyone. Rather, I want to look at what the Roman Catholic Church officially teaches and asserts and compare it with the Bible’s teaching.

I’ve been a denominational minister for over two decades, so I know that it is possible to be a part of an organisation with which you disagree on some points.  I understand that this is certainly the case with the Roman Catholic Church as there are many priests who do agree with all that their Church asserts. For the purposes of this discussion, I have chosen to take the official Catholic positions on the matters I am comparing with the Biblical data. It is my hope that my Roman Catholic audience will acknowledge that I have represented their views fairly – but it is also my hope that I can appropriately demonstrate how these core views compare with the Biblical prescriptions.

Soli Deo Gloria

The final statement in The Five Pillars of Biblical Christianity is Soli Deo Gloria – for the glory of God alone! The reason we are saved is so that we can glorify God. In one sense it is true that reason Christ died for us was to save us from our sins and the just wrath of God for our sin. But the main reason Christ died to redeem us was for the glory of God.

How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?
John 5:44

The glory that comes from God is when we give God glory. One of Christ’s last prayers was that His disciples would see His glory (John 17:24). Therefore God’s glory, His radiant magnificence, is visible and apprehendable. God’s glory is described several times in Scripture. In this sense, God’s glory is a visible reality (a noun). God’s glory is variously described as being like a cloud (Exodus 16:10), a devouring and consuming fire (Exodus 24:17), fire and smoke-like cloud (2Chronicles 7:1), and a brightly glowing cloud (Ezekiel 10:4).

Where Are The Dead?

Sitting across from me in my office was an older middle-aged man who had just read my draft commentary on the Book of Revelation. He had come from Queensland to visit friends in Tasmania and while in the neighbourhood, dropped in to see me to have chat and get a later edition of my book. He asked a lot of theoretical questions and we discussed the implications of what we discussed. Not until he returned to Queensland did I get an email regarding the chapter on the Resurrection. It was at this point that he confided in me that he was in the advanced stages of cancer and that his query was far more than theoretical.
The ancients believed that death was merely a change of location for the soul of a person. The place of the dead was called “Sheol”. When Jacob thought his son Joseph was dead: “All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him.” (Gen. 37:35 ). When the judgment of God came upon Korah and his rebellion.

TULIP, The Essence of The Reformation

Jesus Christ taught that following Him was only possible through the miracle of conversion. He taught that for someone to authentically claim to be a Christian they needed a spiritual encounter that changed their heart and mind. Without such a miracle, known Biblically as ‘regeneration’, no one could merely decide to be a Christian.
It’s important to appreciate the geo-socio-politico conditions at the time of the Reformation. This was the time when John Calvin, Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and others dared to defend the Biblical revelation against a militant Papal Church which had previously executed similar voices (Wyclif, Tyndale, Savonarola, to name a few) for daring to defy the teaching of the Papacy. One of the central claims of the Papacy was “Universalism”, the doctrine which taught that Christ’s sacrificial death was repeated over and over through the celebration of the Mass and was effective in saving all those in communion with the Roman Catholic Church (thus, universal salvation was activated by works). Since Salvation was universal (everyone is automatically saved), the Papal Church was more concerned about administering this salvation through having people in communion with it, or alternatively, disfellowshipping (or, ex-communicating) those who it disliked. Calvin on the other hand saw that Scripture did not teach universalism, but conversely- that not everyone would be saved.

Dr. Andrew Corbett

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