Sunday, December 11, 2005

How To Decide Between Sides on Difficult Issues

I recently stumbled across the Christian webpage How To Decide Between Sides on Difficult Issues. Although I don't agree with all of their points, the overriding idea of the webpage -- that we should have a method for deciding on issues that have arguments on both sides -- is a good one. You can read their version, but I'd like to create my own version which borrows heavily from theirs:

  1. 1. "Precisely define the question." Don't ask, "Does God exist?" but rather, "Does God as defined by [Augustine/the Pope/Maimonides] exist?" Or, "Is it the case that no God, by any definition, exists?"

  2. 2."Determine if you could accept either side if either was true. If you are not able, admit that you cannot evaluate the issue fairly and stop. There is no sense wasting your time on something you cannot do." Perfect. I have nothing to add, except to say that you're a coward if you're unwilling to evaluate an issue because you won't accept one of the conclusions.

  3. 3."List all the arguments, both pro and con. Remember though, the strength of each arguments is more important than just the number of arguments." Very important. Often people spend time listening only to those who agree with them.

  4. 4."Unfortunately, sometimes there are too many arguments to closely examine each one." Also, you might not be qualified to understand some of the arguments. "Have one person on each side prioritize the relative strength of both the pro and con arguments." Also, have them explain the arguments you can't understand and educate yourself sufficiently that you can understand, at least at a basic level, the arguments for both sides.

  5. 5."For each argument, examine the rebuttal. Every argument has a rebuttal. The rebuttal may be very good, extremely weak, or in-between, but every argument has some sort of answer." Yes. I'm often astonished at the weak arguments people will accept even for conclusions I agree with.

  6. 6."Likewise every rebuttal has a rebuttal."

  7. 7."After looking at all the arguments and rebuttals, determine which arguments 'stand' and which 'fall'." This is important. You must do this for two reasons: 1) that you aren't falsely convinced that there are x number of good arguments on one side and 2) so that you don't keep coming back to the same arguments over and over again. Of course, if you can't decide whether an argument is true or false, you should admit it.

  8. 8."If all the arguments for one position fall you are done." This is only true if the two positions are the only possible two. It's not true if there are other options, which is usually the case. For example, if evolution is false, it doesn't mean that Christian creationism is true. Likewise, if Christian creationism is false, it doesn't mean that evolution is true. If I say that apples are blue and you say that they're yellow, proving me wrong doesn't make you right.


asher said...

circular reasoning at it's best

The Jewish Freak said...

Great post! There is so much to say, but not enough time to say it.
One point for now. Regarding #1, christians think that if they can point somehow to the existence of God, that necessarily confirms the whole jesus farce. Even if you could prove the existence of G-d, that would not prove any historical facts. - JF.

Laura said...

The problem with critical evaluation of this kind though, is that someone that is deeply devoted to a particular point of view will not be able to distance themselves far enough from that position to truly give another full consideration. To many people giving another point of view (evolution/creationism) full consideration and saying that it could be valid is a threat to their own beliefs. So this only works for those people who are able to consider the possibility that they could be wrong.

Jewish Atheist said...

That's #2, Laura. :)

Laura said...

Oh, I know... I guess I got off my original point and it didn't come through... There are many people who think they can objectively evaluate something, but really can't, because they're too attached to their own ideology and don't know how to detach. But they don't realize that they're not detaching far enough... so they don't know they're not evaluating the situation critically. Does that make any sense?

Jewish Atheist said...

Yes, I agree completely. However, I don't know what we can do about it. Science has peer review and repeated experimentation, but it's not clear how you could adapt those techniques to decisions about more general ideas.

oracle25 said...

I cannot understand why evolutionists want to argue on religion rather than on science, the only reason I have been able to come up with is that they would rather attack people based on there faith and not try to examine scientific evidence for creation.

To JF: While it is true that proving God exists does not prove anything about Jesus the fact is that that is often not the point. This is a common misconception about creationism, that is, people think that the Creationists are all christian activists when the fact is that is not the case at all. While christians do support creationism there are also some well respected Deists who support it.