Showing posts with label Argumentation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Argumentation. Show all posts

The Believers Reasoning Scheme

A fallacy is an argument (aka pattern of reasoning, reasoning scheme, argument scheme) that appears valid but upon analysis is shown to be invalid or misapplied. The phrase "Anything is possible" is an example of one of those reasoning schemes that seems valid but is not. Anything is not possible. This article will discuss why an appeal to possibility should be considered for refutation on its face. It will then go on to discuss the effects this fallacy has in a dialogue. Finally it will discuss the process of sound reasoning, and introduce the phenomenon I call the Believers Reasoning Scheme.

More Christian Heuristic Analysis

I'm a big fan of argument analysis, and in William Lobdells post he listed several common Christian heuristics for dealing with the problem of apostasy. In the comments section of his article you can see one of our christian guests using some other common heuristics which I've taken a moment to analyze. I welcome William, and I hope he'll consider joining DC as an author.

This is a list of some of the heuristics William handled in his post:
Criticism: You’re anti-religious or anti-Christian.
Criticism: You are trying to lead people away from God and/or Jesus Christ
Criticism: You’ve confused the sinfulness of man with a perfect God.
Criticism: You were never really a serious Christian, so you didn’t really lose your faith, you never had it.
Criticism: You’ve consigned yourself to an eternity in hell

In the comments section of that article one of our guests used quite a few common heuristics laying them out nicely for an opportunity for analysis. In my view these heuristics are the result of various cognitive biases and unskilled thinking. A couple of Good books on that sort of thing are "How We Know What Isn't So" by Thomas Gilovich and "How To Think About Weird Things" by Theodore Schick and Lewis Vaughn

"no you have not lost your faith – just exchanged it. "
This depends on belief being a voluntary action. Try believing that the sun won't come up tomorrow, or the sun will not set around the time its forecast. I can't do it, and I don't think anyone else can either. One can commit to an idea, but that is completely different than having a belief or an emotional investment in it. I can say "Sir" or "Ma'am" completely independent of whether I think its deserved or not.

One practical test of whether belief is inherently "rational" is to look through trivia game cards and choose the right answer from four or five options. Sometimes there will be one that the observer thinks right away could be the answer, then see another that the observer "feels" more likely to be the right answer. Then the observer is wrong and it was the one the observer thought before but didn't feel right. This kind of thing happens to me all the time. Belief, for the most part, is not consciously controlled, if at all.

"Without proof absolute either way to believe there is no God is as much of a leap of faith (more in my opinion) as to believe there is a God."
A lack of proof of something SHOULD cause a belief that a real world state is not being accurately described by the data. The commenter seems to say that the belief that the datum is unlikely given the lack of evidence is EQUIVALENT to believing it without evidence. The quality of the evidence is relevant only to the observer. The evidence may foster a belief in some people but not in others.

It is appropriate to doubt a datum that lacks support, it is NOT appropriate to commit to a datum that lacks support. The commenter faults the apostate for appropriately doubting the datum on the grounds that the evidence does not nurture, support, cause, sustain or warrant his belief. Therefore the commenter faults the apostate for not ARTIFICIALLY sustaining his emotional investment.

"I really think you are taking cheap (and intellectually weak) shots at the religion that has not met your expectations – by the way, did you meet Christ’s expectations of you?"
This depends on the apostates expectations being inappropriate. Were the apostates expectations inappropriate? If the apostates expectations were based on sound principles in support of the apostates value system then how can it be inappropriate? What expectations does the apostate have that is inappropriate? I think its safe to say that apostates are apostates because the evidence doesn't nurture, support, cause, sustain or warrant their belief. If the only definitive proof is some inner knowing about God, then if God is of One Mind, this inner knowing should be consistent across people and multiple denominations of Christianity are evidence that its not.

"But why should we expect more of Christians and their institutions than of secular organizations?"
"Secular organizations do it too!"
Is it inappropriate to fault something because other things exhibit the same behavior. But it can be appropriate to fault things even though the behavior is exhibited by the speaker. Should I NOT reprimand my child for vulgar language even though I do it too? My child has every right to reprimand me, and to further reprimand me for not being consistent. In this case, how Secular organizations behave has no bearing on how Christian organizations should behave.

"it is rational to expect Christianity to attract more than its fair share – where else would they go in an unforgiving world?"
This presumes Christians are in a constant state of "recovery" from their sin. The guest concludes that there are more "sinners" in church exactly because "sinners" see church as place they can go to help overcome their "sin". Therefore it should be expected that one would find "sinners" in church. After all, people that go into an Ice Cream shop have a desire for and are lacking ice cream, so we would expect to find people lacking ice cream in the ice cream shop.

The missing qualifier in that reasoning scheme which disconfirms it and which is the qualifier that breaks the circle is the effectiveness of the ice cream shop in providing Ice Cream. People do get their ice cream because the ice cream shop is effective at selling it to them. So if customers of ice cream never left the store, we should see more of the customers that have had ice cream, and can get it anytime they want and less of those that want it, do not have it and have not had it.

I'll concede that we are all in constant state of recovery from undesirable human behavior. That is what education and learning how to associate in a society is all about. But this leads to the question of HOW EFFECTIVE CHRISTIANITY IS at dealing with undesirable Human Behavior (Sin) compared to other methods. When you assess the effectiveness and efficiency of Christianity on dealing with undesirable human behavior, its evident that it has no advantage.

"[the apostate says] 'I indeed was a serious Christian' Well you certainly went through some of the motions!"
This asserts that though the apostates behavior was consistent with a true believer, his apostasy proves that he never really believed at all. This missing qualifier which disconfirms the statement and breaks the circle is the intent behind the actions. What benefit would the NON-BELIEVER have in ACTING LIKE A BELIEVER? Obviously to act like a Christian is a result of believing oneself to be a Christian or believing their is some benefit to pretending to be a Christian. To say that someone pretended to be a Christian for over a decade and then decided to renounce it and advertise it requires some forethought and premeditation to what benefit? To put oneself into an undesirable minority? Not bloody likely.

"have fallen into what seems to be a common atheist trap on giving up religion – finding in the literalistic interpretation of the bible anything that can be criticised."
The guests seems to be saying that though the Bible is the revealed word of God, it shouldn't be taken at face value. Its only accurate so far, but they won't define any parameters. Bring some parameters for how to measure what is an accurate representation of a real world state and what is not to the table and there might be a case for a non-literal interpretation. As it stands, it is not clear that the author of the scripture did not intend for it to be taken literally except where there is an obvious use of metaphor such as in the case of parables.

"Given the social context of His time there were many things Jesus did not directly seek out against – capital punishment etc."
This seems to presume that it was somehow inappropriate for God on Earth to speak out against slavery, or not killing witches. If Jesus was God on Earth, then in order to Qualify as God he must have been the ultimate authority, so how would it have been inappropriate? Is it NOT a sound principle that the most qualified should lead, or that the authority should exercise that authority, or that beings should be prevented from intentionally or otherwise harming themselves or others? To make the guests claim tenable the criteria for appropriate behavior in an authority and the criteria for appropriate behavior by the observer of suffering must be modified.

"The problem you seem to have faced was that when you realized God was not in the beliefs you held you seem to have decided there is no God rather than that God might be different from what you believed or wanted Him to be."
This is the old "I Got Mine, Why Can't You Get Yours?" argument. If the apostate understood Christianity the way our guest understands it, the apostate would still be a believer. Meaning that if the Apostate would ignore disconfirming qualifiers in the standard Christian reasoning schemes, then they would still be a believer. I Agree.

Link to all my articles

Heuristics and When Ones Values Are Out Of Sync With Ones Thinking

In response to the my Article "Jesus Appeared To Other People, Why Can't He Appear To Me?" One of our christian guests commented....
"He will come down and visit with you, except you live your life as though you don't want Him to."

I must be committing Spiritual Suicide!
Lets think about that for a minute. Lets unpack it and lay it out for examination. One way to do that is by using the fundamental critical thinking skills that we should all have learned in school. I think of them as the seven dwarves
- Who
- What
- Where
- When
- Why
- How
- How Much or Scope

By applying the Seven Dwarves or Seven Critical Questions using a brainstorming technique, we have a nice easy to remember tool for unpacking and analyzing complicated concepts. Since a rigorous application of them to this comment would take too much time, I've opted to just pick some common sense critical questions to get us started. They are the following. If any of you can think of any more, please contribute them in the comments.

* Who are you? Who originated that information?
* What do you have to go on? What are some precedents?
* Where did you get that information? Where will or did it happen?
* When did you get that information? When was the origin of that information?
* Why do you say that? Why would that be true? Why should I care?
* How do you know? Are you in a position to know? How do you figure? How does that follow?
* How Much, How often, what is the Scope, and to what degree?

and a couple of words that can be thought of as JUICY TIDBITS are
* Would and
* Should.
When you see these words, you should think "Fish in a barrel" or "Low Hanging Fruit" because they require support, and the data-driven debater can easily dismantle or support a "would" or a "should".

The Position To Know And Agnosticism
Now lets decompose the comment.
1. He will come down
2. and visit with you,
3. except you live your life
4. as though you don't want Him to.

1. He will come down
Really? The commenter is in a position to know?
Lets rephrase that into a question.
Here are the seven dwarves applid to this claim but then I just pick some that I feel would do the job for brevity.
- Who will come down?
- What will come down?
- Where will he come down?
- When will he come down?
- Why will he come down? Is there some principle that would warrant it?
- How will he come down?
- How Much will He come down, to what degree, what is the scope or the upper and lower bounds of His Visit? Will he permit me to video tape it at a Football Game or will it be too subtle for me to recognize?

Will He come down? Why would he come down? Why should he come down?

When has he come down in the past that is not recorded in The Bible? Christianitiy is in some serious need of CROSS-CHECKING. How do you know? Do you presume to know the mind of God?

This statement has some hidden dependencies.
1a. It depends on the commenter being in a position to know what God will do and I know that can't be right with as many times as I get told that I can't predict or know or tell God what to do.

1b. It depends on God wanting to come down, and we know that no-one is in a position to know why God would want to come down because no-one knows the mind of God and being God he's free to change his mind anytime he likes.

1c. It depends on there being a principle in place that would warrant God Coming down. This is the foundation for my rebuttal.

2. and visit with you,
2a. It depends on the commenter being in a position to know and we know that he's not.

2b. It depends on presuming that God would come down and that he would visit with me if he did come down and that I would recognize it if he did. We can't say that he would come down, and we can't say that he would visit me if he did come down and we can't say I'd recognize a visit because we are not in a position to know any of that.

3. except you live your life
3a. Again, the commenter is not in position to know. I have a good job, and the respect of my peers. My moral center is a reasonable one, with several facets, which include such things as "Utility", "Logic" and "The well being of others". I know that my moral scheme and the Christians both have problems but over all they are compatible. To say something like this is a Judgement based on lack of information. I would love it if Jesus appeared to me right now so that I could turn this rebuttal into an endorsement for Jesus, but If I finish it, you'll know he didn't.

4. as though you don't want Him to.
4a. the commenter is not thinking this through.
Protesters are protesting for change. They protest for reasons such as they want some outcome that is being prevented by those in a position to bring it about. I am a protester. I want God to change his strategy to be more in line with how I think because as it is now it doesn't make sense to me and I don't get it and I don't think I ever will. Its true that I thought I got it at one time, but I came to realize that considering there is such a concept as Luck or Chance, and there is a concept of God, it seemed to me that God had the same characteristics of Luck or Chance.

Since I think my understanding of God was a misinterpretation of Chance, and since there is nothing yet to refute that viewpoint, then I am on a one way trip to Spiritual Suicide. God and all of you Christians reading this should think I'm committing spiritual suicide therefore so should the commenter.

So what is the principle that warrants a visit from God?
How to Respond to Expressions of Suicidal Intent

In a situation when someone expresses an intention to commit suicide, you should try not to get upset or embarrassed. Keep yourself calm and encourage the person to explain more in detail why and how he/she intends to commit suicide.

The principle is that Suicide is bad, those that want to commit suicide are not well, and the expression of suicidal tendencies warrants intervention appropriate to dispell it.

That is important enough for him to come down and intervene.

So the key point in this article is that I have noticed that in most cases where a Christian CAN use a Heuristic or a "pre-packaged" argument to rebut an atheist they WILL.
And usually when you unpack it you can find where it does not syncoronize with what their values should be according to what the commonly accepted characteristics of a Christian are.

In this case, the commenter has alluded that my spiritual suicidal tendency is not important enough for God to come down and intervene. The commenter might as well have said that ones suicidal tendencies are not important enough to warrant intervention.

I can only say, "non-sense" to that.

Nonpartisan Media Discussing Failed Arguments For God

Over at The Fallacy Files, the article The Arguments That Failed discusses the Boston Review Article God; Philosophers Weigh In by Alex Byrne. Both demonstrate the problems with Anselm's "Ontological" Argument, The Design Argument and The "Fine-Tuning" Argument.

Cooking the Books To Avoid IDQ Principles

A straw man (aka misrepresentation) and a moving goal post (aka sliding window).
Over at Sophies LadderJeff has misunderstood my position.

I do not think the Bible should be used as a history book or a science book, and I know the Bible, in its current form, was not intended to be either. I know there is no warrant to take the bible as a science or history "treatise". I agree we delineate our concepts such as biology and (as he says) Philosophy (but I wouldn't have used philosophy because its not data driven) based on its intent and its purpose. Jeffs asks rhetorically
What is the proper IDQ criteria to be applied to poetry and mythology? Or better yet, what is the proper IDQ criteria to be applied to information dealing with the transcendent?

At this point he as compared the Bible to Poetry and Mythology and he used the term "Transcendent" in relation to Poetry and Mythology but I haven't seen him define what he thinks transcendent is. He seems to suggest that poetry and mythology are transcendent. has the definition of "Transcendent" as follows.

1. Surpassing others; preeminent or supreme.
2. Lying beyond the ordinary range of perception: “fails to achieve a transcendent significance in suffering and squalor” (National Review).
3. Philosophy.
1. Transcending the Aristotelian categories.
2. In Kant's theory of knowledge, being beyond the limits of experience and hence unknowable.
4. Being above and independent of the material universe. Used of the Deity.

Cooking the Books: Shifting the relative value of the Bible to make a point
While I assume he's using transcendent with regard to the bible as option four, I can only guess at how he applies it to poetry and mythology. And I can only guess at what the relationship is between The Bible, Poetry and Mythology. I know The Bible has Hebrew Poetry in it, and I presume that it has mythology in it, but I don't understand how Jeff views it. Usually we don't presume Poetry or Mythology as having the same importance as the Bible and tradition holds that the originating source for the bible is not the mind of humans as is the case with poetry and mythology. If Jeff wants to say that Divine inspiration originates in the mind of humans and is of the same type as any other inspiration I will go along with that, but I doubt he's willing to agree to that.

One persons Relgion is another persons Mythology
IDQ is meant to assess information that is intended for use in decision making.
It is not meant to assess poetry and mythology, but it can, and it will produce metrics. But there is no reason to apply IDQ principles to poetry and mythology because they are not intended to be accurate with respect to the real world. The writer is at liberty to record whatever she pleases with no presumption or expectation of accuracy. However, in the case of Tom Clancy, the accuracy of the information in his books adds to the appeal. Poetry's purpose is not to create text to be used for decision making but to express whatever the writer has in her head. On the other hand, generally speaking, one persons mythology is or was another persons religion. An old worn out religion becomes a mythology. We have plenty of examples of it: Egyptian, Vedic, Sumerian, Greek, Roman, and all the millions of subcultures scattered around the world. African Bushmen had a religion, Australian Aboriginees had a religion, American indians had a Religion etc.

Generally, novels and short stories are not intended as data for decision making, either, but IDQ can be applied and metrics can be derived, but its not clear why one would want to do that. However The Bible supposedly does represent real world states, some history of the Jewish people and the only record of Jesus. The question is what is the quality of that information?

Violating The First Rule Of Critical Discussion

Recurrent claim from Christians in comments:
"you seem to be questioning God. Why didn't God do this? why did God do that? The short answer is, because God does what he pleases and since he is infinite in knowledge, then God knows best, not us."
10:41 PM, August 23, 2008

According to Van Eemeren, Grootendorst and Walton, the first rule of a critical discussion is that

1. Parties must not prevent each other from advancing or casting doubt on each others viewpoints.

[Rules for Critical Discussion by Frans Van Eemeren & Rob Grootendorst, taken from "Fundamentals of Critical Argumentation" by Douglas Walton,Cambridge University Press, 2006.]

But what we see here is that some christians don't have a problem with trying to shut down critical questioning of biblical principles. When Biblical principles don't accurately reflect reality, then one of two things are happening. Biblical principles are flawed or reality is flawed. Pick your poison.

Framing Science and Atheism for the Public

A bit of a bomb has gone off in the blogosphere. I refrained from posting earlier on the precursor -- the "framing" debate sparked by a Science article and discussed at length here -- but I think there are sufficient disparate issues at play here to tie together into one coherent argument. My argument is simple: people are talking past each other because of a lack of focus. Now, the same issue hit the WaPo, and the blogosphere is buzzin' again.

The larger issue is fundamentalist religion, plain and simple. In Chris Mooney's own words,
In the Post, we focus on one of the most obvious examples of badly framing the defense of evolution--tying it to criticism of religion. Richard Dawkins is the most prominent example in this regard, and we single him out accordingly. I want to emphasize that I grew up on Dawkins' books; they really helped me figure out who I am. But nevertheless, over the past several years I've grown increasingly convinced that his is emphatically not the way to make many Americans (people very different from me) more accepting of science.
It isn't only defenders of science who feel the way Mooney and Nisbet do -- humanists and freethinkers have recently decried "angry atheists who hold down our movement".
While some progressive Christians maintain that Christ was divine, they nevertheless manage to agree with us on principles of human rights, reason and science. If we refuse to build alliances with people who do not agree with us on every single issue, we will never be strong enough to stand up to the Religious Right.
The media, by its nature, interviews figures whose views are diametrically opposed. News has morphed into entertainment, and the masses cry for gladiators of words and ideas to step into the ring and let mental blood. Sophisticated viewpoints don't conform to soundbytes. Therefore, why waste a perfectly good 30-second interview on an atheist who refuses to call names and instead wants to discuss transcendental arguments for a god's existence?

When Elaine Pagels was interviewed by Salon, we see this common theme resurface:
What do you make of the recent claim by the atheist Richard Dawkins that the existence of God is itself a scientific question? If you accept the idea that God intervenes in the physical world, don't there have to be physical mechanisms for that to happen? Therefore, doesn't this become a question for science?

Well, Dawkins loves to play village atheist. He's such a rationalist that the God that he's debunking is not one that most of the people I study would recognize. I mean, is there some great big person up there who made the universe out of dirt? Probably not.

Are you saying that part of the problem here is the notion of a personal God? Has that become an old-fashioned view of religion?

I'm not so sure of that. I think the sense of actual contact with God is one that many people have experienced. But I guess it's a question of what kind of God one has in mind.

So when you think about the God that you believe in, how would you describe that God?

Well, I've learned from the texts I work on that there really aren't words to describe God. You spoke earlier about a transcendent reality. I think it's certainly true that these are not just fictions that we arbitrarily invent.

Certainly many people talk about God as an ineffable presence. But if you try to explain what transcendence is, can you put that into words and explain what it means?

People have put it into words, but the words are usually metaphors or poems or hymns. Even the word "God" is a metaphor, or "the son of God," or "Father." They're all simply images for some other order of reality.
I own two of Pagels' books. I respect her scholarship greatly, but she seems to have missed a very large point: Dawkins (and Harris) are aiming for exactly the sort of god that is most dangerous to believe in, and the one that the overwhelming majority of anti-scientific anti-gay bigots cling to. Dawkins doesn't put the intelligentsia in his sights because they are not the ones whose stance against science has led to the current stem cell veto, and the battles over teaching sound biology. These Christian academics instead resort to, *gasp*, reasonable and long discourses.

She mentioned Dawkins as "village atheist," and this same term was reserved for him by Novak in his recent "Lonely Atheists of the Global Village." Novak is no dummy, and I commented a month ago that I was looking forward to reading this. In fact, I enjoyed reading this article, and then a couple more, especially his response to Heather McDonald's article in TAS in November. The exchange was typical of the sort of dialectic that doesn't make newspaper headlines and can't seem to find its way into a split-screen on FauxNews. It was complex and engaging to someone who honestly wants to learn.

Some Christians have already commented on Novak's new article, but without in-depth analysis. I agree with both he and Pagels on some of their criticisms regarding the shallow treatments given god(s) by Dawkins and Harris, as I've said previously, but Novak, especially, seems to dismiss Dennett very lightly, which I find telling. Those who try to lump Dennett in with Dawkins and Harris are those who haven't read the books. His critiques are philosophical and scientific in nature, not polemical, and not directed at any one particular religion.

There is a tension between the god of the philosophers and the god of the layman, and I think it has always been there. When I say that I'm an atheist, for example, I don't mean towards an abstract concept of "the grounding of existence" or "the nexus of causality" or "the first cause". While the "tri-omni" god is beyond my capacity to believe or findreasonable, these rather abstruse theological ideas I constantly engage my faculties in contemplation of -- I am a freethinker, after all. While I'm an atheist towards Yahweh, and Zeus, and Thor...etc., and while I think there are adequate responses to many philosophical arguments for theism, I find some of them lacking, especially with respect to cosmology and those along moral lines (not that I find the religious alternatives on the latter subject any more coherent). There are a lot of atheists who completely disregard philosophical arguments for a god's existence, and think that the Todd Friels of the world represent the best of intellectual Christianity. That's unfortunate.

I agree completely with PZ and Larry Moran that atheists and scientists must continue to criticize superstition and fantastical thinking in order to preserve scientific knowledge in our culture. If we muzzled our "angry" and "militant" voices, then the angry, militant fundamentalist Christians and Jews and Muslims would gladly step into the void. They would love nothing more. And I agree with them that appeasement has not worked. These people believe any ground-giving to science is "compromise," punishable by brimstone. But the question I want to ask is whether we should consider religious liberals and moderates our friends, and refrain from insulting them, as PZ thoughtlessly does to Ken Miller in that latest response.

The sorts of people that we need Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris for are the Falwells of our culture: the unthinking lynch-mobs whose readiness to rapture lauds them (they're showing 'great faith!') in ignoring the perils facing our grandchildren. The sorts of people who use deceit and fraud and millions of dollars to erode our civil liberties into their vision of theocracy and oppose sound science education because their small brains can't encompass the theologians' alternatives, or Gould's NOMA.

I also agree with Elaine Pagels and Michael Novak -- we cannot paint religion with such a broad brush as to attack all forms of religiosity and call names and hold to the old, insulting phraseologies ("reality-based community" and "I live by reason" are tacit insults). We must remind ourselves that there are voices of reason in the religious community, no matter how silly we feel some of their views are. And the Pagels of the world are those we atheists and we scientists need to sit down and have more discussion with. If that happened, there would be a great deal more respect on each side of the fence.

While Pagels (and intellectuals like her) are focused on getting the fundies to grow their brains a little to encompass the more sophisticated aspects of theology, and PZ et al on getting the fundies to stop their anti-scientific crusades, perhaps they could realize that 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend'. Perhaps more honest discussion between the "evangelical", "uppity", "angry" and "militant" atheists and liberal/moderate Christians would yield a rich reward in finding the assistance we can afford each other in reaching mutual goals.

I want to "frame" science and atheism together, because that's my perspective. But I want to hear every possible (logical) framing as well -- I also want to hear and have heard Elaine Pagels' view of evolution from a theologian's perspective. Am I saying I want her teaching biology courses? Of course not. I want her views heard in the same media mine are, and PZ's, and Dawkins --in the 'sphere, or the MSM. The creationist hordes need to have their stupid false dichotomy (my version of Christianity or atheism) irreparably damaged by the critical words of god-believing theologians. The demagogues like Falwell and Pat "Midas Touch" Robertson hold sway over the sheep precisely because of the false picture they present --that their own views of God are the only/most valid. When more Christians see that the huge majority of scholarly Christians are moderate or liberal in their theological views, and especially towards Genesis (sometimes they find this out with much chagrin), perhaps more credence will be given to evolutionary biology, and this would be a win for "both sides". Or perhaps no change will be affected.

Let's face it: we're both minorities and we're both intellectually-centered. Our common enemy is the anti-intellectual, theocratically-wet-dreaming, rampantly superstitious Christian/Muslim/Jewish right that work tirelessly to render America into Jesus' Iran -- replete with a new "creation-based science" and the conversion of our secular institutions into "godly" ones. They're a huge voter bloc, well-organized and well-funded.

We need all the friends we can make in our "coalition of the unwilling" -- those quite unwilling to participate in theocracy or pseudoscience at our species' own peril.

Happy St. Patricks Day! Leprechauns Exist!


This is a short discussion about argument fundamentals using an example of a debate about the existence of Leprechauns inspired by the Loftus-Wood debate and St. Patricks day. Its also relevant to blog discussions.

Arguments consist of premises and conclusions. They can also be linked, where conclusions of individual arguments make up the premises of a 'global' argument. Some of the 'local' arguments that can make up a 'global' argument are arguments from Sign, Analogy and Cause just to name a few. Each of these have strategies associated with them that can be used to challenge them effectively, but this is beyond the scope of this discussion. For more information on these concepts, check the references section of this document.

Step one in a critical discussion is to agree to principles of behavior before you start. I recommend something like van Eemeren and Grootendorsts "Rules for a Critical Discussion". They say things like 'remember you may be wrong', 'don't use personal attacks', 'stay relevant' etc. If the one participant uses a personal attack or tries to avoid answering the question and goes off on a tangent, a charge of lack of relevance is warranted. Stay focused to avoid being distracted by these diversionary tactics.

Step two is to agree on the premises of the discussion. If the existence of Leprechauns entails evidence, then that is one place to start. You can both begin to present your evidence. And remember, there is no shame in being wrong. It's character building.

Are Leprechauns plausible, is an easier position to argue from either viewpoint because it entails using defeasible reasoning to argue whether it is likely or not that Leprechauns exist. Arguing about the fact of their existence is more difficult from the point of view of the principle of Burden of Proof. If a proponent says that something exists, and the respondents says something like 'show me the body', the proponent can always say that not all possibilities of discoveries have been exhausted. This has the weight of presumption in its favor because of the efficacy of the scientific method in fields such as the sciences (medicine, physics etc.) law and technical maintenance (electronics, automobile etc) and others not listed. The scientific method presumably works for these fields and showing that it doesn't will be a struggle for the respondent. Proponents and respondents must always be open to new information to avoid holding untenable conclusions.

The most tenable viewpoint is that because of the preponderance of evidence (positive or negative), Leprechauns either are likely or not likely to exist. There is a valid reason to doubt that Leprechauns exist beyond a reasonable doubt because of the preponderance of negative evidence regarding Leprechauns. The respondent, however, cannot show that they do not exist because the respondents definition of reasonable doubt will not be the same as the proponent believer. There is a popular phrase that goes "You can't prove a negative". This is counterintuitive but logically it depends on your requirement and acceptance of evidence.

When involved in a discussion about whether or not Leprechauns exist, the strongest arguments for the respondent in a discussion like this will come from the principle of "Negative Evidence" and "Negative Proof". One reason for this is because it will account for the 'moving goalpost' type of arguments typically found in this type of critical discussion. If the proponent tries to use equivocation (changing a previously stipulated definition or properties) or demand more evidence than is reasonable (impossible precision), the respondent can show that since they both agree that the existence of Leprechauns entails evidence, that there is no evidence where there should be or of the type there should be and therefore the preponderance of Negative Evidence (lack of evidence or evidence that suggests another cause) makes their existence reasonably implausible. In order to get around this the proponent must claim that evidence is not relevant (as in the case of faith), in which case there can be no discussion and they have disqualified themselves by getting caught in a contradiction or somehow try to disqualify the negative evidence, possibly by equivocation. Good luck with this argument in a community of Leprechaun believers, especially if their local economy or their well-being depends on it.

What follows is an analysis of the argument of the proponent. The argument is laid out using the Toulman argument model where the validity of the conclusion is supported by the premises and the premises are supported by the warrant of data. The warrant is like a the bridge between the data and the premise. Each of the properties of the support for the conclusion are labeled with a 'P' a 'W' and a 'D'.

The proponent says that Leprechauns exists and the respondent has doubt about this claim.

The proponent says that Leprechauns exist because there exists a valid presumption
P: There are documented cases in the past of Leprechaun sightings.
W: That the documents are reliable testimony and necessary if not sufficient to support the conclusion
D: newspaper article that John smith saw a Leprechaun on such and such day
D: newspaper article that Jill brown saw the evidence of Leprechaun visitation in her house.
Argument from Tradition, more or less.

P: There exists a cultural belief that Leprechauns exist.
W: All these people wouldn't believe if it weren't true. They can't all be wrong.
D: Collectively all these people have reasons to believe
D: A lot of people believe that fire burns, and in fact it does
Argument from Popularity.

P: We can see the effects of leprechauns in our environment
W: If Leprechauns exist, we should see their effects since we presuppose they are doing things
D: Unexplained things happen all the time, especially things that have been determined to be characteristic of Leprachauns
Argument from Cause.

P: There exists an artifact of a Leprechaun pipe
W: Leprechauns are known to smoke pipes
D: the artifact is in the museum
Argument from Sign.

P: There is independent evidence of leprechaun like beings in other cultures, even if descriptions vary.
W: Since there is independent evidence in other cultures, it creates a presumption that supports the evidence in this one.
D: In the Appalachians there beliefs in magical beings that live in the mountains
D: In Nordic cultures, there are beliefs in magical beings called Trolls.
Argument from Precedence.

P: Leprechauns are like foxes. They clever, quick and can hide easily
W: Leprechauns are clever and hard to catch.
D: Foxes are considered to be clever and hard to catch.
Argument from Analogy, inherently weak and easy to refute.

P: Leprechauns are supernatural beings making them difficult to find
W: Leprechauns would use their powers to their advantage.
D: The supernatural factors exist because no one has proved that they don't
Argument from Ignorance.

P: Leprechauns are supernatural beings making them difficult to understand
W: Because of their supernatural abilities it makes their world view impossible for us to understand because we cannot possibly share their perspective because we are not supernatural.
D: Supernatural factors exist because no one has absolutely refuted evidence suggesting that they do.
Argument from Ignorance

Laid out like this, it is easy to see where to start with the argument. In a face-to-face discussion with people that are not familiar with structured discussion, it is much harder. The warrant and the data are rarely presented without a request, but to challenge the argument effectively, they must be revealed. The concept of the "unstated premise" is similar to the warrant, and you must look for these as well. It usually constitutes figuring out what is inferred, or what factors a statement depends on but has not been addressed so far.

The respondent should challenge the conclusion by rebutting the premises of the proponent using critical questioning according the strategy most effective for the type of argument that is being refuted. In the process of rebutting the premises of the proponent, it is usually necessary to challenge the warrant and the data. Sometimes the warrant is valid but the evidence is not. The respondent should avoid making claims where possible for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that it is preferable to shift the burden of proof to the other party. Many logical fallacies do this very effectively. The second reason is that whoever asks the questions is in control of the discussion.

The respondent should try to get the proponent to commit to statements that support the respondents conclusion. In doing so, the respondent can get the proponent to make contradictory claims, it which case the proponent must retract or commit to an untenable conclusion. For example, getting the proponent to commit to the premise that in the case of four witnesses of a robbery, there will be four conflicting stories that agree to some degree. The respondent can use this to point out that testimonial evidence is weak compared to other forms and an example of this is the "telephone game" that children play. Another example is to get the proponent to admit that in cases where there was a strong presumption in favor of the supernatural, it was later proven that there were natural causes. Such is the case with schizophrenia and Germ theory.

Toulman, Stephen. 2003. The Uses of Argument. 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press

Walton, Douglas N. 1995. Argumentation Schemes for Presumptive Reasoning. Lawrence Erlbaum

Walton, Douglas N. 2005. Fundamentals of Critical Argumentation. Cambridge University Press.

Walton, Douglas N. 1996. Argument from Ignorance. Pennsylvania State University Press.

Damer, T. Edward. 2004. Attacking Faulty Reasoning. 5th ed. Wadsworth Publishing

Freeley, Austin J. 1993. Argumentation and Debate: Critical Thinking for Reasoned Decision Making 8th ed. Wadsworth Publishing Company