Okay, I’ve had enough.
I’m all for a good argument. And good is the operative word in that sentence. And by “good” I mean a conversation where the two parties are not merely harping on their particular point of view, but where each party has the skill to highlight the underlying beliefs as well as the errors in reasoning of the other party, and where each party has the willingness, ability and, again, skill, to recognize when a hole has been poked in the fabric of their own position.
I remember an argument with a potential business partner over a pricing strategy… suddenly, he went from defending his position and lept into self-righteous indignation. “Who do you think you are to accuse me? Do you know what I’ve done with other companies?”
“Well,” I replied, “regardless of what you’ve done, I know that self-righteous indignation is usually the last resort of someone who is guilty.”
There was a long pause, then he laughed, “Nobody has ever accused me of being self-righteously indignant before.”
“Was I right?”
“I hate to admit it, but, yes. I haven’t actually done the research on this and am not sure what would work,” he replied.
I left the call, optimistic that this newfound honesty would be the foundation of a great business relationship.
To cut to the chase: another incident revealed that I was dealing with a pathological liar.
But back to good and bad arguments.
Lately, there have been quite a few arguments between religious and non-religious parties.
The two favorites are: atheism vs. theism (or, sometimes, deism) and evolution vs. creationism (or it’s identical twin, intelligent design… BTW, there’s no grammatically correct way to insert the proper number of quotes to highlight the absurdity of those two words used together: “intelligent design,” “intelligent” design, intelligent “design,” “”intelligent” design,” “intelligent “design,”” or “”intelligent” “design””, none of them quite work… anyway…).
And there’s one particular style of bad argument that I’ve just had enough of, that makes me as nutty as people saying “very unique” (it’s either unique — one of a kind — or not. It can’t be VERY one-of-a-kind), or making a declarative statement sound like a question by raising the tone of voice at the end (so, “It’s two o’clock” sounds like “It’s two o’clock?” Well, IS IT OR ISN’T IT? Are you ASKING ME or TELLING ME?!), or confusing a thought with a feeling (“I’m feeling like you’re not in touch with your feelings” … translation: Based on a theory I have about awareness of what I’ll call “feelings” and based on a self-diagnosed ability to know what another person is and should be feeling and how they would then react to those feelings, I have come to the conclusion — that is, I THINK — that you’re not “in touch with your feelings” which, by the way, I think will cause me imagined problems in the future and, rather than attend to my own discomfort over this presumed state of affairs, I’ll state my case in such a way that you understand, without me having to explicitly tell you, that I believe — that is, I THINK — there is something wrong with you and that you should change and that, if you did, my life would be better”).
The bad argument technique in question — did you remember that’s what we were talking about after that “feelings” tirade? — is misappropriating a word from the language of one position and using it, inaccurately, inappropriately, and mistakenly, to criticize the other position.
For example: Atheists are religious about their atheism. Or, physicists are fundamentalists when it comes to their beliefs. Evolutionists are dogmatic about Darwinism.
Okay, once and for all. NO THEY ARE NOT.
The people who accuse, say, atheists for being “religious,” are just re-translating “religious” to mean “passionate” or “committed” or “steadfast in opinion.” But “RELIGIOUS” is an adjective that can only apply to actual beliefs in supernatural theories of the creation and functioning of the universe.
Same thing with “fundamentalist.” Rather than the standard meaning — “one who believes in the infallibility of the Bible” — it’s twisted in a way that would make Roget spin in his grave to mean “holding strongly to an idea.”
“Dogmatic” is morphed from “pertaining to dogma” to “arrogantly opinionated.”
Now, you may have noticed that the only people who call atheists religious are those who believe in their own religion. Those who call physicists fundamentalists also hold steadfastly to their own spiritual notions. Those who say Darwinists are dogmatic are, you guessed it, strong believers in a description of how things work which comes from religious texts.
While it may sound like an intelligent criticism to call a physicist a fundamentalist, it’s just a collegiate level version of the childhood taunt, “I know you are, but what am I?” Or, “I’m rubber and you’re glue. Whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you!”
It’s not a real criticism, it’s not a real argument, it’s just a “thought stopper.” It’s a tactic used to end an argument rather than risk having your own position examined (and, possibly, found lacking in merit).
It may not be lost on you that these faux-attacks are only dished out when the horrible atheists, physicists, scientists, Darwinists or any other -ists are arguing an opposing point.
That is, you never hear a creationist screaming about “That mathematician is fundamentalist about his belief that 2+2 = 4 and refuses to consider that 2+2 might equal aardvark!” or “That physicist is so religious in his belief in gravity, he actually lets his cup of tea rest on the table rather than strap it down, just in case!” or “Those round-earth people are so dogmatic about the spherical nature of our planet, that they’ve destroyed all the dodecahedron molds that more open-minded globe makers have proposed!”
And this is too bad, because the argument that 2+2=aardvark is actually WAY more interesting.