Ecclesiasticus 4:28

"Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side."

Ora pro nobis,

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Dominic. Amen.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

The 10 Commandments of Apologetics and Theological Discussion

These rules are adapted from a rather poignant list which was composed by a friend of mine, who on the internet goes by the pseudonymous moniker, "Hidden One". They were posted on his blog, linked in the title. I thought I'd reproduce them, with some minor changes, here both as a reminder to myself, and as a policy-statement to others who wish to engage in dialogue here.

The Laws will be in gold, and my commentary on them will be in white.

God bless.

1. No argument against the validity or truth of any doctrine, idea, or group, may simply assume said doctrine, idea, or group, to be wrong without examination.
In other words, the simple fact that someone disagrees with you doesn't automatically make them wrong. You have to approach other ideas with openness, and dissect them with critical thinking. If you still disagree, you must be willing to defend your opposition with a cogent argument.
2. If you do not understand a doctrine, you cannot prove it wrong.
If you have not taken the time to learn your opponent's beliefs, any argument you offer against them will most often completely miss their mark, and you'll do nothing more than make yourself look foolish.
3. You do not know what your opponent believes until your opponent tells you.
You cannot read minds nor hearts. If your opponent makes a claim to believe something, you must take him at face value and argue against what he actually believes, if you still, in fact, disagree. If, on the other hand, you make an argument, and your opponent says he doesn't, in fact, believe what you've argued against, there is no point in proceeding to argue against that unbelieved belief. In sum, understanding is key.
4. If your opponent provides context to a quotation, that's a sign that you should have when you quoted it, not that your opponent is avoiding the issue.
This is especially true for Scripture quotation. When one pulls a statement out of context, very often one can make it mean anything he wants. Prooftexts are only valid if they can be supported to mean what you want them to in the setting from which they are pulled.
5. You shall not commit a logical fallacy.
Arguments should be intellectually honest, whereas logical fallacies are employed in order to obfuscate the issue. For a list and description of logical fallacies, go here.
6. You shall admit your mistakes.
We are all human, and we all make mistakes. If you blundered, or if you were, in fact, wrong, be man (or woman) enough to admit it, and amend your error.
7. You shall not ignore points or arguments of your opponent.
You have no right to decide which of your opponent's arguments are the "most important." What seems less important to you may be, to your opponent, their clinching argument, or a prelude to a further argument on which a discussion of a preliminary point depends. If you ignore that argument and yet consider yourself to be right, you are simply being dishonest. Similarly, you cannot pick and choose which arguments you will reply to, and then promise to reply to the rest when you have more time or ability, and then make excuses in order to opt out. Good Faith will allow you the time you need, but Good Faith also demands that you follow through.
8. You shall answer yes or no questions with a yes, no, or maybe, and go from there.
For some reason, "Rhetorical Questions" are defined to mean "Questions that don't need an answer." Rather, Rhetorical Questions are those which set up a further argument, depending on how those questions are answered. Thus, they need an answer. The most common rhetorical question is the one to which the answer is assumed, but it still, in truth, requires that assumed answer. Thus, if a person asks a Rhetorical Question, or any question for that matter, the continued discussion depends upon your response--so be sure to provide it.
9. You shall not be pompous or arrogant.
It is one thing to believe that you are right and the other person wrong. It is another thing entirely to carry an attitude into a debate that says "no matter what that person says, it cannot touch me, because it is a lie from the pit of hell" or some such other closed-minded rot. Being open-minded does not mean accepting all points of view as valid. Rather, it means being humble enough to discuss and decide between differing points of view. It means giving your opponent the respect to believe and to present his point of view without immediately or a priori consigning him to hell.
10. Always keep in mind the greatest two Commandments.
Love for God and Love for Neighbour must guide all that we do. We must speak the Truth, as far as we understand it, in a Spirit of Love. Even if we are completely correct in everything which we believe, if we do not communicate it with love, we are simply wasting our time.

If it is your desire to debate or defend your beliefs--especially if you call yourself a Christian--it behooves you to practice these Commandments.


Joseph Usher said...

This is great advice, thanks!

Tiber Jumper said...

found your blog here through your facebook work on Catholics Are Christians. Thanks for your charitable dealings with Charles.
I am hoping non-catholics will see our posts and the way that discussion was headed was well, you know. Thanks and nice to meet another convert.
I am a revert actually but had been a charismatic/ebvangelical for 31 years, most my life.
God bless your work and ministry
Russ rentler

Gregory said...

Hi Russ,
Thanks for stopping by!

I'm glad things were able to be resolved between Mr. Hatchko in, eventually, a model of charity.

Owen Swain invited me to your group, saying he knew the creator--I'm assuming that's you? It's great to make your acquaintance. Hopefully you'll continue to visit my humble enterprise here, and, more hopefully, that I'll have time to actually post more material...

God bless