Culture Intelligent Design

Ways to Win an Argument

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This is the first article I’ve authored for this site; I apologize in advance if I format wrong or make some other mistake.

As is so often the case, I ran across the most interesting material while looking for something else, and thought others might be interested as well.

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) was an important 19th-Century philosopher. He was also an obnoxious curmudgeon. He wrote an essay: “38 Ways to Win an Argument,” which details all the unfair, manipulative, and downright mean tactics which can be employed to win an argument, especially a public one, whether or not the truth is on your side. Reading through these techniques it struck me how many of them are employed by the Materialist/Darwinist side against ID and other positions critical of their claims.

I have picked out a few examples, with their original numberings from his essay (quotes from Schopenhauer are in italics if I’ve figured out this formatting system right). These were taken from a translation of Shopenhauer by T. Bailey Saunders: The Art of Controversy, and Other Posthumous Papers, London: Sonnenshein/New York: Macmillan, 1896.

1. “Carry your opponent’s proposition beyond its natural limits; exaggerate it. The more general your opponent’s statement becomes, the more objections you can find against it. The more restricted and narrow your own propositions remain, the easier they are to defend.”
3. “Ignore your opponent’s proposition, which was intended to refer to some particular thing. Rather, understand it in some quite different sense, and then refute it. Attack something different than what was asserted.”

Darwinian defenders commonly make claims for ID that it does not make for itself, such as the ridiculous one that if a supernatural entity is behind life, then there is no reason or need for further inquiry. I am sure the folks here can think of many other examples.

6. “Confuse the issue by changing your opponent’s words or what he or she seeks to prove.
Example: Call something by a different name: “good repute” instead of “honor,” “virtue” instead of “virginity,” “red-blooded” instead of “vertebrates.””

“Creationism” instead of “Intelligent Design”

12. “If the argument turns upon general ideas with no particular names, you must use language or a metaphor that is favorable to your proposition.
Example: What an impartial person would call “public worship” or a “system of religion” is described by an adherent as “piety” or “godliness” and by an opponent as “bigotry” or “superstition.” In other words, inset what you intend to prove into the definition of the idea.”

See above; by linking ID and creationism the battle to prove that ID is just dressed up creationism is mostly won in the definition of terms. Also, by linking science with materialist philosophy, Darwinists attempt to define Id right out of the arena of legitimate debate before a real argument can even begin.

15. “If you wish to advance a proposition that is difficult to prove, put it aside for the moment. Instead, submit for your opponent’s acceptance or rejection some true proposition, as though you wished to draw your proof from it. Should the opponent reject it because he suspects a trick, you can obtain your triumph by showing how absurd the opponent is to reject an obviously true proposition. Should the opponent accept it, you now have reason on your side for the moment. You can either try to prove your original proposition, as in #14, or maintain that your original proposition is proved by what your opponent accepted. For this an extreme degree of impudence is required, but experience shows cases of it succeeding.”

The most common and egregious example of this tactic is pointing to some example of adaptive change (“microevolution”) such as bacterial resistance to antibiotics, which has nothing to do, really, with the development of new characteristics, but which has been linked in the public and media’s minds with “evolution,” and therefore (here’s the trick) with speciation by mutation and selection. Then, Viola! “Evolution” as the Darwinists define it is proven.

29. “If you find that you are being beaten, you can create a diversion—that is, you can suddenly begin to talk of something else, as though it had a bearing on the matter in dispute. This may be done without presumption that the diversion has some general bearing on the matter.”

It’s amazing how often they will change the subject when they’re finally being pinned down on one topic, e.g. the demonstrable mathematical impossibility of even one gene arising via random processes suddenly turns into demands to explain the Panda’s thumb.

30. “Make an appeal to authority rather than reason. If your opponent respects an authority or an expert, quote that authority to further your case. If needed, quote what the authority said in some other sense or circumstance. Authorities that your opponent fails to understand are those which he generally admires the most. You may also, should it be necessary, not only twist your authorities, but actually falsify them, or quote something that you have entirely invented yourself.”

Even better than one authority is a majority of authorities! Most scientists believe NDE, therefore it must be true. Even most scientists named Steve believe Darwinism!

32. “A quick way of getting rid of an opponent’s assertion, or of throwing suspicion on it, is by putting it into some odious category.
Example: You can say, “That is fascism” or “atheism” or “superstition.” In making an objection of this kind you take for granted:
1. That the assertion or question is identical with, or at least contained in, the category cited; and
2. The system referred to has been entirely refuted.”

Linking ID proponents and all other critics of NDE with “creationism” is the most blatant example of this.

36. “You may also puzzle and bewilder your opponent by mere bombast. If your opponent is weak or does not wish to appear as if he has no idea what you are talking about, you can easily impose upon him some argument that sounds very deep or learned, or that sounds indisputable.”

Many in the public school systems, and even some who preside in the judicial system are susceptible to this one. Unfortunately so are many science writers and other journalists.

Finally, Schopenhauer’s last resort and Defenders of Darwinism’s most commonly used tactic:

38. “Become personal, insulting and rude as soon as you perceive that your opponent has the upper hand. In becoming personal you leave the subject altogether, and turn your attack on the person by remarks of an offensive and spiteful character. This is a very popular technique, because it takes so little skill to put it into effect.”

Go to any place on the internet or anywhere else this topic is being debated and you will find endless examples of this final technique. The current travesty of “debate” is the vicious response Dr. Michael Egnor is receiving for expressing his doubts about Darwinism. I’ve been on the receiving end of this sort of thing more than once myself. This tactic is by far the most common “answer” to ID proponents and NDE critics, precisely because it takes so little skill. Alas, a little skill is all most of them have.

11 Replies to “Ways to Win an Argument

  1. 1
    tribune7 says:

    Sounds like Schopenhauer knew Darwin as a kid!!

  2. 2
    scordova says:

    Here is an opportunity to win such an argument and make money to boot:

    Why would I want my doctor to have studied evolution? (essay contest)


    By the way Dr. Cook, it’s nice to see you here at UD, and I’d be glad to refer people to individuals like yourself, Dr. Cihak, Dr. Simmons, Dr. Egnor and many others who are sympathetic to ID.

  3. 3
    realpc says:

    I tried to debate at Pandasthumb and they used all those techniques, especially personal attacks and name-calling. It’s much easier to call someone an idiot than to consider their arguments. Some of them became incredibly angry — maybe because they felt they were losing.

    But I also try to understand why some people are so afraid of ID. They associate religion with ignorance and backwardness, superstition and violence. ID suggests that nature and the universe possess some kind of intelligence — if the universe is intelligent, belief in supernatural forces or beings might not be so stupid after all.

    As more Americans become college educated, more are indoctrinated into scientific materialism. Being an educated atheist can be gratifying. They are able to look down at the ignorant religious masses, and blame all violence and intolerance on traditional religion.

    ID threatens the claims to superiority of blue-state educated atheists, and they’re fighting back.

    I think ID advocates should try to understand why ID makes Darwinists so violently angry. If materialism is disproven, then all kinds of spiritual beliefs might seem less ridiculous.

    Materialist science freed the world from all the ancient terrors — supposedly. I think it just allowed us to close our eyes to the reality of supernatural realms. ID — and parapsychology — threaten that smug complacent sense of security.

    I am an ID advocate, but I think the implications of ID, if proven, would be world-shaking. And that’s why Darwinists fight so vicously.

  4. 4
    GilDodgen says:

    Don’t forget the power of peer pressure.

    When I was in college I studied piano with a professor by the name of Istvan Nadas. Nadas was a student of Bartok, and he (Nadas) was a miraculous survivor of one of the Nazi death camps.

    One night at the university music department there was a performance of a “contemporary” musical piece, which was basically a bunch of meaningless cacophony. After the performance, Nadas turned to me and said, “You know Gilbert, this is the musical equivalent of a Himalayan dung heap.”

    No other professor in the music department had the guts to point out the obvious.

  5. 5
    Robo says:

    “ID threatens the claims to superiority of blue-state educated atheists, and they’re fighting back.”

    Problem is, the church is, in general, fast asleep, dozing in ignorant bliss.

    I see William Lane Craig was interviewed by a UK journalist recently and said that if the church does not regain an intellectual basis, we are going to lose our kids and more. So true me thinks.

  6. 6
    kairosfocus says:

    Dr Cook:

    A very useful post. I hope we see much more from you!

    I have found a specific link here with a disclaimer and the 38 then listed, though the actual essay seems elusive.

    I would add to it, that it is helpful to cluster the persuasive devices of argument as Aristotle did, in his The Rhetoric, some 2,300+ years ago, under the heads, ethos, pathos, logos, and highlight the underlying driving dynamics of persuasion:

    Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker [ethos]; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind [pathos]; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself [logos]. Persuasion is achieved by the speaker’s personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible . . . Secondly, persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions. Our judgements when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile . . . Thirdly, persuasion is effected through the speech itself when we have proved a truth or an apparent truth by means of the persuasive arguments suitable to the case in question . . . . [Bk I, Ch 2]

    Armed with that, we can easily see that, e.g., the commonly met with tactic of evolutionary materialists to agenda-servingly mislabel and misdefine design theory, then tag is as “creationism” is an abuse of trust in allegedly credible sources, designed to directly distort perceptions of facts, and to create a poisoned climate of hostility. We should note, here, that if one believes a falsehood, one may well reject the truth and suspect those who present it or attempt to correct error, as it cuts across what one believes to be the case . . .

    [And BTW, while it is very common to label and dismiss “Creationists” it would be wise to note that they understand that there is a general “scientific” creationism, which is distinct from the usual framework of say YEC’s. Mr Ross of RTB etc would be an example. Further to this, many of the issues raised by the much despised YEC’s, are quite sound. But it is easier to dismiss than to actually address issues. Turning around the title of a certain essay “the advantage of theft over toil . . .”]

    As to the “red herring leading out to a strawman to be burned” issues over “theocracy,” they aptly illustrate the same pattern, and fail to honestly examine the sad and brutal track record of athe-ocracies over the past century. McGrath was quite correct to point out to Mr Dawkins et al, that ANY ideal is prone to abuse, by us finite, fallible, too-often willfully blind and/or ill-willed agents. Note too, the response, that one is being self-servingly inconsistent, is not always irrelevant or improper!

    For, an honest and balanced view on what happens when people gain power without effective accountability, will reveal just how corrupting it is, and will lead to a due humility in the face of the glory and the shame that are so deeply intertwined in us all. Therein lieth of course a great part of the art of virtue and spiritual growth through penitence and patient persistence in the path of the truth and the right . . . as say Paul, in yet another classical reference, discusses in Rom 2 from about verse five on.

    And so on . . .

    GEM of TKI

    PS: I think that a brief introduction to the philosopher’s basic toolkit is a helpful way to break the impasse, for those who really are seeking to learn the truth instead of wishing to find someone who will tickle their itching ears with what they wish to hear . . .

  7. 7
    kairosfocus says:

    PPS: Guess which classical source, in what text, that last reference comes from?

  8. 8
    kairosfocus says:

    PPPS: Why it matters.

    Often we are tempted to think it’s “not news” that there are people who argue irresponsibly or dishonestly. So, why bother underscoring it?

    Indeed, I have often met with the further attack that my pointing out that there is a problem here is the real problem. (Some seem to imagine they have a right to be disrespectful, slanderous and misleading. Sadly, some have lost all sense of shame . . . Makes one wonder where all those virtuous atheists went to, sometimes.)

    But in fact, the plainly evident intent to intimidate presentations of the other side of the story, and to silence protest over mudslinging lets the cat out of the bag that was supposed to have a piglet in it.

    That is, they protest too much. So, it is quite important to analyse what those who resort to attacking the man and the strawman are doing and expose, then correct it patiently.

    First, it alerts the unaware to what is going on, and educates them in judging the state of the case on the merits — precisely what mudslinging was designed to divert attention from.

    Second, more and more people will thus see that it is those who have lost on the merits who then insistently resort to attacking the man and the strawman.

    Third, after a critical mass of the public says, “enough,” the mudslingers will wake up and realise that they are only making matters worse for themselves. At that point, the debate will be over. [Or, they will find something else to debate about.]

    But, that is going to take some time and willingness to stick to the guns in the face of hot and hostile fire, taking some casualties and painful wounds while we are at it.

    GEM of TKI

  9. 9
    Joseph says:

    It’s opening posts like this that are starting to make me realize that perhaps PZ Meyers is correct. That is perhaps we should put on some steel-toed boots and brass knuckles and just have at it with these chuckle-heads.

    However it is a fore-gone conclusion that “they” will not leave the safety they have sitting in front of their monitor.

  10. 10
    Patrick says:

    # 15 is becoming quite common in reference to CSI. Instead of showcasing a false positive Darwinists instead point to “information” in general “increasing” or at least modifying.

  11. 11
    crandaddy says:

    They can’t win with substance, so they have to make up for it somehow.

    Welcome to UD, Dr. Cook!

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