Saturday, October 27, 2018

It's okay to win the argument

There's a well-meaning cliche in Christian circles that goes something like this: "Are you trying to win the argument or a win a soul?"

Now, there's a grain of truth to that. We have to be careful how we argue, and who we argue with. But as a rule, the objective of theological, philosophical, political, or ethical debate is to win the argument. There's nothing inherently disreputable about that motive. 

Sometimes it can be useful just to have a better understanding of what someone else believes. The goal isn't always to change their mind.

But the primary objective of theological debate (or philosophical, political, or ethical debate) is to achieve a resolution. Not just to exchange ideas, but eliminate bad arguments, eliminate bad positions. That's the only way to make progress. 

Both sides push back against each other. Do their arguments hold up under scrutiny? Ideally, you need to keep at it until you achieve resolution. You establish that one side is right and one side is wrong. 

Sometimes it's more complicated. Sometimes the losing side lost, not because they were wrong, but because their position was poorly represented. Or sometimes both sides refine their original positions in the face of criticism. 

But theological debate ought to be a process for arriving at the truth. Winning the argument where that means one side really did have the better of the argument. For instance, the best interpretation of a Bible passage. 

To make winning the argument the goal is not an ego-trip, although that's a possible motivation. Rather, the goal is to achieve a resolution on a point of disagreement. 

1 comment:

  1. Quite right.

    1. If you have the truth and/or the better argument, then it ought to be paramount that you win that argument. Not for the sake of winning an argumement, but rather for (hopefully) the other side's learning, and for those looking on.

    2. On (1), one may not always (indeed, one may hardly ever) 'achieve a resolution' in the sense of 'settlement,' as I take you to mean, Steve, given the nature of presuppositions. But I commend your listing this as the primary objective.

    3. It's healthy to lose an argument if it means abandoning or refining a bad position. I'll never forget being cornered at every turn by a Calvinist when I was a freewill theist. I truly held a *bad* position, and thankfully I was given the eyes to see/ears to hear the folly of my own position, and abandoned freewill theism. That was a maturing process.

    4. On the other hand, it is unhealthy to lose an argument based not on the merits of the argument itself but rather one's poor defence of the argument.