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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Beginning to Argue Effectively

In my previous post, I discussed the need for Christians to engage others by using argumentation. We use argumentation while looking for fallacies for flaws to determine unsound or invalid arguments and assertions by others, all the while seeking to find the truth of a matter. Arguing in a logical, thoughtful manner helps us look for the flaws in other people's stances and helps us to effectively assert our own. Arguments highlight those things that can change a belief.

In fencing, there is a technique to sparing with an opponent. It isn't always a hard attack. There is some give and take. One may lunge and thrust, but one must also be able to guard and parry. Similarly, when arguing, one must be skilled in providing a thoughtful exchange. One must know the techniques in arguing and how to properly argue. It is tragic that so many Christians today seek to engage those who hold to different beliefs with the truth of the gospel, but offer terrible reasons for their beliefs. I think Christianity has the best arguments, but without an understanding of what comprises a sound argument, many people are coming to a sword fight with boxing gloves, and they will only get themselves skewered as a result.

Learning the structure of a well-formed argument belongs to a field of study known as logic or critical thinking. Logic teaches one what the components of an argument are, how to properly argue, and how to identify others' arguments. It will also teach how to identify flaws or fallacies in arguments.

How to Build an Argument

So what makes up an argument? What are its components? The biggest component is the conclusion. The conclusion of an argument is the main fact you are trying to get across. This is where we are going; this is our destination. If you are to map out an argument the conclusion is the endpoint. But a conclusion cannot rest on its own. Just as the roof of a house needs walls to hold it up, a conclusion needs one or more facts or reasons to support it. These facts or reasons are known as premises.

As an example, we can look at the following argument:
  1. The Esposito family watches hockey.
  2. Hockey is a sport.
  3. Therefore, the Esposito family watches sports.
This argument presents two premises or facts: The Esposito family watches hockey, and hockey falls inside the category of sports. Knowing these two premises, one can now have knowledge that the Esposito family is a sports-watching family. Now, you may not know our family, or you may not know if we would be the type of people who would watch sports or not. But if you know statement #1 is true and statement #2 is true, you can safely conclude that the Esposito family watches sports. You have gained a new fact based on the first two facts that you already know.

Let's look at another, the Kalam argument for the universe's existence. It is formed like this:
  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe must have a cause for its existence.
The conclusion we are arguing towards is that the universe had to rely on something else for its existence. Like our previous argument, the first two statements are the premises that hold up the conclusion and if we know both of those facts, we can know that the universe doesn't exist because of itself, but must rely on something or someone else for its existence.

It is the strength of gaining new information from facts that we already have that makes arguments so powerful. While knowing that my family is sports fans is not particularly interesting, knowing that we must look outside of the universe for its cause helps up on our way to making an even bigger argument, one that argues for God's existence. However, when we talk with others, we don't always get to hear their arguments in such a straightforward manner. In my next post, I will talk about ways you may identify arguments that your interlocutor may be making in casual conversation.


  1. Lenny, pretty good article, and very happy to see you promoting critical thinking and teaching logical fallacies.

    RE: "2. The universe began to exist."

    This is where your argument gets into a logical fallacy called "appeal to ignorance." No one knows yet about the origin of the univese, so it is all speculation, yet the premise is stated as a fact. And even if it were a fact, the creator could still be nature, as in multiverse theory. Where did multiverses come from? No one knows. See how your argument goes into the realm of "appeal to ignorance?" Try arguing from a basis and premise of actual facts, rather than human ignorance. I know you are copying William Lane Craig, but it is still a poor argument for the existence of God(s), no matter who says it.

  2. Bernie,

    Thanks. Are you saying that the statement "The universe began to exist" is not currently widely accepted within the scientific community? I'm highly confident that while science doesn't claim to know exactly HOW the universe began to exist, big bang cosmology holds that the universe DID begin to exist at some finite point in the past. That's the consensus currently.

  3. RE: " big bang cosmology holds that the universe DID begin to exist at some finite point in the past. "

    No ones knows about the origination of the universe. It is a gap in human understanding.

  4. Ah, but what is the current consensus? What do most scientists believe? Why did Penzias and Wilson receive the Nobel Prize in 1978 for their work on background radiation? What does the Hubble red-shift demonstrate? Why is the span of 13.8 (or so) billion years significant?

  5. None of that has to do with the origination of the big bang. Has to do with after it started.

  6. My statement was "The universe began to exist." That is clearly the consensus, and those discoveries are used as evidence for the same. Again, HOW it began is a different claim from IF it began. Remember, time can only work if there is space and matter. All three must come about together.

  7. If out universe is one of many (multiverse theory), then the "began to exist" doesn't mean anything for your argument. It is like the example of: you began to exist, but before 'you' were 'you' the parts of 'you' were sperm and egg, each coming from somewhere else.

    1. The possibility of other universes is irrelevant to whether or not ours "began to exist." Evidence points to a beginning. Now you can argue that we don't know this 100% for sure, but that's not unique in life. But does that mean we can't assert then the universe "began to exist?"

      Of course not. All known evidence supports this claim. It's not being made without merit. Certainly not from "ignorance."

      If we had no evidence at all, then yes it would be. Just being less than complete certainty is not AFI.

  8. Lenny, the beginning of the universe does have evidence, wherein the multiverse theory has none. So you are right on. I think Bernie is making an error when he assumes that any theory holds the same weight as the rest. Stating that there might be a multiverse is certainly not on the same level of credibility of Big Bang cosmology.


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