Being thoughtful and building a proper argument for one's beliefs takes a little work. As I mentioned in my previous article, when building an argument one normally supplies reasons for why he believes the way he does. The reasons for a belief could be labeled the premises while the belief itself could be labeled the conclusion.
While many Christians who seek to defend their faith may be familiar with some of the formal arguments and can present them as such, it is just as important to learn how to listen effectively and define the argument your converser is making. Identifying the arguments that another person is voicing can sometimes be a bit more difficult, since conversation doesn't normally present itself in a formally organized way. You must listen carefully and try to identify booth the belief and the reasons why the other person holds that belief if you want to be fair and address the belief as he or she holds it. Luckily, there are ways you can learn to do this with more ease. The biggest help is to look for what I call "trigger words" that separate a belief and its supporting evidence.
Trigger words are simply words in English most people use to show reasoning. We do the same thing when we talk simple arithmetic problems, so I will use those as an example. Usually, you would see a problem presented this way: "If Johnny wants to take three apples in his right hand and four in his left, how many apples will he have?" The word "and" in the sentence above signals that this is an addition problem. If the sentence would have said "less than" it would have signaled a subtraction problem. The words help you understand the nature of the problem itself.
Similarly, there are trigger words that signal whether a person is making a conclusion or providing a premise for his belief. Here's a short list of words that will frequently be used as triggers to signal a conclusion:
Conclusion trigger words:
- It would follow
- It's likely that
- It stands to reason.
Since sentence structures are flexible, it is not always the case that the second clause in a sentence is a conclusion or that the conclusion uses those trigger words. Sometimes, it's the premises you must be looking for. Your discussion may go this way, "God cannot exist because there are so many religions that contradict one another," or "If your God existed, He would do something about evil." The words "because" and "if" are trigger words to show that a premise is being employed. Here are some more to look for:
Premise trigger words
- In that
- May be inferred from
- Given that
- Seeing that
- Owing to