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 ArgumentSo 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:
- The Esposito family watches hockey.
- Hockey is a sport.
- Therefore, the Esposito family watches sports.
Let's look at another, the Kalam argument for the universe's existence. It is formed like this:
- Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
- The universe began to exist.
- Therefore, the universe must have a cause 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.