Saturday, October 3, 2009

Useful Religious Debate/Discussion Guidelines

I have been participating in religious debates/discussions online now since I was a Senior in High School (2004). I have participated on boards that were staunchly conservative ChristianTM (if you don't know what ChristianTM means just say so in the comments and I will explain), and other forums reaching all the away across the religious spectrum to the board I currently participate on, which is largley atheistic with anti-theist, mainly anti-Christian, tones. Over the years I have seen many different methods of debate, some useful, others horribly counter productive. This list, in its original form, came from one of the sites I participated on a year or two ago. It was origionally meant to be used for new members as a "things to know before you post" list. However, I think it's main points can be very useful as guidlines for all religious debate and discussion. For reference purposes, and following Swart's 3rd Law, which you will see in the list, here is the origional, and here is an adapted form I used on a different forum. The origional, to be placed in context, was on a forum meant for debate between mainstream-Christians and Mormons. I have adapted it to be more general. You may notice I used a couple of these rules in my Criticism vs. Ridicule: Recent Demonstration By Local Non-theist Student Group post.

Guidlines For Religious Debate/Discussion:

Swart's 1st Law
To participate you need three things:
  1. A Grip
  2. A Life
  3. A Thick Skin
If you don't have both 1 & 2, lurk but don't particpate. If you don't have #3, don't even bother lurking.

Swart's 2nd Law
Make it logical.

Many of the arguments with religion, atheism included, consist of logical fallacies. It helps to have an understanding of common logical fallacies before engaging in debate or discussion. That way, not only are you less likely to make one, when some describes your argument as tu quoque, you'll know what they mean.

Swart's 3rd Law
References. References. References.

Did I say something about references? If you post something that isn't original from you, you MUST provide a reference. Otherwise you are plagiarising. If you are copying from a secondary source, simply pasting the primary sources is not sufficient. You must post the secondary source as well, otherwise it means you are attempting to pass off another persons research as your own.

1. Godwin's Law is incorporated by reference.
2. Whoever knows the most Greek wins.
3. In the end, it all comes down to ecclesiology.

Lee's Two Laws of Posting:

  1. If you haven't read this forum for at least 2 weeks, do not post anything.
  2. If you don't understand the reason for the first law, make it at least a month.
Bowie's Corollary:
Make it a month, anyway.

Woods' Theory of Wisdom:

A wise poster does not start a new topic until s/he has contributed something _of value_ to an existing topic.

Bowie's Inequality Constant:
Utah != Mormon (Utah is not equal to Mormon)

Quagmire's Postulate:
1. Not everybody on a religious debate site is a theist.

2. Not every theist is a Christian.

3. Not every Christian is a YEC who reads the Bible literally or considers it the infallible word of God.

4. Not every YEC spends his off time standing on street corners yelling at passers-by that they're going to hell.

5. Most religous members did not get their world view, theology, or understanding of history out of a Chic tract.

 The Law of Assumption of Peculiarity
Just say you've read a book or pamphlet on Christianity showing how rediculous it is, seen a movie showing how dumb atheists are, heard a tape talking about how horrible Muslims are to women etc. and you're itching to unburden yourself and prove to everybody else they're totally and utterly wrong.

Congratulations! You've just succumbed to the fallacy of an assumption of peculiarity. Remember that your source of information is what is known as a secondary source. Chances are that any secondary source has been hashed out within five minutes of publication if not earlier. In all likelihood, it's been discussed several dozen times.

So, to avoid the possibility of proving yourself to be a clueless newbie, check through previous discussions around the net to see what discussions have already taken place.

Remember: Google is your friend.

Swart's Laws of Titles
Titles give away a lot. The first rule is to not make basic spelling and grammar mistakes. That sort of thing says a lot about what you have to contribute. Thread titles like "Why x-ians are stuppid!!!!11" is not going to attract much attention other than amusement.

The Second Law is not to talk with authourity about a subject you know little about. I was Presbyterian until the age of twelve before I was baptised as a LDS. That doesn't make me an expert about all things Presbyterian. Sure I can comment about my experiences, impressions, understandings at that time, however that doesn't mean I can tell a Presbyterian minister what they really believe.

The Third Law is to not to use mindless titles. The Fourth is not to respond to them.

The Law of Charity
When presenting any material that is negative about another's beliefs. Be sure to present it in the most positive light. That way you can critique from a position of strength without being cast as polemic.

If you can explain the beliefs of another person to their satisfaction, then you are in a position to critique those beliefs.

Stendahl's Rules
(source: FAIRLDS)

These were written by Lutheran Theologian Krister Stendahl as a guideline for critiquing any faith different from your own:

Rule One: Ask Adherents what they believe, not their enemies

The first rule was that when you want to learn about a religion you should ask the adherents to that religion and not its enemies. Now that seems fairly obvious but it is ignored an awful lot.

Rule Two: Don't compare your best with their worst
The second rule was a little more interesting. Don't compare your best with their worst, which is often done. You know, we Christians believe in the ideal of loving everyone, but the Muslims, look at those terrorists in Algeria. What you do is take the worst example of the other guy's religion and compare it to the ideal, almost never reached in your religion and that's apples and oranges, right? If you are going to compare terrorists, you should compare Christian terrorists with Muslim terrorists. If you are going to compare ideals, you should compare the ideal in the other faith with the ideal in your faith. If you are going to compare your saint to something in their religion, find one of their saints and compare them. That's the only fair way to do it.

Rule Three: Leave room for Holy Envy
The third one, I think, is even more interesting. His principle was [to] leave room for what he called "holy envy." By holy envy, he intended the idea of looking at another faith and saying, you know, there is something in this other religious tradition that I really envy. I value it. I wish we had it. I can learn something from it.

I remember going with a Muslim friend of mine to visit a chemistry professor at the University of Cairo. And this is a very educated man, obviously, holder of a doctorate, I think European educated, as I recall, and we got to talking about what I was doing there, that I was studying Islam, and so on, and he asked me, "Are you a Muslim?" and I said "No." And he asked me the question that I always dread, "Why not?" which can get you into a very awkward position. Well, I tried to answer it positively and said, "I'm a Christian, I believe in the divinity of Christ and, therefore, I can't be a Muslim."

He said, "How can you possibly believe in that? Everybody knows that God doesn't have a son. God can't have a son. 'He nether begets nor is he begotten'," he quoted from the Koran. And then he said, "And let me tell you something else. Is this what you believe? Do you believe that God had a son and that to buy himself off because he wanted to destroy and damn everybody, he had to send his son down and make sure he was tortured to death so that he wouldn't have to damn all of humanity?"

I said, "Well, that's not quite the way we typically put it but that's a relatively fair statement of the idea."

He said, "Well that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Everybody knows that's not true. It's absolutely inconceivable."

Well, what struck me about that was that religions often look silly to people outside. He said no intelligent person could possibly believe in a doctrine like that. Well, besides the fact that it was somewhat personally insulting, I thought, "But intelligent people have demonstrably believed in that doctrine, whether you think it's right or wrong." I mean, St. Augustine wasn't stupid. Thomas Aquinas wasn't stupid. Calvin wasn't stupid. Kierkergaard wasn't stupid. There are a lot of bright people who have accepted a doctrine much like this.
Does this approach sound familiar? Dr. Peterson makes an excellent point. Outsiders view particular religions as just plain silly, one that no person in their right mind would believe. But, in fact, there are many people--good intelligent people--who believe in that particular religion. I'm sure you have had times where you have asked yourself, "how can they really believe that? I just can't believe it."

So, what is Peterson's Rule?
So the principle that came to me on this was that if you are looking at a religious tradition that has a large number of adherents...then there must be something in it that appeals to different people.

Mormonism, for example, has clearly lasted long enough and has clearly appealed to a wide enough cross section of people that you don't have to concede that it's true to say there must be something there that appeals to people; bright people, practical people, highly educated people, uneducated people; all sorts of people in all sorts of cultures have found something appealing in this movement. The same is true of Hinduism, Islam and Christianity in general.

If you have any others to add just say so. If they are good enough I will probably add them to the list.

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