How to avoid ideas you don’t like without actually showing that they’re wrong

August 5th, 2015
Guest post by Noel Reeson

Children arguing

I’ve been hanging around the internet for about a decade now, often getting into discussion about religion. Some can get a little tiresome, and you can make it hard on yourself if you try to check out every reference and reply to every so-called fact. So I’ve worked out a few tricks for cutting arguments off quickly.

Here’s a few of the best.

Let’s get personal

If you don’t want to bother with someone’s argument or evidence, or if you don’t have any answer, the simplest way out is to make a personal allegation against your opponent. I don’t recommend crass insults, for they can get you banned, and they can make you look a little intolerant, which of course you are not – it is always your opponent who is intolerant. So use something a little more subtle and which sounds a little more impressive.

Calling someone disingenuous is a really excellent way to go because it makes you sound educated (even if you don’t know what the word means – let them look it up!) and is so unspecific that it is impossible to refute. But often it doesn’t matter if the word is really an insult at all. For example, by way of variety, call them ingenuous, which logically ought to be complimentary if disingenuous is an insult, but can also be seen as insulting.

Another great slur I saw the other day by a master of this approach was “you’re being intentionally obtuse”. What a great phrase, and what a fabulous accusation! For how can they answer it? Argue that they are just naturally obtuse? Hardly. Try to argue that they really do understand? This is just as good, for you have cleverly shifted the discussion from the point you found difficult to answer to your opponent having to defend themselves.

In the same discussion, this same master of their craft also said this: “you do not seek what’s true”. Again, it is virtually unanswerable, even though it may be nonsense.

You might think that these slurs are a poor tactic because there is no way you can really know that about the person, and so they are in the end pretty meaningless, but it generally doesn’t work that way. But you don’t have to show how you know these amazing insights. The important thing is to keep your opponent on the back foot and off the topic at hand. You’ll frustrate them and that way you’ll win.

Psychology is your friend

Even more effective than personal slurs is to invoke psychology – tell your opponent they are exhibiting some psychological behaviour, and use some big words. Again, it doesn’t matter that you couldn’t possibly know these things when you haven’t even met the person, the important thing is that it will sound like you are erudite and you have diverted the discussion away from the topic you don’t want to address. It is especially effective to pile one psychological diagnosis on top of another. The conversation can go something like this:

Your opponent offers an argument or some evidence.

You: “This is a perfect example of confirmation bias. Psychologists know that people like you only say these sorts of things because you can only see things that seem to maintain your unjustified beliefs.”

Opponent: “You haven’t addressed any of my evidence. I don’t think you understand.”

You: “It is really sad to hear you say that. I understand more than you realise. It is you who don’t understand – it’s a classic case of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. It’s so easy to recognise once you know.”

Opponent: “This is all an ad hominem attack. You’re not addressing any of my arguments.”

You: “I’m really sorry to upset you in this way just because I explain things logically. You are simply suffering from cognitive dissonance, it’s really a textbook case.”

You come out of this conversation sounding like you’ve read a lot of psychology and the other person is a victim of their own failings. Your position is unassailable and you look good to most of the other readers – except if you’re unfortunate enough to have a genuine psychologist reading of course, but that’s a risk worth taking.

If things get difficult – demonise your opponent

Sometimes your opponents will refuse to wilt under this psychological barrage, but don’t give up – just crank things up a notch. Accuse them of believing something reprehensible that they don’t actually believe, and they’ll have to defend themselves. If you want something a little stronger, pour scorn on your opponent by characterising their views as the product of mental illness, or perhaps rebellion against God or a refusal to use reason.

If things get heated, tell them that their viewpoint has been guilty of such terrible excesses and crimes against humanity that what they are saying is just laughable. This is a last ditch tactic which many people find quite effective, though it tends only to work if many others from your viewpoint are there to support you.

Smother ’em with words

If you are reasonably fluent with words, use lots of them. Just keep going confidently, riding right over the top of the arguments. Try to sound both confident and erudite, and some people will be impressed. Use words like “obviously” even when the point isn’t really obvious at all. Sound a bit patronising – for example one expert in this method often says “You see what you did there?”, implying that they know something that is obvious to everyone else, but not to you – but fortunately they are kind enough to point this out to you.

Big words like “obfuscation” or vague apparent references to something that you can pretend you know and they don’t can also be winning tactics.

Another effective tactic is to simply change the subject. Pick something vaguely related to the topic your opponent has been talking about, make some outrageous statement about the new topic, and away you go, having moved right away from the subject that you were wanting to avoid.

Gang up on them

If your opponent is the only one of their viewpoint there, and you have a few allies, this can be a really effective tactic, and good fun as well. If you all criticise, it makes it very hard for them to respond to every point, and it looks to observers that the weight of opinion is on your side.

But better still, you can talk about your opponent in a knowing and sly way to your allies. Use many of the tactics I have suggested here without even addressing your opponent – but you know they’re reading. You can all propose all sorts of pseudo-psychological theories, and agree amongst yourselves, without ever having to offer the slightest argument or evidence to support your accusations. Great fun!

Anything but the facts

Despite all these tactics, sometimes it is hard to avoid discussing actual evidence, and that may present a problem. But I have a bunch of good tactics here.

  1. Argue that the evidence your opponent is offering is biased, coming from an “apologist”. It doesn’t matter if they’re a leading world expert, if you paint them as an apologist, even if they’re not, you can avoid what they say.
  2. Sometimes you can say you agree with your opponent’s evidence, perhaps by saying “This is what I’ve been saying all along!”, then explain your agreement in such a way that it is actually your viewpoint re-stated, and has very little in common with your opponent’s reference. I’ve seen this used very effectively on occasions, because it makes you look like you know stuff and you seem like you’re way ahead of them.
  3. It can often be effective just to refer to “facts” that everyone “knows”, without ever offering any reference. If you talk confidently enough and use some good words, you can often get away with this. Sometimes a quite spurious graph or diagram can help.
  4. But way better is to find a reference that backs up your viewpoint, which often isn’t hard on the internet. It doesn’t matter if the person is not a recognised expert and may even be a crank, as long as the reference looks OK. Once you’ve found one such reference, keep asking your opponent why they don’t accept it. Don’t worry if they have many more references supporting their case, just denigrate them by calling them apologists. Then say something like “I’ve given you evidence, I don’t know why you won’t accept it, but I’m not going to keep arguing with someone who won’t accept evidence.” Then quit the discussion before you can get pinned down.

Don’t thank me, just do it!

So that should be enough to get you out of any difficulty you get into on blogs and forums, and put you on the front foot while making your opponent look foolish or feeble.

I hope it all works for you. Noel

Picture: Gallery4Share.

21 Comments

  1. Argument 1: “The Imp Blue Jocaxian”

    It is said that God is an entity needed to answer the question:

    “How did the universe come from?”

    If we answer to the same question, “How did God” the theist says that God needs no creator, as it is the cause of himself or that ever existed or that is beyond our comprehension. And no use to argue that we can use the same arguments replacing the word “God” for “Universe”. Ie theistic mind requires a creator of the universe like it or if you do not want. However, linked to this creator-god, inlays up all other qualifications normally attributed to God in order to satisfy our psychological needs as goodness and / or omniscience and / or omnipotence and / or perfection among others. But the realization that this is not absolutely necessary to create the universe arises the argument of “Blue Imp Jocaxian”:

    If you say that God created the universe I can ALSO ASSUME that it was not God who created it, but the “Blue Bandit” who created it. Only that this little devil is not almighty as God does not have the omniscience of God, as God is not good, not perfect as God, and to create the universe, he ended up dying as much effort you made.

    Being my much simpler devil and less complex than his God he must be PREFERABLE in terms of “Occam razor” God! So BEFORE invoke God as creator of the universe you should invoke the “Imp Blue Jocaxian”. Otherwise you would be illogical adding unnecessary chances to ‘Creator of the Universe’.

    Comment: Not a creator is necessary with all the properties of a “God” to create the universe just have enough power to create it. So the claim that you need a “God” to the universe exist lacks rationale.
    By Google Translator

  2. Hi Joao Carlos, thanks for visiting my blog. Google translate is getting pretty good these days.

    The argument you are referring to is a little more sophisticated than how you have presented it. Basically it argues that the universe is a contingent thing (i.e. it could have been different to how we observe it – e.g. by some random event). But a contingent thing can’t explain its own existence, only a necessary thing (i.e. something that couldn’t have been different and couldn’t have not existed) can do that. So somewhere there has to be something that is necessary. And the argument suggests this something is God. So it is quite clear that the explanation for God (he is necessary) is quite different from the explanation for the universe (it is contingent).

    Of course many people disagree with the argument, but at least we can see its logic.

    Thanks.

    Oi João Carlos, obrigado por visitar o meu blog. Traduz Google está ficando muito bom esses dias.

    O argumento que você está se referindo é um pouco mais sofisticada do que como você apresentou. Basicamente, ele argumenta que o universo é uma coisa contingente (ou seja, ele poderia ter sido diferente de como nós observá-lo – por exemplo, por algum evento aleatório). Mas uma coisa contingente não pode explicar a sua própria existência, apenas uma coisa necessária (ou seja, algo que não poderia ter sido diferente e não poderia não ter existido) pode fazer isso. Então, em algum lugar tem que haver algo que é necessário. E o argumento sugere que este algo é Deus. Por isso, é bastante claro que a explicação para Deus (ele é necessário) é bem diferente da explicação para o universo (é contingente).

    É claro que muitas pessoas discordam com o argumento, mas pelo menos podemos ver a sua lógica.

    Obrigado.

  3. Hi Jocax, I’m sorry, but I think I DID understand what you said. I just disagreed about 2 things.

    1. The argument isn’t that a God is required to explain the universe, but that a necessary entity is needed to explain a contingent universe. I don’t think your argument satisfies that requirement.

    2. I don’t think anything that has a “special class” can be “nothing”, but is rather “something”.

    But we can disagree without the world coming to an end, don’t you think? 🙂

  4. Dear unkleE,
    1-If you think there is something necessary to explain the universe , then I show you this entity not need be something wihth infinite power, neither be good.
    Somethihng like a JIP can create the universe with LESS power.

    2-The Jocaxian Nothingness is *not* a “nothing”, is something very very very simple than god and can create the universe also.
    []s
    Jocax

  5. I wonder if Noel has been arguing with a certain person who has been banned from commenting here. The described tactics are identical.

  6. Hi Jocax,

    I’m sorry, but i don’t think you have “showed” that at all. I think you have just said it, which is very different. The cosmological argument doesn’t require infinite power at all, just a necessary eternal entity. So power is not relevant to that.

    If the “Jocaxian Nothingness” is truly “nothing”, then it doesn’t need the modifier “Jocaxian”, it is just nothing. But if it needs the modifier, then it isn’t “nothing”, but something, and therefore either another name for a necessary being, or else part of the universe and hence requiring explanation.

    I’m sorry, but I don’t see how what you have written here and on your website make sense or solve the questions being asked.

    Thanks again for your interest.

  7. Hi IN, actually I think he had a couple of other people particularly in mind, but also his general experience. He is a keen observer and a quick learner. But yes, if the cap fits …..

  8. Hi,

    unkleE said:
    “The cosmological argument doesn’t require infinite power at all, just a necessary eternal entity. “
    but then we can reply with the sentence that came right before:
    “I don’t think you have “showed” that at all. I think you have just said it, which is very different.”

    That’s the simplest way to explain why that family of arguments fail.

  9. Ah but Hugo, you didn’t take account of my wording. I didn’t say that we are required to believe in a necessary eternal entity (which would be arguable) but that “The cosmological argument doesn’t require infinite power at all, just a necessary eternal entity.” which is a true statement about the cosmological argument, whether we accept the argument or not.

  10. Right, the statement about the argument is correct, but that’s just splitting hair because you do believe the argument itself is valid, no? If not, then obviously you changed your mind on that, which would be great!

    But if you did not change your mind and do accept the Cosmological argument… I was just jumping ahead a little, and correctly pointing out that what you complained about in Joao’s comment is actually part of the support for the cosmological argument:

    “But if it needs the modifier, then it isn’t “nothing”, but something, and therefore either another name for a necessary being, or else part of the universe and hence requiring explanation.”

    That very sentence, where you explain why his JIP argument is wrong is also the same reason why the Cosmological argument is wrong. Just stating something ‘is’ does not support the reasons why one should think so. Stating that a necessary being is required does not justify the statement ‘a necessary being is required’.

  11. I wasn’t splitting hairs because that’s what we were talking about.

    On the contrary, the sentence you quote is a key to the Cosmo argument. We could argue whether the argument is successful til the cows come home, but I’m not doing that here, just explaining what the argument says.

  12. Hy uncleE,
    1-If you think that I donot ‘show’ JIP can create the Universe than I think
    you do not agree that the JIP can do this. It’s correct?
    Can you tell me why do you think JIP can not create the Universe?

    2-If you agree that is not necessary that the universe creator need to have an infinite power
    than you agree that is not necessary a god with infinite power, is it right?

    3-What I said help to solve the question aboute this topic ( Is there a God? )
    because the god’s definition has an infinite power and its not necessary ( if you agree ) ,
    soh God is not necessary also.
    []s
    Jocax

  13. Hi Jocax, my answers ….

    1. You have offered me no reason to believe the JIP exists or has any power to do anything, or even explained what it is.

    2. I don’t even know what infinite power is, and I’m not sure it is a meaningful concept. But perhaps you mean all-powerful or omnipotent, which means having the power to do anything (which isn’t the same as infinite), and yes, I believe God has the power to do anything that isn’t logically inconsistent.

    3. I’m saying God is necessary philosophically, which means he couldn’t not exist and he is the reason for his own existence. I think most philosophers believe if God exists then he necessarily exists. You can read about this in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

  14. Hi, unkleE,

    1-I do not understand you need something (God) with power to create more than 10000000 universes
    and believe in his existence if we have evidence only a *single* universe.
    Then, it is more logical some kind of JIP create an universe than a God.
    This is a logical reason to JIP is more correct than God as creator of Universe. (see Ocans razor)

    2-God is incosistent because:
    a) God , by definition is a good ‘person’, so he does only *good* things.
    b) God can do *anything*
    So, if God *can not* do bad things a) and b) is inconsistent.

    3) God is not necessary because coud be Nothing intead an. Universe.
    The universe is a contingent thing.
    because this we have a question thought by hundreds philosophers:
    “Why Is There Something Instead of Nothing? “

  15. G’day Jocax

    1. I cannot think of any other way for one or a zillion universes to be created. How can “some kind of JIP” be the answer? You haven’t defined it or shown it can do anything. Do you not think you need to provide an argument or reason for thinking that?

    2. I don’t know anyone serious who says God can do “anything” – most say “anything that is within his character and is not logically inconsistent”.

    3. I believe God is necessary, and that explains things. I gather you don’t believe that, but hopefully you can understand it.

    Thanks.

  16. G day UncleE,

    1-I do not understand why you think that somethink (god) that create *one* universe ( our )
    *necessarily* has the power to create a zillion universes also.
    Can you explain?
    Because we see only *one* universe, why do you think god can create zillion of it?

    2-You said God can do anything that is logically consistent:
    “…. But perhaps you mean all-powerful or omnipotent, which means having the power to do anything (which isn’t the same as infinite),
    and yes, I believe God has the power to do anything that isn’t logically inconsistent…”

    And tell me : do you think that an innocent child who is raped, or eaten alive by ants,
    is a good thing? or God not see that?

    3-God is not necessary , it is contingent, because the universe also is not necessary. Coul be nothing.
    Because this there is a fundamental question:
    “Why is There Something Rather Than Nothing?”

  17. Hi Jocax,

    1. Why not? I don’t understand why not.

    2. Of course not. So I’ll save you asking the next question – why doesn’t God stop it? And my answer is: I don’t know.

    3. Maybe God isn’t necessary. Maybe he is. I believe he is. That’s why he’s there rather than nothing.

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