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How to smell out a bad faith debater and recognize a good faith one

This is a work in progress and will be updated as necessary.

I’ve been arguing with people my whole life.  Ask my family.  I’ve been debating apologetics issues since the Internet appeared and have a lot of experience with it.  Over the last couple of years, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is not worth my time to continue a discussion with someone arguing in bad faith.   It isn’t that I don’t think the person needs to be corrected or refuted or that my position no longer needs clarification.  It’s just that the other person doesn’t care.  At least, not about those things.

What shall follow will serve as my explanation as to why I may have stopped talking with you.  It is also meant as a general guideline for others.  As I said, I will expand on this as necessary, including, as my time permits, real life examples.

Note, if I have applied this to you, don’t take it personally.  I’m sure that most of the people discoursing over the internet on all sides of all issues are reasonable chaps IRL (in real life).  I’m sure that this applies to you, too.  Unless I tell you otherwise.  🙂

The other thing is that I am the sole determiner of what I believe, for the sake of the conversations I engage in, is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ faith.  There is no point in arguing with me about it.  I’ll ignore you, stop talking- or if its on this blog- even block your IP.  If you want to talk more, try out the ‘good faith’ stuff I list below.

Signs that the person you are debating with is not debating in good faith:

1. They begin to psychoanalyze.

This has many forms.  The gist of it is that whatever it is that you say, they know what you really mean.  This is also often entails a generous heaping of ad hominem.  Examples:

  • “The reason you’re not bowing to their superior argument is… you’re ignorant, you’re stupid, you’re evil, you’re biased, etc.” [Example]
  • “You’re saying that only because you’re a man, or a woman, or a Christian, etc.” [Example]
  • “You say that, but the truth is that you’re just selfish.”  [Example]

2. They constantly fail to respond to the point you’re actually making.

Obviously, it is possible that I am not making my point as clear as I would like.  I will tend to restate my position 3-5 times in slightly different terms and examples before giving up.  If I keep saying, “X” and they act as though I said “Y” there is no point in continuing, since any further comment will be as misunderstood as my existing comments.  Note, this might not be ‘bad faith’ and it might not even be poor communication- the problem might be that they are not good with language or with thinking.   One might have to use their discretion.

3.  They are unwilling to give you a graceful way out.

A failure to appreciate that people have lives and time commitments that are obviously hidden by the nature of the Internet to the other individuals is usually the mark of someone who thinks that by getting in the last word they’ve won an argument.  This person is not interested in pursuing mutual understanding.  He (or she) just wants to win.

4.  They continue to make it very clear that they are much, much smarter than you are.

First of all, it is highly unlikely that this is true.  But let us imagine that it is true.  What is the point in saying it?  This goes with the psychoanalyzing above.  Even if it were true that someone was just stupid, what is the point in saying it except to make you feel better, pat yourself on the back, or dismiss the other person.  You say, “I’m smarter than you.”  I’m supposed to respond, “Oh, well.  In that case, of course your argument is sound.  Thanks for clearing that up.”  ?  Nonsense.

BTW, we should draw a distinction between intelligence and education.  Some of the dumbest people I’ve ever met, online and off, had advanced academic degrees.  Some of the most intelligent had few or none.  And all the people I’ve met that I perceived really were smarter than me were Christians who didn’t feel like they had to actually tell me they were smarter.

5.  You really are illiterate.

Obviously, if you didn’t comprehend what was said the first time, or the second time, you ain’t gonna a third and fourth time.

More TBA

Signs that the person is debating in good faith:

They recognize the limitations of whatever format you’re discussing and so are constantly seeking clarifications to ensure they’re responding to your true position.

If you direct them to a source, whether it be a website or a book or whatever, they take the time to actually look at it.  If they comment on a book, blog entry, article, whatever, they’ve actually read it.

They allow you to make clarifications and qualifications without hitting you with a ‘gotcha.’  For example, if we’re talking about a blog entry we don’t have the expectation that an exhaustive treatment of an issue can be made.  The author may not have been responding to exactly to the issue you raise.  He should be given an opportunity to do so.

Other reasons I might not be talking to you anymore:

A.  You’re an idiot.  Or, you’re just mean.  Or maybe even a bad person.  No, I typically won’t tell you which- I would only tell you if I thought it would do some good- on the grounds laid out in #4 above- it just doesn’t further the discussion.

B.  I’ve said all that I feel can be said and don’t think belaboring the point furthers the conversation.  In this scenario, it isn’t that you’re arguing in bad faith or that I’m trying to dodge the discussion.  I just don’t see it going anywhere.  Talk about something else or drop it.   And I’ll help you- by simply dropping it.

And the number one reason why I may have stopped talking to you:

It is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who rejects my argument, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).

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14 Responses to How to smell out a bad faith debater and recognize a good faith one

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Wayne Smith. Wayne Smith said: How to smell out a bad faith debater and recognize a good faith one http://bit.ly/9zDyUG #tcot #teaparty #iamthemob […]

  2. Great post. I just posted something similar on my own blog, albeit I admittedly did not hit the excellent points you did.

    Keep up the good work!

  3. I thought your post was pretty good, too. Why don’t you post a link to it?

  4. Thanks for a great laugh. Don’t you realize that each of these these signs are actually your very own favorite debating \techniques\? And that the reason why nobody posts negatively on your blog is because they don’t want to be subjected to your psychoanalysis, your failure to respond to the point that they are making, your unwillingness to give them a graceful way out and your insistence that you are much, much smarter than they are? A few seconds of self criticism once in a while would make your blog less of an arrogant rant and more of a talking point.

  5. Nice try, Stathei. This from the guy who refused to actually read the Bible before commenting on it- and was proud.

    Granted, there was a time when I’d more easily stoop to your level. My post here reflects a change over the last 18 months or so. Of late, I’ve demurred from banging elbows. You are welcome to provide any example that you like where I insist that I am much, much smarter than anyone. I don’t really think arguing to you that you should actually familiarize yourself with the Bible before categorically rejecting its contents can be construed as saying I’m smarter than you. 🙂

    And if I don’t think there is a graceful exit from such a disgraceful position, people will perhaps forgive me.

    “A few seconds of self criticism”

    Well, if you were a good faith debater, instead of saying that you might say something more useful like, “Won’t you admit that sometimes you violate these same principles?” I’d say yes. But you are a bad faith debater, and so you didn’t give me that opportunity.

    But then, looking back, with just a few exceptions, you’ve always been a bad faith debater. My big mistake with you was ever engaging you as though maybe it mattered. I won’t make that mistake again. 🙂

  6. Ok, on second thought, let me put it this way:

    I will concede that I was on occasion over the top with you. I am genuinely sorry about that. I’m sorry.

    If you would ever like to start over ‘from scratch’ I’d be happy to give it a go. However, there’d have to be ‘good faith’ on both sides. I admit that I am pessimistic on this point in your case, but I should at least be open to the possibility, which I hereby state I am.

    Glad to see you’re still ‘lurking’ about. 🙂

  7. SJ – you know that, despite the huge and unbridgeable (is that a word?) gulf in our beliefs, I really do have the utmost respect for you as a person. That is why I am still lurking about checking up on you – but I just couldn’t let this little slice of hypocrisy slide. I am very glad and a wee bit sad to see you admit that I am right – the SJ I love would never do something so reasonable. And to hear you apologize? It hurts.

    As you also know, I have no reservations about admitting that I am a bad faith debater when it comes to, well, faith. Your faith is entirely and solely founded on your blind and unreasoning belief in the contents of a book that you implore me to read – even though I was already forced to read a significant amount of it as a child – and is not based on any form of interest in reality – worse, an obsessive desire to completely ignore reality when it is at odds with the book and even to reinterpret reality to ensure the book is not exposed as the story it is.

    That is, to me, the very ultimate in bad faith. Starting from scratch? Not possible.

  8. heh you’ve always had a special way of communicating respect. 🙂

    Except to say- more to the lurker than to you- that it has precisely been in the area of explaining to you why my confidence in the Christian scriptures are not based on ‘blind and unreasoning belief’ where your ‘bad faith’ has been on display. Please see #1 above: No matter what I say, you already know what I mean. No matter what evidence or argument I produce, you know me better than I know myself to know that it isn’t the true source of my position.

    I think your latest puts it perfectly: “Starting from scratch?” Not possible, indeed. If only you had told me before we invested hours upon hours of debate that from the very first we weren’t ‘starting from scratch.’

    I just can’t believe you admit it and still think you’re the reasonable one. 🙂

    But enough. If this dissolved into hugs and kisses and sweet reconciliations why I don’t know how I could live with myself. 🙂

  9. I actually told you very early on that my mind was closed to the supernatural in the absence of any evidence for it – and, since the only “evidence” you could muster was telling me repeatedly to read the bible, it has remained that way.

    It is perfectly reasonable to be unreasonable when it comes to your unreasonable beliefs. Or something…

  10. “I actually told you very early on that my mind was closed to the supernatural in the absence of any evidence for it”

    Yes, you did say that. But that’s not the same as asserting that you can reach into my head and know with the kind of certainty that you often alleged what my own reasons were. You may find the evidence I suggested unpersuasive, but that is not the same as ‘absence of any evidence’ and nor does it follow that it means only “The Bible told me so.”

    “– and, since the only “evidence” you could muster was telling me repeatedly to read the bible, it has remained that way.”

    I never once argued in this fashion. My telling you to read the bible was simply for your own good. It just makes sense that if one is going to reject a position they should know a little about what they are rejecting. I didn’t submit the bible as ‘evidence.’ I submitted it for educational purposes, especially in light of your numerous comments about ‘What the Bible said” which in fact the Bible did not say.

    You will recall that I even offered to send you a Bible, or buy you one via Amazon. You declined this offer on some spurious grounds (illustrating ‘utmost respect’ Stathei-style) that you were afraid of giving me your mailing address. (Although I don’t know if I ever told you this, B, but I had your mailing address anyway. 😉 )

    You will surely remember my long post giving my autobiographical discourse on how I came to supernaturalism by coming to the conclusion that a naturalistic explanation for the reasonableness of reason could not be attained? You mocked this argument as ‘pseudo-intellectual.’ Even so, it was something other than ‘only read the Bible.’ Right? But you found a way to reduce my conclusions re: epistemology to what you believed was my ‘real’ reason: the Bible told me so. So it’s not in any way true that I only offered as evidence ‘read the Bible.’ I offered many things, but you, demonstrating your impressive powers of omniscience and clairvoyance always knew what my real reasons were. 🙂

  11. This is all far too civilized and respectful. For old time’s sake I lookded through the old forum and came across my post “Genesis is Made Up”. Now, THAT was more like it! Sigh, the good old days….

  12. Why is this under cyberculture on stumble? This is christfag shit.

  13. Maybe it was there just long enough to inspire you to come here and provide an actual example of what the post describes.

  14. […] all psychiatrists’ argument – which is a silencing and derailing technique, a bad faith argument. Similarly, I’m often told I complain too much, or that I’m too aggressive about […]

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