How to smell out a bad faith debater and recognize a good faith one
|March 26, 2010||Posted by Anthony under apologetics, atheism, Blog|
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.
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: