Saturday, November 29, 2008

Arguments and Bad Arguments

"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion", "There's always two sides to an argument, "Well, that's their worldview and who are we to judge?"

One of the first fallacies that one should be acquainted with are invalid equivocation and inflation of conflict. There is a strong tendency in culture today to equivocate two sides as having equal standing. When I teach my students about evaluating positions, I argue that while everyone is entitled to their own opinion, some opinions are more informed than others.

My students ask me sometimes whether there is any point in having an argument. Like Deborah Tannen, in her book Is Everything An Argument?, there is a prevalence to think of arguments as negative, bitter battles between sworn enemies. But such a view is very narrow. Anytime a business owner-to-be writes a business proposal, they are arguing the merits of their business. Whenever we learn something new, we are learning positions that are backed by evidence that supports the theory. These arguments are not equivocal to an argument between to hydrophobic, misanthropic, tutu-wearing midgets on Jerry Springer.

All arguments are not the same. Some arguments rely on radical skepticism, e.g. those who question whether a chair actually exist. Some rely on emotions and guilt. Others rely on fallacies to make their point. So, when it comes to evaluating arguments we need to set a few ground rules.

First, argument should be based on some form of converging evidence. The point of having an argument is to persuade someone else to adopt and support a position. The rules of reasoned argument is the only way to accomplish this goal.

Second, when there is a disagreement, the counter-arguer needs to provide an alternative explanation. Thus, one cannot simply argue that position A is wrong without positing any alternatives to A. If one does posit an alternative position then they are arguing a "cryptic" position, i.e. an unstated position. If there really is no alternative position to argue from then there is no reason to engage in disagreement at all.

Finally, a form of Occam's razor should be used as a basis for evaluating burden of proof. In essence, this means that the simplest explanation tends to be the right one. If a counter-argument has a crazier alternative theory, then the burden of proof lies with the counter-argument. Thus, if the dominant position is the one that best explains all of the evidence, the alternative theory needs to provide an argument that better explains the evidence, not the other way around.

So, those of you who read and reply to our blog, please let us hold these standards of argument in our lives. I won't make you, of course, since you are entitled to your own opinion. (Just not as entitled as I am to mine.)

These are the words of Dr. Skeptor...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Why Reason

So my husband and I are writing a book, a small accessible reference to logic and reasoning.  He want's to include a section on why reason and logic are important.  To be honest, I've never really thought about it, once I started on the path of reason I never looked back.  I think it mostly had to do with the fact that I'm a bibliophile, and I just adore dusty old books. Link that with a childhood fascination with greek culture and your bound to stumble upon aristotle, and things just kind of sprang up from there.   
But how to convince some one that reasonable thought is beneficial if they are already convinced that it is cold, Eurocentric, and simply part of our world view.  Therefore it is only as valid as other world views that embrace intuition and emotion(HUMBUG!).  Mind you there is nothing wrong with intuition and emotion but if you are using intuition and emotion to buy a car, vote on public policy, develop/pick a treatment, or develop/prove a theory then the outcome is bound to be woefully egregious.  Not only that, but it's downright harmful. Some examples:  Zambia's refusal of GM food crops, in fact the whole out cry against GM foods,  the anti-vaccination movement, ban's on stem cell research, abstinence only education, etc (while there are many more examples I'm using those because they are well known and one can easily find information about them on the internet).  The point is that those are instances where sloppy thinking leads to real human suffering.  Mommy instincts may say that vaccines cause autism and that GM foods are bad, but mommy instincts are wrong most of the time. Some times they are dead wrong.  
So We here at the Art of Reason are going to go through some topics like the ones mentioned above and work out the reasoning contained with in whether it be good or bad.  We are going to start out with Pascal's Wager and where it plays into environmentalism, We feel its a nice controversial topic that will piss off every one who stumbles upon this  little blog.  I'll be working on it all week, and will try to get it posted by saturday.  

The Flying Pig

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Peanut Butter

Welcome to the Art Of Reason blog, our main goal here is to poke fun and the fundamentally illogical and turn sacred cows into hamburgers, or tasty mushroom cheeseburgers. 

I personally am  not focused enough to be consistent so some times you may find that there is a written blog, and other times you find a cartoon here, which I have created with my immense talent both for artistic expression and juvenile humor.   So with out further introduction I present my first skeptical/atheist cartoon, and I hope you enjoy it. which by the way isn't very funny if you have not seen the "atheist's nightmare" youtube video:Peanut butter, the atheist's nightmare 

The Flying Pig