Lesson 4 of a multipart series. The goal is to argue without being argumentative. Why good arguments often fail. How emotion plays a role in a discussion. Active Listening. Psychological
Lesson 4 of a multipart series. The goal is to argue without being argumentative. Why good arguments often fail. How emotion plays a role in a discussion. Active Listening. Psychological Barriers. Antagonists. Certainty and the burden of proof.
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The Art of Argumentation
• The goal is to argue without being
• Gentleness and Respect
A good argument is one which is 1) logically sound, free from
logical fallacies, 2) emotionally compelling and 3) has a great
probability of being correct then other contending views, the best
of all possibilities.
“A good argument starts from true premises and/or facts, makes no
logical mistakes (fallacies), marshals a great body of evidence,
answers objections, clarifies the issues and draws valid (therefore
- James Sire, Why Good Arguments Often Fail
Arguments often fail
• Arguments don’t always work
– The audience controls the outcome of the
– Emotionless (too little emotion)
– Overly emotional (too much emotion)
– Too complex or abstract
– Limited intelligence
– Psychological barriers
– Lack of interest
“Acknowledging that rational conclusions are often based on
judgments that go beyond the evidence will helps us respect the
judgments of those who disagree with us without letting their
judgments sway our own. It also rightly forces us to draw
together as many evidences (or as many reasons) as we can for
the position we are defending.”
- James Sire, Why Good Arguments Often Fail
1. The total psyches of the two persons
engaged in dialogue.
2. The relationship between the two persons.
3. The immediate situation in which they find
4. The larger social, cultural and historical
situation surrounding them.
From: Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Pocket Handbook of Christian Apologetics
• What is the role of the Holy Spirit in our
showing Christianity to be true?
• What is the role of the Holy Spirit in our
showing Christianity to be true?
Our job is to faithfully given an answer. We should
communicate the gospel clearly, graciously and persuasively.
God will take what we have done and do His part.
“Without the work of the Spirit, no argument – no matter
how persuasive – will be effective.” – Greg Koukl, Tactics
Before you begin
1. Call in the heavy artillery: Pray!
2. You need to have some knowledge about what you believe and why you
3. You need tactics and methodology. Wisdom on how to use the
knowledge you have. “Cleverness without truth is manipulation.” (G.
Koukl, Tactics 199).
4. You need the character to engage in non-hostile confrontation. You
want to be someone people want to talk to.
5. Practice is good. Failure is a learning experience. “The more you sweat
in training, the less you bleed in battle.”
6. It is a good idea to join a group of like-minded people of kindred spirit.
7. After action assessment. Ask yourself, what did you do well, what you
did poorly, how can you improve?
8. Don’t retreat in the face of opposition. Remember the battle belongs to
the Lord, which does not mean that we should not prepare.
9. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see results.
“Interacting with others face-to-face is the most effective way to
improve your abilities as an ambassador.” (G. Koukl, Tactics 93)
“I think I have learned far more from failures than successes; I
certainly remember them better.” (Sire 71)
Ready. An Ambassador is alert for chances to represent Christ and will not back away from
a challenge or an opportunity.
Patient. An Ambassador won’t quarrel, but will listen in order to understand, then with
gentleness seek to respectfully engage those who disagree.
Reasonable. An Ambassador has informed convictions (not just feelings), gives reasons,
asks questions, aggressively seeks answers, and will not be stumped by the same challenge
Tactical. An Ambassador adapts to each unique person and situation, maneuvering with
wisdom to challenge bad thinking, presenting the truth in an understandable and
Clear. An Ambassador is careful with language and will not rely on Christian lingo nor gain
unfair advantage by resorting to empty rhetoric.
Fair. An Ambassador is sympathetic and understanding towards others and will
acknowledge the merits of contrary views.
Honest. An Ambassador is careful with the facts and will not misrepresent another’s view,
overstate his own case, or understate the demands of the Gospel.
Humble. An Ambassador is provisional in his claims, knowing that his understanding of
truth is fallible. He will not press a point beyond what his evidence allows.
Attractive. An Ambassador will act with grace, kindness, and good manners. He will not
dishonor Christ in his conduct.
Dependent. An Ambassador knows that effectiveness requires joining his best efforts with
From Stand To Reason, www.str.org
Assess the Situation
• Assess the situation and the person you are
– Do they have emotional or intellectual doubts?
– Are the receptive?
– Do you have a relationship with the person and what
implied or boundaries exist?
• What are their beliefs or worldview?
– You are going to have to ask questions to find out,
– Remember the religion they belong to might not be
exactly what they believe.
• What role do emotions play in apologetics?
• Do they have emotional reasons or doubts?
• Often people hold views based upon
emotions and not reason.
• People will often deny the existence of God
because of deeply emotional issues.
• You won’t know if they have emotional
barriers until you ask.
• They cannot reconcile:
– Loss of a loved one
– Pain and suffering
– Perceived inequality
• Emotion barriers are difficult to remove.
• Typically it takes awhile.
• If they get upset, you lose.
• If you get upset, you lose.
• Don’t get upset maintain a gentle and
• Check your emotions at the door.
• Be careful of the words you use.
• According to Francis Schaeffer, love is the first
and last apologetic.
• What feelings does the term "Cult" conjure in
• When you see this word or hear it, what do
• How do you think it makes others feel when
you use it about them?
• Does this help or hinder apologetics or
– If you ask enough most people will eventually return the
– It is also a great way to start a conversation.
– If people don’t think you are willing to listen to what they
believe, what makes you think they'll be willing to listen to
what you believe?
– Repeat back what they have said in different words.
– Start with, “Let me see if I understand your point, you
“Asking questions enables you to escape the charge,
“You are twisting my words.” A question is a request for
clarification specifically so that you don’t twist their
words. When I ask a clarification question, my goal is to
understand a person’s view (and its consequences), not
to distort it.” (G. Koukl, Tactics 45)
“Listen carefully to what they say, ask lots of questions,
don’t jump in with irrelevant comments or statements
that are not sensitive to what you are learning about
them.” (Sire 91)
• What do you mean by…?
• When they say god and I say God do we mean
the same thing?
• Try to use precise language.
• Avoid ambiguity.
• Ask for their definition and give yours.
Burdon of Proof
• Often people make statements (empty
comments, devoid of meaning) that are
opinion or they are simply repeating slogans
• I call this parroting, because they can say the
word but they don’t know what they mean or
why it would be true.
• Don’t simply accept a statement without
• How did you come to that conclusion?
• Why do you say that?
• What reasons do you have for that view?
• I am curious, why do you find that view so
“Critics rarely are prepared to defend their own ‘faith.’ They have seldom thought
through what they believe and have relied more on generalizations and slogans than
careful reflection.” (G. Koukl, Tactics 103)
• First and foremost, we need to make sure we
don't make non-essential issues to the gospel
central in people's minds.
• We shouldn't create stumbling blocks with
people that keep them from Christ.
• Don’t get sucked into debates about birthdays
or holy underwear.
• Scripts are great for learning and are useful for
• However, don’t rely on them solely.
• Using script to talk to people of different religions
is extremely difficult.
• You can’t memorize a response for every possible
statement or rebuttal they may come up with.
• You can easily get caught in a corner you can’t get
• If you have a difficult concept to explain it is
often better to use an analogy to make you
• You can even use stories they already know to
“What’s an Analogy? An analogy is a comparison between two
things that are similar; they are the same in some respect and
different in some other respect(s). For example, Jesus said that
faith is like a mustard seed: they are the same in that both can
be small and yet can grow into something large; but they are
different in that a mustard seed is an actual kernel that grows in
dirt, but faith is not.” (Herrera)
• Admit when you don’t know something.
• Admit when you are wrong.
• “There is nothing progressive about being
pigheaded and refusing to admit a mistake.”
Keep it Clean
• Don’t rely solely on rhetoric.
• Don't bear false witness.
• Fight clean even if they fight dirty, be above
• I find it help to remember that the other person
is not the enemy. The enemy is the wrong
• Respect the person even if you disagree with
“It is not the Christian life to wound, embarrass, or play on-
upmanship with colleagues, friends or even opponents, but it’s a
common vice that anyone can easily fall into.” (Hewitt 166)
“Just make sure it’s your ideas that offend and not you, that your
beliefs cause the dispute and not your behavior.” (G. Koukl, Tactics
“The temptation will be strong to use your tactical skill[s] like a
club. Don’t give in to the urge.” (G. Koukl, Tactics 95)
“Valid, well substantiated arguments presented with arrogance,
aggression or an overly clever attitude are often no heard clearly
enough to attract the attention they deserve.” (Sire 74)
Any Progress is Progress
• Don’t worry about closing the deal.
• You may be planting or you may be watering.
“All I want to do is to put a stone in someone’s shoe. I want
to give them something worth thinking about, something he
can’t ignore because it continues to poke at him in a good
way.” (G. Koukl, Tactics 38)
“Be content to plant a seed that might later flourish under
God’s sovereign care.” (G. Koukl, Tactics 41)
• Don’t let them change definitions.
• Call them on faulty reasoning.
• If they have a set of rules make sure you hold
them to their set of rules.
– Don’t let them switch from relativistic morality to
objective morality as needed.
– If they hold to relativistic morality don’t let them
borrow capital from objective morality.
Their statement: “It is wrong to tell people they are
Your response: “Then why are you telling me I am
Their statement: “Not letting people believe what they
want is oppressive.”
Your response: “Why are you oppressing me?”
• Using humor can ease tension when people
get heated in an argument.
• Never use humor that belittles or berates
“In takes an apologist with special gifts to pull off clever
humor directed in a way toward a person asking a question in
public. Apologists must preserver the dignity of the person
asking the most silly or perverse of questions.” (Sire 75)
• Sometimes all that stands between a believer
and an unbeliever is a lack of information.
• Find out what they are lacking and give it to
“Sometimes simple lack of information stands in the way of
effectiveness of a rational argument. Every argument assumes
some facts that are not immediately evidence. Every witness
has to start somewhere, and we Christians have a tendency to
assume that people have information they simply do not
have.” (Sire 84)
• “Some people who do not profess the Christian faith are
especially resistant to some of its key ideas because of
events in their lives that have personally scarred them.
Rational arguments therefore miss the mark.” (Sire 89)
• “What is needed is psychological healing, and that is more
likely to come not through rational arguments but through
experiencing genuine love from within a community of
Christians… Love is not just the final apologetic, as Francis
A. Schaeffer said, but the first as well.” (Sire 90)
• “Hard, practical love is again both the first and final
apologetic for someone with this background. For a while
it may be the only apologetic.” (Sire 91)
• “Sharing the gospel with such people means
sharing much more than information; it
means sharing one’s life.” (Sire 90)
• Body Language (non-verbal communication) is
important to communications.
• 60 to 70 percent of all meaning is derived
from nonverbal behavior.
• Why is body language important to
• What role does emotion play in apologetics?
• Why is it important to understand the
emotions on the part of the each participant?
• Do emotions play a part in why people believe
what they believe?
• If they have an emotional issue with God,
generally you will need to address the
emotions before they will listen to reason.
Gentleness and Respect
• Respond with gentleness and respect.
• Don’t let them get to you.
“I try hard to be fair to those who disagree and to treat them
kindly’ realizing that I will probably learn a great deal from
them… my desire to convince Christians that the Christian
faith is best promoted when Christian character of Christianity
is demonstrated in the very rhetorical style of its
presentation.” (Sire 76-78)
“It really is better to “lose” an argument and gain a friend.
You can have many more dialogues with a friend.” (Sire 79)
• Emotional reasons (Emotion can trump logic).
– Can’t handle the implications.
– Fear of rejection from friends and family.
• Prejudice (People have their mind already
– Cultural influences (like in academics).
• Open rebellion.
– They don’t want it to be true and even if it
logically is true they will reject it.
“Sometimes people have emotional reasons for resisting. Bad
experiences with Christians or with churches or pressures from
family or culture are enough to blind a person to our appeals.” (G.
Koukl, Tactics 165)
“They love truth when it enlightens them; they hate it when it
accuses them.” Augustine
“…the moment of truth may harden their heart… When a central
truth in the gospel is made plain, when it is understood by the
listener and yet rejected, the moment of truth threatens an
eternal consequence.” (Sire 125)
• Used as a method to stop an argument from being
– A sign that the person has a weak argument is they claim
others are not being politically correct. (Racist, bigoted,
– The claim is an attempt to shut people up, to silence their
voice in the debate.
• The thing is calling someone a racist only work on
them if they are not.
– If you call a racist a racist they typically do not care.
– Only those that are not racist will care if you call them a
• Academic or Intellectual bullies
• Attempt to bully into silence.
• Talk down to people.
• They claim that you can’t speak on a topic
unless you are an expert.
• The Bible is almost always treated different
then everything else.
• “Beware when rhetoric becomes a substitute
for substance.” (G. Koukl, Tactics 23)
• Rhetoric is the art of persuasion.
• It can be used to manipulate, con, deceive,
mislead, or coerce.
• Often people will change topics because they
can’t refute your argument.
• They can’t refute a claim so they attack
• Make sure you keep the topic on the claim
and not on any distractors coming your way.
• Multiple people making multiple claims.
• It will keep you off base.
• One may seem nice while the other mocks.
– Good cop / Bad cop
• Avoid or leave the situation.
• People who keep interrupting you.
• They are often only interested in winning not
in finding truth.
• They use the steam roller as a method of
“Don’t let a steamroller get under your skin. Being defensive
and belligerent always looks weak. Instead, stay focused on
the issues, not the attitude. Talk calmly and try to look
confident.” (G. Koukl, Tactics 161)
Stop the Steamroller
• Ask gently for courtesy, make sure you return
• For the second request use a little shame and
use their name in your reply.
• Finally, just leave if they persist.
– (Be mindful of an audience, you may not want to
pull out if there is no way they care but there are
observers who may be persuaded.)
– [See Matt 7:6; 21:27 & John 19:9]
• Only seeks to stir up controversy not really
interested in the pursuit of truth.
• They have a weak argument and the only way
they can makes theirs look good is to make
you look bad.
“There are plenty of ripe fruit waiting to be harvested. Save
your energy for more productive encounters.” (G. Koukl,
• Objections to evidence are often rejected based
upon a sifting definition of proof.
• Often there is an ever increasing burden of proof.
– “For me to believe in God He would have to come
down here and show me!”
– He did.
– “He would have to prove it.”
– He rose from the dead.
– “He let my loved one die.”
• Hyper skepticism is applying a higher standard
than warranted or a double standard in
• We don’t use absolute certainty for anything
• “It is a sign of an uneducated person to
require more evidence than that thing was
capable of providing.” Aristotle
• Anything is possible.
• Just because you can come up with a possible
alternative does not refute a claim.
• Assume it is possible.
– Is it more reasonable than the alternative?
– Which one has the best explanatory power?
“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.”
Popularized by Carl Sagan but originated with Mercello
Truzzi. (Montgomery 455)
The problem with this quote is that evidence is not weighted
by the importance of the event or even the frequency of an
event. “The standard of proof depends, in all instances, on
the quality of the evidence in behalf of the claimed event –
that and nothing more; that and nothing less.” (Montgomery
• It is unwise to ask for absolute proof or to give
credence to mere possibilities.
• Instead we must determine if we are
comfortable with evidence beyond reasonable
doubt or simply the preponderance of
• What is the best explanation given the
available facts or information?
Just the Facts
• Often you opponent will make fantastic or
• It is important to be informed and know your
facts and precisely respond to their false
• Use precise numbers when you can because
they are more persuasive.
“More people have died in the name of God and religion than
The facts are that more people have died at the hands of
institutionalized atheism that any religion.
“The greatest evil has not come from people zealous for God.
It has resulted when people are convinced there is no God
they must answer to.” (G. Koukl, Tactics 177)
Ask yourself, “What is the claim?” Then ask, “Are the facts
• People will often dismiss your comments.
• Always ask them why they dismiss them.
• Often they will say it in a manner that seems
to imply your dumb for not getting it.
“Christian Claims to truth often imply moral obligation. As
ordinary human beings, we do not want to be morally
obligated, and so we reject ideas that obligate us.” (Sire 117)
Group Manipulation Tactics
• A facilitator job is to lead a group to a
• Use phony (empty rhetoric) consensus
• The group will think they came to the idea
• Objectors will be ostracized.
– Sacrificial Cow
• If the person you are having a conversation
with will not listen to reason you should
disengage from debate.
• However, you may not want to disengage it
there is an audience.
• Then you should move to persuade the
audience of your view even if the person you
are debating is a seemingly lost cause.
• Have you ever dealt with difficult people?
• At what point do you simple give up?
• Are you throwing pearls to swine?
Read and Discuss
• Jesus and the Gods of the New Age, by Ross
Clifford and Phillip Johnson, Appendix II -
Vicky's Story (Question in the Case Study