Is the man making the arguments one who should be considered authoritative

| March 29, 2017

Here you will be assessing the quality of the debate style utilized by each of the two men involved in this discussion. Did they argue honestly, based on logic and evidence, or did they use deceptive tricks to convince readers to believe things not really supported by evidence? Among other things, you should consider the following issues as you assess Dr. Miller’s and Dr. Johnson’s arguments:

1. Consider the source. Is the man making the arguments one who should be considered authoritative in the fields required to assess the question of whether evolution is a believable theory or not? While not necessarily a sign that an argument is less than impressive, a source speaking outside his or her field of expertise shoudl be looked at with skepticism.

2. A related issue: Do the arguments presented show a good understanding of science and biology? Is the debater (either Dr. Miller or Dr. Johnson) oversimplifying to avoid dealing with difficult issues? Does the debater understand the true meaning of “theory” to a scientist?

3. Does the argument actually address the important issues of the debate? One technique sometimes used by a clever (and not quite honest) debater is to create an issue (a “straw man”) which isn’t really appropriate to the debate, then to argue against the issue he created rather than against the real issue. Of course, his argument is immateral to the actual points under debate, but this tactic often impresses the gullible, or those not already well informed about the issues under discussion. Examine the arguments presented in this debate for straw man arguments.

4. Does the debater resort to an “argument from ignorance”? An argument from ignorance is the claim that, because something isn’t understood now, it can’t ever be understood. Arguments from ignorance may be even worse than this. Sometimes a debater will assert that if he/she doesn’t know an answer, it’s impossible for the answer to be known ever, by anyone. Arguments from ignorance are bad because they stop inquiry. Why continue to look for answers if you’ve already decided it’s not possible to find any? Note: asserting that there are things we still don’t know is not an argument from ignorance. It’s the claim that, since we don’t know them yet, we never can know them that makes an argument from ignorance.

5. Does the debater actually answer the points of his opponent? When challenged, does he meet the challenge?

6. Does the debater debate the issues, or does he attack his opponent personally (an “ad hominem” attack)? Careful with this one. Objecting to the points the opponent is making, or the motivations behind the opponent, is not the same as attacking the opponent personally. “Your mama wears army boots” is an ad hominem attack; “You got this all wrong” is not.

7. Does the debater provide evidence for his points, or does he simply make statements and expect his audience to accept his word? Note that in this limited context, extensive discourse on evidence is difficult.

8. Does the debater take information out of context? This is a particular problem with respect to quoting the words of others. It is often possible to quote a portion of an author’s, but to convey a totally different meaning than the author’s work conveys when taken in full. Sometimes it only takes omitting a few words to accomplish this. An honest debater maintains the source’s meaning, as well as his words. Quoting out of context is a sure sign of dishonesty.

I will be looking for specific consideration of all of these issues in this section. All of these reflect upon the honesty and integrity of any debater.

Part 3

This one is straightforward. Tell me who you think “won” this debate, and justify your decision.

The Debate can be found at this url: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/odyssey/debate/

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