Mistaking an Argument as Necessary

When are arguments necessary? When are they a mistake?

For all you moral absolutists out there, an argument is probably always necessary. There is a clear line between right and wrong, and if someone has CROSSED it, they need to know. And you need to tell them.

I have to admit, I adopt this mindset a lot more often than I should. But sometimes, it truly is necessary. Theoretically, when someone has done something negative to affect you or someone else and they don’t understand why, you should tell them. However, this statement is contingent on “theoretically.” In practice, it doesn’t always work out and the argument can end up being a mistake depending on how you argue your case, and with whom.

For example, I was arguing with my roommates recently about how high we should keep the heat. One roommate comes from a home where her parents turn it down to 52 (52!) when they’re sleeping, and 65 during the day. I, personally, didn’t really feel like walking around in mittens and a jacket in my own house, and lobbied for 65 at night and 70 during the day. As this issue directly affects our well-being, it was a necessary argument as we took divergent views. However, the argument got a little heated (pun not intended) and both of us ended up being a bit frosty (pun totally intended) towards each other for the next few days. I ended up feeling like it wasn’t worth it. It started out as a necessity, but ended up a mistake just by the way we went about arguing and how we treated each other during and after.

Can an argument be a necessity and a mistake?

Ah, this catch-22… Of course it can. This is sort of what I was alluding to in the first part, but this is something that is inherently necessary AND a mistake rather than starting off necessary and ending up, through bad form or circumstance, a mistake. For a perfect example, look no further than Bill Nye’s debate with creationist Ken Ham:

(and if you want to prove my point about arguing being a mistake and a necessity, by all means engage the people in the comment section.)

Are creationists wrong? Absolutely.

Are they educating their children to ignore science in favor of a limited worldview that might inhibit their ability to be successful members of society? Probably.

Do we have a responsibility, as more successful members of society, to correct their misperceptions? Most people would say yes.

But even the world’s most beloved bowtie-sporting scientist, famous for his ability to convey complex scientific notions in a comprehensible and engaging way, can do nothing to stop the “evolution is just a theory” tirade from his opponent.

Engaging this argument is impossible, because the only way to succeed is if both parties agree on the context of the argument. If Bill Nye is arguing from a scientific context, and Ken Ham has already rejected science as a viable context from which to base the argument, he will always reject Bill Nye’s conclusion no matter how logical the process is from context to conclusion.

Thus, engaging a creationist is both necessary and a mistake. Their entire worldview depends on a literal interpretation of the Bible, and they will never reframe it to accept science as an acceptable method of reasoning.

If we stop giving them a soapbox, maybe people will stop listening.

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