Bad Arguments for Correct Conclusions

There is nothing more harmful to truth than bad arguments used to prove correct conclusions. In debates, online discussions, or just casual conversations, one may espouse a view that is technically correct but the logic or argumentation they use to present that view is just all wrong. Either their language isn’t clear, their premises are false, or the logic in their argument doesn’t follow.

I can’t tell you how many debates I’ve watched or discussions I’ve read where I cringe listening to the person I agree with because of the arguments they use. It isn’t a matter of stylistic difference; it’s a matter of them simply not understanding the position they’re taking or just making factually incorrect statements.

Preachers and teachers are especially susceptible to this when it comes to incorporating Greek into their articles or speeches, and I know I’m guilty of this as well. For example, it is clear from the context of John 14 that no one goes to the Father except through Jesus, but citing the “definite article” as proof of this doesn’t follow. Many of these grammar mistakes are remedied by simply taking five to ten minutes to consult a first year Greek grammar such as one by Mounce, Black, or Summers. When someone uses the Greek to prove their position but does so poorly, they are giving those who do not wish to see the validity of their views every reason to not accept it.

It’s better to use simple, straightforward arguments than trying to make some complicated point and risk losing your audience.

Now, when I say “bad arguments” I don’t necessarily mean invalid arguments.

It’s possible to use a valid argument in a discussion to prove a true conclusion and still do harm. This can occur when your audience does not have the background to understand what you are trying to say. In this situation, stick to something simple or find a creative way to get your point across by giving your audience the tools needed to follow what you’re saying.

Again, you might be technically correct, but it’s better to stick to the simple than to run people away with the unnecessarily complicated, though right it may be.

So, bad arguments come in two forms: an argument that is simply invalid and an argument that goes over the head of your audience.

The solution to the first problem is learning how to properly research your topic. If you haven’t had any formal training in Greek, like myself, then find someone who has, and let them double check your work. Furthermore, listen to the advice of those who aren’t afraid to critique you.

The second problem is rectified by knowing your audience. You have to know when to use construction paper and coloring books and when to use Greek lexicons and critical commentaries. The safest route is condensing what you are arguing into an elevator pitch that someone with no background in your topic can grasp. If you can do that, then it shows that you understand the topic, but it also enables you to communicate it with anyone. Some have said, “Put in a way that the children in the room will understand; then, the adults may even get it too!”

One defense mechanism people use when backed into a corner is the tendency to shotgun a dozen arguments. If one truly cares about truth, then it is better to focus in on one or two well thought out arguments than hiding behind a wall of “You didn’t answer argument 728B!”

Keep things simple. Check, double-check, and triple-check your sources. Seek help when needed. And seek truth, not a win.

One Reply to “Bad Arguments for Correct Conclusions”

  1. If one uses Greek grammar in his or her interpretation, one should make sure that he or she explains the Greek text in such a way that one who is not versed in Greek would be able to understand. Greek is still an important tool in correctly handling the Scriptures more accurately. Often times, our English translations do not capture the intent of the author. Also audience relevance is extremely important in the interpretation of Scripture. Daniel, I appreciate your daily essays, which writings are extremely thought provoking.

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