(Under construction. Constructive feedback welcome. Comment.)
Hopefully,the fact that I do not have infinite amounts of free time will not amaze you too much. As a result, I pick which comments I reply to carefully (at least, I will start to). If you really want to engage me in a conversation, I have some advice:
- Be willing to define your terms
- There are concepts for which language is an unavoidably sloppy tool. Most of these concepts appear as the conversation gets into esoteric areas of philosophy and science. At the perimeter of either of our understanding, language will be an increasingly useless tool unless we stop occasionally to make sure we agree our terms.
- Be willing to provide supporting evidence
- We cannot base a conversation on claims you are not willing to substantiate. For a comment to be taken seriously, you must ground it in reality somehow.
- I am happy to provisionally accept reasonable-sounding claims to entertain an idea, but be aware that the entire discussion is based on something you have not presented evidence for.
- Be aware of when you are making claims
- A lot of the time, people struggle to identify that they have made a claim. Negating someone is a claim; attempting to maintain a default position is not. If someone makes and defends a claim, attempting to discard that claim normally includes a claim.
- Actually say something
- Certain phrases are meaningless until they are substantiated or explained. Certain words (like: God, dissociated from any religion; morality, without an idea of how ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are measured; transcendental) don’t mean anything. When you use them, you are actually not making a claim at all. Sometimes whole sentences fall to the same problem: “I am that I am”.
- Hold back
- It is advisable to ask for clarification of a point before taking an idea and running it to what you see as the logical conclusion. Take the process in baby steps. You may find you are mistaken in your understanding of either the initial point or where you think it leads.
- Be consistent
- With requirements for evidence
Do not expect me to give your claim of a God special treatment just because it’s important to you. I occasionally try to offer alternatives to the God hypothesis. The level of evidence that theists then require to accept that claim is completely insurmountable. They require absolute, unambiguous evidence and answers to every question they can imagine (even the questions which express a deep misunderstanding of the topic). However, when it comes to the God hypothesis, all the evidence they need is the failure of me (a layman) to present evidence to the impossibly high standard they arbitrarily demand.
- With your claims
Socrates used to question people until they reached a claim in support of their own argument that was either absurd to in direct contradiction to another thing that person claimed to believe. It is called Socratic questions (and it can be used to develop understanding as well as unpin it). Conversations about God and religion can quickly become abstract and reach the level of understanding where what you say to defend your argument has wide-reaching implications to the arguments are are able to make. For example, to say that God condoned slavery in Exodus and Leviticus because it made moral sense at the time it to watch the idea of absolute divine morality evaporate; you have then cut yourself off from talking about absolute morality unless you concede the problem of Biblical slavery.
- With requirements for evidence
- Be aware there is a written record of conversation
- You can’t misquote or misrepresent people in a written thread like this, without being caught out. Anyone interested for following a conversation can go back and see what was said.
- Ignoring and dodging questions is conspicuous.
- Answer questions
- Not all questions are attacks. Some of them are sincere attempts at understanding. Some are a part of a Socratic method, where there will be value in progressing the conversation. Some are attacks, and instead of dodging, it might benefit you more to address the problems face on.
- Similar to “Actually say something”, you need to be aware that simply writing doesn’t always constitute an answer. One has not dealt with question by simply acknowledging it or dismissing it. It needs an answer, an explanation that imparts knowledge.
- Be nice
- There are plenty of blogs where the authors will happily engage with the derision and condescension of passive aggressive commenters. This is not one of them. I have tried to be as courteous and well mannered as I can while simultaneously casting doubt on something people hold very dear. I am opinionated, I will probably disagree with you, but I am trying to be kind. If you can’t return the favour I will not engage in your conversation.
- You might be having your own conversation
- Some conversations I don’t get involved in, because commenters are already many messages in. Sometimes I’m leaving you to your own business, sometimes I’m interested in where a person is going with their argument. Sometimes I find one of the commenters tedious. I might interrupt occasionally with a quip or clarification, but in general I acknowledge I am not part of that conversation. Enjoy it.