A Code of Conduct for Arguments and Discussions

The Bible teaches that God’s people are to be truth-telling, truth-loving, and truth-promoting people (Ex. 20:16, Eph. 4:25, 6:14, etc.).  Although truth has to do with more than just our words, we are called to be honest, clear, and not deceitful when we talk, discuss, make an argument, or defend a position.

Speaking of this topic, I appreciate T. Edward Damer’s Attacking Faulty Reasoning: A Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Arguments.  Although it isn’t a Christian textbook, there are many common grace insights that can help the Christian speak the truth when defending the faith and explaining biblical doctrine.  This book will also help the reader avoid being duped or tricked by poor arguments and/or faulty logic.  I appreciate Damer’s “code of intellectual conduct” that he explains in chapter one.  Here are his 13 principles for truthful (and logical!) discussions and arguments.  I’ve edited them for length:

1) The Fallibility Principle: Each participant in a discussion of a disputed issue should be willing to accept the fact that he or she is fallible, which means that one must acknowledge that he or she might not hold the most defensible position.

2) The Truth-Seeking Principle: Each participant should be committed to the task of earnestly searching for the truth or at least the most defensible position on the issue at stake.  Therefore, one should be willing to seriously explore and examine other positions and look for insights in them.

3) The Clarity Principle: the formulations of all arguments should be free of any kind of linguistic confusion and clearly separated from other positions and issues.

4) The Burden of Proof Principle: The burden of proof for any position usually rests on the person who set forth the position.  That person should provide an argument for his position.

5) The Principle of Charity: If a participant’s argument is reformulated by an opponent, it should be expressed in the strongest possible version that is consistent with the original intention of the arguer.  The arguer should be given the benefit of the doubt in the reformulation.

6) The Structural Principle: One who argues for or against a position should use an argument that meets the fundamental structural requirements of a well-formed argument.

7) The Relevance Principle: One who presents a position should attempt to set forth only reasons that are directly related to the position.

8) The Acceptability Principle: One who presents an argument should use reasons that are likely to be accepted by a rationally mature person and that meet the standard criteria of acceptability.

9) The Sufficiency Principle: One who presents an argument should attempt to provide reasons that are sufficient in kind, number, and weight to support the position.

10) The Rebuttal Principle: One who presents an argument should attempt to provide an effective rebuttal to all serious challenges to the argument and to the strongest arguments for viable alternative positions.

11) The Resolution Principle: An issue should be considered resolved if the proponent for one of the alternative positions successfully defends that position by presenting a structurally sound argument that uses solid premises and grounds of support.

12) The Suspension of Judgment Principle: If no position comes close to being successfully defended, or if two positions are defended equally, one should, in most cases, suspend judgment about the issue.

13) The Reconsideration Principle: If a successful or even good argument for a position is later found by any participant to be flawed in a way that raises new doubts, one is obligated to reopen the issue for further consideration.

Many Christians do debate and discuss issues with other Christians and with non-Christians.  Surely there is a good (biblical!) way to debate and discuss, and there is a bad (unbiblical!) way to debate and discuss.  Again, we need to speak the truth always and sometimes defend the truth – but we should be truthful when we defend and explain the truth!

For more info, see chapter 1 of Damer’s Attacking Faulty Reasoning.  (Note: I realize the new edition is quite spendy; however, older editions are less expensive.)

shane lems
hammond, wi

3 thoughts on “A Code of Conduct for Arguments and Discussions”

  1. I think the more familiar Christians are with logic and argumentation the more they are capable in apologetics, discernment and positive construction of theology. Thanks for this.


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