Twenty Ways to Answer Someone If You Have No Case

   Posted by: Rob Bowman   in apologetics

Finding someone’s argument too tough to handle? Over your head in a matter of biblical exegesis, scientific evidence, or logical validity? Don’t despair. Now you can always respond to those smart-alecks and put them in their place. These are field-tested methods for diverting attention from the lack of substance in your argument. Never be stuck again for a snappy comeback!

1. The Amateur-Status Violation: If your opponent is not a professional scholar in the relevant field, dismiss everything he says on the subject as the opinion of an amateur. (Your opinion as an amateur, of course, is exempt from this criticism.) On the other hand, if he is a professional scholar in the field, dismiss what he says on the grounds that he is in the field for the money, or that he is the product of a corrupt academic establishment, or both. Note that this strategy is viable in all situations.

2. The Class Card: Object that your opponent is insensitive to the plight of a particular class (race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic class, religious heritage, etc.) and his argument should be viewed in that light. Note: This argument is especially useful for neutralizing opponents who are white male traditional Christians, although the argument may be used selectively against white women or black Christians.

3. The Devil-in-the-Details Device: If the opponent appealed to specific details, accuse him of nitpicking. If he didn’t go into as much detail as possible, accuse him of ignoring glaring difficulties with his position. Note that this strategy is also viable in all situations.

4. The Editor’s Gotcha: Point out an isolated spelling or grammatical error or irrelevant factual inaccuracy in your opponent’s writing as evidence of his unreliability.

5. The Emphasis Excuse: Complain that your opponent is giving too much attention or emphasis to the subject he is addressing, or that he ought to be giving more attention and emphasis to something else (anything else). Note that it is unnecessary to take into consideration all of the other subjects about which the opponent has written or taught elsewhere, and that this criticism applies only to your opponent, not to those who spend all their time attacking your opponent’s position.

6. The Evil Nun / Mad Scientist Defense: Assert that it’s obvious to anyone who is not blinded by (religious or secular) indoctrination that you’re right and your opponent is wrong.

7. The Fideist Finagle: Piously intone that religion is a matter of faith, not reason, and that the opponent’s problem is that he is too intellectual in his approach to the subject. Skilled practitioners reserve this stratagem as a last resort, to be used after they have tried presenting rational arguments for their position that didn’t hold up.

8. Flat-Earthing: Tell an anecdote about a stupid statement on the subject made by someone else who is (at least supposedly) on the opponent’s side.

9. The Hoagland Hustle: Find a scholar or scientist who supports your position and conclude that your view is therefore just as good as your opponent’s.

10. The Hobgoblin Defense: Assert that reality is beyond logic and reason, that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, and that your opponent’s logic-chopping approach misses the beauty, grandeur, spiritual power, or profundity of your position.

11. Irregular Conjugation: Use emotive language to restate something in a prejudicial way. Here is Bertrand Russell’s famous example: “I am firm; you are obstinate; he is a pig-headed fool.”

12. Kirk’s Kobayashi Maru Gambit: Redefine the parameters of the debate so you will win.

13. Lenin’s Law: Repeat your already refuted argument, even more emphatically and confidently, as though your opponent had not even challenged it.

14. Lennon’s Law: Accuse the opponent of forgetting that “all you need is love.”

15. The Moroni Maneuver: Appeal to your private religious experience, even though doing so does not answer the argument at hand. See also The Fideist Finagle.

16. Owl’s Oration: Offer vacuous comments or criticisms using big words. A strategy associated with one of Winnie the Pooh’s friends.

17. The Persecution Complex Pity Party: Accuse the opponent of picking on you, or of being “anti—(your religion or belief here),” or of being the kind of person who hundreds of years ago would have happily consented to your being burned at the stake.

18. The Receding Goal Line: If your opponent successfully meets your challenge to his position, demand that he meet new and different (especially ever-more stringent) standards of proof before his position can be considered acceptable. Keep changing the required standard of proof as needed.

19. The Sextus Empiricus Switch: Put the burden of proof on the opponent to show that his conclusion is absolutely, mathematically, deductively certain and that there is no possibility in any potential universe of any other explanation turning out to be right. Of course, don’t accept any burden of proof for anything you say.

20: The ZAP Code: Catch your opponent in one of the above-mentioned fallacies (or at least accuse him of one of them), thereby relieving you of the responsibility of answering his substantive arguments.

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This entry was posted on Monday, October 27th, 2008 at 3:20 pm and is filed under apologetics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One comment


Outstanding. I would add what I’ve heard called “The So’s Yer Old Man Gambit,” a/k/a The Moral Equivalency Argument, asserting that the opponent is equally guilty of whatever he’s accusing you of.

October 28th, 2008 at 4:09 pm

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  1. It’s Funny Cuz It’s True « Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth    Oct 27 2008 / 11pm:

    […] Funny Cuz It’s True Rob Bowman comically summarizes the tactics that almost everyone I’ve ever debated has used throughout our […]

  2. just after sunrise    Oct 28 2008 / 6am:

    Rob Bowman: Twenty Ways to Answer Someone If You Have No Case …

    This is must reading. Rob Bowman, of The Religious Researcher, has posted a brilliant list of Twenty Ways to Answer Someone If You Have No Case.

    Bowman’s list will be of interest to any of the following (and probably more):

    * teachers of log…

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