As a Christian apologist, I am constantly exposed to bad reasoning. Sometimes, the bad arguments are found in arguments in favor of Christianity. Most often, the bad arguments are found in arguments against Christianity (this site regularly raises and challenges -- often defeating -- those bad arguments). But bad arguments are not confined to the discussions about the truth of Christianity.
Take, for example, the arguments about global warming. Some people (including me) aren't sold on the idea that global warming is all that it is cracked up to be. In fact, there are three questions that have yet to be conclusively answered in the global warming debate: First, is the earth really warming? Second, if the earth is warming, is the cause of the warming primarily, if not exclusively, human activity? Third, if the cause is human activity, is there anything that can reasonably be done to reverse the process of global warming? Despite protests by global warming activists to the contrary, none of these claims have been established in favor of the positions advocated by these activists either clearly or convincingly. (For the record, I do think that there is evidence of climate change, and I do think that there is reasonable evidence that what man does on the planet does contribute to the change, but I am neither convinced that the temperature change is anything more than part of a larger cycle of climate change that has been taking place before man existed nor am I convinced that man's contribution makes any significant difference.)
But it is because the argument cannot be made sufficiently to convince enough people to agree with the merits of the global warming apologists that the argument is turning to style rather than substance. Consider the following discussion with Al Gore (thank God he wasn't elected president) about how to deal with people (like me) who are unconvinced with the global warming arguments. Gore's bad argument is found in an article appropriately entitled Gore: Global warming skeptics are this generation’s racists because that pretty much summarizes his poor argument.
In an interview with former advertising executive and Climate Reality Project collaborator Alex Bogusky broadcast on UStream on Friday, Gore explained that in order for climate change alarmists to succeed, they must “win the conversation” against those who deny there is a crisis. (RELATED: Bill McKibben: Global warming to blame for Hurricane Irene)
“I remember, again going back to my early years in the South, when the Civil Rights revolution was unfolding, there were two things that really made an impression on me,” Gore said. “My generation watched Bull Connor turning the hose on civil rights demonstrators and we went, ‘Whoa! How gross and evil is that?’ My generation asked old people, ‘Explain to me again why it is okay to discriminate against people because their skin color is different?’ And when they couldn’t really answer that question with integrity, the change really started.”
The former vice president recalled how society succeeded in marginalizing racists and said climate change skeptics must be defeated in the same manner.
“Secondly, back to this phrase ‘win the conversation,’” he continued. “There came a time when friends or people you work with or people you were in clubs with — you’re much younger than me so you didn’t have to go through this personally — but there came a time when racist comments would come up in the course of the conversation and in years past they were just natural. Then there came a time when people would say, ‘Hey, man why do you talk that way, I mean that is wrong. I don’t go for that so don’t talk that way around me. I just don’t believe that.’ That happened in millions of conversations and slowly the conversation was won.”
“We have to win the conversation on climate,” Gore added.
When Bogusky questioned the analogy, asking if the scientific reasoning behind climate change skeptics might throw a wrench into the good and evil comparison with racism, Gore did not back down.
“I think it’s the same where the moral component is concerned and where the facts are concerned I think it is important to get that out there, absolutely,” Gore said.
Notice that this is not really an argument -- it is a tactic as to how to defeat an opponent without really making an argument. It calls for people to disengage from the facts and instead engage in the tactic of ridiculing the other side. It is the same as "shouting down" a speaker not because the argument being made has been demonstrated to be wrong but to silence the other side by belittling the position.
If you don't see this as a bad argument, let's suppose that this tactic was being employed by an atheist against a Christian. Here's the argument revisited: Rather than argue the merits of whether Christianity is true, we need to feign offense over the fact that someone would even suggest that Christianity is true. We need to get to a time when people would say, ‘Hey, man why do you talk that way, I mean that is wrong. I don’t go for that so don’t talk that way around me. I just don’t believe that.’ If that happens in millions of conversations, slowly the conversation will be won.”
And for the atheists who visit the site, let's turn it around. Suppose it were a Christian making the statement: Rather than argue the merits of whether Christianity is true, we need to feign offense over the fact that someone would even suggest that Christianity is false. We need to get to a time when people would say, ‘Hey, man why do you talk that way, I mean that is wrong. I don’t go for that so don’t talk that way around me. I just don’t believe that.’ If that happens in millions of conversations, slowly the conversation will be won.”
This tactic clearly exalts form over substance. It is wrong regardless of where the argument is made or for what cause the argument is made. It demonstrates a disregard for the truth and seeks to bully others into accepting a questionable point of view. It is truly sad that a leader of the global warming movement (or any movement, for that matter) should advocate adopting such a strategy.
In my experience, this shows that Gore (or any other person adopting such a strategy) cannot win the real argument and it should cause people who see this argument being deployed to ask why.