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  Well, not charity in the most traditional sense of the word, but in the sense of regarding arguing with people about ideas and reaching a conclusion or at least more of a mutual understanding of what the other is saying.  Inauspiciously, this rarely seems to happen on the internet, as the sectarian nature of the blogosphere and related message boards promote groupthink and a sad lack of charity for opposing ideas.

We can put it into context of the further train wreck of misplaced skepticism about the theory of evolution.  My thanks to tildeb for hosting such a informative and useful blog.  In the comment section of his article on “Why god’s law must be secondary”  we get this gem of comment from 4amzingkids.

 

If humans evolved from apes or ape-like creatures, when did this happen? And which creatures were involved at that important point? With more than 5000 fossils or fossil fragments of apes, chimps, and humans allegedly showing stages of human evolution, which ape-like animal had enough human characteristics for us to say “this one has just crossed the boundary from ape to human”?

Homo habilis — it’s actually an apeThe short answer is “it never happened,” and the fossils show this.

Lets break down the argument.

1.Humans do not look like apes now.

2. At some point, if evolution is true, we must have changed from “ape” to human.

3.There have been no fossils found of this mysterious half-ape/half-man.

4.Therefore, evolution is wrong.

If, by chance, you are following the theme of this post so far, you know exactly where this is going.  Not that we have not seen this before.  But for the record, one should be clear. When constructing an argument about a position you do not agree with it is vitally important that you undertake your argument with the strongest version, best defended, most venerated definition of what you are arguing against.  In other words, you need to argue against what the BEST version of what an opponent has to offer and not misrepresent or misinterpret what he or she is saying.

This sounds easy.  In practice it is not.  A great deal of care and attention is required to be charitable to others when arguing with them.  The tendency is to construct a version of their position that is weaker than it is and argue against this flawed version.  It is also known as constructing a straw-man argument because the arguments you are so handily demolishing are set up by you with the sole purpose of being easy to demolish.  Setting up strawmen makes you look bad and rarely furthers debate as you end up arguing with yourself, rather than with the actual positions of your opponent.

Scroll up?  Can you spot the strawman construction in 4amzingkids argument?  Most people could find the flaw just by going to wikipedia and looking up Evolution.

“2. At some point, if evolution is true, we must have changed from “ape” to human.”

A true grey peppered moth on a tree covered in soot.   Point 2 shows a distinct lack of knowledge of what evolution actually is and how it works.  If one is to do only a cursory reading of the layperson’s literature about evolution it can be easily determined that Evolution is partially defined as the gradual change in species over time.  So of course there is no “half and half” fossil available because one never existed because evolution does not work that way.  Whoops!

It is even worse if you base your entire argument on a flawed assumption of what your opponents position actually is.  The religious are famous for mischaracterizing their enemies in such fashion.

 

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