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A flowchart to help you determine if you’re having a rational discussion

Mar 15, 2011 By Abraham

Caveat: This chart is about debate and conversations that are supposed to be debate-like. It does not apply to every conversation you have. Therefore, the principles of this flow chart are not meant to be used in fights you have with your spouse.

Should you choose to disregard that little bit of common sense, under no circumstances shall you imply that you learned your tactless conversational tactics via this post.

You’ve now been warned.  Thus, any misapplication of information contained herein that leads to marital strife is not the responsibility of this blogger and only represents your personal jackwagonry.

* * * * *

OK, then. Now that things are clear…

(Source: unknown Atheism Resource)


        1. Other Paul says:

          Just to be clear, do you want proof of the requirement, or of my belief in it? If the former, and if we’re agreed that we’re discussing the flowchart, and that we’re in agreement with that flowchart, then we’re simply being consistent with our belief that the flowchart is a reasonable way to conduct an argument, since Jeremy has made an assertion and point 3 says he must provide evidence (assuming Jeremy agrees too, which of course he need not … Jeez this is getting complicated innit? and I haven’t even closed that last parenthesis ….

          1. It's Me Again...Margaret! says:

            Do you write the instructions that come with the “DIY” furniture, shelves, etc? You are too good to not be a professional writer of that kind of thing…been writing tax code, maybe? Although your post was much easier to follow!!

    1. chris says:

      Jeremy, you are wrong. I had a discussion like this recently. I was the one who was confronted with good evidence and I changed my mind. I’m sorry you can’t fathom that.

      1. John Hedtke says:

        Yes, I agree. I had postulated something that I felt rather strongly on and, much to my surprise, someone came up with a quelling argument–an interpretation of the facts–that made me re-evaluate my position and I changed my mind.

        1. Alex says:

          that doesn’t mean you broke the rules of the flowchart, it simply means that, by following these rules, a conclusion was reached, and by doing so in a sensible fashion, you are not upset about it, but rather surprised and probably rather pleased that you now have a better grasp on what you believe to be the truth.
          which is the entire point.

      1. jeana says:

        Jeremy, Very Well Stated !!! None of us walk on water. It is where you are going vs where you have been.

        1. Mike says:

          I can walk on water – but only if it’s frozen solid. Also, I thought it was the journey rather than the destination that matters? You all seem to be rather confused.

      2. Jeremiah says:

        That’s simply not true. How is it that technology has advanced if people are all irrational? Rationality is in all of us (though in varying degrees) and Christians should be the most rational people because they have been convinced of the truth of the God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. If this is true it should bear witness in His people. Sadly this is not the case for most.

        But you cannot say there is no such thing as rationality as in doing so you yourself are being observing the sorry state of man and making a statement made through your own reasoning. You’ve simply come to the wrong answer.

        1. Sigivald says:

          “People are not rational” here does not, I think, mean “people cannot ever use reason” or “rationality does not exist”, but “no person is completely rational” – we all contain areas of irrationality.

          That everyone (or close enough to everyone as makes no difference as a guiding principle) has – explicitly or not – unexamined beliefs, unsupportable assumptions, or other irrational foundations somewhere is pretty well demonstrated, at least in my experience.

          Not all people have such beliefs that take the form of religious irrationality, but (very nearly almost) everyone has them in some area.

          The religious might even have an advantage in that they know they’re taking their faith … on faith.

          1. jenn says:

            Is the argument then that the set of All People is greater than the set of Rational People? I could get on board with that. Of course then one has to consider the possibilities of Irrational People, and Imaginary People. Are Imaginary People rational?

          2. Jenai Goss says:

            Faith means “being persuaded of what is trustworthy (reasonable/credible/true)”. At least, it does in the greek (pistis, root peitho), which is what any Christian uses it as. By analogy, it is the legal sense of a juror analyzing (via reason) the truth or falsehood of a case based on the evidence presented, the arguments gien, and witness testimonies; even though the juror was not physically present at the scene in question.

            Or, are you defining faith as ‘wishful thinking’ or some other definition, based on a preconception/assumption of what the term means based on a) common usage of non-christians who don’t understand the term or b) what you ‘wish’ the term to mean?

            “Faith is the -evidence- of things unseen, and the assurance of things hoped for”.

            Do you believe in atoms, air molecules, bacteria, the far reaches of space, etc? Do you believe that given conditions X, Y will occur? Is it madness for a man living in a landlocked province to trust others and to look to rivers and lakes to believe that such a thing as the ocean might exist?

            Faith is when you are persuaded by evidence/testimony/argument/etc that something exists, will occur, or has been, even when you are not a “direct witness” yourself. You do not have to look through the microscope at every type of cell in the body to trust there are many types of cells. You do not have to hop in a spaceship and travel to them to trust that the stars are balls of burning gases. You do not have to watch the pot (even the first time!) to know that it will boil {you trusted someone else who told you, most likely}. Etc.

    1. Karen Bertke says:

      Christians are as rational as everyone else but it’s easier to bash them because they have been taught to turn the other cheek.

      Try an arguement with more substance, such as: Why you shouldn’t be a vegetarian. After all, plants have a chemical reaction akin to human (higher animal’s) pain reaction. Higher animal’s pain function ceases at death. Plants continue to produce chemicals for days after they have been severed. Therefore, plants continue suffering pain throughout the food processing: cutting, threshing,grinding. I find carnivorism far less cruel than vegitarianism.

      1. Emily says:

        “Christians are as rational as everyone else but it’s easier to bash them because they have been taught to turn the other cheek.”

        Yeah, cause, you know, turning the other cheek means going out of your way to impose your ideas onto others, bash and prosecute gays, and, occasionally, protest at funerals of people they didn’t like.

        And this is not meant to be a “bash” against Christians. Most people (Christian or not) do not fit into the generalization I just made. It’s more of a screw you sort of thing.

        Also: humans can live without meat, but cannot live without plant products. You are equating “not being a vegetarian” with “not eating any vegetable products” which is completely ridiculous.

        1. David says:

          I agree that there is no reason not to eat vegetable products, but they aren’t an absolute requirement for human life. People can and have lived entirely on animal products. There are entire cultures that do this, and plenty of eccentric individuals even within our own culture.

      2. Phil says:

        You’re either a troll or intellectually dishonest. You’ve cited an argument without proof at least twice in the same comment.

        1. Christians turn the other cheek – Yeah, that’s why the crusades, the inquisition, the recent killing spree in Europe, etc. ad nauseum have happened. Look at the number of prison conversions who return to crime after they are released from prison. So let’s just drop pretenses and quit pretending morality and religion are linked.

        2. A plant having a “chemical response” in relation to damage does not show a pain reaction. What you’re suggesting is that an automobile that has oil in it as a lubricant would be the same as saying drinking oil would lubricate your joints. Same compound, different results based upon the organism. Many plants also specifically target creatures to eat their seed which causes damage, Also most plants can regrow when damaged living years, most animals wouldn’t fare so well if you cut off their ability to reproduce.

        Please try reading something other than dogma and when you’re ready to come back to the adult table let me know.

    2. owen says:

      this isnt how people think and the only rule that is in question is the one that you say causes cristians to be irrational

      1. Other Paul says:

        You seem very confident in your assertion that this isn’t how people think. Would you care to back it up with some actual evidence? Or or you simply going to rest on authority?

    3. Somebody says:

      The Christians I know (most of them) are very rational. I have beaten atheists in an argument about God (I actually got them to believe me) and the debate followed this flowchart.

      The problem is that the most out-spoken Christians tend to be the fanatics. Fantatics don’t make any religion (or non-religion) look good.

  1. AndrewFinden says:

    I think point 3. should include ‘reason’ – too many materialists will otherwise just impose a narrow materialistic view of ‘evidence’ and discount philosophical reasoning as valid..

    1. Empirical Philosophy says:

      A priori philosophical reasoning was shot down as a valid form of evidence in the 18th Century with the works of John Locke, David Hume, and Emmanuel Kant; particularly in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Reasoning from metaphysical principles is really only valid in mathematics now.

      1. Rational Philosophy says:

        “A priori philosophical reasoning was shot down as a valid form of evidence in the 18th Century with the works of John Locke, David Hume, and Emmanuel Kant; particularly in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Reasoning from metaphysical principles is really only valid in mathematics now.”

        I believe that is called an appeal to authority. It is impossible to know with certainty whether anything we perceive is real. Empirical evidence, therefore, may only provide an approximation of reality at best. Only a priori reasoning is capable of providing absolute truth, such as our own existence and the existence of (some) reality, rules of logic, and as you mentioned: mathematics.

  2. Jason says:

    Maybe we should question rule number 4. Some beliefs are held apart from evidence, yet very well may be rational.

    Besides, try constructing an argument for the belief “you need evidence for a belief to be rational.” That task is like trying to find the corner in a circular room.

    1. sardonic_sob says:

      A belief based upon no evidence is not rational. It may be logically consistent but it is not rational.

      I hasten to add that there are few beliefs which are based on NO evidence. There are many based on questionable evidence, but that is an entirely different distinction.

      1. AndrewFinden says:

        Depends on how you define rational – if you’ve come to the position via reason, I think that’s rational. But youäre right, there is very little that has no evidence. I am so often frustrated by opponents of Christianity who mistake their lack of persuasion with a lack of evidence (not to mention the fallacious equivocation of asserting that faith is believe without evidence).

  3. JoeS says:

    I disagree with point 1. I have had many fruitful discussions in which I was not open to changing my position, but I was very willing to change how I understand other views on the topic (that being the whole point of the discussion: to learn).

    1. sardonic_sob says:

      Then you weren’t discussing: you were asking the other person to give you a lecture on their position. ;) It takes two to discuss.

      1. Joel says:

        So, you cannot “Discuss” your points of view to each other? I tend to agree with Mr. S here. I am assuming that this is all about semantics. If two people speaking to each other about their points of view and how they differ, then what do you call that? Maybe conversation?

        1. Joel says:

          p.s. Also, under this same flow chart, it says anything not a discussion is a waste of time. I disagree with this statement. When I speak to my wife about her points of view on things that are slightly different from what I believe (read ‘Lecture’ per flow chart), I feel that I gain better understanding in how her beliefs and stances affect her choices in our every day lives. Is this not a valid evidence? Certainly not a waste of time, in my opinion.

          1. sardonic_sob says:

            It doesn’t say that all non-discussions are a waste of time: it says that when one or more parties to a discussion don’t actually want to have a discussion and act accordingly, it’s a waste of everybody’s time. Which is true. If on the other hand, people are just trying to gain “understanding,” then a non-discussion conversation is eminently reasonable.

    1. sardonic_sob says:

      It applies to any discussion, because it’s a definition of “discussion.”

      For instance, under this definition it’s not possible for me to have a discussion based on current climate-modeling science, because I do not believe that we currently have the capability to model the Earth’s climate in a reliable way.

      That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in climate change, or that I don’t believe that climate change may have a human-induced component. It means I don’t believe we have the capability to model the Earth’s climate in a reliable way.

      It *is* possible for me to have a discussion about whether we have the ability to model the Earth’s climate in a reliable way, but if your position presupposes that we do, I won’t discuss it with you. Can’t.

      1. Phil says:

        You don’t believe we can show correlation between events such as greenhouse gas emissions, average temperature and ice melt and compare that to the historical logs found in antarctic ice?

        1. AJ says:

          We could, but it wouldn’t have objective meaning if there were other factors that influence the average temperature and ice melt other than greenhouse gases.

  4. Kevin says:

    Eh…not crazy on this. It would be almost impossible to have any kind of discussion under all of these guidelines.

    Was this made by someone with Aspergers, or something similar? Not trying to be rude, but try picturing a face to face conversation following these rules…

    A rigid flowchart for discussion seems like the exact opposite of rational thinking and open-mindedness.

    1. Other Paul says:

      Well, I do believe (is that rational?) that – as stated at the outset (albeit a tad facetiously) that this flowchart is intended for serious, i.e. formal, argument and not just casual or informal. So, yes – the ancient greeks, for example, knew of similar strictures and were capable (in literature at least) of abiding by such rules.

    2. sardonic_sob says:

      Which part of “This chart is about debate and conversations that are supposed to be debate-like. It does not apply to every conversation you have. ” is not clear to you?

    3. Dave says:

      I can conclude that abortion is no longer an acceptable topic for discussion. As virtually everyone comes down on one side of the other, with little wiggle room for changing one’s mind. Global warming might be another, as Al Gore has proclaimed the debate is over. Any others?

  5. HeatherPhillips says:

    Actually, this is exactly how my husband and I choose to handle discussions–especially when the discussion topic is an issue we disagree on. The flowchart is an excellent guideline for handling disagreements with intellectual honesty, courtesy and mutual respect. The more emotional a response is to a certain idea, the more imperative it becomes to maintain a minimum level of civility. The absence of said minimum level of civility–not to mention the paltry amount of self-discipline required to maintain intellectual honesty and civility–is precisely what’s missing from most public discourse and is primarily responsible for the general “dumbing down” of the mainstream media.

    If people are no longer willing to control themselves enough to have civil discussions with their spouses it’s no wonder so many people get divorces. Or is it just plain “too hard” to be honest and civil with the person you gave your word to and agreed to partner with for the rest of your lives?

    1. Ruthe Vincent says:

      Well said!!! I might add that the media and political/religious focus on triggering an emotional response in the individual results in the “dumbing down” of the public and declining civility we encounter about us.

    1. Justsayin says:

      Maybe not an “in-your-face” exclamation…. Because of said flames. But how about an “endzone dance”? woohoo woohoo!

  6. Anon y. Mous says:

    I don’t like that the poster of this cites the source as (source unknown). When I did my studies at college, if you couldn’t reference a source you didn’t you it. This boils down to plagiarism. In all likelihood the poster of this knew exactly where he got the chart, used photoshop to crop off the top (where the reference was) and used it for his/her own purposes. In my opinion you should have a lawsuit filed against you.

    Either take this down or give proper references to the person who did the work on this chart.

    Someone was even nice enough to give you the proper reference in these comments.

  7. Adam says:

    Thanks for fixing th error. We are fine when people use our material as long as we get credit… keep spreading the message. No harm, No Foul!

  8. Christopher Fogg says:

    This flowchart fails completely on at least one point: it establishes the criteria that “he with the most evidence wins.” I can accept that this is largely a logical dictate, but a fallible one. Example: in Copernicus’ time, who do you suppose had more evidence in the Flat Earth/Round Earth debate? We know, in hindsight, the Copernicus was correct in his assumptions, but his detractors had centuries of as-of-yet undebunked evidence to back the Flat Earth claim. His technical limitations prevented him from clearly proving the Earth to be round, and he publicly was thrown to the streets for his apparent hubris. Consider this: in any debate regarding an older, established principle versus a newer one, the older, by this model, shall always have right-of-way simply by way of having much more accepted evidence or “proofs” to support it. It also sets to invalidate any proof which could require any sort of conjecture, such as “The Earth is actually revolving about the Sun!” when such a thing has yet to be empirically proven. In other words, debates rigidly held in this manner, leaving out philosophical reasoning or pure logical deduction, are debates for a bygone era when foreign concepts were deemed heretical, and resulted in an early, live cremation for the one who explores beyond the boundaries of “accepted wisdom.” Just food for thought.

    1. Other Paul says:

      Your argument would have more weight if you’d not got Copernicus fighting flat-earthers. That the earth is spherical has been known since antiquity and there’s plenty of ways of establishing it – despite your tales of technical limitations. The myth that people believed in a flat earth (insofar as people thought anything about it at all) has been debunked for some time now. As for Copernicus being publicly thrown to the street for proving a ’round’ (i.e. spherical) earth – where on earth (no pun) did you pick that fable up from? The Copernicus issue was about geocentrism versus heliocentrism, about what orbits what.

      1. Christopher Fogg says:

        I can accept that the example was poor. Nevertheless, the factual inaccuracy of my example does not automatically invalidate the logic of the argument being made. A pile of outdated “proof” should not automatically win out over a smaller base of more recent and relevent evidence to the contrary.

        1. Other Paul says:

          You are of course correct that your various historical inaccuracies have little or no bearing on your argument. I’ve not claimed otherwise. But they don’t exactly help your case. As for your actual point, however, I believe I have also addressed that by addressing your ’round earth’ (such an unlikeable 2d term, isn’t it?) issue.

          I suspect (but may be wrong) you already, consciously or not, indicate a certain discomfort with your own position by scarequoting “proof”. That’s the point isn’t it? There never was any actual “proof” of the ‘flat earth’. Such a position – if indeed it was ever seriously held at all – was never proven in the first place. It has been quite easily falsifiable and falsified since antiquity. There’s no overturning of an old, wrong, model by a new one here.

          But what about where there is? E.g. the replacement of Newton’s model of gravitation by Einstein’s (I think we can, for the sake of argument [hah], agree that we’re talking about two people suitably equipped with the tools of rational argument [despite Newton’s ‘mysticism’ in certain other areas])?

          But was Newton’s model actually wrong? Wasn’t it rather that it was good enough (unlike the flat earth which had no explanatory power whatever and had no predictive use)? And that Einstein’s explanation is superior because it explains more of the things actually observed. Like Mercury’s orbit, like light bending round stars, like time dilation etc etc.

  9. Raz says:

    Great flowchart and a highly enjoyable debate following it.

    Heather, I think your bang on with your comments ‘The more emotional a response is to a certain idea, the more imperative it becomes to maintain a minimum level of civility’ and its something I’ve known for some time but still need to keep reminding myself of from time to time…
    I don’t agree with the word paltry in my case (‘the paltry amount of self-discipline required to maintain intellectual honesty and civility’) as I often find it very hard not to resort to either dishonesty or incivility at times, especially during emotionally charged discussions with my partner and most especially when I’m losing said argument…but I’m working on it…

  10. Tina says:

    Atheists are dumb. How in the world can you explain all the diversity? From humans to animals from trees to grasses (all able to reproduce themselves) from soil to water from the atmosphere to the stars… choosing to believe that it big banged here makes me laugh. Darwin was an idiot.

    1. Mark Jr. says:

      That was full of intelligence, evidence, tact and Christian love. So winsome. If I was an atheist I’d be beating down your door for your Jesus…for surely you must daily change hearts and minds with this rhetoric.

  11. Pan says:

    What a fabulous tool for keeping conversations civil! By identifying early on, what conversational topics are destined for disaster, one can tactfully excuse one self and move on to more pleasant topics.

    Instead of finding oneself mired neck deep and wondering how in the world you got there.

    Had a chuckle over the caveat.
    I suppose there’s no getting out of those “conversations”.
    That said if more couples used the chart to structure them, neutral ground would be reached in a less biased manner which would ultimately benefit both parties.

    Provided they trimmed their egos.

  12. Epyoch says:

    This flow chart may be true in a private debate, but in a public debate it really is irrelevant about whether this may change your idea on the subject. Being a nerd, and member of the debate team in high school this is even more evident in my own personal life. A public debate has nothing to do with the opinions of the people having such debate, it has to do with the people who happen to read such debates, to allow them to form their own opinion. When I debate someone online, I’m not trying to change their opinion. If I happen to change their opinion with my arguments, then great. If I don’t, then maybe someone who doesn’t know about the subject can see both sides of the debate and form their own opinion on the subject. This is the nature of debate.

  13. Erin M. says:

    Based on the comments, this is not an internet-debate debate flowchart. Hilarious. It should come with an asterisk after every element: *necessary except in commenting/debating online. This is a great post for so many reasons.

  14. JonoC says:

    Have you watched a debate where people follow this perfectly?

    They aren’t as interesting as you’d think.

    It becomes all about rhetoric and definitions and moves so slowly.

  15. Mike says:

    Ironic that this was formulated by Atheism Resource. I’ve never had a discussion with an atheist who actually stuck to the rules in this flowchart.

  16. Bruce says:

    The first point is faulty. Just because I can’t envision something that will change my mind on a topic doesn’t mean the other person in the discussion can’t prevent something I haven’t thought of. In fact that’s part of the reason I engage in discussions, to see if anyone else has an argument I hadn’t thought of.

  17. montrose9272 says:

    This truly has such a narrow application: logic without assumptions? a debate that must go back to first principles? Mathematics, you say?…and there I was, convinced of the parallel postulate. Yet, I cannot provide evidence thereof. Naysayers cannot provide counterevidence. I guess we weren’t having discussions, then.

  18. Mary says:

    And then of course there’s the old fashioned way where you put down your rock and I put down my sword and we kill each other like civilized people…

  19. Phil says:

    The first step essentially asks “can you think of an argument that would change your mind” and does not belong in that graph.
    I can’t ‘envisage something that would change my mind’ or else I’d already have changed my mind.
    The things that change your mind are almost by definition things you haven’t thought of yet or aren’t aware of.
    It should be substituted with something more like “would you be willing to change your mind on the topic?”.

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