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Monday, January 25, 2016

The Difference Between An Attack and A Critique

"Someone's Wrong On The Internet!"

As I have defended the Christian faith against challenges on Facebook, I have come across several posts in various discussion groups that I feel need to be addressed. I have seen these posts in Christian groups that debate different theological positions and in general debate groups that discuss worldviews. I have also seen these from those who agree with me and disagree with me on various issues. So, please do not think that this is aimed only at those with whom I disagree; there are plenty who agree with me who have posted these also.

The Posts

Generally, the posts are targeted towards a specific "side" in the group. They are often written in the language of a "locker room pep talk" to the members of the team. Usually, the posts call out everyone who disagrees with them as attacking them through ridicule. These posts rarely differentiate between those who disagree with them regarding the general worldview and those who disagree in the details of the same general worldview. They encourage the teammates to "keep up the good fight" and offer some kind of existential or eternal "reward" for sticking to their belief. Some of the more rhetorical posts even go so far as to present an eternal threat to those who disagree.

Critiques vs. Attacks

Just because someone offers a critique of your view does not mean that they are "attacking" you. There is a difference between the two. A critique simply addresses possible logical problems with a view when compared to itself (internal consistency) or reality (external consistency). When the problems are brought to light, the person who defends the view simply needs to either show how the view has been misunderstood or how another part of the view resolves the apparent internal or external inconsistency. If it seems that the provided answer still does not resolve the inconsistency and/or if there are multiple inconsistencies, continued critiques will be presented. Critiques usually remain respectful in tone. An attack, on the other hand, is more aimed at the person or is a critique that is presented with a sinister motive; both are often articulated using belligerent and accusatory language. Not every critique contains an attack, and not every attack includes a critique.

It is important to remember that just because someone disagrees with our view and provides reasons for the disagreement that they are not necessarily attacking us. It certainly would be easy (and arguably, logically permissible) to dismiss someone who is attacking us, but we cannot let our desires for an easy escape to color how we interpret respectful critiques. They simply are not all attacks, and if we are to interact in a forum where we are expected to "give a reason for the hope that we have," we cannot weasel out of that responsibility by accusing everyone who critiques our view of attacking us.

Keep Up The Good Fight

Truth cannot take a backseat to our commitment to a particular view. We need to be willing to either defend the critiqued view or be prepared to recognize the possibility that we may be wrong (and honestly investigate it). We cannot be afraid to be wrong, and we do not need to think that because we have a detail of our worldview incorrect that the whole thing falls apart. Both of those can have negative effects both existentially and eternally. I have written in more detail on those two fears and how the negative effects follow in these posts: "Three Good Reasons to Question What You Believe" and "Is Your View Falsifiable?"

The Rewards and Threats

Many naturalists promise their supporters that their view is more logical and that they will have the existential satisfaction of being more intelligent than those who disagree. I have seen some of the more antagonistic Christians appeal to Matthew 24:13. They use this passage to imply that those who compromise the faith by changing their view to one that even a fellow Christian holds will not be saved. And if the post also appeals to verses 9 through 11, the implied withholding of salvation from Christians who disagree cannot be overlooked.

We have to remember that potential rewards and threats are both fallacious appeals to pragmatism and force, respectively. The rewards and threats offered by the sides usually depend on their view being correct. If their view is not correct, then the rewards and threats are meaningless. If naturalism is true, then there is no salvation for the Christian who believes to the end. If Christianity is true, then naturalism cannot possibly make sense of reality (much less those who believe it be more intelligent). The rewards and threats are only effective encouragement/deterrent for those who believe that particular view to be correct, which again, is not to what our commitment and allegiance should be. Our commitment and allegiance should be to truth, no matter what. Our commitment and allegiance to a view will not get us into nonexistent heaven, nor will they get us out of an existing hell.

It almost seems that posts with these rewards/threats are cleverly disguised attacks (not critiques) against those who disagree. If that is correct, then they are just as useful as the attacks I described above.

Actual Attacks

Of course, I am not naive enough to posit that the ridicule mentioned in these kinds of posts does not actually take place. It definitely does. I have seen it. It just does not happen 100% of the time as the posts usually imply. So, with that recognition, I do feel the need to also caution those mentioned in these posts as being the perpetrators of the attacks. When we see posts like these, it is time that we examine our posts and comments. We need to ensure that our focus is on the view and not the person. We also need to proof-read our responses before posting, not for grammar mistakes (though, that is important also), but for a gentle and respectful tone. If this can be done from the perspective of someone who disagrees; this will help us identify if what we say may be taken as an attack even though it is merely a critique. We have to recognize that some people are more sensitive and do our best to accommodate this reality without changing the content of our critique.

By taking responsibility to keep our personally directed rhetoric to a minimum and focus as much as possible on critiquing the view (and not attacking the person, directly or indirectly) we can go a long way toward having constructive conversations. This will help those who disagree with us to not be on the defensive. When people are not in such a personally defensive position, it allows them to recognize the possibility that they may be incorrect. With that possibility doors are opened for probing questions, deep dialog, and maybe even the change of a view. It is important that Christians always "be prepared to give a reason for the hope that we have;" but we cannot forget the second part of that command: "do so with gentleness and respect." (1 Peter 3:15)


While I do not have a problem with people encouraging one another in groups (that one of the reasons for groups), we need to ensure that we are encouraging the correct thing. We cannot encourage commitment to a view, rather we need to encourage commitment to truth. We need to encourage investigation into what we currently cannot defend to ensure that it can be defended logically. If it cannot, then we need to change our view, so that it will not be a stumbling block for the next person who raises the critique against our view. However, a defense must always be done with respect. Both are the responsibility of all those involved in discussions of world views.

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