RIGHT REASONING: How To Decide Which Side To Believe When You Don’t Have The Facts?

Once again, I am writing in response to my part in this week’s events on Steve Nichols’ “Morning Drive” show.  In the comments section on his live Face Book feed, before I wrote my response to him, I posted a video in answer to a challenge ‘Richard’ posted.  In this case, I am using my exchange with ‘Richard’ not as a chance to make a personal attack, but as a teaching opportunity.  I have found that using real-world examples helps people better understand abstract issues, and this is a perfect example.  So, to set this up: ‘Richard’ asked for ‘proof’ that the nation’s moral condition has declined since 1990.  In response, I posted a link to the following video:

When I posted this video, I fully expected ‘Richard’ to find some way to dismiss it and the information it contains.  Sure enough, ‘Richard’ did not disappoint.   But ‘Richard’ is not alone.  If you Google Dr. Barton and “America: to Pray or not to Pray,” you will find that the majority of the links at the top of the first few pages purport to ‘debunk’ Dr. Barton and the information he presents here in this video.  So, if you are the average listener and you have not read Dr. Barton’s book, or done any research into his claims, how would you know whether to believe Dr. Barton or ‘Richard’ and all the people who seem to be saying Dr. Barton is deceiving people?  Well, there is never any substitute for doing your own research, but I do have a few general guidelines that I learned in philosophy school.  They have served me well over the years and I believe they will do the same for you.

First, check to make sure the people who claim to be ‘debunking’ someone have not performed a ‘bait-and-switch’ on you.  The formal fallacy is called ‘equivocation,’ and it is where a person uses the same words and language to discuss two different things without telling you they are talking about two different things.  This is usually done to deceive the listener, and it is exactly what the Serpent did to Eve in the Garden of Eden story.  So, naturally, you can see how effective it can be — especially on an unsuspecting audience.  In the case of the majority of the links I read on the first two pages of the Google search I did, this is exactly what has been done: they have slightly but significantly changed what they say Dr. Barton is claiming, then they proceed to ‘debunk’ this altered argument.  Incidentally, this is also called ‘straw man.’  That is a fallacy where you purposely set up the other sides argument in as weak a way as possible so it is easier for you to ‘defeat’ it.  Therefore, before you can ever hope to be able to determine which side of any argument is closer to the truth, you have to have some knowledge of the most common fallacies and how they work.  This way, you will have a better chance of detecting which, if either side of a debate, is using sound reasoning and which side is using logical tricks to make their case.

The next thing you should look for is the source of the information being used.  Any argument that claims to be presenting factual data but does not cite the original source of that data should immediately be held suspect.  In most (if not all) of the links I read purporting to have ‘debunked’ Dr. Barton, the data that was cited had been ‘cherry-picked’ (a fallacy where you hand-pick the information you use to support your argument, while being careful to ignore information that might hurt your case), or cited from other, second and third hand sources.  In other words, none of the links I read actually addressed the data Dr. Barton used in his video.  The problem for these supposed ‘fact-checker’ is that Dr. Barton used data from official, U.S. Govt. publications.  This means, any attempt to ‘debunk’ Dr. Barton’s claims that does not deal with this data fails and can be dismissed out of hand!  That is because they are not ‘fact-checking’ Dr. Barton’s data, they are actually ‘fact checking’ the data they cherry-picked  To put it another way, the the ‘fact checkers’ were actually ‘fact checking’ themselves.  So, if they ‘defeated’ anybody, it was themselves. So remember: always look for references to original sources.

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For those who are actually interested, you can find Dr. Barton’s data in the back of his book, “America: To Pray Or Not To Pray.”  It is 163 pages long, with the last 24 pages of citations for the sources he used and even some of the actual statistical figures presented in chart and or table format.  This means more than 15% of Dr. Barton’s book consists of the data or location of the data he used.  This is something very few people on the political Left in this country ever provide.  In fact, of the 50+ books I have written by ‘Liberal/Progressive’ authors, only a half dozen or so actually contain any reference citations.  The rest are nothing but books of unsupported assertions, which, incidentally,  is also what I found in the majority of the links purporting to have ‘debunked’ Dr. Barton’s book/video.  So, the take-away on this point is to look for reference citations to the supporting data, and then make sure both sides are actually addressing that same information.  If one side is claiming to be ‘debunking’ the other but does not address the same information, that side is wrong — period!  And this is not ‘opinion:’ it is a matter of logical necessity, which means it is a fact.

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There’s one more, less tangible thing you should look for when trying to decide which side to believe.  Both sides may be well-spoken and present themselves as well-informed, giving lots of facts and figures.  Don’t let this trick you.  When this happens, look for this little, intangible characteristic.  It is almost always found on the side with the person who actually knows the facts.  That little intangible thing is anecdotal information.  By this, I mean one side will not only tell you what happened, but they will usually know something about who did it, where it happened, when, how and why.  This is because the person sharing this information has done the research, and anyone who actually does research cannot help but run into these extra tidbits of information.  On the other hand, if you find someone who claims to be citing facts and figures and little more, this can be a warning that this person is not in total command of the truth.  They may know the ‘what,’ but not the ‘who, how, when, where or why?‘  This is often an indication that this person is either regurgitating something they read or heard without having checked it to make sure it is true, or worse, they may actually be fabricating their information.

Case in point: watch this video, and pay close attention to the richness of Dr. Barton’s information.  Look for those ‘intangible’ parts of the factual record he gives you and ask yourself whether or not it ‘rings true’ with you:

There is one last thing I’d like to offer about Dr. Barton.  It is something that I suspect few — if any — of his opponents know.  Dr. Barton owns the largest private collection of documents from our founding era outside of the Library of Congress!  He has thousands of letters, books and other documents — all in the founders’ own hand.  So, before his opponents tell him he does not know what he is talking about in relation to the founders or this nation’s history, they would be wise to check and make sure he does not actually own a piece of that history.  I have seen posts that claim to ‘prove’ that Dr. Barton lies.  One example addresses a Bible that Congress commissioned early in our history.  The person claims to have ‘debunked’ Dr. Barton by pointing out that Dr. Barton is holding a 1968 replica of the Bible in question, and implies this means Dr. Barton is deceiving people.  Well, that ‘fact checker’ should have made sure Dr. Barton didn’t have an original copy of the Bible in question before making their claim.  If they had, they might have discovered that Dr. Barton does have such a copy, but that it is too fragile and too valuable to be used as a prop in a video.  What’s more, they might have even discovered that the inscription on the inside cover of the Bible Dr. Barton owns states that it was commissioned by Congress — just as Dr. Barton claimed.  I found out about this when I was doing my homework and following up behind Dr. Barton so I could prove — to myself — whether or not he was being truthful.  To date, I have not found a single claim Dr. Barton has made that he cannot document, and I have followed behind about a dozen of his books. I cannot say this same thing about his detractors.  In fact, I have found the majority of them to be based in flawed reasoning.

I’ll leave you now with an analogy that a listener to Steve’s show shared with me.  It is meant to illustrate the nature of the people who demand proof, then ignore or dismiss it.  In the following video clip, these people are represented by the part of the black knight  (in truth, people like this may well have been the inspiration for this scene, thereby making this video clip a very profound metaphor):

 

 

ADDENDUM:

Here is a related piece of timely information taken from free2pray.  Please take note of the dates where prayer is curtailed and shooting rates increase.  In the world of sociology, we call this a correlation.  It does not necessarily mean one caused the other, but it strongly suggests there is a connection.  I’ll leave the reader to decide which is the case for themselves:

From 1620 until 1966 American schools had very few school shootings. Between 1840 and 1960 there were never more then 14 school deaths due to fire arms per decade. However after the 1962-1963 Supreme Court Rulings that Prayer and Bible reading were no longer allowed, violent shooting in schools began to rise. The first really horrific shooting occurred at the University of Texas in 1966 when Charles Whitman climbed the University of Texas Tower with rifles in hand and shot 14 people dead and injured another 31.

School-Shotings-Graph

If nothing else, this sort of proves the point our founders made about the connection between religion and morality, but then, there will still be those who insist they have not lost the fight — even when they have lost both their arms and their legs…

 

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