How to Argue Well
1. Be cautious: Know what you’re talking about. An opponent can use your own words against you, so make sure you can prove your statements if you have to. Don’t use self-made statistics or other false information just to sound smarter, and pray the opponent does not ask you to verify them.
2. Take a dry-run: Before entering a debate or a formal discussion, have a casual one with your friends. Different minds can help provide new perspectives on things – perspectives that can help you fortify your argument either through new points, or by highlighting the weaknesses in your argument, allowing you to fix them (or if unfixable, help you abandon the flawed stance and switch to a more sound one).
If this is not possible, have a debate with yourself. It’s imperative that you think critically and develop a good sense of the kind of arguments that your opponent can use. A good debater knows how to counter an argument even before his opponent has made the argument.
3. Be clear: Do not use words that you feel may prove to be too difficult for your opponent to understand. Using good language can help you sound smarter, but your foremost concern should be to get your message across as clearly as possible.
4. Stick to the point: Often opponents try to steer the conversation away from an obvious sand-pit by throwing in a red-herring. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted. Stick to the point if you think you have the upper hand.
5. Criticize ideas, not individuals: Attacking an ideology is acceptable, but criticizing a person directly can cause him to become extremely defensive. The best way to convince a person is to make available just the right kind of information, and allow him to connect the dots himself.
6. Be aware of logical fallacies: Stay clear of known logical fallacies. If your opponent resorts to these, make sure you identify them and point them out immediately. Here are some of the most common fallacies we find:
–Argumentum ad numerum: “There are over 1.6 billion Muslims in the world! Are you saying they’re all wrong?” Large groups of people can be wrong too.
–Argumentum ad ignorantum: “I can’t prove God, but you can’t disprove him either, can you?” In science, all is non-existent until proven to exist. Otherwise, we may start believing in dragons living in the center of the earth simply by the virtue of not being able to disprove such a claim.
–Agumentum ad baculum: “You’ll burn in hell forever if you don’t believe in God! Are you ready to take that chance?” Attempting to sway your opponent by scaring him is coercion, not argumentation.
–Argumentum ad misericordiam: “Why are you trying to hurt my feelings by calling my beliefs false?” Winning support for an argument by exploiting the opponent’s feelings of guilt and/or pity is a fallacious approach.
–Non sequitur argument: “Look at how huge these mountains are! God must exist!” The conclusion does not follow the argument. Mountains could be massive due to a number of different reasons.
7. It’s not about winning: It is a mistake to expect one’s opponent to say, “You win! I now see the error of my ways! Thank you!”. That’ll almost never happen. Look for subtle signs that of an opponent’s losing his/her footing. In such a case, he/she may start beating around the bush, use straw-man arguments or resort to personal attacks. In such a case, round-up your argument as neatly as possible and end the debate. Do not get into a circular argument.