Tag Archives: Echo Chamber

On Turning Arguments into Discussions

“Endless Debate”, by Norman Rockwell

I had an interesting discussion with several people on Twitter last week regarding the topic of abortion,  and came away with a few observations I’d like to share today.

  • The danger of echo chambers. This discussion took place on the Twitter feed of an abortionist who proudly performs late-term abortions. It became quickly apparent that the feed was basically an echo chamber for those who agreed with her to reinforce each other’s beliefs in the rightness of their cause. There is a time and place for mutual encouragement and support, but like a closed-off room grown stagnant, our minds atrophy when isolated from opposing views. For even exposure to mistaken views or outright malicious falsehoods can still benefit us by forcing us to think through what we believe, why we believe it, and, ultimately, if our reasons are adequately justified. As the apostle Paul said, “Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” [1Th 5:21]. Being in an echo chamber had led several of her followers to fall for some very bad arguments. On the other hand, as a Christian, I have access to the only transcendent source of truth – God – in the forms of His written word, the Bible, and the guidance of His Holy Spirit. What a blessing! And getting support and encouragement from fellow believers drawing from that deep well of truth is a great thing. But that can turn into an unhealthy echo chamber for a Christian when it a) ends up only encouraging in spite of error that really needs correcting, or b) leads to being disconnected from the world Jesus has commissioned us to be ambassadors to [2Cor 5:20]. As an example, an American who never learned about Chinese culture would likely not be an effective ambassador to China. He would need to both represent his own country well and understand his host country enough to communicate with them clearly. Similarly, we are called to be “in the world, but not of the world” [Jn 17:14-18]. The Christian must be different, but who will ever know Christ made a difference in our lives if we stay isolated in a little Christian bubble [Mt 5:14-16]? So we need to be willing to engage with opposing views, but always with gentleness and respect [1Pe 3:15], speaking the truth in love [Eph 4:15].
  • The difference between monologue and dialogue. There were some initial insults and somewhat immature replies to my bringing science to bear on the subject of abortion, and my addressing biologically incorrect arguments seemed to be falling on deaf ears. Eventually, however, someone came forward willing to engage in serious dialogue. He wanted sources for what I was saying so he could verify them himself, so I gladly gave him quotes & references from different embryology textbooks. A civil, thoughtful discussion ensued – on Twitter of all places! Now, I’ve learned many things over the years from presentations that were essentially monologues, such as seminars without Q&A, or recorded webinars, and so forth; but dialogue is critical in discussing controversial topics. A person will only learn from a monologue if they go in willing to listen, and open to absorbing new knowledge (like a seminar I’ve paid to attend). But in a hostile situation, the other person is already defensive at having their views challenged, and dialogue with the person, instead of a monologue directed at them, is really the only hope for changing their mind.
  • The persistence of presuppositions. What was intriguing about the discussion was the repeated assumption that my objections were religious in nature, even though I’d never mentioned anything related to religion (of any kind) in my comments. It took a while to finally convey the point that a response from a user with the name “Well-Designed Faith” didn’t mean that every statement I made would be a religious statement, and that while I could make a religious objection to abortion, I hadn’t, and they would still need to deal with the scientific objections I had made. So why did that reaction happen in the first place, and why did it continue? I can’t get into anyone else’s head to determine their thought process, but it appears that those commenters had some unjustified presuppositions that anything a Christian said was related to Christianity and could be safely ignored. That is nothing more than the genetic fallacy – that the origin (or genesis) of an idea can determine its truth. For instance, the idea that a man can’t speak about abortion only looks at the origin of a message rather than the content of the message, which stands or falls on its own merits, regardless of who says it. In fact, that line of faulty pro-abortion reasoning actually undercuts the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that was judged entirely by … men. Likewise, while I am a Christian, my objection that the unborn baby is biologically not a part of the mother’s body is well-grounded medically, and is an objection raised by both Christian and atheist pro-lifers (yes, there are atheist pro-lifers…). So, just because a Christian raises the objection, that doesn’t mean one can dismiss it just because one has a low opinion of Christians. Similarly, the Christian can’t dismiss arguments without weighing them, or just because of who made them.

Just a few observations this week about being good ambassadors, as I learn “on the job” to be a better one myself. So listen to what’s out there; it doesn’t help to answer the question nobody’s asking, and not deal with the issues shaping our world. Talk with people instead at them, and remember that they’re not just icons on screen, but real people, created in God’s image (even if they reject that truth). When it seems like you’re just talking past each other, step back and look for presuppositions (on both sides) that may be preventing you and them from understanding what the other is saying. And, as Greg Koukl, that master ambassador for Christ, would say, “Get out there, and give ’em Heaven!”