One popular method of fallacious argumentation is to attempt to overwhelm the opposition through the sheer number of arguments presented.
– You are wrong because of X, Y, Z.
– Ok, well, the answer to X is…
– No, that’s nowhere near good enough since you did not address Y and Z and there are also arguments A, B, C, D, E, F… plus an enormous stack of other arguments I don’t even have time to mention.
The problem here is twofold:
First, just because someone can come up with many arguments against something does not mean that someone else couldn’t come up with at least that many counter arguments. Quantity is not in and of itself an argument.
Think of it this way:
Pick a topic that you consider an absolute certainty; something so well documented that it cannot be denied. Imagine then finding 10,000 people and giving them the task to each come up with as many arguments as possible against that topic. With enough imagination 10,000 people could probably fill up a pretty large volume of arguments against even the most well documented topic. And, if sheer volume was all that mattered, we could in this way prove or disprove just about anything.
Quantity does matter, but only when it reflects a collection of arguments that are sound on an individual basis. And, the only way to evaluate this is still one argument at a time.
Another common problem that occurs is when a collection of arguments is presented as a unit. It goes something like this:
– You are wrong because of X, Y, Z.
– Ok, well, the answer to X is…
– No, that’s not sufficient to prove your point since you haven’t addressed Y and Z.
– Ok, well, the answer to Y is…
– That’s not sufficient either because there is still X and Z.
– Well, the answer to Z is…
– No, because now there is X and Y that disprove your point.
This usually happens with more than 3 arguments but the idea is that the opponent is expected to counter the entire unit at once when in fact the unit is composed of a list of arguments which could only be addressed one at a time. And, since no individual counter argument is capable of disproving the entire unit, that counter argument is dismissed and the conversation continues as if none of the points had been addressed.
Now all this might seem so obviously flawed that it is ridiculous to even mention; and it really is, except that it does happen and way too often. I’ve even been accused of trying to con my way out of an argument for trying to come up with ways to address this problem. But the reality is that, between a theist and an atheist, or worse, between a Christian and an atheist, there are tens of thousands of individual points of disagreement and there simply isn’t any way to formulate an argument so that it addresses everything at once.
And neither am I saying that atheists are the only ones who do this. But regardless of which side does it, the solution, in my opinion, remains the same.
So let’s take a look at an actual example of this and how I tend to deal with it.
At times someone might mention to me that there are contradictions in the Bible. And, when I respond by asking for specifics I am referred to some website like “The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible,” a website where someone actually had enough time on their hands to come up with objections to virtually every verse in the Bible.
Now granted, it could be that this person is trying to cut the conversation short while still leaving me a homework assignment. And, in such a case, I might respond with a link to some theological seminary’s college library where, chances are, most of those alleged contradictions are dealt with (hey, filibusters work both ways).
But in some instances, the person is actually serious. In other words, if someone could find thousands of problems with the Bible, there MUST be something wrong with it. They would not be able to come up with SO MUCH material if at least some of it wasn’t true. And, as far as they are concerned, by simply providing that link the matter is settled and the point made. Never mind that there are other websites out there that have just as much content allegedly disproving virtually anything else.
Now from my end, I am not about to sit there and try to debunk 30,000 different issues. So the way I approach these situations is like this:
1) I ask the person to go through the website themselves and pick 10 or 20 or 100 of what they consider to be the most convincing arguments on the site.
2) I ask them to list those arguments one by one.
3) I address those arguments one at a time and, if dealt with, they are crossed off the list and cannot be brought up again.
First, limiting the discussion to a manageable quantity helps avoid a situation where the person weighs everything I say against this imaginary colossal stockpile of evidence against me. I cannot compete with their imagination.
Second, by asking them to pick the number of arguments to place on the table and to look them up themselves I avoid a situation where I am accused of picking the easy ones or picking just too few to matter.
Third, by having the person actually list all the arguments they want to use I make sure that the discussion is clearly defined and that the person cannot bring in additional objections half way through.
And fourth, by not moving to a different topic until the current topic is resolved and checked off the list I ensure that the person cannot jump around to other topics whenever they can’t think of a response and then come back to it later and act as if the issue had never been addressed.
The most important thing the person needs to understand however is that my response to any individual argument is a response to that argument alone and nothing more. If I respond to argument #5 in a list of 100, my response is not meant to prove that my opponent is wrong about the other arguments on the list as well. My only concern at that point is to address that specific issue, argument #5. Once that issue is resolved and checked off the list I move on to the next point and address that as if it is the only argument on the list. Only once we have gone through the entire list one point at a time do we stop and evaluate what the conclusion is overall.
This approach also helps in dealing with mutually exclusive arguments or with circular arguments. For example:
a) Someone tells me that Jesus contradicted Himself in one of His parables. But, when I try to respond to this contradiction the person tells me that Jesus never existed. However, a person that never existed could not have contradicted Himself.
b) A person claims they don’t believe in god because there are things in the Bible that are obviously not true. The untrue parts are those that talk about miracles like people being resurrected from the dead. And, the reason resurrections and miracles can’t happen is because there is no god.
Now in most cases circular arguments are not this obvious because they are spread over a series of arguments. It is only when you follow the logical sequence from point to point that the circularity becomes apparent.
By compartmentalizing arguments as mentioned above many of these issues could be avoided. And, each individual argument stands or falls on its own merit and not by association with a supposed conglomerate of other arguments too many to mention.
Here is a link provided by a site visitor that basically says the same thing from an Atheist’s perspective.
The problem exists on both sides of the argument and, in my opinion, the above mentioned solution is how it can be dealt with.