I have been complimented more than once for my way of conducting controversies on the internet: courteously, constructively, with substance.  It took me back a bit at first.  I didn’t think I was doing anything special.  Then I started paying attention to the norm.  I think I fail often at speaking the truth in love, but apparently the bulk of the people on the internet are even worse.  Here are some guidelines I try to follow.  I do so rather inconsistently, but I hope I’m getting better.

1.  Think twice if the thread belongs to someone you barely know, or who is only a “Facebook Friend.” Jumping in to correct people on someone else’s thread, or, worse, actually hijacking it, makes you a “troll.”  It’s rude.  JUST SCROLL ON.

InternetWrong32.  Do you have an actual point to make, or are you just trading insults?  The latter will convert nobody and only alienate not only your opponents but any neutral lurkers you want to keep them from influencing.  If that’s all you’ve got, JUST SCROLL ON.

3.  Do you have an actual point to make, or are you just saying things that you think will make you look smart to the group among the onlookers you are vainly trying to impress, or at least smarter than your opponent?  The latter will convert nobody and only alienate not only your opponents but any neutral lurkers you want to keep them from influencing.  If that’s all you’ve got, JUST SCROLL ON.

4.  Can you make your point in one short paragraph, or a couple at most? Nobody is going to read the interminable essay you are about to post.  Nobody is going to follow the link to the massive dissertation you read (or wrote on your blog) on the topic.  They might not even bother to roll their eyes at you.  (I read, and write, long articles and even books.  There is a place for them.  A Facebook thread isn’t it.)  All together now:  JUST SCROLL ON.

5.  OK, you’ve made succinctly and courteously an actually relevant point. Your opponent isn’t interested; he just wants to keep arguing, without even taking it into account.  You’ve called him back to it once, but it did no good.  The discussion has now degenerated into a contest about who gets the last word.  Let him have it.  The only alternative is to sink to his level.  You can take some of the sting out of it by noting, “I think we’re just starting to repeat ourselves.  I’ve made my point.”  Then if he takes the last word, he’s the one who looks bad.  Let him.  JUST SCROLL ON.


I think you get the idea.  There is definitely a place for internet debate.  We don’t want to let nonsense and ignorance go unchallenged.  But sadly, we often do more harm than good when we let ourselves get goaded into trading rants.  When you feel that temptation, what should you do?    All together now:  JUST SCROLL ON.

To order some of Dr. Williams’ long books, such as REFLECTIONS FROM PLATO’S CAVE or INKLINGS OF REALITY, go to  https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.

Appearance or Rationality?

Yesterday I posted the following comment as my status on Facebook:

“After several years of getting drawn in to various debates on Facebook, I have come to a conclusion. About 95% of the people commenting care nothing whatsoever about evidence or chains of reasoning or the search for truth. They are concerned only with what statements will make them appear cool, intelligent, or with it to whatever group they are trying to impress.”

Not a person I was describing.
Not a person I was describing.

The response–an unusually high number of “likes” and not a few comments–suggested I had hit a nerve.  All of those commenting basically agreed with me.  Either I was in the group they were trying to impress, or I had just attracted all the rational exceptions to the rule.  (Either generalization would probably be dangerous!)

The bottom line is that, while there are many exceptions, the level of rational discourse of which our contemporaries seem capable is distressingly low.  Many apparently think that assertion is evidence, insult is rebuttal, shouting is argument, and repetition is exposition.  It’s not just that they try to get away with these substitutions; they apparently really cannot tell the difference.  They respond to the caricature that is already in their head of the position they are arguing against, ignoring the actual argument that has just been placed before them.

Shakespeare's Grammar School.  He learned to read Latin there.
Shakespeare’s Grammar School. He learned to read Latin there.

How is it that more people are consuming more higher education than ever before while getting so little benefit from it?  There are many reasons.  The expansion of educational opportunity in itself brings a lowering of standards.  Addiction to electronic media has decimated attention spans.  Public figures set terrible examples.  (The entire senate race my state is currently living through consists of one candidate implying that the other is a closet communist and his opponent characterizing him as a Robber Baron; each has called the other a liar, though not in so many words.  Discussion of any actual issues or political principles has been notably absent.)  The media reinforces a focus on soundbytes over reasoned civic discourse. Too many parents no longer teach their kids to practice self-discipline or to take responsibility for their time and be accountable for their actions.  So what’s even a good teacher to do when they get to school?  A climate of Post-Modern relativism cultivates cynicism about truth with a corresponding reluctance to engage in the rigorous disciplines required seriously to pursue it.  All these things make it harder to overcome the basic intellectual laziness and dishonesty that is our legacy from the Fall of Man.

No comment necessary.
No comment necessary.

If you have not yet completely fallen prey to these enemies of the mind, push back against them when you have the opportunity and set a better example when you can.  You’d better.  Otherwise these logic-deficient, evidence-impervious, educated morons that annoy you on Facebook will be the people sitting on our juries and electing our next congress and president.  Oh, wait; it’s worse than that.  They already are.

A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.
A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.

Donald T. Williams is R. A. Forrest Scholar at Toccoa Falls College and President of the International Society of Christian Apologetics.  To order his books from Lantern Hollow Press, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/