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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

"Good Arguments" (Richard A. Holland Jr and Benjamin K. Forrest)

TITLE: Good Arguments: Making Your Case in Writing and Public Speaking
AUTHOR: Richard A. Holland Jr and Benjamin K. Forrest
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017, (144 pages).

The word "argument" often has negative connotations. Many people see it as something to be avoided. Such a reaction is due to a misunderstanding of what arguments mean. Authors Holland and Forrest have come together to redeem the word and to assert that good arguments reflect God's character. As far as good arguments are concerned, three things are essential. First, ensure that all the essential elements are there (conclusion, premise, and claims). Second, state the claim upfront. Third, connect the premise(s) to the conclusion. They then show us the two types of reasoning: Deductive and Inductive. The former presents direct evidence to support the conclusion. By having all the evidence reasoned out to be true, the conclusion will then be true. For the latter, even if the premises are true, the conclusion is still uncertain. There is a lot more openness as far as inductive reasoning is concerned. This book is a primer for how we can present our case well. We learn of the laws of identity, the law of noncontradiction, and the law of the excluded middle.They show us about fallacies, which is essentially defective reasoning. They distinguish between belief, fact, and opinion, which is a refreshing reminder that while all of us are entitled to our own opinion, not all of us are right. There are Subjective claims vs Objective statements. They show us the importance of understanding and defining our terms, for often, different terms mean different things to different people. In fact, the authors point out an important observation: "Dictionaries do not define words. Rather, for any word, the dictionary simply tells us what the definition is. The distinction is this: words are defined by those who use them." How true indeed. Words and terms are meaningless until they are put together by users. They need a context to be meaningful. By proper definition of terms we are able to communicate them clearly in our statements and arguments. Sometimes, we need analogies or other literary devices to help us achieve that.

I appreciate the authors for putting together such a primer to help readers distinguish between opinion and fact; argument from fallacy; proper citation and the wise use of authorities; deductive and inductive reasoning; the use of analogy and their limits; fact from fiction; and good arguments from bad. I am impressed with how the authors could pack so much material into such a small volume. Chapter 9 is a powerful reminder that good argumentation alone is not enough. We need to adopt a humble attitude even as we craft our messages. For making good arguments is not about winning debates or controversies. It is about winning friends and building relationships wherever we are and whenever we can. A good reminder is to be able to anticipate objections and to prepare a ready answer for them. This is in line with the biblical principle in 1 Peter 3:15, that we are to be prepared to give anyone an answer for the hope we have.

Let me provide three reasons for reading this book. First, it dispels the negativity surrounding the idea of "arguments" or "argumentation" and injects a fresh understanding of the purpose of arguments and the calling of Christians to train themselves up to reason and communicate well. Society often see arguments in a negative light. This should not be. In fact, good arguments should always be encouraged, so that we can all learn from one another the good from the bad. Having said that, this task is not an easy one. One of the best ways is to start young. Second, the book has many basic building blocks to help us communicate effectively. Making a good argument requires proper terms and logic. Communication is also about understanding the audience as well as the purpose of it all. A lot of these arguments are not systematically taught at schools, leaving many to learn through the school of hard knocks. Many also learn through failures, which is hard for some. With the tools presented in this book, readers could learn or re-learn these basics and to avoid the pitfalls caused by ignorance. Third, I appreciate the authors for providing the tips in chapter 9 about "making your case." The most important part is not about arguing well, but about the state of our heart. There is no point winning the argument and losing the audience. Worse, we might lose the friend due to our insensitivity. Having all the facts at hand is one thing. We need wisdom to discern their usage, how and when to use them.

I highly recommend this book for preachers, teachers, and all who are doing public speaking or writing. Buy one for your pastor!

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Baker Academic and Graf-Martin Communications without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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