How to Refute an Argument

You may or may not know that I have been coaching a group of (mostly) new Lincoln Douglas debaters in our newly formed speech & debate club. Side Note– This activity is one of the best you can get your kids involved in. They learn how to research, communicate, recognize good arguments and bad ones, and how to disagree without hating the person they disagree with. Find a club, join it.


One of the things we are working on is refutations. To refute an argument you have to look at its parts and point out the weaknesses. I think this process can be massively helpful in the world.


An argument, if well constructed, will have 3 parts: Claim, warrant and impact.

  1. Claim- It’s a declaration. It frames the rest of the argument, and helps shape the overall discussion. There’s normally an assertion tied to a subject.
  2. Warrant- This is the reason we should accept the claim. It’s evidence, logic, inference. 
  3. Impact- This is why it’s important. 

An argument should have all 3 of these present, though some could be implied.
To refute an argument you must find weaknesses in the parts.


You can attack a claim. Maybe the claim doesn’t apply to the overall discussion. Maybe it’s just a statement by itself, without a warrant. Does the assertion relate to the subject of the claim?


You often find the most meat for refutation when examining the warrant. What is the reasoning, is it sound? If there is evidence- is it solid, is the interpretation sound, is there contradicting evidence? Does the reasoning apply to the claim? 


You can attack the impact. Does the argument outweigh others? How much of a difference does this argument make to the issue? An argument may be true, but outweighed by other factors, which are also true. 


As you are reading things on the internet, listening to media, talking with your friends and neighbors, the more you practice thinking about arguments critically, the more quickly you can discern what’s true and what’s less than true. 

Misinformation on Facebook is Its Own Fault

I originally posted this on my Facebook feed. I understand the irony in posting complaints about FB’s algorithms on a feed that is controlled by that same algorithm.

Facebook has created the misinformation problem it has, but won’t take real steps to fix it.

Facebook helped create the environment that fed into the echo chambers that spread misinformation. Their current attempts to fix this are doomed to failure and could have unintended consequences. And they will not fix the root cause of the issue because it would hurt them financially.

Facebook desperately wants to squash misinformation. Their current method is to flag any post on certain subjects with a warning and link to what Facebook thinks is accurate information. There is no review of the posts which are tagged. Write any post, fact or false, with certain keywords and the warnings come up.

This has the consequence of classifying both true and untrue content together. Every post about these subjects is suspect. But Facebook will make sure to tell us all the truth.

An open platform should not set themselves up as the arbiter of what is true and correct. Aside from the fact they can be wrong, this can end up with two unwanted results.

First, there are those who want FB to be regulated. This move to try to self-regulate content sends a signal that content on these open platforms should be regulated. As objectionable as it is to have FB tell me what is true, imagine some sub committee made of up government employees or, worse, partisans appointed by what ever party happens to be in charge telling you what is true or false.

The second undesired result is that FB becomes a publisher not a platform. The natural next step beyond telling users what is true is to actively stop users from seeing what is false.

FB becomes a publisher, and is liable for what is allowed on its channel. And that goes beyond political speech. All sorts of copyright issues come into play. IP owners may not sue a 20 year old for posting their property without permission, but there’s money to be made in suing the publisher who posts it.

The biggest problem is that these attempts to stop the spread of misinformation and false information attack a symptom of a problem Facebook created and amplified with its own algorithms.

FB created news feeds which “feed” our own confirmation biases and create echo chambers for misinformation. The way to fix that is not for FB to tell me what is fact or fiction, but to change the algorithms to show a wider range of ideas. That addresses a core issue with the platforms in general.

People form common interest ties. They post common interest content. FB sees that you interact with that content and those friends and pages. They show you more of that content. Facebook bragged about this change a few years ago. They are showing us more of what we like and less of what we don’t.

FB would say this makes your experience on the platform better. It also make FB more profitable.

Companies buy exposure on my newsfeed from FB. These companies enjoy a very targeted approach to buying this space on my feed. If Facebook can narrow the types of posts, which represent the sort of interests I have, they can offer a better deal to advertisers. If I see posts and information across 100 interest areas, and interact with a broader range of people and pages, companies have to spend more, across a broader range, to get me to buy their stuff. If FB can lower that range to 75 or 50 areas of interest, their ad placements become more effective. Companies buy more ads and FB makes more money.

They have been doing this for years. Here’s how this practice led to the rapid sharing of what people think is problematic information. The medium inherently causes transmission issues.

Social media’s inherent requirement to distill complex, nuanced content down to simpler ideas comes into play. The “TL: DR” -too long, didn’t read- response was created because reading long and complex information online is hard. (Thanks for read this long and complex content in the internet)FB needs us to keep scrolling, so we can see more ads. So they prioritize images and videos, and downplay text. Any post or comment over a few sentences gets shortened with a “see more” link, so you can quickly scroll past it.

The result is complex issues reduced to memes and emotional entreaties. Now add the FB algorithm.

So person A has their friend group. A political meme gets shared from a page. Several people share it in that group. FB’s computers take note that content from that page was popular in this group of people. Meanwhile, another meme which didn’t fit into the group’s biases was seen and the group did not share it. FB notes that content was not popular.

Now, when that first page posts something, the algorithm doesn’t know whether it’s true or not. It just shows the content to the group. Meanwhile, content showing a contrary opinion from the 2nd source is not shown to them.

This goes on for literally years. Information that the group likes and that affirms their biases is reinforced to FB as what should be in their feed. Contrary information is reduced. Because FB shows us what we like, we eventually end up in an echo chamber. Ideas we welcome get reshared and commented on and liked. Ideas we don’t like, get seen less often.

Now election time comes. FB’s algorithm cannot distinguish fact from fiction. So it shares both true and false information with the group. And since FB has learned that contrary opinions don’t get the attention, they cut them out of the feed.

One day a piece of untrue information is shared. It fits what the group has previously interacted with, so the algorithm shows the group. No contrary information is provided. Person A sees that lots of their friends have shared the info. And since it fits into a preferred bias, and little to no opposing views are shared, person A believes it. And shares it, too.

Cut to today. We’ve got rampant misinformation and questionable sources being shared on Facebook. How do we fix it?

Facebook labels anything in the subject as potentially false and provides links to what FB thinks is true. This is bad policy.

To really fix it, FB has to stop tailoring newsfeeds the way it does. They need to broaden what is shown to users. Any page or person I have shown any interest in, by liking for friending them, should have the same opportunity to show up on my feed as those I regularly like or comment on.

This will impact the advertising dollars FB uses to operate. And that is why we see ham handed bandaids like what is happening now, instead of real change in the root causes of the issue.

Now, this isn’t all FB’s fault. We will still have confirmation bias and a tendency to resist what we don’t agree with. But FB can help by not reinforcing those tendencies. What they are doing now is wrong headed and will end badly.

Christianity Today, Editorials, and Cognitive Dissonance

[I know it’s Christmas Eve, but I was catching up on things and saw this pattern. Merry Christmas. Read this later.]

The dictionary defines cognitive dissonance as the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change. As a rule, we cannot maintain cognitive dissonance for long.


When we run into information that contradicts our personally held beliefs we must either refute/discredit the information or change our beliefs. Sometimes instead of discrediting the info, we discredit the source. (That doesn’t make the info false, but allows people to feel OK about ignoring it). Other times we rationalize our positions. (That also doesn’t make the info false, but does allow us to feel we’ve chosen the best position in difficult situations.)


When the new information is challenging issues of core beliefs, we are more likely to defend current opinions more strongly. It’s difficult to move people in their core beliefs.


Case in point- Christianity Today publishes an opinion of one editor. The article makes several points, and compares the current president to President Clinton, morally. CT is a previously trusted source (Many agreed with their criticisms of President Clinton), so Christians take note. But the opinion causes cognitive dissonance. Trump supporting Believers cannot accept the editorial and continue to support Trump. So we see the responses… CT is progressive, etc… (Attacking the source) What’s the alternative, supporting baby-killing Democrats? Lesser of two evils, etc…(Rationalizing)


For the record, I don’t agree with everything in the article. But I find it interesting that the primary criticism of the piece falls into those 2 categories- discrediting source and rationalizing, rather than point by point rebuttal of the points of the article. I’m sure there are some responses that do that, but most I’ve seen are pointing to the source or rationalizing.


People really don’t like it when their core positions are challenged.

What’s our go to response when presented with contradictory info? Do we discredit the source, rationalize our position, or refute the information or change our position?

The Affordable Care Act is Not Affordable and No One Cares

acanotI just came from turning in my insurance forms this this coming year. Once again I cannot afford to add my family to my employer provided coverage.

And, because my employer follows the law and offers coverage, I cannot qualify for subsidies in the ACA exchanges. So we can’t afford to insure our family there. Luckily I don’t make a lot of money, so my kids qualify for the CHIP program here in Texas. And we are Christians so my wife can get covered through one of those Christian Co-Ops. So we won’t get fined/taxed/penalized for not having coverage we simply cannot afford. I had to swallow my pride and take a government hand out so my children could have health coverage, because I simply could not afford it under the Affordable Care Act.

I don’t blame my employer. They offer very good insurance, and they pay about $6000.00 for my coverage. But if I want to add my wife to that same plan, then I must pay over $500 per month. If I wanted to add my children, the price would inflate to over $900 per month. I don’t know a lot of middle class families that could afford to lose over $10,800 annually.

Years ago, before the ACA was passed, I was self employed, and I had a plan I liked. My family was well covered with supplements and major medical. Then the ACA went into effect, and I got a letter saying that my plan was no longer offered, and I would have to shift to a different plan for a 300% increase in premiums. It had been more economical and effective to have a major medical plan with supplemental plans to cover us for basic services. In the new post-ACA world, I must spend more for less coverage.

That continues to be the case today.

I often see friends complaining online about how much their premiums are going up. I hear on the news about Healthcare Exchanges that are going out of business. Healthcare is not getting better.

I know that something had to be done. There were real issues with the old insurance/healthcare system, things that needed to be addressed. But this ACA is a horrible replacement for what we had before. I don’t know one single person who has better coverage for less money. From what I’ve experienced and heard, if you had insurance before the ACA kicked in, you are less happy with your coverage now.

Occasionally I will hear people saying that since the ACA has been passed, and some people who did not have coverage before now have it, you can’t take it away. Why not? The government took away my coverage and forced me to find an alternate/ worse plan. The current system under the ACA is not working. Exchanges are crashing, and costs are rising on plans that offer less coverage for more Americans. What we have now cannot continue for much longer. Something has to be done, sooner rather than later.

And no one with the power to do anything seems to care. Oh sure, there have been bunches of show votes where Republicans tried to “repeal” the ACA,but that did exactly jack squat for my family, and everyone else adversely effected by the ACA rules. Democrats seem to be afraid to criticize the President’s signature legislation, even though there are obvious problems with it. In many ways middle class Americans are worse off now than before, regarding insurance.

Our elected representatives are more interested in talking about how they care than doing something that actually helps us. This will be a big concern for me in the upcoming elections. I don’t want to hear a Republican say they will repeal the ACA, I want to hear them say what they will do to replace it. I want to know how they will help my family have better coverage for an amount we can afford.

Scott Link Politics: New Political Blog

I have been posting about politics a lot lately. There are things going on that I want to write about. But this is a blog about religious media. I know many of you that follow this blog didn’t sign up for lots of political posts.

So, I have created a new blog where I will write about political subjects.

If you are interested, please follow the link and the follow my posts over there:

Scott Link Politics

Creating Our Own Reality on the Internet

IMG_6055Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Matthew 10:16 ESV

I saw the headline in this picture posted on Facebook. Since it wasn’t your normal clickbait title, I followed the link. In that article, which was on a super-uber-ultra-conservative-just-short-of-KJV-Only-kind-of-vibe website, I was shocked by the comments of the pastor of Hillsong NYC and one of the people in the picture, who seemed to be on staff as part of the worship team, at least as far as this article portrayed them.

I was deeply troubled. I met some of the Hillsong people from Australia when I lived in Orlando. I know a guy who attends Hillsong NYC. I wondered just how connected the NYC church was to the rest? It just didn’t sit right. Not just because the website was pretty opinionated. But it didn’t fit with my own experience with Hillsong’s people or ministry.

So, I contacted my friend who goes there. He gave me the low down. Yes that couple attended. One of them may have been in some sort of quasi-leadership in the choir as a volunteer, but once the church leadership found out about the two men they approached them privately, and after that conversation the couple left the church.  Apparently the couple went on the show Survivor, and when the audition tapes were released by CBS, church leadership became aware of the situation and went to the couple.

That’s a little different than “Hillsong NYC Church has an “Engaged” Openly Homosexual Couple Leading the Choir” isn’t it?

I did a little digging and found that they were pulling quotes out of different articles from all over the place, from as far back as October 2014. And many of these posts were on conservative news or opinion sites.

I later found an article from the Christian Post from back in October of 2014 where Brian Houston, the pastor of Hillsong, had issued a statement correcting some quotes that were in a New York Times article from the same time period. The NYT quotes were the ones used in this new August of 2015 post. In the statement the pastor released he says (among other things); “”Nowhere in my answer did I diminish biblical truth or suggest that I or Hillsong Church supported gay marriage… I challenge people to read what I actually said, rather than what was reported that I said. I believe the writings of Paul are clear on this subject.”

Then I ventured into the comment section because I wanted to let them know what I had found out. Obviously this is an opinion site, not a news site, but the story they had cobbled together for their opinion was factually wrong. The site was making some strong allegations, but had not contacted the church for any statement. Several people in the comments were talking about the inaccuracies of this article.

When I posted my information, the author of the post replied by reposting one of the same quotes from his article. This quote was from January, and said some weird stuff. Things that needed to be addressed by the church. And according to my friend who attends there, it had been addressed. Context and timing matter. They refused to accept that their version of reality was wrong. I intentionally did not include a link to the article because of that fact. You can search the title and find it if you really want to see it. There is at least one more article on the same subject that appears to have gotten all of the content from the original-incorrect post.

So, here’s a very conservative website, quoting from other conservative websites and cherry picking quotes from other publications to create their own version of reality. They are creating a story from information that is more than 6 months old. Any information that differs with this story is either not mentioned, or denied by the authors when mentioned in the comments. I noticed that there was quite a bit of traffic on the post, and there were no less than 11 advertisements running down the side of this little webpage. And from the comments, a lot of people were eating it up. I guess an article on a church that actual does biblical discipline wouldn’t generate the page views they needed for ad revenue?

This is not healthy. No matter what kind of views you have on any ideas, generating content in this kind of echo chamber is bad news. And it’s very common online.

Recently there were a rash of false news stories that Christians shared without bothering to find out if they were true. Remember that one from “NBC(dot)CO” instead of .com? This sort of thing has been going on for a long time. I used to get 2-3 emails a year saying that a famous atheist (who had been dead for years) was suing to get all religious TV off the air. That was actually a lawsuit from decades ago that was filed by someone else. and thrown out of court. But someone had put the hoax together and well-meaning, but flat wrong, Christians kept falling for it.

Please, please, when you read something online, look at the source. Do some research. Do not just accept anything that comes along. It’s way too easy to see a controversial post that feeds into your own views, and fears, and just adopt it, believe, it, share it, and propagate it without doing any critical thinking on your own.

Think about it before you share it.

Update: New statement by Hillsong Senior Pastor Brian Houston about the article mentioned above.

[I updated this post with new information regarding articles in the New York Times and on Christian post, and additional articles on this subject.]

Cultural Amnesia and Religious Freedom

flag[Begin Rant]
There are days I wake up and I just wonder, “Are you people crazy? Did you wake up and forget everything from the last thousand years or so? When did you develop cultural amnesia?”

I hear about news stories questioning evangelical adoption and threatening court martials for “Proselytizing” in the military, and I wonder if these people just stepped out of a cultural bubble. These are just a couple of recent examples, but this is a trend in America.

America has its problems, but we are still the greatest nation on earth. People literally risk their lives to come here. People kill themselves to stop our way of life. We are the land of opportunity, we are the land of the free.

This didn’t happen in a vacuum. Our culture developed over time and had lots of influences, and one of the big ones was the faith of our own people. I could list quote after quote of founding fathers, and point you toward different books that explore what the world would be like if Christianity wasn’t around, and tell you all the good things that came out of people believing in Jesus Christ. And I could disarm the critics by pointing out how many people were killed in the name of religion versus how many have been killed by people without religious belief. And we could go a couple of rounds debating the merits of faith in the public square.

But I don’t have to. Because good or bad, religion has been a major part of western civilization and a major part of the USA.

And look at how good we turned out.

Even if you hate organized religion, you have to admit that the basic tenet of freedom of religion hasn’t stopped America from becoming the greatest nation on earth. Even if you think that belief in God is the root of all idiocy, the USA still did OK.

So this new wave of vehement animosity about faith really bugs me. No one is making you believe in anything. No one is forcing your kids to believe in anything. So people talk about their faith? Get over it. You have the freedom to talk about whatever you believe, or don’t believe. Don’t want evangelicals to adopt kids? Go adopt all of them yourself.

What’s that? My religious morality is infringing on your new found moral code? You think the world would be even better if we would just keep our views to ourselves? Odd, I think it would better if irreligious people kept their views to themselves. You don’t like it when religious people campaign for laws that reflect their viewpoint? Tough. Welcome to a Democratic Republic. Don’t like the laws? Vote for people to change them. I’ll do the same.

This country was founded on freedom. It was founded on a lot of other things, too, but we can all agree that freedom is a huge part of our Constitution.

So, lets get back to that. Constitutional Freedom. And stop acting like we don’t have a past that includes freedom of religion. Stop using “tolerance” as a baseball bat to crush anything different from your view. Go live your life, and be free. And let religious people do the same.

[/rant]

Mormonism, Christianity, and Cults

I recently learned of the current controversy regarding First Baptist Dallas Pastor Dr. Robert Jeffress and comments he made in support of one candidate. Reporters heard something that piqued their interest, and went to find out. Turns out, shocker, I know, that this prominent conservative Christian pastor thinks Mormons are members of a cult. This is almost as big news as when the Southern Baptist Convention said they were going to pray for Jews.

The problem in this controversy is one of semantics. Non Christian people and Christian people sometimes can’t communicate clearly. When Jeffress says cult, reporters think of compounds with automatic machine guns and explosives. It takes them about 0.07 seconds to hit the oddball religious news alert, and away we go. Now Jeffress is going all over the place talking about it.

As for how the world views cults, Mormons don’t fit their understanding of one. Calling Mormons members of a cult on national TV just confuses people. Our soundbite generation cannot compute that. Jeffress says that he went on to explain more about what he meant, but of course that is too long for a news soundbite. The Hardball clip that’s going around, the commentator can’t get past his own definition cult. Is Jeffress concerned about a member of a cult in the White House? Jeffress keeps trying to define Mormonism as a theological cult.

Let me boil it down for you.

No, Mormons are not going to give all their money to the church and turn up, en masse, all dead with white sneakers and open packets of cool-aid littered around. In that connotation of the word cult, of course the Church of the Latter Day Saints are not a cult. They are a religion. Everyone I have ever met has been very nice, highly moral, and deeply committed to their faith. But not in that Going-to-mass-suicide-and-take-as-many-ATF-agents-with-us-as-we-can kind of way.

Mormons are an offshoot of traditional Christianity. They claim they have a more complete faith than us regular Christians. But there are several defining characteristics that define them theologically as a Christian cult.

For Christians, theologically, cults can be defined using a simple process:

“+, -, x, /”

Christian Cults are an offshoot of traditional Christianity that:

+ Add to scripture
Subtract from diety of Christ
x Multiply what is required for salvation
/ Divide their followers from traditional Christianity

Groups who do those things are generally thought to be non-Christian but traditional Christianity. Yes, I mean that members of those cults are not going to heaven. (Of course, if you dig a bit into Mormonism you see that I’m not going to be in their heaven either, so turn about’s fair play, right?)

So, how do the LDS measure up to that criteria?

+ Mormons claim that in addition to the Bible, the Book or Mormon and other texts should be considered scripture. They add to scripture.

Mormons do not think Jesus Christ is a part of a Triune God. He is Elohim’s only “begotten” son, but not his only son. In fact, Lucifer is Jesus’ brother. He is not part of the Trinity. He is not God, like Elohim is God. (Before you comment and say it, I know that the word Trinity isn’t in the Bible, but evidence for it is. Traditional Christians believe in it. Mormons don’t.) Mormons subtract from the deity of Christ.

X Mormons cannot achieve the highest level of heaven unless they do certain things here on earth. Salvation is not by grace alone, but works are required to enter the Celestial Heaven. Plus, if you want to be able to have your own planet and be a god, you must be married in a Mormon temple. Mormons multiply what it takes for salvation.

/ Mormons believe that they are the fully restored church, and that while most Christians have some truth, it is not complete. Mormons are the only religion that has complete truth on the earth. Traditional Christianity generally believes that as long as denominations hold to certain basic truths, the minor tenets of each group’s polity and practice do not bar them from entering heaven. These differences have to do with worship practices and general theology, but do not impact salvation, and the work of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit in that act. Mormon divide themselves from other Christians as the holders of complete truth.

So, am I saying that every Mormon in the world will end up in hell? No. I don’t know the condition of any other person’s heart. In fact, one of the major LDS “mission” fields is Christian people. They often meet people of faith, and then convert them to Mormonism. It is likely that there are some nominal Mormons who have true faith in Christ. But, that faith did not come as a result of any Mormon theology or teaching.

What I am saying is that Mormon theology will lead you to hell. While they use the same words as traditional Christians (God, Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit, grace, salvation) they mean something else entirely. If you worship the mormon god, you worship someone other than the God of the Christian Bible. I know that sounds harsh, but when push comes to shove, that’s the cold hard truth of it. Mormons and Christians do not believe the same thing. That’s part of the reason mormon active;y seek to make converts from Christianity. They genuinely care about us knowing the whole truth. I don’t fault them for it, but that doesn’t mean we have the same faith.

What does that have to do with politics? Not as much as some would think. A person’s faith should permeate everything they do, and that won’t stop if that person becomes President. But, as I said before, Mormons are generally great folks with high moral standards. And I’m pretty sure no sitting President is going to try to make Polygamy legal, so no worries there. For me, I won’t vote for someone just because they are a Christian, and won’t vote against them just because they are not one.

Word of note: Please don’t email me or comment and say that I am deliberately misrepresenting the truth. It’s one thing if I have a fact wrong, it’s quite another of my opinion differs from yours.