As discussed last week , following the rules of healthy communication help us all understand one another and together discover truth. Over the last two week I’ve discussed four important “ground rules” to help us all have healthy, civil, and productive conversations. This week, I’ll discuss the fifth way to ensure we are on the path to finding truth in any conversation, including the important “LGBTQ+” conversation.
Commit to Clear Thinking
The fifth ground rule to help us guide conversations toward truth is really a set of rules—following the laws of logic in order to think clearly about the issues. Logic allows us to ensure our reasoning is accurate and, therefore, our conclusions are true.
I am assuming all who are reading this series truly want to find truth in this matter, so as to promote that which allows people to flourish and experience life to the fullest. To do so our argument must be logical—sound and valid.
The good news is that we have many guides who, over the centuries, have clarified how to think well, in order to stay on the path to truth. Beginning with Aristotle, much has been written about how to tell good arguments from bad ones. I’ve written more on a number of these before, so I will only summarize them here, giving examples related to the LGBTQ+ conversation to illustrate how important these laws of logic are to this topic.
Any time a person states a conclusion, there are two basic reasons he or she has come to believe the conclusion is true. These two reasons can be stated “formally” as related to the premises and the conclusion.
First, there seem to be good reasons (evidence) related to the issue. These are the premises of the argument. If true, the argument is sound.
Second, the premises must lead to the conclusion. If so, the argument is valid. Only when an argument is sound and valid is a conclusion proven.
By stating a conclusion, the person is implicitly stating a belief in the soundness and validity of the argument (the premises are true and the relations among premises lead to the conclusion). For more see my earlier post here.
Therefore, to test whether a conclusion is true, we must determine whether the premises are true, and whether they lead to the conclusion stated. Let’s try this out on one of the central arguments made in arguing LGBTQ+ rights are a matter of self-expression:
Premise 1: If I fully live out my identity I will flourish.
Premise 2: I fully live out my identity (specifically my sexual identity).
Conclusion: Therefore, I will flourish.
Though usually not “formalized” in this way, the conclusion is reached by this line of reasoning. Therefore, the conclusion is true if, and only if, both conditions are met. First, the conclusion must follow from the premises—the structure must be valid. In this case, it is. The structure is known as modus ponens: If P, then Q, P, therefore Q.
Secondly, the argument must be sound: all of the premises must be true. This creates the tension—not everyone agrees with Premise 1. I will say more about the other side’s counter-arguments later. The point here is how important it is for us to be able to formalize the arguments leading to conclusions, in order to identify why we do or do not support the conclusion and offer reasons why the conclusion is incorrect.
Perhaps even more important is understanding informal logic—the logical fallacies we all tend to fall into when trying to reason well about an issue. When either side of this (or any) discussion make an “informal” mistake in reasoning, the conversation is sidetracked and the search for truth ends.
I have written much more on each of these fallacies generally in earlier posts. So I’ll just touch on them here and illustrate how we often see them arise in the LGBTQ+ conversation. I’ll also link to the earlier posts if you wish to read more.
At the outset I want to say I believe that most (on both sides of this discussion) who are guilty of these fallacies do so unintentionally. Following my own third ground rule, I believe most in this conversation desire to find truth and therefore, work hard to not intentionally employ informal fallacies to make their points.
Unfortunately, there are a minority—on either side—who stoop to employing these informal fallacies intentionally in order to “win points” in the debate. This reflects poorly on them and does a great disservice to the rest of us by distracting us from the real issues we must discuss in order to find common ground.
The Red Herring fallacy is sidetracking the conversation away from the point under discussion to a different issue, and then announcing this proves the initial conclusion that was being discussed.
For instance, those not in favor of promoting the LGBTQ+ lifestyle are guilty of this when arguing so much has already been done to accommodate those in the LGBTQ+ community, we don’t need to continue granting more and more “rights.” But a core argument of the LGBTQ+ movement is that there must be full rights for all, in order to have equality. Thus, the “enough already” argument is a red herring.
In a similar way, those who promote the LGBTQ+ lifestyle are guilty of the red herring fallacy when naming those who disagree with their position “homophobic.” This sidetracks the conversation to one about oppression due to fear. But fear is not why (at least most) challenge the LGBTQ+ lifestyle (no more than those who do not believe two plus one equals four are motivated by a fear of four (“quadraphobia”). “Homophobic” language is a red herring.
Even if all who question the LGBTQ+ lifestyle do so out of fear, the conclusion may still be true. One can hold true conclusions for wrong reasons. Not understanding this leads to the Genetic fallacy—confusing the origin of a belief with whether or not the view is true. Someone may believe 2+2=4 because he read it on a bathroom wall. This is obviously the wrong reason to believe something, but the belief still turns out to be true. The one using “homophobic” language in the conversation is also falling into this logical fallacy.
Those on the other side of the conversation are guilty of this fallacy when arguing the LGBTQ+ community is promoting its view due to a deep-seated need for attention, validation, and affirmation as persons (perhaps due to childhood trauma, neglect or worse). Even if this were the motivation, it would not invalidate the argument being advanced in favor of the LGBTQ+ lifestyle, for their view could still be true even if held as a result of these reasons and motivations.
There are five more informal fallacies that can get in the way of us having healthy conversations concerning LGBTQ+ issues. I’ll discuss these next week.
Until then, grace and peace.