Sunday, August 26, 2012

About Writing About Text

A second, somewhat different, takeaway comes to me as a result of the months I spent reading and analysizing the Craig-Pigliucci debate. It has largely to do with analyzing text and writing.

First, the effort was probably 3 or more hours each weekend, from late May until now. That's a minimum of forty hours, maybe as much as eighty, all for what took about 90 minutes to occur in real life. So I assume that my first read-through of each debate segment took about the same duration that it took for the participant to deliver it. In a 20-12-8-5 debate format, which I assume this was, that's 45 minutes per participant.

After reading each segment completely, I returned and wrote comments on each paragraph, then made a third pass to address particular phrases or sentences of interest - plus looked up stuff on the inter tubes when it was necessary or interesting. As the debate proceeded, the participants attempted to rebut previous segments by the opponent, so I had to refer back frequently. Finally, I took my notes, drafted a blog post or several, and edited.

The editing part is where I struggled, because I lost sight of my stated mission, which was to understand how Dr. Craig wins debates. This requires less (but still some) focus on the truth, validity and soundness of the arguments, and (according to my stated mission) more focus on how Dr. Craig framed the debate, presented his arguments, attacked his opponent's arguments, and painted an overall picture that the audience could apprehend and ultimately accept or reject.

What I needed to do, from a writing standpoint, was to separate the concerns - debate effectiveness, argument truth, validity and soundness, other discourse techniques - into separate subsections in each post, so that their focus was unambiguous. I won't go back and correct that now, because I'm not delivering a thesis for work or school, it was purely for my own interest. It is, however, a lesson learned.

I achieved my goal - I now can discern how someone with poor and even vacuous arguments can make it sound like he's speaking indisputable facts. It looks like a handy skill for a purveyor of hogwash to have. Still, it's dishonest, and does the people of the world a huge disservice to perpetuate a world view like Dr. Craig's that includes imaginary entities and schemes that people are expected to revere and live by.

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