An argument isn't necessarily a heated exchange. It is less like what you might watch on reality TV and more like what you might witness at a high school (not presidential) debate. It is "a statement or a series of statements for or against something."1
In life it is important to have the ability to spot bad arguments. The skill will keep you from literally and figuratively buying garbage.
If I Only Had a Brain...
There are several common arguments that are bad and some that are not-so-common.2 Among the most common, as my title may suggest, is the Straw Man Fallacy.
The straw man fallacy is called as such because an actual, physical straw man is unmistakably easier to attack than an actual, physical man. You can position a straw man however you want and it is literally powerless. It is incapable of defending itself. A straw man argument then, is an argument that falsely represents the opposition in order to make the opposition easier to attack and defeat. It presents a cheap replica of its opposition that is incapable of defending itself. A straw man argument replaces its actual opposition with one that has no brain.
As a student of philosophy at a state university, I am privileged to engage with secular ideas. They are taught by teachers who mostly, if not entirely, lack religious biases which they feel compelled to protect. Currently, I am enrolled in a course entirely dedicated to Karl Marx. I've joked with my wife that less than 20 people in the midwest have read more about Karl Marx than I have this year.
Who was Karl Marx? For most Americans, Marx is imagined as a monster. He is the evil genius responsible for communism and propagating hatred for the United States and its economy of capitalism. At least, this is the impression we receive when we know little or nothing about his real ideas and arguments. What I've learned is that he was not evil incarnate; Karl Marx was not a cartoon villain bent on world-domination. He was much more complex and layered and sometimes downright indeterminate.
Yet, we fight with a manufactured monster who never existed in reality and exhibit braggadocio when we cut it down to size. Is it due to laziness? Is it due to fear?
Marx of a Believer
As Christians, we have the privilege of staring down any opposition without fear or hesitation because we possess the truth.3 We must be willing to engage with the real, not imagined, ideas of real men and women who disagree with us. We must be willing to face their arguments in full force, knowing that the word of God will always prevail.
Isn't this exactly what we want? Don't we know people who have rejected God by rejecting a straw man? They believe that God is a grandfather-in-the-sky whose greatest desire is our happiness. They believe God will accepts us no matter what we believe and do. Others have rejected God as a distant, cold, unfeeling spirit that set the world in motion then let it run its course. They think that if God is hands off, then they obviously don't need him.
Yet the God we know is love; he doesn't accept us in our sin because he knows sin destroys us. Instead, he loves us and comes to our rescue, even when it hurts. He didn't merely set the world in motion and sit on his throne in the sky. He became flesh and dwelt among us.4
Therefore, let us face the full force of our opposition. Dig in and discover the strength of our God as he puts it on display. There is no thought or criticism that will overwhelm him. Engage with the real ideas of men and women and show them that Jesus Christ is the Beginning and the End. Open the door that others may do the same and find the One True God who alone can fulfill us.