How can a young person learn to discern lies and bogus arguments in the vast information about religion out there?
Someone once said something like this "Even if someone tells me the truth, I
will above it hold God’s truth". I can go online and search for the ark of
the covenant, or Noah’s ark, and I can find all sorts of lies. I can go
online or to libraries and find books talking about how the Amorites or
Hitites never existed, but should I believe them? Why should I believe your
evidence? Or any for that matter? I’ve found errors in C-14 dating methods
chemically, so should I believe certain peoples claims and not others?
I guess my over all question is how do you as a human being who is still
young in this life explore the vastness of information without being misled
by so many theories and facts? What are your methods to finding the
information you present here?
This is a good question with no easy answer. I think what you need is discernment–also known as wisdom. Such discernment, which might be called intellectual wisdom, is not gained easily or in a short time. I am afraid there is no simple formula which produces the ability to smell a bad argument right away. Let me give you a few suggestions.
1. The Bible suggests that wisdom comes to those who ask for it. James 1:5-6 gives the helpful advice that if we seek wisdom, we should pray for it. You "should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to" you. The acquisition of spiritual wisdom is part of the solution to the problem you raise. One more comment from James. He suggests a strong connection between wisdom and humility (James 3:13). People who are proud of their own position and beliefs are very prone to making the kind of intellectual mistakes you find so frustrating.
2. Learn to spot logical fallacies. Bad arguments generally involve the use of illogical arguments. Such logical fallacies include mistaking correlation for cause and effect, attacking the person rather than the view held by the person (ad hominem), arguing against an extreme and exaggerated version of your opponents idea (straw man argument), pretending that there are only two choices, when there are in fact many (false dilemna), appeal to emotion, and many more. I teach scientific skepticism in my Intro to Scientific Thought class. Such logical fallacies are the stock and trade for pseudoscientists, but also for many who make religious arguments. I tell my students that we need to train ourselves to detect such bogus arguments. With practice, you will be able to detect a straw man argument by its "smell." My suggestion is to spend some time studying kinds of logical fallacies and then teaching yourself to detect such things. This takes time and effort, but it will be well worth it. (an aside: at my web site you will find a review of the book Pagan Christainity as well as a review of the book The God Delusion. In both cases, I point out logical fallacies. This might be a helpful example)
3. Learn to ask questions. Do not be afraid to question things which you feel rather strongly about. Learn to criticize your own thoughts and ideas. Do NOT become someone who loves to criticize and cut down the thoughts and arguments of others around you. This leads to pride. It is better to study your own ideas and those of authors you do not necessarily know personally so that you do not become the local critic. No one likes a critic. Try to spin an argument in the opposite direction of the opinion you tend to believ.
4. Learn to ask yourself about the source of an idea. Degrees are far from the end-all of such things, but ask yourself if the person speaking is a believable source. The possession of a relevant degree is something to consider. Does he or she show extremem bias? Is he or she trained in the area? Does the person entertain alternative arguments even as they espress their own? It is very important to pay attention to the quality of the source. This is made all the more key in the age of the internet.
To be honest, youth is the enemy of such wisdom. The enthusiasms of youth tend to ignore reason logic and experience. That is the bad news. The good news is that the best time to begin to think rationally and carefully is while you are young. I applaud your interest in seeking to discern truth, not just to justify your already-held belief.
John Oakes, PhD