Arlie J. Hoover
BIBLICAL RESEARCH PRESS
774 East North 15th Street
Copyright (c) Biblical Research Press, 1975
Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 75-36313
A Recent Picture of Dr. Hoover
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
1. Why Argue? (The Fallacy of Fideism)
2. "Blessed are the Informed Leapers!"
(The Fallacy of Rationalism)
3. The Reductive Fallacy (1)
4. The Reductive Fallacy (2)
5. The Genetic Fallacy
6. Special Pleading
7. Misuse of Analogy
8. Faulty Dilemma
9. Chronological Snobbery
11. So What? (2)
12. The Grab Bag (Miscellaneous Fallacies)
13. The Ultimate Fallacy
Voltaire, perhaps the most articulate opponent Christianity ever had, remarked that he would never debate a Christian because "you can't reason with a prophet."
Today the notion is still widespread that religion is for the feeble-minded, that faith is irrational, that the sons of science must make their way alone without the aid of mythical deities. You needn't discuss anything with a religious person, they say, since he never uses logic anyway.
This short series of lessons is designed to lay that illusion to rest. I aim to show that unbelievers make logical errors as well as Christians and maybe make more of them. My purpose is to acquaint the reader with some of the more egregious fallacies committed by opponents of the faith through the centuries.
Of course, space prohibits me from giving a detailed explanation why certain types of reasoning are fallacies. If the reader wishes to pursue some of these matters in greater detail, he may consult my book, Dear Agnos: A Defense of Christianity (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 1976). I have used material from this work in the first four chapters of the present volume.
I hope these lessons will stimulate the reader's interest in the study of Christian apologetics and in the study of logic which is an indispensable part of apologetics. We all should labor to give a more intelligent defense of the hope we have in Jesus Christ (I Peter 3:15).
Arlie J. Hoover
Pepperdine University, Malibu
(The Fallacy of Fideism)
"Come, let us reason together," said God through his prophet, Isaiah (Isa. 1:18).
"The unexamined life is not worth living," said Plato through his mouthpiece, Socrates.
Both statements quoted here are true and they prove one thing: life and faith both require good thinking! The unexamined life isn't worth living and the unexamined faith is not worth believing.
This entire series of lessons is about thinking. More specifically, it is about wrong ways of thinking, about fallacies committed by unbelievers when they attack religion in general or the Christian faith in particular.
When we criticize wrong ways of thinking we imply the value of right thinking. Before our study can begin, therefore, we should all have an adequate trust in correct thinking, logic, debate, and argumentation. If you'll pardon the pun, your mind matters!
Let's use the word "argue" in the good sense of "discuss, dispute, debate, or dialogue," not in the bad sense of "wrangle, bicker, or fuss."
After all is said on the matter, it's true that one can't "argue a man into belief," but that doesn't mean that argumentation, in the best sense of the word, isn't a vital part of the Christian witness- it is. A study like this is a necessary corrective for a wave of uncritical emotionalism and anti- intellectualism such as the church occasionally experiences.
The Fallacy of Fideism.
The first fallacy we discuss, therefore, is one often committed by Christians, called the "Fallacy of Fideism" (pronounced fee'-day-ism). Some prefer the terms pietism or mysticism. Fideism translates into English roughly as "faithism" or "beliefism." You commit this fallacy when you say that the mind doesn't matter, that thinking isn't important, that one must "just accept it by faith." Some anti-intellectuals think that Jesus Christ taught a leap of blind faith, a narrow religion of authority that denounced "human wisdom" as evil and misleading. Listening to some people rail against the dangers of "too much education," you'd think that the first and greatest commandment was, "Thou shalt not think!"
This is simply not true. Look at some of the Biblical passages about thinking:
(1). Peter commanded Christians to "be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you" (I Peter 3:15). The Greek word for "defense" here is apologia, from which we derive words like apologize, apology, apologetics. In New Testament times an apologia meant a formal courtroom defense of your position or your conduct (see e.g. Acts 22:1; 25:16; Phil. 1:17; II Tim. 4:16).
(2). Jude wrote his small epistle to urge Christians to "contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." He explained that such a defense was necessary because certain false teachers had slipped into the church, "ungodly persons who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ" (Jude 3, 4).
(3). John warned Christians not to believe every message but to "test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world" (I Jn. 4:1). John emphasized in both his gospel and in his epistles that Christ, the heart of the faith, was a genuine historical figure whom many had seen, heard, and touched (I Jn. 1:1; Jn. 20:27). He ended his gospel on an apologetic note, referring to the many unrecorded miracles of Christ (Jn. 20:30).
(4). Paul complimented correct thinking on several occasions. He warned the Thessalonians to "test everything; hold fast what is good" (I Thess. 5:21). He praised the Corinthians by saying, "I speak as to sensible men; judge for yourselves what I say" (I Cor. 10:15). He prayed that the love of the Philippians might "abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment" (Phil. 1:9). He prayed that the Ephesians might acquire a "spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God" and that God might enlighten the eyes of their hearts so that they might know the Christian hope (Eph. 1:17, 18). He explained to the Colossians that their new nature in Christ was "being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator" (Col. 3:10). Finally, Paul told the Roman Christians that a man who was ignorant of God was "without excuse," because the evidence was plain to them (Rom. 1:19, 20).
(5). Jesus Christ himself, the heart of our faith, taught that the mind is a crucial part of the total religious life. He told the Samaritan woman that men must worship God "in truth," that is, with the intelligence (Jn. 4:24). In the Parable of the Sower he claimed that a man must understand the Gospel before he can really accept it (Matt. 13:19). He commanded us not only to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, but also with the mind (Lk. 10:27).
You could never say that Jesus avoided argument. He engaged in skilled disputation with his opponents, confuting them on such matters as paying tribute to Caesar (Mt. 22:21), the authority of John the Baptist (Mt. 21:24), the resurrection and the afterlife (Mk. 12: l8-27), and the relation between David and the Messiah (Lk. 20:41-44). Even though Jesus often accused his opponents of intellectual dishonesty (Jn. 9:41), he seldom shunned a discussion with a serious and honest opponent. On one occasion, when he found such an opponent, he said, "You are not far from the kingdom of God" (Mk. 12:34).
(6). Even in the Old Testament, God showed the same respect for man's intellectual integrity. (Note: Respecting man's intellectual integrity isn't the same as flattering his intellectual vanity). God required that Moses and Aaron give Pharaoh a miracle to prove themselves and their mission (Ex. 7:9). He commanded the Israelites to disregard a prophet whose predictions didn't come to pass (Deut. 18:22). He challenged the idols to do something to prove they were divine. "Set forth your case, says the Lord; bring your proofs .... Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; do good, or do harm, that we may be dismayed and terrified." Because the idols do nothing to prove themselves, God rightly concludes: "Behold, you are nothing, and your work is naught; an abomination is he who chooses you" (Isa. 41:21-24).
Look at all these verses! Give a defense of your hope; contend for the faith; test the spirits; prove all things; love God with your mind; prove yourself by working a miracle; set forth your case; bring your proofs- can you honestly read these statements and still say that the Bible is anti-intellectual or that God is against reason or that Biblical faith is mere gullibility?
"But," someone retorts, "didn't Christ recommend a child-like faith?" No, he didn't! What Christ actually said was, "Whoever humbles himself like this little child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:4). Humility isn't the same as credulity or naivete. Paul clearly commanded the Corinthians not to be like children in their thinking:
"Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; be babes in evil, but in thinking be mature" (I Cor. 14:20).
The danger in praising child-like faith is that children are easily led astray. Their critical faculties aren't developed enough to evaluate dictators, charlatans, cultists, and religious pretenders. If the simple attitude of faith is all that matters and the content or object of faith is unimportant, then there is nothing to keep a deeply religious man from worshipping whatever object he sincerely chooses: Moloch, Zeus, Satan, Hitler, Communism, or just money. If the object is important, then you have brought reason back into the picture again, because reason is the only thing God gave us to evaluate objects of faith. What you believe is important!
Therefore, the Christian will always need right thinking because only with logic and reason can he examine and evaluate the claims of other religions and other claimants to divine revelation. We've had many individuals in history to claim revelation from God: Zoroaster, Moses, Christ, Mohammed, Joseph Smith, Father Divine. Not all of them can be right because they make contradictory claims.
How do we decide which one has the correct claim? By fighting? No, for that would only prove who is the strongest. By voting? No, for that would prove only what the majority opinion was. How then? By exposition, analysis, presentation and refutation of evidence, by reasoning, dialogue, discussion, and debate ... in short, by good thinking, right reason.
Is there really any other way?
1. Discuss the distinction between "respecting man's intellectual integrity" and "flattering man's intellectual vanity." Can you mention cases from the Bible when God respected man's intellectual integrity?
2. Why did Luke commend the Jews in Beroea (Acts 17:11)?
3. Examine the contexts of I Pet. 3:15, 1 Jn. 4:1, and Jude 3, 4. What dangers did the writers mention when they commanded us to defend, test, and contend?
4. Go through a Bible concordance and lookup several polemical terms such as think, argue, dispute, discuss, contend, evaluate, etc. and note their use.
5. Does Col. 2:8 forbid the Christian to study philosophy? If not, then what does Paul mean?
"BLESSED ARE THE
(The Fallacy of Rationalism)
The Fallacy of Fideism, the subject of our last chapter, is usually committed by religious people who think they are doing God a great service by opposing the use of the mind he gave them.
Fallacy of Rationalism, the other
extreme, is usually committed by anti-religious people who feel
that all forms of "faith" are irrational. They feel
that faith itself is a blind, unjustified leap into the dark,
into a region where man knows nothing for sure.
One of the first things a Christian apologist
must do, therefore, is to rehabilitate the word
"faith." The word has gotten into a lot of trouble
lately, as words often do. Faith is not a stained-glass word,
reserved only for religious use. True, the word is essential to
religion, but only because it is first essential to life.
Faith is not blind!
No Informed Christian would ever use the term "blind faith," because he knows that faith is a reasonable trust, a sensible confidence in things like God, Christ, or the Bible. This trust is bases on adequate evidence, though it may not be perfect or demonstrative evidence.
An anonymous English schoolboy once defined faith as the "power of believing what you know ain't so." H. L. Mencken defined it as "an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable." Ambrose Bierce said it was "belief without evidence, in what is told by one who speaks without authority of things without parallel." One anonymous writer called faith "the boast of a man who is too lazy to investigate." Listening to all these cute definitions you'd think that no sensible man would ever believe in anything.
But, as is often the case, these unbelievers "protest too much." Their definition of faith is wrong and prejudicial. Yet some Christians, sadly enough, fall into the same error of defining faith as if it were mere credulity. When you say, "I just accept it by faith," you contribute to this "bad press" that faith has acquired in the modem mind. You can justify any system of thought in history- Communism, Fascism, Satanism- by saying, "I just accept it by faith."
Correct Definition of Faith.
Faith is trust, but informed trust, reasonable trust, trust based on good and adequate evidence. Words like faith and knowledge are always hard to define because their relation to each other is sliding and flexible. The definition may vary slightly from one individual to the next.
When we say a person "knows" something, we mean (loosely) that he holds to a proposition he could prove in some direct way. When you claim "knowledge" of something, we usually find that your grounds for that knowledge are immediate sensations, direct experiences, or something like that.
But when we say a person "believes" something, we mean (loosely) that he holds to a proposition he couldn't prove directly, but one that has sufficient evidence of an indirect kind to justify the belief. In matters of faith, we usually say: "I believe it and can show good evidence for my belief." Strong words like "prove" and "demonstrate" we usually reserve for matters of knowledge.
So, faith and reason aren't rival, but complementary, ways of knowing reality. They differ in their method of operation, but both have the same goal: truth, or the knowledge of truth. Reason uses a more direct approach, seeking truth by direct perception, induction, necessary inference, controlled experimentation, and the like.
Faith breaks into the region of the less certain, and trusts indirect means of investigation to get at the truth, such as accepting the research and investigation of other people. Legitimate faith is always based on some evidence, though the evidence is never "perfect" (I really wonder if any mortal knows what perfect evidence would be!). Reasonable trust doesn't require perfect evidence, else every law court and every newspaper in the world would have to stop operating. But, then, faith must have some adequate evidence for it or it ceases to be reasonable and degenerates into mere credulity or superstition. Faith must remain rooted to factual reality or the human imagination could run wild creating new things to believe.
You could say that faith stands midway between
knowledge and opinion. If you view the problem from the
standpoint of psychological certitude, you could say that faith
stands midway between certainty and credulity.
Faith a Leap?
Many people like to refer to the "leap of faith," but we ask: is this phrase appropriate? The question boils down to a choice of metaphors, and metaphors are largely a matter of taste. Metaphors don't prove a case; they only illustrate what you've proved by other means. Calling faith a leap doesn't make it irrational, if our definition so far is correct.
Those who call faith a leap are trying to symbolize one genuine aspect of belief: the idea of momentous decision. It's true that faith is never forced by the evidence, as it would be in the case of knowledge. Since faith operates in a region where the evidence is indirect, the factor of choice is engaged; the will becomes a participant in the drama. In matters of faith, you decide to trust a certain person or proposition because the evidence is adequate. And since religious faith involves such crucial consequences (eternal life) we seem all the more justified in calling religious faith a leap.
But careful! Momentous decision is only one aspect of faith, even of religious faith. Another, equally vital aspect is adequacy of the evidence. Even when you're leaping it's good to "look before you leap." Perhaps a better metaphor would be to say that faith is a venture, a venture based on evidence, evidence adequate enough to justify the decision to venture. You might say that the job of the Christian apologist is to encourage responsible ventures, or carefully critical, informed leaping.
Christians insist that faith is a perfectly respectable operation of the human intellect. You use it every day and probably don't even notice it. The human mind has an instinctive element of trust in it. If you did only what could be proved perfectly you'd probably never get out of bed in the morning. It's not stupid to trust, nor is it stupid to demand reasons why we should trust.
If we observe children and pre-civilized men we'll see that the natural attitude of the human mind is, "I'm ready to believe almost anything, since life is so full of interesting possibilities." Of course, as you grow older and more educated you'll say, "I must gradually discard certain beliefs because they fail to harmonize with my experience as a whole." But we never reach the point where we can say, "I never accept anything on faith."
Faith is Used in Science.
Look at the way faith is used in science. Scientists suspect the existence of many things long before they actually see them directly.
(1). Atoms, for instance, were thought about long before scientists could examine them directly. They believed in atoms, not because they could see these basic units at the microscopic level, but because the hypothesis that "matter is atomic" explained a great deal of facts which they observed upon the macroscopic level.
(2). Genes were inferred the same way. Long before the development of the electron microscope, biologists had believed in the existence of these carriers of heritable material, in order to explain what happened in reproduction. But not until this powerful new eye was developed were they able to actually see the genes strung out along the length of the chromosomes.
(3). Germs had a similar history. Louis Pasteur believed in bacteria long before he proved they existed. He believed in them because of their explanatory power; they explained what he saw in diseases. Two centuries before Pasteur an Italian physician, Fracostoro, had hypothesized that plagues were caused by unseen "seeds of contagion."
(4). Radium was an object of belief long before Pierre and Marie Curie finally extracted it from pitchblende. They believed in it because something in pitchblende gave off stronger radiation readings than the two known radioactive elements in pitchblende: uranium and thorium. In a sense, they could "see" radium indirectly, which is what we mean by faith. When something exists it gives off readings of some kind; it impinges on consciousness in some way.
(5). We find the most striking example of faith, or proof by indirection, in the discovery of the planet Neptune. After the English astronomer Sir William Herschel discovered Uranus in 1781, astronomers noted that it didn't follow the orbit mapped out for it. Uranus traveled faster and farther between 1800 and 1810 than between 1830 and 1840. Astronomers reasoned that this oddity could only be explained by the pull of a then unknown planet, which, by Newtonian mechanics, accelerated the motion of Uranus in 1800-1810 and retarded it in 1830-40.
The position of this hypothetical planet was predicted independently by two astronomers, Frenchman Urbain J. J. Leverrier and Englishman John Couch Adams. A German, Johann Galle, made the final discovery in the Berlin Observatory, September 23, 1846. He aimed his telescope where he believed Neptune would be... and it was there!
One can see from these examples that science really couldn't exist without faith, properly defined.
The Fallacy of Rationalism errs because it trys to see all knowledge as homogeneous, as self-evident, as perfectly proved. For the rationalist the great "sin against the Holy Ghost" is faith, the tendency to accept things with less than demonstrative evidence, the proclivity to talk about probability and reasonable doubt. If the rationalist really had his way he would destroy religion, true; but he would also destroy history, science, newspapers, and law courts. Rationalism would reduce reality to a dreary, peep-hole, specious present.
Jesus said you could move a mountain with faith the size of a mustard seed (Mt. 17:20). The rationalist inverts the metaphor and insists that you need faith as big as a mountain to move a mustard seed!
True faith., Biblical faith, stands between the two extremes of Fideism and Rationalism. The rationalist has such an imposssible standard of proof that he believes in almost nothing. The fideist has such a permissive standard of proof that he (logically) could believe in anything. In the middle stand those who have a reasonable standard of proof and believe in something- that is, they believe in something believable!
The rationalist says, "Cursed are the leapers!" The fideist says, "Blessed are the leapers!" True faith says, "Blessed are the informed leapers!"
1. Can you mention cases from your own experience where someone has defined the word faith in a prejudicial way?
2. Discuss Hebrews 11:1 as a definition of faith. Assuming that faith is "trust based on adequate evidence," what kind of evidence did the heroes of Hebrews 11 have?
3. In addition to those mentioned in this lesson, can you think of some other cases where faith, properly defined, is used in science?
4. Discuss Paul's statement in II Tim. 1:12, "I know whom I have believed." Compare several translations of it. Is it contradictory to say "I know" something you have "believed"?
5. Appoint someone in class to be "Devil's Advocate" and to argue the rationalist position. Can you catch him in inconsistencies, i.e. can you find him assuming things for his case which aren't "proved perfectly."
THE REDUCTIVE FALLACY (1)
Unbelievers of all kinds- atheists, naturalists, materialists- commit many fallacies when they attack religion, but perhaps the most basic and prevalent fallacy is the Reductive Fallacy. You commit this fallacy when you "reduce" a complex thing to merely one of its parts or aspects, when you say that something complicated is "merely" or "nothing but" this or that limited part of it.
Take, for example, a description of something as simple as an apple. Think of all the features of an ordinary apple and then check the following descriptive sentences:
1. An apple is a round object.
2. An apple is a round, slick object.
3. An apple is a round, slick, sweet object.
4. An apple is a round, slick, sweet, red object.
Now, statement No. 4 is obviously the most reliable description of the apple- yet it's also the most complex. Statement No. 1 is the simplest- yet the most inadequate! No. 1 neglects several things about the apple brought out in the other statements; it reduces the apple to only one of its many aspects.
You commit the Reductive Fallacy when you say that man is merely an animal, that mind is merely brain cells, that argument is merely rationalization, that art is merely color, that music is merely sound waves (a London wit once described a Beethoven string quartet as "nothing but horse hair scraping on cat's bowels").
Before we criticize this fallacy further, we should point out that it often occurs when one is reacting to the opposite fallacy of making your description too complex. The late medieval philosopher, William of Occam (1300-49), is supposed to have said, "Do not multiply entities without necessity," which, translated, means, "Don't make your explanatory postulate too complex." If your theory gets too complicated, "Occam's Razor" will cut it off. Surely we should follow this good rule- up to a point. We should never conjure up unnecessary things to explain a body of data when a simpler theory will integrate the data just as well.
But you can carry this "Principle of Parsimony" (keeping it simple) too far, because simplicity isn't the only criterion of a good hypothesis. Comprehensiveness is also important. If your theory is so simple that it leaves some data totally unexplained, then your razor has overreacted. You may become so scared of Occam's Razor that you fall into Procrustus' Bed!
So, a good theory in any field is one that (1) outruns Occam's Razor and yet (2) doesn't fall into reductionism. A good hypothesis is one that is neither too simple nor too complex. Now, when we come to the battle between Christian theism and naturalism, it's obvious that naturalism is a simpler hypothesis because it affirms only matter or nature and stops there. The theist affirms both nature and God. If naturalism commits a fallacy it will be the Reductive Fallacy and if theism has a problem, it will be with Occam 's Razor. The Christian apologist must show that theism won't suffer from Occam's Razor but that naturalism commits the Reductive Fallacy.
The Reductionism of Naturalism.
Christians believe in a two-story universe, the universe of nature plus God, creation plus Creator, nature plus supernature. Naturalism rips off the top story and affirms only the bottom. Look at the process of reductionism:
(1). Naturalism reduces the universe to mere matter or mere nature. But according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics mere nature can't explain itself. Nature is degenerating, losing or dissipating its energy, running down like a clock. This proves that the material universe couldn't be eternal because a clock that has been running forever would have run down by now.
If you don't believe in an eternal, immutable God then you must say that some part of nature is eternal, everlasting, self-sufficient, self-explanatory, self-generating. Where could you find such an entity? All reality known to the senses appears to be contingent, not eternal. Where is the self-explanatory part of nature which you must have to avoid believing in God? You can't produce it empirically; you must believe in it! Faith once again!
(2). Naturalism reduces man to a purely natural or physical phenomenon. It reduces mind to the physical brain, thought to mere cerebral processes, morality to mere subjective whim. It makes man either a mere biological animal (evolution), or a mere economic animal (Marxism), or a mere bundle of conditioned reflexes like Pavlov's dog (Behaviorism). [We'll say more on this in the next chapter.]
(3). Naturalism reduces Jesus Christ to a mere man, a simple moralist, a Hebrew prophet. It does this in stark contradiction to the audacious claims of Christ himself, who claimed to be the only way to God (Jn. 14:6), to have a unique relationship with God (Mt. 11:27), to speak words of eternal significance (Mk. 13:31), to be sinless (Jn. 8:29, 46), to forgive sins (Mk. 2:6, 7), to judge all men at the end of history (Jn. 5:27). If, after all these claims, Jesus was mere man, then he was either a lunatic or a liar, or both.
(4). Naturalism reduces the Bible to a mere religious book. It does this in stark contradiction to the Bible's own claims to be the very word of God himself. Instead of being a "God-breathed" product as Paul asserts (II Tim. 3:16), the Bible to naturalism is nothing but an anthology of Hebrew-Christian history, law, and poetry. The naturalist doesn't explain exactly how the Hebrews managed to produce such a remarkable string of prophets from Amos to John the Baptist or such an unparalleled body of prophetic literature.
(5). Naturalism reduces Christianity to just another world religion. It does this in stark contradiction to the church's own claim to be the New Israel, the unique community of individuals God has redeemed from their sins through the atoning sacrifice of his son, Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12; 17:30).
(6). Naturalism reduces all religious experience to mere
psychological phenomena. It denies God and
explains the indwelling Holy Spirit as a purely natural (if not
to say physical) event, explainable by the regular laws of human
psychology. Religious visions, ecstacies, love, joy, peace- all
these are lumped in with neuroses, psychoses, and mumps. Ever
since Sigmund Freud, naturalistic psychology has hinted, if not
outright affirmed, that all religion is merely neurotic
phenomena, that religious experience is only for the sick and the
1 . What is the Reductive Fallacy? Give some examples of it. Can you find some examples of it from the news media during the week?
2. What is meant by "Occam's Razor"? Why would the naturalist assert that Christianity runs afoul of Occam's Razor? What happens when you "overreact" to Occam's Razor?
3. To what does Naturalism reduce the following: the universe, man, Christ, the Bible, Christianity, and religious experience?
4. Can you mention some books that have appeared in the last few years implying that man is "nothing but" an animal?
THE REDUCTIVE FALLACY (2)
In the last chapter we surveyed the various ways that the world view of naturalism reduces the beliefs of theism. In this chapter we want to look in greater detail at how naturalism reduces man and his unique features.
To help understand this chapter, let's use as an analogy the difference between plane and solid geometry. Plane geometry considers only two dimensions in its figures- length and width. Solid geometry adds a third dimension- depth or height. In plane geometry a circle is flat, but in solid geometry it becomes a sphere. If you deny the validity of solid geometry, if you think that plane geometry is the only way to look at a circle, then your circles would always be flat. You couldn't appreciate the peculiar qualities of the sphere. It's true, you could look at all geometric figures from the vantage point of plane geometry alone, but you'd miss the third dimension.
Now, with man, you could consider him merely from the standpoint of matter alone, but you wouldn't fully understand him. You'd be mystified by some of the things he does. Metaphorically speaking, he'd be flat. As G. K. Chesterton quipped, "If man is not a divine being, then we can only say that one of the animals went off its head!"
The Problem of Reducing Human Thinking
Naturalism gets into serious trouble when it tries to reduce man's thinking to mere cerebration, to the chemical processes of a physical brain. When the naturalist tries to affirm his position he can't do it without self-contadiction. What would you think if a dog came up to you and said, "Dogs don't talk?" You'd know something was wrong: how could he speak the proposition if it were really true?
Well, the naturalist is in the same boat, because he starts out thinking and then utters a world view which makes all thinking suspect. His world view makes everything- including mind- only a physical, natural, material entity. Yet he must use this humble physical brain to affirm and prove his world view. But how could a physical-only brain prove the superiority of its thoughts over another physical brain? If the mind is totally material then it somehow "secretes" thought like the liver secretes bile or the heart pumps blood. But then how could you prove one material secretion superior to another in truth-content? Your mind secretes naturalism, mine secretes theism, but which is the "correct" secretion?
Normally you advance ideas and philosophies
because you believe they're true. But if all chemical reactions
are equally necessary, when a naturalist says, "Naturalism
is true," all this can mean is that certain motions take
place in his brain- he "thinks naturalism." This event
stands on the same footing as any other bodily event, like
digestion or breathing. But if thinking is only a bodily event,
like temperature, it's ludicrous to say, "My idea is
true." You could only say that your idea exists or occurs.
Strange, isn't it? When Naturalism reduces all thought to mere cerebration it loses any criterion by which to judge the truth of its own assertion. You can't have your mind and reduce it too. If the reduction to mere physical categories applies everywhere, it applies also to the mind or brain doing the reducing. That which reduces everything reduces itself also.
Charles Darwin, who contributed much to naturalism's diminutive view of mind, felt the force of this objection, especially as it touched on his theory of evolution. Naturalistic evolution teaches that man is merely an animal, that all his faculties, including reason, developed from animal antecedents. Now, if this is true, one could well ask: "If the mind, like all else in nature evolved, and is still evolving, how can we be sure that its present structure and operation guarantee any truth?"
For example, did the Law of Contradiction, which is very necessary for truth, evolve like the rest of the body? How can we be sure that there isn't some new mental law, now struggling to be born, a law which will enable us to get even closer to the truth about reality? Would this new law confirm or contradict evolution and naturalism? Darwin voiced his fears well:
With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the
convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower
animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust in the
convictions of a monkey's brain, if there are any convictions in such a
This puzzle clears up quickly if you simply assert the existence of another dimension where thinking- even thinking naturalism- is something that transcends mere neurology. If a dog must talk to affirm that "Dogs don't talk," it proves that dogs can talk after all.
The Problem of Reducing Free Will.
Naturalism has an unusual difficulty in reducing human freedom to a mere stimulus, as Behaviorism tries to do. Arthur Koestler has well dubbed this the Ratomorphic Fallacy, which is assuming that man is nothing more than a complicated rat in a maze box, responding passively to external stimuli like Pavlov's dog.
No truth seems to be more readily accepted by
the common sense of mankind than the freedom of the will. When
you deny it you render a huge section of experience utterly
meaningless. Look at the many ways freedom manifests itself:
(1). Man blames himself and feels guilty when
he does wrong because he believes he could have chosen the better
action over the worse. Shame, remorse, and guilt are impossible
to explain unless man is free.
(2). A court of law judges a man most severely
when it holds him to have freely committed the crime with which
he is charged. A large bloc of world jurisprudence is ludicrous
unless man is free and therefore responsible for his actions.
(3). Most world religious and moral codes have
a Law of Karma, a principle of retribution whereby it is
believed that "your sins find you out," or that
"you reap what you sow."
If you denied freedom you'd bring the business
of the world to a standstill. You'd have to reconstruct a large
part of human language. If man isn't free, I must confess I
simply can't understand human behavior. Why should you resent the
stab of the assassin more than the kick of the mule? Why resent
the assault of the mugger more than the snow falling on your
head? Why be grateful to someone for helping you? He couldn't
help it! Remember: it's the duty of a good world view to explain
what happens in our experience. Naturalism fails to adequately
explain human behavior.
It always strikes you as strange to hear a determinist argue for his determinism. If the theory is true, it means I'm fated to believe what I do regardless of arguments used on me. Perhaps the determinist would do better to shake me and see if the rearrangement of molecules in my brain would make me a determinist. But no, he argues with me! Why? A good question: why do we argue? Argument implies to me that the determinist assumes I'm free to evaluate his evidence and choose his position, if it's true. But his position denies this very right to choose. We're back to the dog talking again!
B. F. Skinner
The Ratomorphic Fallacy is committed currently by professor B. F. Skinner, the most famous American psychologist alive today. Skinner believes that if the world is to be saved from all its problems we must go "beyond freedom and dignity" to a utopia where proper conditioning will finally have worked all the evil out of us. Skinner asserts that the "hypothesis that man is not free is essential to the application of the scientific method to the study of human behavior." The reason is obvious: anything, like the will, which hops around and can't be pinned down like a butterfly, can't be studied by science.
Funny, but Skinner doesn't so much refute the existence of free will as he claims that whatever physical science can't study doesn't exist. "What my method finds intractable simply doesn't exist," he says!
Sir Arthur Eddington once used a famous analogy which applies to Skinner's approach. He told of a fisherman who concluded from his fishing experiences with a certain net that "no creature of the sea is less than two inches long." Some people demurred, arguing that, on the contrary, many sea creatures were under two inches and they just slipped through the holes in his net. But the fisherman was unmoved: "What my net can't catch ain't fish," he pontificated, and then he scornfully accused his detractors of having pre-scientific, medieval, or metaphysical prejudices.
Like most naturalists, Skinner is the fisherman with the special net. Since he, using only the empirical scientific method, can't "catch" or "grasp" such qualitative phenomena as mind, freedom, dignity, and morality he concludes they don't exist. But they just slipped through his net. They've been slipping through naturalist nets from Democritus' time all the way down to Skinner.
1. Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, I, p. 285.
1. Review the nature of the Reductive Fallacy. Would a person be guilty of it if he said, "All circles are flat," or "Spheres don't exist." Why?
2. Explain the self-contradiction the naturalist falls into when he tries to explain human thinking by purely physical categories.
3. What fear did Darwin express about the reductionism in his theory of evolution?
4. Appoint someone in the class to be Devil's Advocate and argue the determinist position that all events are fated to be what they are and no choice exists on man's part to change the pre-programmed course of the universe.
5. What is the Ratomorphic Fallacy?
6. What does B. F. Skinner say about man's nature?
7. Look up the word scientism and discuss its meaning. What famous analogy did Sir Arthur Eddington use to illustrate the Reductive Fallacy in scientism?
THE GENETIC FALLACY
There is a special form of the Reductive Fallacy that we call the Genetic Fallacy. You commit it when you claim that something is "merely" or "nothing more than" its origins, when you demean or belittle something just for its humble or inauspicious beginnings. This fallacy overlooks the patent fact of human experience that many great and wonderful things in life begin in very humble ways.
For example, a man starts out as a single fertilized ovum, but it would be ridiculous for you to walk up to a fifty-year old man and say, "You're nothing but a fertilized ovum walking around!" A man's origins, no matter how unspectacular, prove nothing about his present state. Something that can grow, change, and improve is obviously going to outrun its origins and any observations made of it must correspond to its present status, not its beginnings.
The Genetic Fallacy and the Moral Argument.
Unbelievers commit the Genetic Fallacy when they respond to the Moral Argument for God, a theistic proof apologists have used increasingly since the time of Kant. In a nutshell, this argument says that we must postulate God to adequately explain man's moral experience. Man feels a strong compulsion to do his duty, to engage in normative conduct. You can't explain this "moral pressure" in materialistic terms. You can only explain it by postulating a transcendent realm of morality governed by a moral intelligence, God.
Immediately the unbeliever jumps on this
argument from morality by reducing morality to its origins. His
reduction may take two forms:
(1). He may object that since we come to believe in our values by learning and conditioning, they must therefore be trivial, or relative, or insubstantial. But this is a non sequitur; it doesn't follow at all. The hidden assumption here is that anything true, absolute, or binding couldn't or needn't be taught since it would be innate, possessed by all minds a priori, before experience.
This simply isn't true! The fact that something
is taught or learned is hardly evidence against its objective
validity. For example, we don't come into this world knowing the
scientific method, but that doesn't make it false or invalid. If
you took this objection seriously you'd have to place the
new-born infant alongside the educated adult, take every thing
the adult had acquired by education and declare it worthless!
Unless man is taught, he doesn't pick up a lot of things we
consider valuable: art, music, culture, scientific method,
language, critical reasoning.
(2). The evolutionist has a similar objection. He tries to deflate the Moral Argument by saying that all morality is merely a gradual growth from a foundation of animal instincts. Men gradually develop moral codes by living together in communities.
Here is a classic example of the Genetic Fallacy. When the evolutionist affirms that morality is nothing more than a development from animal instincts he assumes he has destroyed its objective binding quality. But he has destroyed reason by the same argument. Evolutionists also contend that the human intellect developed from the physical brain of the primates, yet they all assume that the reason of man is trustworthy. If reason isn't trustworthy, what was it that just framed this objection to the Moral Argument? What was it that constructed the theory of evolution? If the mind is entitled to trust, though evolved from lower forms, why not also the moral nature?
Careful! We're not saying that evolution is true. We're saying that, granted for the moment it might be true, the evolutionary objection to the Moral Argument still commits the Genetic Fallacy. We're back to Darwin again, who worried about the convictions of a monkey's brain (see Chapter IV).
Furthermore, this objection overlooks the big difference between human morality and animal instincts, a distinction that naturalism can't explain. No evolutionist yet has ever given a satisfactory explanation of how a social instinct could develop into a social conscience. Ants have a social instinct; man has a social conscience. Animal instincts are biologically inherited patterns of behavior, carried without conscious purpose. Human morality is not instinctive, it is not passed on genetically. It is taught, that is, it is passed on in human institutions. If you separate a man from his social group he'll never develop a moral code. Naturalism can't explain why that many animals have social instincts but only man has a social conscience.
Sigmund Freud and the Genetic Fallacy.
We find another classic example of the Genetic Fallacy in Freud's attempt to explain belief in God as merely a psychological projection. Freud argued that God doesn't exist but that the belief in God is widespread in all human cultures because man "projects" his fears onto the universe as a whole.
As the child grows up, argued Freud, he learns to lean on his (real) earthly father for psychological support in the early, fragile years. When he matures he finds out that he must give up this paternal crutch and face the world alone. Such isolation is too much for most people; they create an imaginary cosmic father, God, and then proceed to fear him and propitiate him and trust him for life-long protection.1
This form of the Genetic Fallacy can also be called the "Psycho-Genetic Fallacy," which is assuming that just because you can account for someone's having a certain belief, his belief is less likely to be true. For example, some people are born suspicious of others, but, then, there is also good reason to be suspicious of some people. The psychological reason for a man being suspicious doesn't prove that there is no good evidence for suspicion. It proves only that a "suspicious nature" isn't enough by itself to be suspicious.
The same is true of Freud's theory of projection: the psychological reason why I believe in God in no way renders it less probable that God exists, nor, conversely, does it prove that God exists. It proves nothing either way. I could put the shoe on the other foot and argue that all naturalists believe in materialistic determinism because they are insecure and have failed to relate to people in their lives. Failing to relate to human beings, they turn to things, to atoms and molecules, whose behavior can be perfectly predicted.
I could argue this way, but it wouldn't prove at all that naturalism is false. You don't refute an idea by simply showing (even correctly) why some people have the idea.
Freud overlooked the fact that you can explain our "fatherly" concept of God with a religious hypothesis just as well. The Biblical Image of God theory would explain the same phenomenon coherently. If we are made in the Image of God, then man's desire to project something of his own nature in attempting to conceptualize God is perfectly understandable. Freud was just reading religion from the bottom side up, not from the top side down, as the Bible does. If God made us for himself, as Augustine observed, and if our hearts are restless until we find him, then this projection is very intelligible.
John Hick shrewdly
observes that the most interesting thing about Freud's theory is that he may
have unwittingly uncovered the very mechanism by which God creates in us the
correct idea of himself. If the relation of child to father is similar to the relation of God to
man, as the Jewish-Christian tradition teaches, then we shouldn't
be surprised if man "projects" ideas about God that he
gets from his earthly relationship. "It is not
surprising," concludes Hick, "that human beings should
think of God as their heavenly Father and should come to know him
through the infant's experience of utter dependence and the
growing child's experience of being loved, cared for, and
disciplined within a family."2
1. Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion (New York: Doubleday, 1957), pp. 3940.
2. John Hick, Philosophy of Religion
(Englewood Cliffs, N. J., Prentice-Hall, 1963), p. 36.
1. What is the Genetic Fallacy? Can you give
some illustrations of it other than those mentioned in the
2. What is the Moral Argument for God?
3. What arguments do unbelievers use to get around the Moral Argument for God?
4. Explain Freud's theory of projection. Why does it commit the Genetic Fallacy? What does Freud's theory imply about the man who believes in God, who has any religion?
5. Show how one could commit the Genetic Fallacy, or the Psycho-Genetic Fallacy, in explaining away the beliefs of naturalists.
6. Discuss Hick's observation about Freud's theory of projection.
The bad side of human nature always comes out in heated debate on crucial issues. We always give our own case the best possible statement, buttressed by the best possible evidence, but we construct our opponent's case like a weak and fragile vase, held together by the weakest possible cement. Then we sadistically smash his position and gleefully watch the pieces fall on the ground.
This common human failing is called the Fallacy of Special Pleading. You commit this fallacy when you dramatize the material that confirms your position and ignore or belittle the material that disproves your position. There was once a landlord who proved to the building inspector that he was providing enough heat for an apartment by hanging the thermometer on the radiator instead of the wall- that's Special Pleading!
The last two centuries of western history have produced an imposing phalanx of religious muckrakers- thinkers whose magnificent obsession is to expose the alleged evils, stupidities, and hypocrisies of Christianity and of all organized religion. Some of our finest minds are enrolled in the enterprise: Voltaire, H. G. Wells, H. L. Mencken, Robert Ingersoll, Robert Owen, Clarence Darrow, Paul Blanschard. Sooner or later, they all commit Special Pleading; they select carefully the worst aspects of the Christian faith to debunk or lampoon.
For almost any aspect of Christendom you might dislike, I can show you an opposite, balancing feature. Do you dislike the belligerence of the Jesuits? Then look at the pacifism of the Quakers. Are you repulsed by the doctrinaire legalism of some Calvinists? Look at the pietistic sects to see the opposite. Are you scandalized by aceticism, monks, and nuns? Look at the Lutherans for a more cheerful view.
My point here is not to emphasize the differences between Christian groups but rather to show that you can select almost any aspect of Christendom you don't like and find some group to illustrate it and then debunk it. But your selection is Special Pleading unless you show that the aspect you dramatize is a necessary aspect of all Christian groups.
One of history's greatest special pleaders was Francois Marie Arouet, known to history as Voltaire (1694-1778). His attack on the church, more accurately the Roman Catholic Church of eighteenth century France, has inspired many a muckraker down to the present day. He claimed that to argue Christian doctrines, Catholic or Protestant, was "like going the rounds of the insane asylums." Voltaire had a keen eye for anything bizarre in the Bible and for anything irrational in church history. But he had little sympathy or understanding for what was morally elevating in the Bible or in Christian ideals. From a psychological standpoint, he overlooked the deeply satisfying aspects of religious experience. From a historical standpoint, he painted a very unbalanced picture of how the church had contributed to the life of Europe. Any student of psychology or history will see that Voltaire did a "knife job" on both religion and church history.
We find another example of Special Pleading in Behaviorism, which is the application of materialism to psychology. B. F. Skinner, the current High Priest of Behaviorism, scorns the idea that any kind of "inner man" or soul or personality inhabits the body of man. Man is only a bundle of materially conditioned reflexes, like Pavlov's dog.
Skinner resembles the nineteenth century scientist who said he refused to believe in the soul because he couldn't find it in his test tube. This was a singularly foolish remark, because a test tube in the last place you'd be likely to find a soul if, by chance, it happened to exist. It's like complaining that you can't find fish in the desert or scorpions in the sea. You're looking in the wrong place with the wrong instrument.
We're back to the Ratomorphic Fallacy again. If you insist on studying only those "special" features of man that resemble the rat, then you'll doubtless conclude that man is "nothing but" a complex rat. But if you'll take your thermometer off the radiator and look at man's unique features- rational thought, morality, freedom- then you'll see a great gulf between man and rat. You can study the physical or mechanical aspects of man, because they are the easiest aspects to study, but this doesn't at all prove that man is merely a machine.
All the Behaviorist needs to do to stop committing Special Pleading is to admit that some aspects of man's behavior are mysterious, that is, they aren't amenable to study by the strict, empirical, scientific method.
Science and Miracles.
Some unbelievers commit Special Pleading when they oppose miracles in the name of science. They argue: "There's no way you can prove a miracle scientifically, because it violates a natural law and science can study only what is lawful and regular."
True, science studies the lawful and regular; it avoids the accidental, the uncontrollable, and the unpredicted. But this is no proof that such events are impossible. The proposition, "Science can't deal with a miracle," doesn't prove that "Miracles are impossible," unless you insert (and prove) the premise that, "What science can't deal with is impossible."
Historians of science point out that ever since the scientific method was developed in modern Europe, scientists have tended to study what was most easily studied by the method: the material and the regular. This implied, of course, that the spiritual and the unique couldn't be studied by the method. But many assumed, further, that the spiritual and the unique were therefore illusory, which was a giant non sequitur. Remember the fisherman in chapter four who said, "What my net can't catch ain't fish?"
We learned in the last chapter that Freud explained the prevalence of belief in God by his theory of projection. He reasoned that all men, after leaving the care of a real earthly father, feel so lonely and beset by life's problems that they create a heavenly father in their imagination, they "project" their wish for a perfect father on the whole universe. We noted that this theory committed the Genetic Fallacy.
Here we note, in addition, that Freud committed Special Pleading in his general attacks on religion. If the scientific method demands anything, it demands a fair view of all the available data, and Freud did not survey all the possible religious material when he attacked religion. As Elton Trueblood points out, Freud drew most of his illustrations from three types of religious experiences: (1) the pathological, (2) the primitive, and (3) the infantile.1
Freud dramatized sick, old, childish religion. What did he neglect? Obviously modern, healthy, adult religion! He only needed to look around him in the world of his own day to find some sterling examples of religious giants to study- Karl Barth, Albert Schweitzer, Martin Buber, William Temple, Reinhold Niebuhr. He could have gone to the past to analyze giants of yesteryears- Isaiah, Jesus, Augustine, St. Francis.
Why didn't Freud study any religious
experiences besides the sick, old, and childish? For the same
reason that the landlord wouldn't take his thermometer off the
radiator! Since Freud was determined to prove that religion was
only for the sick and the weak, he refused to examine people who
displayed strong, healthy religion.
1. Philosophy of Religion (New York: Harper and Row, 1957) p. 184.
1. What is the Fallacy of Special Pleading?
2. Discuss the question: why would a person who commits the Reductive Fallacy also have to commit Special Pleading?
3. How do Enlightened Muckrakers commit Special Pleading?
4. Why is it so easy to commit Special Pleading when you study the history of the church?
5. What is Behaviorism? How does it commit Special Pleading?
6. What kind of evidence did Freud neglect in his study of religion?
MISUSE OF ANALOGY
One of the most subtle fallacies in the book is Misuse of Analogy, which is trying to prove too much from a comparison of two things that are similar. Consider the following argument: "The brain is like a sponge. The brain absorbs knowledge; a sponge absorbs water. After a time a sponge becomes saturated and can hold no more water. Learning also stops after a time because the brain can absorb no more knowledge."
My apologies to the sleepy student who devised this argument, but, as a matter of fact, the brain does not acquire knowledge the way a sponge absorbs water and thus the argument won't prove that learning will stop. The analogy may be helpful in certain contexts, but in others it is positively mischievous. Misuse of Analogy occurs when you draw a false inference based on the comparison of things like brains and sponges. Remember: metaphors don't prove, they only illustrate what has already been proven by other means. A good rule for avoiding this fallacy is: "Don't make your analogy walk on its all fours."
The Attack on Miracles.
Some unbelievers commit Misuse of Analogy when they reject the miracles of the Bible. When you bring up the possibility of miracles, many unbelievers will respond like this: "Science isn't friendly to miracles. A universe in which miracles occurred would be completely capricious, whimsical, unpredictable. It would destroy science, which must have uniform laws."
Note carefully the analogy assumed by this argument: nature is like human society in that it is governed by laws. Laws are meant not to be broken. Therefore, a miracle is impossible, since it breaks one of nature's laws.
This argument against miracles falls to pieces when you analyze carefully the use of the concept "law" in the comparison. The argument blandly assumes that laws of nature are just like laws of human society. Perhaps no greater confusion in the history of human language has occurred than using the same word law to refer to both (1) the command of a sovereign authority, and (2) the generalization of a scientist. Look at some crucial differences between laws of nature and laws of society.
(1). Laws of nature are descriptions. Laws of society are prohibitions.
(2). Laws of nature apply to things incapable of volition. Laws of society govern things that have free will and are therefore responsible for their behavior.
(3). Laws of nature have no moral connotation. Laws of society have the implication of criminality for those who break them.
(4). Laws of nature aren't enforced in the same way as laws of society.
(5). Laws of nature are discovered. Laws of society are passed or decreed by man.
(6). Laws of nature are very often merely a choice among average readings, not something forced on the investigator. Laws of society are stated with greater precision so punishment for infraction can be just.
With all these differences, one can see that scientists are more like historians than legislators; they describe how nature acts; they can't prescribe how nature must act. This misleading analogy depicts science as a sort of Fuehrer of Determinism, an Emperor of Uniformity, who monitors the cosmos with a celestial machine gun. You get the impression that the universe has, like a perpetual virgin, taken a vow of chastity to the scientist. The cosmos promises never to "commit a miracle," because that would be- to push the analogy to its absurd conclusion- metaphysical rape or philosophical fornication! The god of scientism turns out to be a jealous lover, more jealous than Zeus!
Does the Christian Believe in Order?
But the naturalist will ask: "Are you not arguing for a complete lack of order in the universe?" No, assuredly not. We Christians also believe in a cosmos, not a chaos. Our purpose is not to destroy order and uniformity but to show that there are different kinds of order other than just the mechanically physical. Naturalists assume incorrectly that only a material universe could be consistent and predictable.
This whole debate on miracles brings before us three possible pictures of the universe, two extremes and a via media.
(1). First, the naturalist prefers a regular universe, one that is closed, predictable, totally determined, with no miracles, no disturbances of law.
(2). Second, the naturalist falsely accuses the Christian of positing an utterly whimsical, spontaneous universe where literally anything could happen, where all events would be unique.
These two pictures of the universe constitute a Faulty Dilemma (see chapter 8). There is a third possible position between these two "horns" that saves both science and miracles.
(3). The Christian theist proposes a universe that is usually orderly; not because it is dead, material, or mechanically determined, but because its Creator wants it regular most of the time (Gen. 8:22; Acts 14:17). Order that comes from a personal Creator would be a purposive or teleological order, not a mechanical regularity.
Christians view all events in nature and history as the behavior of Infinite Mind. There is therefore no good reason why we can't consider even regular, repeated events as "willed" by the Creator. This Mind imparts as much order and dependability to nature as any scientist could want, because purpose is just as much opposed to chance as is mechanism. When miracles happen, therefore, they are willed by the same Mind that wills the regular event. Miracles don't make a "break" in the nexus of universal cause and effect as naturalism claims.
Laws of nature, therefore, are just descriptions of God's customary ways; they record his everyday habits. But he isn't bound by them; he's free to suspend them and work an exception if there is a good reason. We Christians, then, can boast, in a sense, of a closed universe. God closes it! Whatever happens, law or miracle, is his will. Miracles can't break any genuine order if God wills everything.
But one may ask: must not miracles be exceptional to function as God uses them? Yes, miracles must be exceptional but only to us. This is merely because we can't see everything from the aspect of eternity, as God can. If we knew everything about the total system of nature, as God does, then a miracle wouldn't appear as an exception to us. Since we are finite, it is a unique event to us now, in the present world. That's precisely the reason for a miracle: to seize the attention of finite creatures, to make them say, "This is the finger of God" (Ex. 8:19), or "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God" (Jn. 3:2).
In sum, there could be no miracles for God because omniscience couldn't possibly be startled. For God, there is really no difference between nature and supernature because his intelligence is infinite. What is so arrogant, therefore, about the naturalist's objection to miracles is that puny, finite man thinks that he can close the universe and limit all possible events to physical, mechanical events.
1. What is Misuse of Analogy? Give
some examples of it. Take some of the parables of Jesus and show
what gross consequences would follow if you misused them.
2. How does the attack on miracles discussed in this lesson misuse an analogy?
3. How do laws of nature differ
from laws of human society? Can you think of some more ways in
which they differ?
4. Can you show some cases in the history of science where so-called laws of nature turned out to be defective?
5. Explain the three views of the universe brought out in this discussion of miracles. Explain the Christian view of cosmic order. How does it differ from the naturalist's view?
6. Compile a list of Biblical passages that pertain to the purpose of miracles (e.g. Ex. 7:9; Jn. 20:30; Heb. 2:4, etc.).
We've all heard of being "on the horns of a dilemma." A dilemma is where someone gives you just two choices in a situation, both of them usually bad. A Faulty Dilemma occurs when you suppose that there are only two choices, where, in fact, there may be three, or even more. Some logic texts call this the ''Black-or-White Fallacy."
Whatever name you use, you can protect yourself from this logical error by checking thoroughly to see if in fact there are not more than two alternatives in the matter. When you do find a third choice, we call that "Slipping between the horns."
Unbelievers construct many faulty dilemmas in their struggle against the Christian faith, but we shall consider only two big ones in this chapter.
The Problem of Absolute Truth.
Jesus said, "You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (Jn. 8:32). Modern man dislikes any world view that presupposes absolute truth; he seems overly depressed with the idea that he can never know anything for sure. Clarence Darrow changed the words of Jesus to read: "You shall search for the truth and the search will make you free, even if you never find it." This ideal of the "endless" quest for truth was brought out by the German thinker, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781), in a famous challenge to God. Lessing said, in effect, let God hold in his right hand all the truth that exists and in his left just the ever-active urge to find the truth, even if a condition were attached to the left hand that I should always make mistakes in trying to find the truth. If this were the choice, concluded Lessing, I would humbly fall on the left hand and ask for the urge to find truth rather than the truth, for, "Surely, pure truth is for thee alone."
Notice the false contrast posed here between
(1) pure truth, which is for God alone and (2) the ever-active
urge to find the truth. This is a Faulty Dilemma because no one
has just the mere urge to find truth, without any truth at all.
All of us are unique combinations of some urge and some truth. If
a man were really "all urge" and no truth he would be a
complete, genuine agnostic or skeptic. But such scepticism would
be a self-contradictory position because to affirm it you need to
assert at least one truth: "Nothing can be known." The
skeptic winds up saying that, "It is a fixed truth that
there are no fixed truths."
There is a middle ground between dogmatism and skepticism which we might call an "operating agnosticism" or, better, a "humble dogmatism." No one has the Absolute truth except God, but then on the other hand, no one is entirely bereft of truth. We should never claim, like the Roman Catholic Church, to be infallible, but then, again, we should never claim complete ignorance either. When Jesus said we could know truth and it would make us free, he obviously made it impossible to harmonize Christianity with skepticism, or with any "eternal quest" theory.
The Problem of Evil.
One of the oldest and most persistent attacks on belief in God involves a Faulty Dilemma. Those who attack theism because of the evil in the universe give us a choice of only two things, when a third is possible. The usual objection based on evil says that if you take three propositions..
1. God is all good,
2. God is all powerful, and
3. Evil exists in his creation,
... it is impossible for all three propositions
to be true at the same time. The three statements are
incompossible, i.e. "impossible together." Why? What is
the reasoning that proves this incompossibility?
It is argued that evil obviously exists in the
cosmos. Grant this, and you must therefore deny either God's
goodness or his power- you can't keep both at the same time. If
God were perfectly good and allowed evil in the creation then he
must be less than omnipotent. Conversely, if he were all powerful
and still allowed evil he must not be perfectly good. Since the
Christian affirms all three propositions he is considered to be
The Christian simply replies: all three assertions can indeed be true simultaneously. Nothing in the meaning of all three propositions makes them inconsistent. For several millennia we've had numerous possible "reconciliations" of divine goodness and evil, any one of which is logically possible, i.e. internally consistent. God may allow evil for a very good reason, a reason unknown to us. If we don't know his reason for evil this is very interesting philosophically and psychologically, but hardly a contradiction.
You would have to know everything to truly
assert that evil is a serious contradiction to Christian theism.
You'd need to know that all proposed harmonies are false. You'd
have to establish propositions like, "God would never allow
suffering," or "God would have created only blessed
men." Can any man really prove such propositions as these?
How? How would one know so much about what God could or would do?
We needn't have an intricate hypothesis about the origin of evil to believe that theism is a consistent world view. In mathematics, there are some good arguments for the idea that pi is a definite number, though we still don't know what it is, and may never know. Is it not possible in theology, therefore, that God is justified in allowing evil, though we don't know what his reason is? (I personally would be a bit surprised if theologians did know all about God's reasons for doing all that he does!).
The Mainstream Christian Solution.
All we've done so far is reduce evil from a contradiction or a serious problem to a mystery or a puzzle. A problem you solve and forget; a mystery you learn to live with. Most Christians adjust to the mystery by reflecting on the fact that God couldn't have created a universe containing free, moral creatures without allowing evil, because true freedom implies the right to choose evil as well as good. If you say that, "God should have created a universe with creatures who automatically choose the good all the time," then you wouldn't be talking about free creatures. You'd be talking about automata- robots, not men.
A moral universe demands a moral order that can be broken by free moral agents. When God made such a world, he therefore rendered evil possible. If you ask, "Why doesn't God intervene every time someone chooses to do evil and prevent injury to an innocent party?" I answer, intervention in this sense would be tantamount to destruction. What if a person willed to injure another person; if God stopped it every time, he would really destroy free will.
This drives our discussion to one final question: "Why didn't God make a world where men could exercise free will even when choosing evil, yet not hurt anyone else?" My answer? Again, such a world would be "incompossible." We might as well talk about the possibility of "square rounds." You couldn't choose evil if God always prevented injury. You're asking, "Why didn't God create a world of free men who aren't free?" How could God make a world of creatures social yet free, gregarious yet morally autonomous, and still avoid undeserved suffering?
This solution to evil, which I call the Instrumental Solution, says that evil is a necessary aspect, a needed defect, in an otherwise good universe. God allows evil, true, but it never gets out of control. In addition, he uses evil committed by others (and for which they are personally blameworthy) as an instrument for his various purposes (e.g. see Gen. 45:4-8). Since we can't always see his purpose for suffering, this solution presupposes a large measure of faith or trust in God. The book of Job, which is still in some ways the greatest thing ever written on the Problem of Evil, ends on this note of trusting confidence in God (Job. 42:1-6).
One thing is sure: the Bible affirms both the omnipotence and the goodness of God. One who accepts the authority of the Bible knows for sure, therefore, that evil has some legitimate purpose in God's creation. We know for certain that evil doesn't destroy either God's goodness or power, though it may destroy our dogmatism on the matter.
I. What is a Faulty Dilemma? What is the process called when you find a third alternative?
2. How should one protect himself from falling into a Faulty Dilemma?
3. How did Clarence Darrow change the statement of Christ in Jn. 8:32? Discuss his version of Christ's statement. Can you give any real meaning to the idea of the search making you free?
4. What is the Faulty Dilemma posed by the Problem of Evil? What three statements are considered incompossible? How would the Christian respond to this Faulty Dilemma?
5. Discuss the mainstream Christian view of the Problem of Evil. Why does this solution require a lot of trust in God? Do some research in the Bible and find some passages that teach the Instrumental Solution of evil.
One of the easiest fallacies for modem man to commit is "Chronological Snobbery," a term coined by the late C. S. Lewis. You commit this fallacy when you refute something merely by dating it, usually by dating it very old. We might coin a term ourselves and call it Argumentum ab Annis, "argument because of age."
A young student committed this fallacy when she complained to her teacher after viewing a ten-year old movie, "How can you expect me to learn anything from a woman whose skirt is so long?" Her question implied that someone whose clothes were so out of style couldn't possibly teach the "modem generation" very much. People who commit Chronological Snobbery usually employ some temporal adjective to put down an idea, such as "Victorian," "medieval," "primitive," "pre-scientific," or "ante-diluvian." They are quick to say that something is "out of date."
The assumption is that something is false just because it's old or true just because it's new. This isn't true. Age isn't a criterion of truth- either way, young or old. Some very old ideas are still true and some very modem ideas are false, and vice versa. A classical example of this fallacy is the recent slogan of some American college youth, "Never trust anyone over thirty!"
When man makes a great advance in scientific knowledge it usually gives him a superiority complex in respect to past cultures. His new knowledge seems to cast previous civilizations in the shade. He says condescendingly: "Why, they didn't even know that the earth goes around the sun! Why should we bother about them any more? What can we learn from them?"
This hubris (insolent arrogance) has especially afflicted modern western man. Copernicus displayed the geocentric theory of the universe; Newton discovered the law of gravity; Harvey discovered the circulation of the blood; Dalton restored the theory of atomism; physicists split the atom. And so on and on. These great scientific advances have so altered our thinking about the eternal world that we're inclined to think (and are often told dogmatically) that the world was plunged in darkness before our "enlightenment" came.
We too easily forget that great civilizations, in many ways superior to our own, flourished before the breath-taking scientific advances of modern times. We have large areas of culture that aren't fundamentally affected by revolutions in our theories about the world of nature. Look at the philosophy and art of classical Greece, or of medieval Paris, or of Renaissance Florence- none of these has been diminished by the scientific revolutions of Copernicus, Newton, or Einstein. Men didn't have to know that the earth goes around the sun in order to create great cultures, as illustrated by Greek literature or Roman Law or Hebrew religion.
To cure this snobbery, one need only ponder the question: why is it that scientific books are usually out of date in a decade? Why do we still study pre-scientific thinkers who speculated on non-scientific topics and who lived centuries ago? Why do we still pore over the "classics" like Job, Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, Dante, and Shakespeare? Obviously these thinkers have something that all our modern science hasn't antiquated. A classic is never "out of date."
This point is especially true of the Bible. The writers of the Bible were more concerned with religious wisdom than with natural science. Wisdom is different from science, true, but just as real. In the Biblical view ultimate reality is moral, a moral God who can be known only by those trying to please him in ethical conduct. Chronological Snobbery, in the final analysis, implies that the great concerns of Biblical men are "less real" than modern scientific concerns.
Miracles in the Past
The idea that only the present has meaning is one of the most vulgar fallacies of our time. This modern idol called "relevance" has feet of clay; men can't live without history. The Christian has a special love of history because God sent his only son at a particular time in history and confirmed his ministry with signs and wonders (Heb. 2:4).
Many unbelievers complain that miracles happened so long ago that they couldn't possibly be valuable material for a contemporary world view. They usually add: "Besides, miracles always occur in times when people are ignorant and don't know the laws of science. Why don't we have any miracles today?"
You have a specially virulent case of Chronological Snobbery if you think that all ages before our own were so credulous that they believed in marvels happening every day. You can't call all previous eras "ignorant" just because they didn't have science as we now know it. We have no special monopoly of how nature works in everyday matters. Most of the Biblical miracles are exceptions to such well-known patterns of natural behavior that they would have been recognized as wonders in any part of the world at any time in history.
Take, for example, Joseph, the father of Jesus. He knew how babies got started in the womb. He therefore wanted to put Mary away when he found her pregnant during their betrothal. He thought she had committed fornication (Mt. 1:19). According to this objection, he should have instantly attributed her pregnancy to a visitation of the deity- so credulous were folks in those days! No, the Jews of first century Palestine weren't that ignorant; an angel had to explain to Joseph the special origin of the child in Mary's uterus (Mt. 1:20, 21).
The same goes for most Bible miracles. You don't need to be an MIT graduate to know that water doesn't usually turn into wine, that leprosy can't be cured by a mere word, that men don't usually rise from the dead, that spittle won't cure congenital blindness. If Christ had performed his miracles in the ninth or tenth century A.D. this objection might have more weight. But first century Palestine hardly qualifies as an "age of ignorance." We must remember that the first century was the Pax Romana, the "Roman Peace," and that Judaea was right in the heart of the eastern sector of the empire. It was a rather sophisticated, skeptical period in human history.
Further, we should recall that the Jewish people had a bad habit of defecting from Yahweh and worshipping strange gods. The Exile had taught them to be very careful with false prophets and miracle-workers. The humble fishermen of Christ's own company could hardly be termed "credulous. You don't catch fish believing in marvels all the time. Most men have a basic "will to order" about them; they know that nature is usually regular.
Never allow anyone to demean Christianity with Chronological snobbery. Challenge them to show why a belief is wrong, even though it may be old. Age is not a valid criterion for truth.
1. Define Chronological Snobbery. Why is it such an easy fallacy for modern man to commit?
2. What do we mean by "Scientific Hubris?" What did the word hubris mean to the ancient Greeks?
3. What is meant by "a classic?" Why do we still study them and teach them? Why are scientific writings from ancient times seldom studied like the classics?
4. How is Chronological Snobbery committed in regard to the question of miracles? Discuss the assertion that people before the modern era all believed in marvels happening most of the time.
5. It would appear that progress in science doesn't guarantee progress in wisdom. What would this imply about the nature of man? Discuss.
SO WHAT? ( 1)
Chronological Snobbery, just discussed, is one of many kindred fallacies we call "fallacies of irrelevance." You commit these logical mistakes when you make a point that really doesn't prove what you set out to prove. To this kind of fallacy we simply reply: "So what?" Or, to use the Latin phrase, non sequitur, "it does not follow." In the next two chapters we'll examine several examples of such fallacies as used by unbelievers.
Poisoning the Wells.
You poison the wells when you discredit a source of evidence in advance, just as water drawn from a poisoned well would be unfit to drink. If, for example, a friend tells you that you talk too much, you'll find it difficult to argue against that charge, since the more you talk the more you establish the truth of the charge. A defense attorney committed this fallacy when he told the jury: "Anyone who testifies against my client is a liar!"
David Hume committed this fallacy when he drew up a set of historical canons that de facto ruled out evidence for miracles occurring in history. In fine, Hume said, "Don't believe any account if the observer testified with passion and exaggeration, especially if the spirit of religion was mixed in with the testimony." The implication is that interest in the event or belief in religion "poisoned the well" and rendered such testimony worthless.
Richard Whatley, Archbishop of Dublin, did a fine job of exposing the arbitrary quality of Hume's canons in his famous brochure, Historic Doubts Relative to Napoleon Buonaparte (1819). Whatley showed that if you rigorously applied Hume's canons to Napoleon you'd have to conclude that the great emperor never lived at all, that his entire career was one big tissue of lies and illusions.
Argumentum ad Hominen
The Latin phrase means, "argument addressed to the man." This fallacy is similar to Poisoning the Wells, because the one committing it assumes that whatever discredits the man also discredits his evidence or his position. You commit this fallacy if you dramatize some personal shortcoming of your opponent just to avoid dealing directly with his position. If a man is arguing for new storm drains in a meeting of the city council, you shouldn't bring up his failings as a husband or a father.
I wouldn't be surprised if this fallacy headed the list of errors most often committed by unbelievers. It's a favorite retort of opponents of Christianity to point to some moral faults of Christians, or preachers, or elders, to refute the doctrines of our faith. It's a favorite device of anti-Christian historians to dramatize all the dark chapters of Christendom- the Dark Ages, the Inquisition, witch hunts, religious wars; anti-Semitism, priestcraft, superstition, intolerance, opposition to science- and then to declare the Christian faith irrational.
All the Christian can reply is, so what? You're not really attacking the Christian ideal but something irrelevant. Even God complained that his name was blasphemed among the Gentiles because of the Jews, his chosen people (Isa. 52:5; Rom. 2:24). Jesus knew that hypocrisy would hurt his cause; that's why he prayed that his disciples would be unified, so the world would see that God had sent him (Jn. 17:21).
Hypocrites don't prove a religion false, else all religions are thereby refuted, because they all have hypocrites. Moslems, Buddhists, Hindus- they all have adherents whose lives sometimes contradict their professions. If there's anything worse than a hypocrite, it's a hypocrite-hunter who has no convictions at all, yet always brags, "At least I'm not a hypocrite."
Misuse of Authority
In many fields of human investigation there exists a valid distinction between the expert and the layman. In any argument involving material from a speciality we are justified, therefore, in quoting an authority in the field. Misuse of Authority occurs when we make an illegitimate use of an authority. This fallacy may take two forms:
(1). You may cite an expert on an issue which is unrelated to his field of competence. No one can be an expert on everything. Some men are world authorities on a limited subject and faddists on other subjects. Some Nobel Prize winners prove to be poorly informed in fields outside the one where they won the prize.
(2). Even when you cite an expert on an issue of his expertise, you should never assume that he's infallible. He is still human, finite, subject to error. Many experts can amass a mountain of facts on a certain topic, but fail to relate the facts properly. Those who are good at collecting data aren't always good at sorting it. Sometimes a high school student can detect an error in inference made by an expert.
A subtle form of Misuse of Authority is the testimonial, used in all fields- religion, philosophy, politics. Americans are so sophisticated after three decades of TV commercials that they easily say, "So what?" when an athlete plugs a certain product on the tube. But they're not so sharp when a famous scientist denigrates something in the traditional faith.
A distinguished Nobel laureate may one day announce that he doesn't believe in God, that he stopped that nonsense at age twelve when a certain prayer went unanswered, that he's never since encountered any evidence for theism. This testimonial impresses many people. If God exists, they ask, how could so great a mind have missed him?
Careful! This man is clearly out of his field. Ask yourself: is God the kind of thing this authority would encounter in his field of competence? If not (and the answer is usually not), then he really knows no more about the existence of God than (say) the filling-station attendant down the street. A Nobel Prize is a wonderful thing to have, but it's no license to pontificate.
Misuse of Emotional Words.
Sometimes in the heat of argument we use words that tell more about our feelings than about our logic. If you scream that your opponent is arguing for "a foolish, childish piece of nonsensical rubbish," you haven't done much to refute his position, though some spectators may be impressed with your emotional language. We must always remember that adjectives aren't arguments and loaded terms aren't evidence. After they are used, just ask: "So what?"
A good way to answer this fallacy is to translate any emotional terms into neutral, non-emotional language. When you do this the words will lose all their "shock value" and cease to function as pseudo-evidence. In a debate with a theist, an articulate atheist referred to God as a "space monster who's going to barbecue us all over an eternal grill." Overlooking the questionable theology behind this metaphor, we could point out that all he was trying to say was that God was a large, powerful being who somehow occupied space and had a place of everlasting punishment planned for sinners which involved the use of heat. It kind of loses its punch when you translate it, doesn't it?
1. What are fallacies of irrelevance? What does one say in response to them?
2. What is Poisoning the Wells? How did David Hume commit this fallacy? How did Bishop Whatley expose him?
3. What is Argumentum ad Hominen? How do anti-Christians commit it? How do historians commit it? Why is this similar to Special Pleading?
4. What is Misuse of Authority? What two forms can it take? Can you find a specific example of form No. 2? How could unbelievers use the testimonial?
5. What is Misuse of Emotional Words? How do we avoid this fallacy?
SO WHAT? (2)
In this chapter we continue our analysis of several fallacies of irrelevance. A good rule of polemics is that all evidence used in an argument should bear upon the issue at hand. A ticket to the opera, for instance, wouldn't be honored for admission to a football game, not because it was worthless, but because it didn't pertain to the event for which it was printed. The same goes for an argument.
The Fallacy of Extension.
When your primary objective is to win an argument, you tend to interpret your opponent's position in the worst possible light. Extension is an easy method of discrediting your opponent's position. You "extend" his position when you exaggerate or caricature his idea into a form you can easily lampoon. Your extension is a distortion though it may retain the core of his original position.
Early Jewish opponents of the gospel extended the doctrine of justification by faith. When Paul taught that we are saved by faith in Christ and not by works of Law, the easiest thing for an opponent to say was, "Well, then, you don't believe in law at all, do you? You're a downright libertine!" Of course, Paul denied this (Rom. 6:1f). As history has shown, the Christian doctrine of justification by faith lies midway between Legalism (salvation by works) and Antinomianism (ethical anarchy). When you're attacking a moderate position, it's very easy to discredit it by confusing it with one of the extremes between which it stands.
In the first century the Romans who misunderstood the meaning of the Lord's Supper accused Christians of practicing cannibalism. They interpreted "eating the body of the Lord" literally and thus were able to caricature what Christians were really doing in the communion service.
Argument ad Ignorantium.
The Latin phrase here means, "argument addressed to ignorance." You commit this fallacy when you suppose that, given only two positions on an issue, one position wins by default when the other can't establish itself. For example, we might not be able to isolate the virus that causes cancer, but that doesn't prove that cancer isn't caused by a virus. We could only say that we don't know yet what causes cancer.
In the struggle between theism and naturalism, you commit this fallacy if you presume, as some naturalists do, that since theism can't be tested by the scientific method, naturalism wins by default. The assumption is that when you have only two world views and one fails to establish itself, you must accept the other.
But, as usual, we must say, "So what?" Allow for the moment that theism fails to establish itself- what does that prove? Nothing, absolutely nothing! To conclude that it does assumes you have already exhausted the evidence for theism, but you would have to be omniscient to do that. It seems, therefore, that only an omniscient being could really be a dogmatic atheist.
Argumentum ad Misericordiam.
An argument "addressed to misery" may be irrelevant if used in a discussion where the misery has no logical relation to the issue. A defense attorney committed this fallacy when he brought into the courtroom the defendant's bedraggled wife and children. The jury was impressed, but the family's condition had no bearing on the defendant's guilt.
This is probably the most basic fallacy that sinful man uses in relating to a righteous God. "Poor little man! Why does God pick on him so much? Why did God make us where we could sin? Why did he create us knowing we would sin?" Job reflected on the transient quality of man's life and then said to God, "Must you be so harsh with frail men, and demand an accounting from them? How can you demand purity in one born impure? (Job. 14:3,4).
Unbelievers play on our sympathies when they excuse their sins by blaming them on heredity, or parents, or society. When they do wrong they say, in essence, "I really couldn't help it." They fail to point the finger at the real culprit- the guilty ego, the Self that doesn't want to admit its egotism, its lack of love.
Argumentum ad Populum.
Similar to an irrelevant appeal to misery is an argument addressed "to the people." You commit this fallacy when you appeal to popular sentiments, when you tell your listeners what they want to hear rather than the unpleasant truth. We might also call this the "Misuse of Democracy." The majority thinks this is true, therefore it is true. The majority is doing this thing, therefore it should be done. The majority thinks this is valuable, therefore it is valuable.
It doesn't take long to see that the democratic method, though a wonderful method for governing a nation, isn't necessarily a criterion for truth or value. If you had taken a poll in Nazi Germany in (say) 1942 you might have gotten a majority to assent to the proposition that "the Jews should be eliminated," but that wouldn't have proved it true or valuable. Public opinion polls are valuable in assessing what the public thinks on a given issue at a given time, but they are irrelevant in determining what the public should think!
We have a fine example of Argumentum ad Populum in the Old Testament story of Jehoshaphat and Ahab (II Chron. 18). Before they jointly went to war against Ramoth-gilead, both kings inquired of the Lord whether the venture would succeed or not. Ahab had 400 hired prophets who all with one voice said, "Go up, for God will give it into the hand of the king." Jehoshaphat, however, wanted another viewpoint and he got it from a lone prophet, Micaiah, who predicted failure for the expedition. As it turned out, Micaiah was correct, and the 400 prophets of Ahab- the majority- were wrong.
We Christians should take encouragement from this story and never be depressed when we read of polls that show religion, or chastity, or God, or Christ slipping in the popular esteem. Just put down the poll and say what you're supposed to say with a fallacy of irrelevance- "So what?"
1. What is the Fallacy of Extension? How did the Jews commit it in respect to justification by faith? How did the Romans commit it in respect to the Lord's Supper?
2. What is Argumentum ad Ignorantium? How does the naturalist commit it?
3. What is Argumentum ad Misericordiam? Why is sinful man so tempted to commit this fallacy? Did Job commit it? Discuss Romans 1:18-32 in relation to this fallacy. Does Paul show any sympathy for sinners?
4. What is Argumentum ad Populum? Read and discuss the entire story recorded in II Chron. 18. Can you discover some episodes in the early chapters of Acts when the apostles of Christ might have fallen prey to this fallacy?
THE GRAB BAG
In this chapter we need to look at several miscellaneous fallacies that are difficult to classify in any other chapter.
Begging the Question (Circular Reasoning).
You "beg the question" when you assume the thing to be proved as proof of itself. This was the fallacy committed by the three morons, each of whom tied his horse to the other, thinking he had secured his own horse. All three horses ran away. Similarly in argumentation, a chain of reasoning doesn't prove itself. One of the links must be proved independently or none of the links is established.
Many unbelievers commit this fallacy when they try to define the "good" in human life. Lacking any belief in God or transcendent values, they must posit a purely earthly criterion for dutiful behavior. A student once asked B. F. Skinner what the greatest value was and he answered, "Survival." Then the student asked why he thought survival was so great and Skinner replied, "Well, if your society hasn't convinced you of its value, then so much the worse for your society." This is circular reasoning: "Survival is the highest value because if you don't believe in it you won't survive!"
Evolutionists in the last century got into the same circle when they talked about "the survival of the fittest." When someone posed the simple question, "Fittest for what?" the only possible answer seemed to be, "Fittest to survive." The statement reduced itself to read, "Those survive who survive," which shows that the speaker has a firm grasp of the obvious.
The Argument of the Beard.
This fallacy got its name from the question, "How many hairs make a beard?" We always have trouble defining something that changes slowly and by degrees. Any definition of a beard seems arbitrary, yet we surely feel we know when a man has one and when he is clean shaven. Thus, this fallacy is the opposite of the Faulty Dilemma. Instead of claiming that there is no middle ground, the Argument of the Beard raises doubt about the existence of any real differences on the spectrum.
One who commits this fallacy is "shade-blind." You shouldn't, for example, allow the fact that "all men sin" blind you to the fact that there is a real difference between Jack the Ripper and St. Francis. If not, then you could never assert any real difference between good and evil.
A man usually commits this fallacy when he wants to prove that "a little more" or "a little less" of something is permissible. The operator of an illegal gambling game may justify his conduct on the grounds that (1) his game, (2) bingo, and (3) playing the stock market all three have the element of risky use of money. Therefore, he concludes, one is not much worse than the other. Such reasoning would ultimately prove that "no form of gambling is wrong."
We can guard against this error by reminding ourselves that, though the difference may be small, it is still so real that an accumulation of small differences can span the gulf between great extremes.
This isn't so much a fallacy as a method of "psyching out" your opponent. If, instead of good sound evidence, one uses gestures, intonations, and language that strongly suggests he's right, he's using Confident Manner. As Charlie Brown complained to Lucy, "You just sound right!" One of Hitler's favorite rules for successful propaganda speaking was: never hesitate, never qualify what you believe. State everything with total assurance. Paint all contrasts in black and white.1
One way unbelievers use Confident Manner on believers is to introduce a statement with the preface, "Science has proved that ...". This supposedly withers all possible opposition. If you oppose the proposition after this introduction you're obviously an idiot. A careful examination of what "science has proved" often shows that either (1) science has proved no such thing, or (2) the thing proved is irrelevant to the issue. As we showed in earlier chapters, science, properly defined, can't dogmatize in the realm of metaphysics, where religious propositions are basically concerned.
Misuse of Humor
If you use humor as a diversion or as a substitute for evidence you commit this fallacy. Sometimes a totally irrelevant wisecrack can break up a good discussion. Irreligious muckrakers love to make fun of religion, or chastity, or the Bible, or whatever, but their humor is usually beside the point. The best defense against it is a restatement of the original issue combined with a timely reminder to the opponent that the humorous material is irrelevant.
Argumentum ad Baculum
This phrase means, "Argument by appeal to a club." You commit this fallacy when you use force or the threat of force instead of reason. As J. J. Rousseau used to say, "If you can't refute it, burn it!" If you can't answer it, prohibit it, place it on the Index.
This is the fallacy committed by all
anti-religious governments, Communist or otherwise, when they
completely proscribe the teaching of religion inside their
country. They say, "You can't teach that here," but
when you ask why, the reply is merely, "Because it's against
the law." It's a dangerous policy to tell people what they
can't study, because the vigorous intellects, like Alexander
Solzhenitsyn, will eventually study it anyway, and will later
come to despise the government that tried to brainwash them.
This is why the best society is an "open
society," where all viewpoints, religious or irreligious,
can have the freedom to present the evidence that supports their
1Mein Kampf, "War Propaganda," ch. 6 (New York: Reynal and Hitchcock, 1941).
1. What is Begging the Question? Suppose a man bought his wife a diamond and she asked him to prove it genuine. How would he beg the question in his proof? How do evolutionists commit this fallacy?
2. What is the Argument of the Beard? Why would a person seeking to justify some unethical conduct be likely to commit this fallacy? Discuss the question: is this fallacy committed by one who says, "Go to the church of your choice?"
3. What is Confident Manner? How could an unbeliever use it? Would a Biblical prophet commit this fallacy if he spoke with boldness in the name of Jehovah?
4. What is Misuse of Humor? How do you guard against it? Can you produce a case from your own experience where an unbeliever has used it?
5. What is Argumentum ad Baculum? Why is it committed by anti- religious governments? How could religious institutions commit the same fallacy?
THE ULTIMATE FALLACY
At the end of a book on unbelievers' fallacies, one could well pause and ask: "Why do people commit so many fallacies?"1 We shouldn't think that all unbelievers commit all of the logical errors studied in these lessons, though they often commit more than one. Freud, you recall, committed both Special Pleading and the Psycho-Genetic Fallacy.
The Power of Prejudice.
Unbelievers often commit fallacies because they have an unbeliever's ax to grind. They are prejudiced against God's truth. If God is true, then they are wrong, and no one really likes to be wrong. Much argumentation that goes on in this world is just a rationalization of prejudice. The Self often suppresses what it finds painful. As Nietzsche once quipped, "My memory says that I did it, my pride says that I could not have done it, and in the end, my memory yields."
Perhaps the most honest confession ever made on this matter of "hidden motives" for unbelief came from the pen of Aldous Huxley:
I had motives for not wanting the world to have meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able with out any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption... . For myself, as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom.2
St. Augustine also illustrates this point very well. He knew better than most that sin can foul up the operation of the analytical process. Augustine, who had a serious problem of self-control, was on the threshold of conversion when he cried out, "Give me chastity and continency, but do not give it yet."3 Even when we know the truth, we often put off obedience to it. "Nevertheless many even of the authorities believed in him," says John, "but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the praise of man more than the praise of God" (Jn. 12:42, 43).
The ultimate fallacy, therefore, is a moral fallacy- sloth, pigheadedness, pride.
Justification by Antifaith!
Freud said that theism was a widespread neurosis. Let's put the shoe on the other foot and argue that man disbelieves in God because he wants to find a secular alternative to guilt and sin. Let's assert that atheism is a widespread escape mechanism.
All people have guilt. Psychiatrists must labor daily to alleviate the sense of guilt. Everybody does something to get rid of it. Christians feel that Jesus Christ takes away both sin and guilt. But the unbeliever also has a Savior; he too holds to a doctrine of justification by faith, or better, by antifaith. He also has a world view that takes away sin and guilt. He throws himself on a secular, naturalistic philosophy and then he can exult with Paul (Rom. 8:1), "There is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in __________ ." Just fill the blank with your secular alternative to Christ!
It's simple to fill that blank. These are days when you have a veritable smorgasbord of irreligious philosophies to choose from. The sinner can easily select a theory that makes his sin a function of something outside of himself- parents, subconscious, or society. He mustn't choose Christian theism, oh no! for that would require belief in individual choice and personal responsibility. That would dramatize his sin, not remove it. He must choose a world view that will allow him to say, "I can't help it."
Christianity teaches that man's problems do not lie in his parents, his heredity, his subconscious, or his society. You can't pass the buck; the problem is in man himself, in the deepest, most essential part of his being, at the very core of personality- in the will. This will, as Luther argued against Erasmus, is in bondage prior to God's regeneration of it. It refuses to live according to the divinely ordained law of its being, the Law of Love. It refuses God and chooses itself, no matter how favorable the physical or social conditions may be. It rationalizes; it commits fallacies; it holds down the truth by wickedness (Rom. 1:18); it allows Satan to blind it to the gospel (II Cor. 4:4).
Good News! The Certainty of the Christian.
The Scriptures teach that man has a spiritual faculty that is deeper than his regular cognitive powers, a faculty that sin has distorted. God is hidden from most men (Isa. 45:15), but the pure in heart can see him (Mt. 5:8). If you don't see him, you may just have dull ears (Mt. 13:15), or darkened eyes (Rom. 11:10), or a darkened mind (Rom. 1:21), or a hard, impenitent heart (Rom. 2:5), or a veiled face (II Cor. 3:15). You may have suppressed the truth (Rom. 1:18). You may have had too much pleasure in unrighteousness (II Thess. 2:12).
On the other hand, the Scriptures also teach that when a man turns to God he receives an internal testimony (I Jn. 5:10), his eyes are enlightened (Eph. 1:18), his heart is opened (Acts 16:14), his veil is removed (II Cor. 3:15), he understands the Old Testament (Lk. 24:27), he discerns spiritual things (I Cor. 2:13), and he acquires the very mind of Christ (I Cor. 2:16).
Usually the New Testament attributes this divine inner certitude to the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit removes the veil so the Jew can see Christ in the Old Testament (II Cor. 3:14-17). He enables Christians to assert, "Jesus is Lord" (I Cor. 12:3). He helps us address God as "Abba, Father" (Gal. 4:6; Rom. 8:15). He functions as a seal or a guarantee of our final redemption (II Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13). When the Christian receives the Spirit he gets, along with the Word, an abiding teacher, not just a momentary flash of insight (I Jn. 2:27). Paul wrote the Colossians that Christians possess plerophoria, literally "full feeling," certainty, full assurance, complete conviction (Col. 2:2).
If one finds this hard to understand, it might help to know that Jesus' disciples also found it confusing at first. Jesus said to them: "He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him." But one puzzled apostle asked: "Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?" Jesus replied: "If a man loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him" (Jn. 14:21-23).
In another place Jesus said, "I'm not teaching you my own thoughts, but those of God who sent me. If any of you really determines to do God's will, then you will certainly know whether my teaching is from God or is merely my own" (Jn. 7:17). Love, obedience, determination- these are the ingredients Jesus emphasized to open the eyes of the unbeliever!
The unbeliever commits fallacies, therefore, because of the ultimate fallacy- sin, sloth, pride, lack of love. St. Augustine (as usual) said something very similar. Love, he said is the key to learning- anything. Without a sympathetic internal disposition to the material you're studying, you'll never learn anything about anything. No openness, no learning. That's why we teach courses in art and music appreciation. A man once went all the way through the Louvre in Paris and remarked sarcastically to the doorman at the end, "I didn't see a thing in there!" The doorman smiled and replied courteously, "Don't you wish you could have?"
When a man says he can't believe in God, I just reply: "I'm really very sorry. Don't you wish you could?"
1Part of this chapter appeared in Christianity Today, November 9, 1973 (XVIII:3).
2Ends and Means: An Inquiry into the Nature of Ideals and into the Methods Employed for Their Realization (New York: Harper, 1937), pp. 312, 316.
3Confessions, viii, 7.
1. What is the ultimate fallacy?
2. Discuss Huxley's confession. Do you think his motive is typical among today's unbelievers?
3. Have someone in class prepare a report on St. Augustine's odyssey that finally ended in conversion to Christ. (The person should read the Confessions).
4. What is meant by "justification by anitifaith?" Does B. F. Skinner have this in his system of Behaviorism?
5. Compare I Cor. 2:6-16 with II Cor. 3:12-4:6 on the work of the Spirit. Explain carefully the phrase "spiritually discerned" in the first passage.
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