One of my biggest pet peeves is when I am talking about theology with someone and the discussion becomes stuck because the rules of logic are not being used to dispassionately decide the merits of each position. In that light, I thought I would again explore why certain responses do not advance a discussion
[Original post October 2009]
When discussing a topic and trying to come to a conclusion on the meaning of Scripture, there need to be certain implicit (maybe now explicit) understandings. One would be the place of Scripture as the basis of theological discussion. The other would be the rules of logic in making conclusions based on Scripture. It seems, however, that the rules of logic and knowledge of what constitutes a logical fallacy is not common knowledge anymore. Thus, Scripture is merely thrown back and forth without coming to any conclusion.
From my interaction in the blogosphere and in person, I have found these to be my top 10 pet peeves in theological discussion that need to be abandoned if real dialog is to follow:
1) "My position is Biblical."
This is both a "bare assertion fallacy" (saying it is true is assumed to make it true) and "begging the question." If we are two rational Christians, this is the question we are trying to answer, not merely a self evident assertion. If one is going to say something is “biblical” then one needs to go to the biblical text to argue something.
2) "I'm just not convinced"
This is fallacy is a combination of an "Argument from ignorance" and "Burden of proof." This assumes something is false because it has not been proven true. Actually, the person is unable or unwilling to fully consider that it might be true, then, it places assumption on falsehood without considering evidence.
There are agreed upon laws of logic and if one has committed a fallacy, then one should be called on it. But if the other person does not understand or like the implications of the argument, that is not a grounds for denying it.
3) "But that's the Old Testament"
This violates the terms of the agreement in the beginning of the discussion. If the Old Testament is not considered authoritative in an argument of itself, then discussion is impossible. If a principle as been abrogated by fulfillment, that is different. However, believing that earlier revelation can be nullified by later revelation is a tenant of Islam, not Christianity. If you wish to be Christian, this is not a proper argument. I've said more here.
4) "That's mean." or "you are mean" or "You Pharisee!" or "You Traditionalist!"
This is "Ad Hominem." or also called an argument "to the man." It could be true that the other person is not nice in their language. But feelings do not determine the validity of an argument, nor does it invalidate an argument.
5) Aren't both sides right?
This likely is a violation of the "law of non-contradiction." "A is B" and "A is not B" are mutually exclusive, meaning that both cannot be true statements. If A is B and A is not B, then it is in different ways, or at different times. They cannot both be right in the same way and time or the law of non-contradiction is violated.
6) "That's what Catholics/Nazis/Hitler believe"
This is all sorts of wrong. It is a "guilt by association." This is associating a an idea by a disapproved of person or group thinking that such an association makes the position wrong in itself. Catholics believe in the Trinity and the infallibility of Scripture, that does not make it wrong. Nazis believed in mathmatics, that does not make math evil.
It may also be a case of "proof by example." This tries to build a case based on anecdotes. Or a "package deal fallacy," believing that you must accept all of something because one accepts something the other person usually packages together.
7) "Oh yeah, well this verse says something different."
Again, we must abide by the "principle of contradiction." The Scriptures are either coherent and one and true, or they contradict and we should go do something more meaningful than talk theology. If one verse is used against another without answering what the first verse means, then no progress is made and we are undermining the authority of Scripture by misrepresenting it.
8) C.S. Lewis / C.H. Spurgeon / John Calvin / Peter Kreeft / G.K. Chesterton / L.S. Chafer says...
This fallacy is an "appeal to authority." A quote may help state something better than one can say it oneself, but these people are not authorities to be exegeted like Scripture. Now, experts in a field are different, especially if neither party discussing an issue knows that field. But pithy words from a smart guy are not argument stoppers.
9) "Augustine/Calvin/Thomas Aquinas/John Menno can't be right because he lived when people thought the earth was the center of the universe..."
This is called "Chronological Snobbery." It falsely states that since you are using an argument that was used in a time when another unrelated but clearly false thing was believed.
10) "If you believe my position, then (these good things) will happen..." or "If you believe your position (these bad things) will happen..."
This is an argument from consequences. It says that something is true because believing or doing it will lead to a desirable consequence, therefore it must be true. This is often used to justify pragmatic measures that cannot be proved otherwise. Or to say, because something would make me happier, it must be true.
A few others:
*) "That's not what it means to me"
Unless you are God, ultimate meaning is not determined by you. This is not an argument.
*) "It is obvious/clear that this is true."
Another "Bare assertion."
*) "I'm more ______(insert virtuous quality) than you... "
This is a personal form of "Appeal to authority." It is an appeal to superior virtue as a determining the validity of an argument. Declarations of virtue are not helpful to discussion.
*) "That's too dogmatic"
Christianity is coherent and thus dogmatic. To suggest Scripture yields dogmatic truth means saying Scripture is systematic, true and sure and this is not a bad thing.