Friday, December 30, 2011

Appeal to Consequence

From time to time I examine a particular informal fallacy to see when it is fallacious and when it is not. Today, we will look at appeal to consequence. What is appeal to consequence? Briefly, it is an argument that takes the form “If X, then Y. Y is not desirable. Therefore, not X.” One may note, quite correctly, that this is really just modus tollens, a completely valid and acceptable logical form of inference. What makes it fallacious is often there is no reason to believe the major premise. This is also closely related to the slippery slope fallacy.

Here’s an example: “If you vote to re-elect the President, then this country will cease to exist within the next four years. You do not want this country to cease to exist. Therefore, you should not vote to re-elect the President.” Now, as it may turn out, the major premise may be entirely correct. However, the thrust or force of the argument depends upon a powerful connection to or dislike of the consequence. This typically clouds the issue for the hearer of the argument and can influence them to accept something more readily than they should.

Here’s a recent example from the theological world, paraphrased: “If interpretation and inerrancy are not identical, then simply because the Mormons have a faulty interpretation of the Bible they could not be accused of denying inerrancy! They should be accused of denying inerrancy. Therefore, interpretation and inerrancy are identical.” The problems are multiple here. First, with respect to the major premise, it just doesn’t follow that because the Mormons have a faulty interpretation they are still not denying inerrancy. For what is necessary and sufficient for a belief in inerrancy is: Any agent X believes in inerrancy in general just in the case X believes for any P that the Bible affirms, P is true and not false, and Any X believes in inerrancy specifically just in the case he believes in inerrancy in general and X believes the Bible has affirmed P, and X believes P is true and not false. Mormons tend to believe in places the Bible contradicts other Mormon doctrine, the Bible is in error. Further, inerrancy isn’t the primary concern with Mormonism. Their views of God, the Trinity, man, sin, salvation, Heaven, and Hell are. We don’t reject Mormons because of inerrancy; we reject them for bad theology.

Here’s a final example from the perspective of a skeptic: “If you teach children to have faith in God, then you are stunting their intellectual growth—a form of child abuse. This is bad; therefore, you should not teach your children to have faith in God.” Forms of this abound on the Internet, and are sometimes put forth by people such as Richard Dawkins. The key here is to challenge the idea that a robust intellectual life is incompatible with belief in God. All one has to do is name a few scholars. At this point, the skeptic will be placed in the bad position of either having to admit he was wrong, or simply claim that all of these scholars are really unintelligent.

The appeal to consequence doesn’t rely on much logically for the error, and even is a formally correct way of reasoning. In fact, the primary error here is one of emotions. One must be sure that he is evaluating carefully the premises of an argument, and not merely agreeing out of a psychological response or conditioning.
All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Pragmatism and Christian Doctrine

Pragmatism is a very easy philosophy to fall into. By pragmatism I mean, loosely, the idea that whatever works is correct. Too many people in Christianity have fallen into this. It especially occurs in the realm of biblical interpretation or preaching.

In one particular instance, someone read a passage of Scripture and concluded all sorts of truths were present. Truths such as serving others, praying, reading the Bible, and faith in God were all mentioned from various words within the text. The only problem is that the text did not indicate these things at all! Instead, they were things that “sounded good” and were even true (in other biblical texts), but they were not present in the immediate text. Why does this matter?

First, it matters because we must be faithful to the biblical text. If the Bible is God’s inspired Word, then why do we think we have the right to change the intent of the passage? We shouldn’t.

Next, it matters because if we do not arrive at the conclusion in a sound manner we risk being incorrect. While it is true that a poor method of reasoning does not ensure a false conclusion, it does make one more likely. Some of the more damaging teachings of the independent Baptist movement over the years have come from reading into the text things that “sounded good” but were not actually there.

Finally, it matters because pragmatism cannot itself be justified by pragmatic purposes. At least it is the case that it cannot be done in a non-circular fashion. If one says pragmatism is justified because it works, then one is simply assuming some form of pragmatism is true. If one seeks to justify it with logic and reason, then the reality is that logic and reason are superior to pragmatism. In either case, pragmatism takes a back seat to truth.

The only takeaway from this for most Christians will be to ensure truths that shape their lives are based on the Bible. They should not be based on what they feel to be true or what sounds good to them at the time. The development of foundational beliefs is especially important to this idea and will be explored at a later time. Until then, feel free to comment below!
All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

What is Essential Doctrine?

Are there essential and non-essential doctrines? If so, what are they? What impact should this or would this have upon my Christian life and beliefs? This article will attempt to answer these questions. First, we should distinguish between at least two aspects of what is considered to be essential doctrine. That is, we must ask ourselves the question, “essential to what?”
The first aspect is what I will call truth essentialism. This essentialism deals with truths that are necessary to be true in order for Christianity as a whole to be true. Truth essentialism includes: the existence of God, the Trinity, Jesus being the Son of God, Jesus’ resurrection, salvation, etc. Perhaps surprisingly, truth essentialism does not include things like the evolution/creation debate, old earth vs. young earth, biblical inerrancy, the inspiration of Scripture, Calvinism, speaking in tongues, trichotomy vs. dichotomy, and so on. This is because Christianity could still be true even if these particular teachings happened to be false.[1] Notice also truth essentialism is not concerned with telling us which doctrines are important or not; it is only concerned with describing what must necessarily be the case if Christianity is true.
The next aspect is what I will call practical essentialism. Practical essentialism includes all of truth essentialism as part of its set. However, it is concerned with what is necessary to be true in order for mainstream, orthodox, evangelical Christianity to be true. This surely covers more ground. It includes: the virgin birth, the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture, the institution of the local church, the second coming of Jesus Christ, etc. Practical essentialism still would not include things like Calvinism vs. Arminianism, speaking in tongues, a particular hermeneutics, pre-tribulational Rapture vs. post-tribulational Rapture vs. no Rapture, the doctrine of Hell, etc.
(EDIT: I have come to think the virgin birth belongs in truth essentialism, because if Jesus were not born into mankind, he would not truly be human; and were he not born of a virgin, he would not be sinless [he would eventually sin because of his proclivity for sin, which Jesus does not have])
When people say things like “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty,” they are more or less referring to practical essentialism. If you were in a country where Christianity was illegal and there was one underground church around the area, what would prevent you from joining them in fellowship? If they adhere to practical essentialism, nothing should. In fact, biblically, separation from other believers was only done in one of two contexts: false teachers of the Gospel (who are not believers anyway) and those who had been admonished by church discipline.
Again, it should be stated that all true doctrine is important, as God is truth (John 14:6). However, truth and practical essentialism are basic guides for discovering orthodox Christianity’s truth. Those who differ with us on teachings that do not fit into these categories should not be ostracized.

[1] For example, imagine that God never chose to inspire the Bible, but rather chose to work through it. Doubtless, we would have a much different Bible and world history, but it nonetheless could still be true that Christianity is correct.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Is Faith Blind?

Is faith just something we as Christians say whenever we are confronted with reason? Is it true that faith is belief in something unreasonably? I don’t see why it should be. In fact, no major Christian apologist, pastor, or theologian of whom I am aware has taught this. However, it’s peddled around the popular-level discussions of skeptics as though it were fact. In this way, they may dismiss any Christian claims without even examining them (after all, who wants to believe in something without any evidence?).

What is faith then? Hebrews 11:1 says “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is a trust in God precisely because of the evidence. “But wait,” counters the atheist or skeptic. “Perhaps it is true that some Christians use reason to then believe in Christianity. But most other Christians do not.”

This is only somewhat true, and not in the way skeptics think. For most people, the evidence of God’s working in their daily lives provides good reason to think he exists. The evidence of their changed life helps them to know God exists. The fact is that once they were bound for an eternity without Christ and now all they want to do is to know and serve Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible. These people, though lacking in formal argumentation, may nonetheless be rationally justified in knowing the claims of Christianity to be true as part of their daily experience.

One may protest that this will not convince others. But that is not what is at stake here. What is at stake is whether or not people believe independently of or contrary to evidence. On this account, even believers who don’t know the cosmological argument from a ham sandwich may nonetheless not be engaging in “blind” faith. Rather, their faith in God is grounded in experience, and it is an active trust in God to continue to do what he has said he will do.
All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.