The charge of question-begging comes up in relation to Christian arguments for God’s existence and the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Most of the time, this charge is unfounded. This post will attempt to explain what question-begging is in relation to arguments.
A typical example concerns the cosmological argument. The charge of question-begging arises when the objector states that the reason “whatever begins to exist had a cause” is asserted because one believes “God exists and is the first cause of the universe.” It is important to note this objection is not too common, but it exists nonetheless.
As it has been said, “arguments don’t beg the question; people do.” What makes an argument question-begging is if the only (or the major) reason for asserting a premise is that one believes the conclusion. When we apply that to the cosmological argument, it’s painfully apparent one may affirm the causal premise without believing there is a first cause.
Some people make the mistake of objecting further, “But if you believe the first and second premises, that means the conclusion is true. So you should not do that unless you already believe the conclusion is true!” First, this is only a complaint against a valid deductive argument. All deductive arguments contain the conclusion in the major premise; otherwise you could not obtain a conclusion in a valid manner! Second, the major and minor premises of a valid deductive argument entail the conclusion, so that if one rejects one or more of the premises he would otherwise accept simply because he does not already believe the conclusion--that would be question-begging against the argument. Next, the major reason one would accept the premises of the cosmological arguments are typically completely different than the conclusion!
Finally, it should be noted that question-begging works both ways. Just as one can beg the question in favor of an argument, so can one beg the question against an argument. If one’s only (or the major) reason for rejecting a premise (or withholding belief in a premise) is a desire to avoid the conclusion, then she is guilty of begging the question. Many times the charge of question-begging is accurate, but many times it is a failure to understand what constitutes begging the question!--------------------------------------------------
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