Friday, April 23, 2010

My Favorite Forms of Argumentation

One of my favorite features in apologetics is where a view is demonstrated to be false by virtue of its own principles. This is sometimes called a self-stultifying or self-defeating position.

An example would be Bill Clinton’s notorious remark that belief in absolutes is wrong. For that statement to be true, it would have to be absolute. So, in order in order for it to be true it would have to be false!

Another example is the contention of many existentialists that nothing has meaning. I imagine that they assume that that statement is a meaningful statement about reality. But if that statement were true it would be false.

Yet another example is the central monistic assumption of pantheism. Pantheism believes that everything is God and God is everything. The sum total of all that exists is God. Now, if this were strictly true, a pantheist would affirm, “God exists and I don’t,” because “I,” like everything else in existence, am merely a mode of God’s existence. But to say that you don’t exist is self-stultifying. If you don’t exist, you can neither affirm nor deny anything.

Another feature of apologetics that has always impressed me is when it is show that one position is rejected based on supposed ramifications which are actually truer of the opposing view.

For example, people often accuse the Calvinist doctrine of Divine sovereignty of being fate. This is an old accusation. During the semi-Pelagian debates of the 5th Century, Faustus of Riez wrote, “In the name of grace Augustine preaches fatalism.” However, if one thinks this through carefully, the Arminian view is more fatalistic. If the Arminian view of Divine foreknowledge is true then God’s knowledge is not based upon His decree but rather upon the free-will of the creature. So when something bad happens to man, God can only say, “You poor thing. You must simply grin and bear the bad fortune that has come upon you. I could do nothing about it. I had to consent to these contingencies that come, whether I will them or not.” Is this not more fatalistic? In the words of Christopher Ness, “What else is this but to overthrow all those graces of Faith, Hope, etc., to cast off all vital godliness; and to pull the great Jehovah Himself out of His throne of glory, setting up Dame Fortune to be worshipped in His stead?”

Another example is the accusation that Open Theists make that “traditional Christianity” was corrupted by Greek philosophy. Yet the roots of the Open Theism’s ideas regarding God’s foreknowledge are easily traceable to Calcidius a 5th Century philosopher and interpreter of Plato.

For some reason, these kind of logical and internal inconsistencies simultaneously intrigue me and irritate me. There are many forms of argumentation in apologetics and polemics, but these are my favorites.

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