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Showing posts with label argumentation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label argumentation. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Arguing from Ignorance

After posting my podcast series "Why the Origin of Life Requires a Creator," I received a response from an atheist friend of mine who charged me with committing a logical fallacy. In the comments section he wrote, "It is all a logical fallacy called 'Appeal to Ignorance.' 'Not knowing' isn't evidence for, nor against, the existence of God."

For those who are not familiar with the discipline of logic, there are two types of fallacies one can commit when advancing an argument: one is a formal fallacy, which is when the conclusion one presents doesn't follow from the premises. In casual conversation this sometimes happens, but one is more apt to run into an informal fallacy. An informal fallacy is one where you present something as evidence that really isn't evidence for your conclusion at all.

The fallacy known as appeal to ignorance (formally argumentum ad ignorantiam) was first coined by philosopher John Locke in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding. The Lander University Philosophy Dept. web site gives us a good definition:
  1. Argumentum ad Ignorantiam: (appeal to ignorance) the fallacy that a proposition is true simply on the basis that it has not been proved false or that it is false simply because it has not been proved true. This error in reasoning is often expressed with influential rhetoric.

    The informal structure has two basic patterns:
    • Statement p is unproved.

      Not-p is true.
    • Statement not-p is unproved.

      p is true.
  2. If one argues that God or telepathy, ghosts, or UFO's do not exist because their existence has not been proven beyond a shadow of doubt, then this fallacy occurs.
  3. On the other hand, if one argues that God, telepathy, and so on do exist because their non-existence has not been proved, then one argues fallaciously as well.
Of course, anyone who has listened to the series would know that I don't claim that God exists because no one has proven otherwise. However, I've heard this charge before, that by claiming a creator I am somehow committing an appeal to ignorance. In my conversation, my friend said:
"If caveman are sitting around talking about what causes thunder, and one says it is the gods in the sky fighting, and the other says he doesn't know, does that prove it is the gods fighting (inference to the best conclusion)? We don't know anything about origin details just like the cavemen... running to belief in superstition doesn't equate to discovering truth.

"I agree we should always use 'inference to the best conclusion' but in these categories no one knows. So to claim this as evidence for god is the fallacy of 'appeal to ignorance.' It is a classic example of that basic fallacy."
Notice the equivocation in the example above. The "cavemen" not only know nothing about the origin of lightning, but they also know nothing of the nature or property of lightning. Understanding the nature of a thing can help us to identify or eliminate its origin. Knowing the nature of a thing is real information that must be considered when weighing the cause.

My friend Jim Wallace recently explained to me that a homicide detective, when confronted with a dead body, knows that there are only four explanations for a person's death. The person may have died of natural causes, he may have died from accident, he may have committed suicide, or he may have been a victim of homicide. If there are no witnesses and no recording of the events, the detective doesn't know which scenario is true. However, homicide requires there to be another person present, where the other three causes do not. If you can examine how the person died and show that this person could not have died without the actions of another, then you are reasonable in holding homicide as a viable option.

When arguing with my atheist friend, I used a similar analogy:
"If I were to say 'The origin of a bullet in a man's heart requires a shooter,' would that also be an appeal to ignorance? There's evidence and there is an inference to the best explanation of that evidence. That is not a logical fallacy, but an inductive argument."
You see, we know that bullets don't just grow inside of people. We also know that life requires certain initial conditions. We can understand what replication entails, how DNA to mRNA to amino acid strings to their folding a certain way in order to create required proteins necessary for life. We know about chirality in amino acids and sugars and the long odds of homochirality happening randomly. All of these points I brought up in my series, and they all argue that life simply could not have arisen through only natural processes.

It is easy to throw out the charge of fallacy, such as "you're appealing to ignorance!" but by misusing the term it simply becomes a dodge to avoid the evidence presented. Argumentum ad Ignoraniam takes a very specific form. Don't fall for the charge of committing a fallacy when the fallacy doesn't apply.

There are many of these informal fallacies, and the Internet is awash in lists of them. For those who wish to dig deeper into learning about logic and critical thinking, including identifying fallacies, I recommend The Thinking Toolbox and The Fallacy Detective, both by Nathaniel and Hans Bluedorn.

And in all of your reasoning, "Let's be careful out there."

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Retiring the Cliche "If You Can Talk Someone into Heaven, Then You Can Talk Them Out"

Yesterday, I read two different articles on the upswing of apologetics in Christian ministry. The fact that apologetics is getting any press at all is both exciting and telling as our culture continues its decline into a more secular worldview. What struck me, however, was that in both someone cautioned the use of apologetics in witnessing by quoting the old trope, "If you can talk someone into heaven, then you can talk them out of it." Like most clich├ęs, at first blush this sounds like a truism we need to take to heart, but I'd like to examine it further because I think there's something fundamentally wrong with the idea.

The basis of a belief

The command to evangelize in Matthew 28:19 is well known. The call to evangelism is essential for those within Christendom that define themselves as evangelicals. But what exactly does evangelism entail? Evangelism at its core is changing a belief. It requires an individual to move from a state of non-belief in Jesus as savior and Lord to a state of belief. That is no small thing, since embracing that belief affects one's understanding of things like the nature of God, the nature of man, the nature of sin, and the nature of one's own eternity.

Now, I know of no reasonable person, whether believer or non-believer, who does not have at least some sense of belief on each of those issues. Some feel that people have souls that will live on after their bodies die. Others hold that people are just a physical byproduct of evolutionary processes and once the machine stops, so will they. Some hold to a fuzzy concept of God while others dismiss the idea of God altogether. The point is that beliefs at their core are ideas that one takes to be true, and everyone holds certain ideas as true, whether or not they have good reason for so doing.

Evangelism works in the medium of ideas

So if the evangelist is engaging with a nonbeliever, he or she must take into account their current beliefs. Asking someone if they want to avoid an eternity in hell will not be very effective if that person believes he will cease to exist at death! The sensitive evangelist will look for ways to interact with the nonbeliever in order to remove wrong beliefs he may hold about the world. He or she should strive to show why the ideas the non-believer has about the world are faulty. This means the evangelist is in the idea business. As a building inspector uses his knowledge of weight loads, safety requirements, and material specifications to ensure a new structure is safe to occupy, the evangelist uses evidence, arguments, and reason to correct faulty beliefs. Even one's testimony of how coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus transformed our lives is a type of argument. The evangelist is using a known sample (his or her own life experience) to tell the non-believer that he too can have a similar experience.

All of this shows the problem with the "If you can talk someone into heaven, then you can talk them out of it" retort. Christianity isn't like selling a used car. The evangelist or apologist should be offering reasons that are not merely convincing, but true! Apologetics is not and should never be Christian hucksterism. It isn't some kind of verbal ju-jitsu. The apologist simply sets out to deal with the fuzzy and illegitimate ideas that non-believers have so they can properly receive the Gospel message. We don't offer arguments instead of reasons; we offer arguments based on reasons, hopefully good reasons. If the non-believer changes one or two of the beliefs that he holds, then that's progress.

The ideas that matter in evangelism are either true or they're not. The Christian that rejects apologetics because "if you can talk someone into heaven, then you can talk them out of it" is really rejecting the concept of objective truth. That person doesn't mark the difference between good reasons for believing something and bad reasons for so doing. But Christianity depends on truth being objective. Paul made this clear when he said that if the belief in the resurrection of Christ is only a belief, if it isn't rooted in an objective fact of history, then it's a worthless one, even if it helps us feel better now. Indeed "we are of all people most to be pitied."(1 Cor. 15:12-19).

Ideas matter. The truth matters. Tomorrow, I will talk about how one may go about trying to change a belief, but know this for now: talking about beliefs is how God intends for us to go out and make disciples.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Seeing Jesus as an Intellect

Who is Jesus? The question has been around as long as Jesus has! From the time that Jesus began ministering; people have been asking "Who is this man?" Jesus is portrayed many ways in the Bible. Some of His titles in the Bible include:
  • Savior
  • Messiah
  • The Lamb of God
  • The Light of the World
  • The Second Adam
  • The Son of God
  • The Word made flesh
  • Lord of Lords
  • King of kings
Of course, people continue to try and add dimensions to Jesus that they find relevant. Recent book titles that invoke Jesus include Jesus: CEO, Jesus is my Superhero, Jesus the Prophet of Allah, Jesus the Rebel, Jesus the Outlaw, and The Good Man Jesus & the Scoundrel Christ. These are simply examples of people trying to see Jesus as a reflection of their highest ideals; even the former head of the Soviet Union,Mikhail Gorbachev, called Jesus "the first socialist"![1] Obviously, people view Jesus through the lens of their assumptions and what they want Him to be.

Do Christians miss aspects of who Jesus is by our assumptions?

Even Christians who seek to properly understand Jesus can overlook aspects of who Jesus is because of their preconceptions. If I gave 100 people a blank sheet of paper and asked them to write their top ten attributes of Jesus, I would get many answers. I'm sure several would repeat some of the titles I've listed above. But I doubt that I would get one "Jesus is an intellectual" or Jesus is a master logician". The concept of Jesus as a logician is not any stranger than Jesus as a master carpenter, Jesus as teacher, Jesus as CEO, yet we never seem to equate Jesus with intelligence.

Why not?

Jesus relates to the Intellectual

Simply put, the modern church has not placed a sufficient value on intelligence as a necessary means for worshiping God. We tend to divorce concepts of faith and rational thought. Faith is seen as "spiritual" while knowledge is seen as "worldly." We believe Jesus was sinless and a champion of the downtrodden and we seek to do likewise. But Jesus also commanded us to love our God with all our minds (Luke 10:27) and He modeled this when He engaged with those who would question His actions.

USC professor of Philosophy Dallas Willard captures the idea of this concept well when he says:
"In our culture and among Christians as well, Jesus Christ is automatically disassociated from brilliance or intellectual capacity. Not one in a thousand will spontaneously think of him in conjunction with words such as "well-informed," "brilliant," or "smart."[2]
Dallas Willard goes on to write:
"Often, it seems to me, we see and hear his deeds and words, but we don't think of him as one who knew how to do what he did or who really had logical insight into the things he said. We don't automatically think of him as a very competent person. He multiplied the loaves and fishes and walked on water, for example--but, perhaps, he didn't know how to do it, he just used mindless incantations or prayers. Or he taught on how to be a really good person, but he did not have moral insight and understanding. He just mindlessly rattled off words that were piped in to him and through him. Really?"[3]
But can we seriously imagine that Jesus could be Lord if He were not smart? If He were divine, would He be dumb? Or uninformed?  Once you stop to think about it, how could Jesus be what Christians take Him to be in other respects and not be the best informed and most intelligent person of all: the smartest person who ever lived, bringing us the best information on the most important subjects.

In fact, John's gospel starts by identifying Jesus as the "Logos." Many Bibles translate that a "word" but the implication of Logos is not merely a word but an intelligent, rational thought. Logos is the root of our word logic and Jesus as the Logos is the embodiment of logic.  He used is throughout His ministry. His aim in utilizing logic was not to win battles, but to achieve understanding or insight in His audience, so He'd challenge the woman at the well or have the twelve disciples pick up twelve baskets of leftovers after He fed 5,000, trying to help them draw conclusions from His actions. (He even chided the disciples for not doing so.)

The church today needs to begin seeing this missing aspect of Jesus' nature. We complain and lament that our institutions of higher learning have kicked God out of the classroom, but has the church kicked the professor out of the pew? Do we never offer any kind of vigorous intellectual message so a PhD could look forward to church as a time of intellectual stimulation? Do we water down our messages so much that we never seek to stretch our congregations even just a bit, to make them a little bit smarter? Do we believe that Jesus was the smartest man who ever lived? And will we seek to love God with all of our minds as well as with our hearts, all our souls and all our strength?

For more on this topic, see: Jesus: The Smartest Man Who Ever Lived.


1. Haberman, Clive. "Israel Welcomes Gorbachev as a Hero". The New York Times. June 16, 1992. <> Accessed 7/22/2013.

2. Willard, Dallas. "Jesus the Logician". <> Accessed: 7/22/2013

3. Ibid.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

J.P. Moreland to Young Christians: "Don't let anybody bully you"

Dr. J.P. Moreland recently gave a talk on why he doubts the neo-Darwinian model of all life arising from purposeless natural processes. I highly recommend the video. At the end of the talk he offered these words of encouragement to young Christians who may not be steeped in apologetics arguments:
"Don't let anybody bully you. I meet Christians all the time who think all the smart people are on the other side. That's not true. And if you don't know how to defend your faith, that's OK; we've got people who do. And we're community; we don't all have to know how. Because we have different roles to play. But we have people in our community who are as smart as the people on the other side and we know what we're talking about. You don't need to let anybody bully you because what the Scriptures teach at the end of the day makes sense and they're reasonable and we have nothing to be ashamed of in believing in the Creator God that we believe in."
J.P. is right. We have very smart people with incredibly strong arguments who are able to show the Christian worldview is at least as reasonable as modern secular viewpoints, if not more so. I know that there is a vast amount of data one must sift through in order to truly understand the points in question, but all Christians should be aware that we do have the goods, and they can walk confidently knowing that Christianity is an intelligent faith.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Why Worldview is Important

Photo courtesy Franz Schuier
It seems that Hollywood has fallen back in love with the 3-D movie. A big draw in the 1950s, they faded to obscurity until after the start of the new millennium. Now, some of the biggest movie titles are filmed and marketed in 3-D, even though the cost to make and show such movies is significantly higher. The reason for the cost increase is because it takes special equipment to make a movie look like it's popping off the screen.

In order to achieve the 3-D effect, two images of each scene are superimposed on the screen, each shot with a slightly different perspective. The 3-D glasses have two different lenses with a filter tuned to each of the different images. That way, when you watch the movie with the glasses, they block one image from one eye and the other image from the other. Since you look at the real world with two eyes, each having a slightly different perspective on an object because they are spaced apart, your brain automatically tries to put the images back together and assumes that the difference it sees between the images is because of depth and you therefore see the images jump from the screen and feel like they're right in front of you.

I've personally never been a big fan of the format, and that's mainly because of the glasses you're required to wear in order to see the 3-D effect. The effect isn't perfect (it still feels forced in many places) and the glasses affect the hue and clarity of the picture. Wear the wrong kind of glasses and you get a distorted picture, one that's out of focus and off color.

Looking at the world through our own set of glasses

It's not only the imaginary world of movies where this kind of distortion can occur, though. Every person on the planet receives information about how the world works from innumerable sources. All of your experiences, interactions, movies, books music and more feed you with information on how the world works and how we should understand reality. As each of us receives this information, we process it and try to relate it to other experiences in order to make sense out of all that we've received. The sum total of how we suppose God, life, the world and all of reality work is known as our "worldview". These are our "glasses" so to speak; the ideas that shape our thinking about what is true and what isn't. Its how we anticipate what may happen or what should happen. It is, you might say, our biases about the world.1

It's important to note that everyone has a worldview. Everyone has some type of bias. There's just no way to live your life with any degree of sanity without being able to associate some cause (such as reaching towards a flame) with an effect (such as the pain from a burned hand). Even though people may have never heard the term "worldview", they still have beliefs on how the world works so they hold to some type of world view. The "glasses" of their worldview can be quite different from yours or mine and it colors the world quite differently for them. Different glasses affect their understanding and they will approach situations with a different attitude.

Understanding worldview is important in apologetics. If we are presenting ideas or arguments that are tuned to a different set of glasses, the person we are speaking to will only see a distortion, and one that is probably not pleasant to look at. So think about how you can adjust your discussion to take worldview into account. By so doing, your arguments will seem anything but two-dimensional.


1. Sire, James W. The Universe Next Door (Downers Grove, Ill: Intervarsity Press, 1999) 16-20

Monday, March 04, 2013

Arguing against Mixing Sexes in Locker Rooms

A couple of weeks ago, the Massachusetts Department of Education put in place new rules for all elementary and secondary public education institutions, instructing schools on how to comply with the state's gender identity law. (You can read the actual guidelines here.) As Joe Carter pointed out, the identifying factor in determining gender is left to the student him or herself. He then writes "Any teen boy can claim, with a wink to his peers and a straight face to his educators, that he has decided to identify as a female and will then have unlimited access to the girls' restroom and locker rooms." I posted the story on my Facebook page and got some immediate responses   The discussion I had with one person is below. Read on and I will make some comments at the end.

Lenny: I wouldn't subject my teenage daughter to be forced into the same locker room with a student showing male genitalia. Why should a hundred girls be made uncomfortable for the comfort of one confused boy?

RG: As opposed to forcing a transgendered person to be uncomfortable within a locker room where they don't belong? I think we all should teach our kids to understand and respect the human body as opposed to fear it or be made uncomfortable by it.

Lenny:  Why would a human being not belong in a locker room where he or she shares the exact same body parts as all the other occupants? it strikes me that this "discomfort" of which you speak has nothing at all to do with either biology or the actual fact that there are physical differences between males and females, and we should respect those differences enough to provide for proper privacy.

I note that you don't say that its the supposedly transgendered individual who needs to "understand and respect" his own body. No, all the OTHER kids in Massachusetts schools need to change. There is no way to justify such ignorance.

RG: So, first we have to ask ourselves 2 questions:

1. Do you believe there are a subset of the population that are transgendered? If not, then there is no need to discuss what Massachusetts has done here. However, since Mass understands the dynamics of an ever changing, growing and enlightened society, let's agree there are those kinds of people and move to question 2.

2. Do you think that someone should not be judged clearly on their anatomy? That they are not the sum of their parts? If you pardon the pun. And that is what Mass is trying to address and protect a class of citizens from laws that target them unfairly. That we as a society can look at someone and not say, you have a penis, you are a boy, end of story and rather look at the person who could not help how they are on the inside and force them to be a certain way because it makes the rest of us more comfortable. And yes, we should teach our children to be more understanding and respectful of people different than us and to not be ashamed of our bodies since it is about looking what is on the inside than the outside

Lenny:  No, we don't need to ask those questions first. The very first thing one should ask is "Why do we mandate restrooms and locker rooms to be separated by sex at all?" That's the central issue and that's the item that's being changed. Why don't we place large picture windows in locker rooms? Why should we have any kind of privacy by sex? Once you understand the reason for privacy at all, the rest of the argument can take on a clearer context.

RG: So forgetting all these scare tactics about regulation of such laws and getting to the heart of it, everyone should be allowed to enter areas (locker, bathroom, etc.) in accordance with their gender identity. Gender identity is evolving in such a way to not specifically be about anatomy. If you want to give me a reason why this isnt true or should only be limited to anatomy, please tell me.

Lenny:  Don't try to turn it around. YOU need to provide a reason why it SHOULDN'T be limited to anatomy. Anatomy is something solid. It can be tested scientifically and is instantly recognizable when seeing an unclothed body. That's what separate changing rooms are all about - so people of the opposite sex don't see your body. This is obvious. You're working really hard at trying to justify your position, but you keep talking about this like it's an abstract issue. These are real kids. If you want to wear pants or a dress doesn't matter when you're clothes are off, which is the situation in the locker rooms. Anatomy is all there is at that point.

RG: So then my previous comment holds true, why even discuss this decision when you still don't believe that someone could be born anatomically one way yet be different on the inside.

It is odd that you want to bring up things that can be scientifically validated when God cannot be and yet you believe that.

Lenny:  "Different on the inside" whether true or not, is not a factor in this discussion. I may or may not believe that a person could feel different about sports, or that they identify more as a cat than as a person. None of it has bearing on the question of whether students should be subjected to viewing the genitalia of another person of the opposite sex while simultaneously exposing themselves. It's a non-sequitor. It does not follow.

RG: (Provided link to a story of a supposedly transgendered eight year old boy who has feminine tendencies.)

Lenny:  Yeah, I'm actually familiar with that article. But nothing follows from it.

RG: Again, this is the typical metaphors, usually from religious people that goes against their doctrine. To compare someone who knows they were born into the wrong body to someone who likes dogs instead of cats or identifies with a sports team. REALLY? It is the same thing? And quit living in the middle, I may or may not, obviously you have an opinion that is driving your rationale. After looking at the evidence, while may not be definitive, I choose to believe that there is a subset of people born into the wrong bodies and for society to tell them, 'hey, sucks for you, use the right bathroom' is incredibly ignorant and disrespectful of people who are different than us. To say that a person is ONLY the sum of their physical appearances is sad. I choose to move on the side of empathy and teach my future kids the same thing rather than judge those transgendered people who have been picked on their whole lives to continue the discrimination into adulthood. I choose to be a better person, a more understanding person, after all, isn't that what your God says we should all be. If a female-to-male walked into my lockeroom or bathroom, I wouldn't run scared but embrace their strength.

I want the reader to notice a couple of things from this exchange. First, RG wanted to bait me into a discussion of whether transgenderism is a real condition or not. However, I wouldn't bite. It truly does not matter whether I think transgenderism is a medical condition, a psychological condition, or whether I'm for it or against it. I have good arguments for the problems with dealing with those who claim to be "born with the wrong body", but that's not the issue here. I wanted to address the insane idea that even if transgenderism is true, that means that that one person can ignore his or her physiology, even at the expense of the rest of the student body. No one's feelings matter except the one who the state of Massachusetts deems needs protecting. No one's privacy matters any more, because this political issue trumps everything else--and it's being applied to our children! Such a stance should offend any rational person.

Secondly, you'll notice that RG never even attempted to answer my question of why we segregate bathrooms and locker rooms at all. Why? Because as soon as he does, his entire case falls apart. He cannot answer the question an he knows it. He uses all kinds of emotionally charged words ("understand and respect the human body as opposed to fear it," "move on there side of empathy," "scare tactics," etc.) but those are the only points of his argument. He cannot appeal to science (a tactic he usually takes when discussing whether or not God exists) because the science is pretty clear. These people have twenty three pairs of chromosomes and the last one is either XX or XY.

No, science doesn't matter, morality doesn't matter, and common sense has flown out the window when it comes to issues like transgendersim. All that matters to folks like this is to advance a particular agenda, and everyone else be damned. There truly is no logic to it. It is political correctness on steroids and I would hope that by focusing our arguments on the problem at hand more people can see how crazy our laws are becoming.
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