My previous post listed at least five ways in which the word “argument” can be used in the English language. Though most people understand what is meant when the word “argument” is used in a conversation, it can become problematic if two people use the same word but in different ways. Thus, if individuals seek to develop arguments regarding an issue with the goal of moving forward in a particular matter, it is important that they are clear in what terms connotes and denotes. In the next two posts, I will discuss matters relating to the use of words. Continue reading
Logic is the study of and the use of methods and principles that evaluate arguments in order to distinguish between correct and incorrect reasoning. This definition is clear enough, but under the surface lies a problem that can derail the student of logic. The issue is found in what is meant by “argument.”
In the opening chapter of her book Reasoning and Rhetoric in Religion, Nancey C. Murphy lists five definitions of the term “argument” from the Random House Dictionary of the English Language:
- An oral disagreement; verbal opposition; contention, altercation.
- A discussion involving differing points of view; debate.
- A process of reasoning; series of reasons.
- A statement, reason, or fact or against a point.
- An address or composition intended to convince or persuade; persuasive discourse.
If you were to ask any number of people to state what first comes to mind upon hearing the word “argument,” many of the responses mostly likely would fall under definitions 1) and 2) above. You only need to flip through the various network and cable channels to see various talk shows debating the benefits or detriments of the latest political decision, or reality talk shows that host family members or friends embroiled in some dispute that is played out in the form of a verbal assault, or sports shows pontificating on the greatness of one team or sport over another. You hear the same over the airwaves as radio talk show hosts yell through your speakers, ranting about your team’s recent loss or the opposing political party’s idiocy. For many, when they hear the word “argument,” they immediately associate it with verbal spats or heated debates.
This association is not lost in Christian circles. Usually theological arguments are viewed as nothing more than opposing sides buttressing their own views while seeking to undercut their opponent by harping on what they disagree upon. Believers and unbelievers alike sometimes view the church as a house of divisiveness instead of one of unity. While the examples that have been mentioned so far are those of arguments, they do fail to meet the criteria of what is deemed as an argument in the study of logic.
Remember, logic seeks to distinguish between correct and incorrect reasoning. In order to do so, an argument must first assert something; that is, it must make a claim that is either true or false. But, a claim alone does not make an argument; rather, the argument must also provide reasons that purport to support the claim. Without any supporting reasons, a claim is nothing more than an opinion.
For example, “Twenty-first century churches ought to aesthetically design their sanctuaries such that all of the senses of the congregation are utilized in the worship of God and the proclamation of the Word” is making an assertion such that a congregation either accepts or rejects the claim. Yet, without any supporting reason(s), no argument exists. What one can use by way of reasons for a claim is the subject of a later chapter in this book. For now, it should be clear that an argument must: 1) make a claim that is either true or false, and 2) provide reasons that purport to support the claim.
Just as important to how an argument is structured, there are matters more basic than how an argument is built. All arguments that are of interest to logic are necessarily composed of words and sentences. Though these concepts are simple, they are riddled with complexities and nuances that must be brought to light if you are to rightly analyze or build an argument. In an upcoming post, we will look at the issues of words and ideas.
Connection to Apologetics
With the growth of social media as a platform for sharing ideas and personal beliefs, the Christian is exposed to more opportunities to share and defend the Christian faith. Yet, as nearly everyone can attest to, social media tends open the gates for reactionary verbal bouts than for fruitful dialogue. Too often, in the heat of a disagreement on social media, Christians resort to poor argumentation that does more harm than good in proclaiming the truth of the Gospel (see my post from August 2016). As such, it is to our advantage to understand and apply the concepts that characterize good arguments.
 This definition is a combination of the definitions of logic found in Patrick Hurley, A Concise Introduction to Logic, 9th ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2006), 1, and Irving Copi, Carl Cohen, and Kenneth McMahon, Introduction to Logic, 14th ed. (Boston: Prentice Hall, 2011), 2. For a more detailed discussion on the definition of logic and a defense of why the Christian ought to study logic, see this book’s Introduction.
 Nancey C. Murphy, Reasoning and Rhetoric in Religion (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001), 4.
© John Daniel “Danny” McDonald, PhD and Philosophical Lagniappe, 2017-18
In Part III, Ted Cabal, PhD discusses the value of studying philosophy has for the seminary student.
So, in essence, it seems like as Christians we tend to throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to philosophy?
Dr. Cabal: I think so. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it.
That is certainly correct, and it’s one reason, even though I’m embarrassed and ashamed of my early views of how I ridiculed philosophy, I am not ashamed nor unhappy that my earliest years in the faith were spent immersed in Scripture. And, in one sense, I’m grateful that most of my early years were spent memorizing and studying the Bible text and learning bible languages, more than they were spent doing anything else, and for that I’m grateful. So, I would argue that the seminary student should make sure they never fall in love with philosophy more than the Bible. If you feel that happening, you got a problem.
This an interview I did with Dr. Ted Cabal, Professor of Christian Apologetics at SBTS, back in 2007 on the the place of philosophy in the life of the believer. Because the question of philosophy’s value is still asked today, this 10-year old interview still has value today. I believe the study of philosophy coincides with the study of theology as the two disciplines have spilled over into each other (intentionally or not) throughout history, thus to understand philosophy can help the believer to understand certain aspects of theology, why certain theologians avoided or reworked particular doctrines, etc. Continue reading
Assertion can demand no more than counter-assertion; and what is affirmed on the one side, we on the other can simply deny.
F. H. Bradley, quoted in Black, “The Identity of Indiscernables“
Though stated in the mid-20th century, Bradley’s words are just as relevant today as they were in his day. We are prone to make assertions about what we believe ought to be or ought not to be. We dogmatically state that something is, or is not. Such is the normal course of human dialogue.
Often times, though, we tend to allow our assertions to serve as arguments. That is, we make our assertion without providing support for why one should be persuaded to our view. We tend to let the force of our assertion serve as the burden of proof. However, making an assertion without any support is merely giving one’s opinion about a matter. An assertion minus support does not an argument make.As Bradley’s quote states, giving just one’s assertion in an argument only demands a counter-assertion. The “argument,” then, devolves into a battle of words as assertions are used as weapons intended to weaken the defenses of the opponent. Instead of persuading another to one’s view, opposing sides become more entrenched in their view, with little accomplished in the form of dialogue or persuasion. The image that comes to mind is that of two battleships firing broadsides at each other (see image). In the end, each side ends up licking their wounds, shoring up any weak points in preparation for the next Battle of Assertions.
If you seek to persuade another person to accept your assertion, you need to provide reasons – or support – for why your assertion is the case. In a sense, you are answering the How?, Why?, What?, When? (sometimes), and Where? (sometimes) questions surrounding your claim. In short, you want to anticipate the questions or challenges one will bring to your assertion. Providing support for your assertion is more involved than what I’ve given in this post, but the process of giving reasons is not as complicated as we tend to make it. Essentially, you want to tell another why they should be convinced of your assertion.
Now, it’s not guaranteed that you will convince another of your assertion when accompanied with reasons/support. I’m sure we all can think of times when you have given someone reason upon reason why they should be convinced of your claim, but no matter how well you state your argument, they still remain firmly planted in their own view.
Argumentation involves more than one’s intellect – one’s reason. Rather, the will of the individual is involved as well. There are times when we believe in something because we want to, and this despite the evidence. For instance, a father tries to convince his daughter that her boyfriend is a liar, a conniver, and a player. The girl’s father saw her boyfriend out with another girl on an obvious date, and this despite the boy’s confession of his undying love to the man’s daughter. Despite his best attempts, the father is unable to convince his daughter that her boyfriend is not who he says he is. The daughter has heard rumors of her boyfriend’s unfaithfulness, but he is the “man of her dreams,” and to lose him is to lose her dream; she thus refuses to believe her father.
Granted, my illustration here may have other complex issues at play, but it does make my point – convincing someone to change their belief on something involves much more than the intellect. Argumentation involves engaging an individual’s will.
But…this is a topic for another time and another post. The point remains that in order to make an argument to persuade another to your view, you must do more than just make an assertion. Your claim must be accompanied by support.
The topic of evolution has had considerable play in our culture. The debate has essentially remained the same for a century and a half – is evolution compatible or incompatible with Christianity? Challenges to Christianity have been leveled by a group called the New Atheists, who understand the world through evolutionary lenses.
Though the New Atheists’ popularity among academics has waned somewhat, they still have quite a bit of traction among the general public. For the most part, their works are accessible (easy to read) and are readily available. Further, their ability to communicate difficult matters in an approachable manner allow the New Atheists’ ideas to reach a wider audience. Thus, they remain today a formidable challenge for Christians to answer.
Interestingly, there is one point on which Christians and New Atheists can agree – the reality of evil. If you were to read the works of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, you’d find that one of their biggest objections to Christianity is the problem of evil. Sam Harris has spent considerable time on the reality of evil (The End of Faith) and on a related issue – the grounding of morality (The Moral Landscape). But, while we can agree with the New Atheists regarding the reality of evil, there is much they leave to be desired, particularly how one can know that evil exists.
Today (8/8/17), I had an article published in Themelios titled “Natural Selection and an Epistemology of Evil: An Incompatible Pair.” In summary, I argue that one cannot hold to a belief in natural selection (a key aspect of Darwinian evolution which the New Atheists hold to) and in the reality of evil. In short, I argue that if natural selection were true, then what we perceive as evil is really just the natural working out of the blind, impersonal process of natural selection. Any act of evil from one human to another is really just the struggle of a species to survive and advance. If natural selection were true, then one cannot know what evil is and that something is evil – evil isn’t real. Thus, the New Atheists’ appeal to the problem of evil begs the question – they assume what evil is and then point to evidence of evil to support their arguments against Christianity.
The New Atheists’ appeal to evil as an argument against Christianity just simply does not work.
I recently came upon an excellent question in a Facebook forum – one that deals with the nature of reason. The question was (in part): “What does ‘autonomous human reason’ mean?” If you have spent any time studying Enlightenment philosophy and/or Presuppositional Apologetics, then you have seen the phrase “autonomous human reason” thrown around quite a bit. Yet, despite its wide use, its meaning is more assumed than defined. In what follows, I seek to provide an explanation that helps to provide a background to the question. Continue reading
Argue – we all do it, whether it be over where to eat for dinner, or the best college football team, or over vital issues such as the Presidential elections and theology, just to name two. (When I use the term argue, I’m not referring to a shouting match or heated debate, though these two instances are included. Rather, I am referring to the general act of one seeking to prove a point or to persuade another to change his/her view.) We all seek to make a point and have others agree with us. Despite the fact that everyone argues, arguing is an art form. When well done, an argument can persuade others to change their positions or, at the very least, consider other options. However, most arguments are made on the fly and/or are not well thought out, making one prone to committing logical fallacies and thus damaging the credibility of their argument (even if the conclusion is true and one that should be considered). Continue reading