In a recent post, I suggested that literature has significant value for Christian apologetics. When I taught an apologetics course this past spring, I sought to demonstrate to students that sharing the Gospel and answering challenges to Christianity does not always take the form of an argument – defending a thesis and rebutting an opponent’s counter-argument. Rather, apologetics can – and should – occur through means more natural to our way of daily interaction. So, for my class, I emphasized the role of literature in communicating the truths of Christianity. Continue reading
In previous posts, we have discussed the minute components of an argument – the words and sentences that are combined together in such a way that one makes an assertion and offers support to demonstrate their claim. Often times we are tempted to focus on the “big picture” of the argument because here occurs the battle of ideas and issues. Attention to the finer details of arguments, however, can reap significant results when trying to understand from where an arguer is coming or to refute an opponents claim. Problematic language can distort or cloud the issue at hand, while intended propositions may do little by way of asserting. Being aware of these two issues can aid you in becoming a better listener and a better arguer. Continue reading
In previous posts, I’ve discussed the role of words along with problematic language within arguments. In this post, I elaborate on another basic unit of an argument – sentences. Continue reading
Consider the following example:
Our citizens are being crushed under the current tax structure.
Meanwhile, the rich receive too many tax breaks.
Therefore, we need to tax the rich more!
In my previous post, we discussed use or mention of words. We now focus on categorizing two specific uses of a word. The first is that of connotation. The connotation of a word (its intensional meaning) refers to the characteristics or attributes implied by that word. For instance, the word “human” connotes the attributes of being able to reason about simple and complex issues, being able to communicate verbally and nonverbally, being able to form value judgments, being created in the image of God, and so on. In short, the connotation of a word consists of those attributes that make up the essence of a particular class. Note that when we speak of what a word connotes, we usually refer to a word that serves as a noun, pronoun, object, or indirect object of a sentence. Continue reading
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.