Apologetics 101 – Inconsistency


INCONSISTENCY

or

Why I Am the Pope

In my last post on Apologetics (Arbitrariness) I presented an outline of the 4 key intellectual sins.  To review,

  •  Is this argument arbitrary?
    • mere opinion; worth zero
    • relativism; self-contradictory
    • ignorant conjecture
    • unargued bias
  • Is this argument inconsistent?
    • logical fallacies
    • reductio ad absurdum
    • actions speak louder than words
    • presuppositional tension
  • What are the consequences of this argument?
  • What are the preconditions of this argument?  Does he have the preconditions to argue this way?

This post will cover the second intellectual sin:  inconsistency.

You may be thinking what an odd subtitle to a post on inconsistency.  But just stay with me.  I’ll explain in a bit why I’m the pope.  By the way, I’m also president.

Before I explain myself however, I’m going to cover some of the different varieties of inconsistencies.

  • Logical Fallacies
  • Reductio ad absurdum
  • Actions speak louder than words
  • Presuppositional tension

Logical Fallacies

What is a logical fallacy?  A fallacy in the general sense is any error in reasoning.  When I mention logical fallacies in the context of apologetics I am referring specifically to informal fallacies and not formal fallacies.  So let’s define formal and informal fallacies.

  • Formal Fallacy – an argument that is unsound because of its form
  • Informal Fallacy – an argument that is unsound because of its content

The following is an example of a formal fallacy because it is an invalid form of the syllogism.

  • All men are mortal
  • My cat is mortal
  • Therefore my cat is a man

Informal fallacies are those fallacies which sound good at first but upon further thought there appears to be something wrong in the argument.  Ever listen to Obama speak on gun control?  That gnawing in the back of your mind that seems to be saying, “Something’s wrong here”, is because you heard a logical fallacy.  Speeches from politicians are fertile ground for finding informal fallacies.  So what are some kinds of informal fallacies?  It depends upon how you organize them.  Joel McDurmon in his book Biblical Logic organizes informal fallacies based on Ray Sutton’s Covenantal Plan.  (Ray Sutton’s That You May Prosper:  Dominion By Covenant.)

  • God – Fallacies of Worldviews
  • Man – Fallacies of Representation
  • Law – Fallacies of Property
  • Consequences – Fallacies of Relevance
  • Inheritance – Fallacies of Time

In S. Morris Engel’s With Good Reason he breaks them down into three separate categories:

  • Fallacies  of Ambiguity
  • Fallacies of Presumption
  • Fallacies of Relevance

And though the breakdown is different, as McDurmon’s is from an unapologetically Christian view, the same fallacies are covered by both men.  In the Critical Thinking series (Part 1) there will be a more in depth coverage of informal fallacies.  For now I’ll just cover what is perhaps the most common fallacy you’ll encounter.

Ad Hominem

“Christianity can’t be true because during the inquisition Christians killed people.”  The term ad hominem is a Latin phrase meaning against the man.  The ad hominem argument is an attack on the person making the argument and not the argument itself.  Instead of dealing with the arguments for Christianity, our atheist has decided to attack Christians by calling into question their behavior.  Atheists, or anyone for that matter, should be challenged on this.  (We are ignoring for now the fact that the atheist has no reason for judging any act as either good or bad.)  The behavior of Christians that the atheist judges as bad has no bearing on the truth of Christianity.  To see it more clearly let us take this hypothetical:  a pedophile who says pedophilia is a great sin and worthy of death.  (I pick this example because in the general, pedophilia is detested by atheists.)  If a pedophile states that molesting children is a great sin and that pedophiles deserve death, it would be totally irrational to then say, Don’t listen to that man!  He’s a pedophile!  Whether or not he’s a pedophile has no bearing on the truth of his argument that.

The ad hominem is just one type of logical fallacy.  If you are unfamiliar with logical fallacies, then I recommend you buy both Engel’s book “With Good Reason” and McDurmon’s book “Biblical Logic”.  Both of these books will help you gain a better understanding of what constitutes a fallacy and how to recognize such fallacies when they occur in your daily life.  There is also the PDF Forty Two Fallacies (For Free) By Dr. Michael C. LaBossiere you can use to get a head start on learning about fallacies.

Reductio Ad Absurdum

This is a Latin phrase meaning reduction to absurdity.  We reduce an argument to absurdity by showing that whatever implies that which is false, is itself false.  If some premise implies something that we know to be false, then that premise is also false.  So if you can take your opponent’s argument and reduce it to an absurdity, then you have refuted your opponent. Of course this argument only works if your opponent sees holding to a falsehood as something bad.

The classic example used to demonstrate this process is the cultural relativist’s battle cry of, “There is no absolute moral standard!”  But if there are no universal moral principles, then it is wrong for any one culture to condemn the activities of another culture.  After all, as William Graham Sumner stated, “If there is a law of God that applies to all mankind, God has been suspiciously secretive about it.”  Margaret Mead’s work among unmarried Samoan girls is sometimes what is typically claimed as proof for cultural relativism.  She postulated that since unmarried Samoan girls do not practice the same type of chastity as unmarried American girls then it must mean that moral values are culturally relative.  Margaret Mead’s work was later disproven by others and shown to have been little more than shoddy scholarship.  But this little problem was ignored by the cultural relativists of her day.

Since different cultures have different standards of right and wrong, no one culture can say it has absolutes as to what constitutes right and wrong.  So when Eskimos set their invalid parents out to sea on an ice flow we shouldn’t condemn them, says the cultural relativist.  But the cultural relativist, like any proponent of relativism is an hypocrite.  If there are no absolute moral standards, then it is wrong to condemn Hitler’s Germany and the atrocities committed by the Nazis.  When Muslims engage in pedophilia, murder, and terrorism, the cultural relativist cannot condemn that behavior, because that is what their culture does.  In the end, cultural relativism means you cannot criticize ANYONE.  For if no one is wrong, then everyone is right.  This is where cultural relativism reduces to absurdity.

But why is inconsistency such a bad thing.  If you accept inconsistency, then an argument is little more than, “yes it is no it isn’t, yes it is no it isn’t, yes it is no it isn’t, yes it is no it isn’t, yes it is no it isn’t, yes it is no it isn’t” forever.  You cannot remain consistent by accepting cultural relativism and then turning around and condemning those practices that you disagree with within another culture.

Inconsistencies are also unacceptable because from an inconsistency you can prove anything.  Doubt me?  From p and not-p, where p is any proposition, I can prove anything.  Given that 1=0 (the inconsistency) I will now prove I’m the pope.

  • 1=0
  • 1+1=0+1
  • 2=1

Since 2=1, the set containing myself and the pope has two members.  But 2=1, therefore it has only 1 member and therefore, I am the pope.  Or president.  Now of course this is absurd.  But once you grant any inconsistency, absurdities abound.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

To assert one thing and then live contrary to that assertion is not the mark of rationality.  It’s the mark of the moral hypocrite and the madman.  A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.  An unbeliever’s life is riddled with such inconsistencies.  On the one hand he affirms there are no moral absolutes.  But on the other hand he condemns murder.  An atheist claims we are nothing more than evolved pond scum.  And yet the same atheist will presuppose human dignity and attend a friend’s funeral.  Why attend the funeral of something worth no more than pond scum?  In sexual relationships the moral hypocrite claims there are no moral absolutes and that anything goes and yet he turns right around condemns the pedophile.  The unbeliever says one thing with his words, but his actions bewray it.  Because if anything goes as the moral hypocrite claims, then ANYTHING GOES!

Even Christians are subject to such irrationality.  A modern Christian example of this is the Christian who on the one hand affirms the Greek Critical Text and thereby the autonomous practice of modern textual criticism, while on the other hand he rightly condemns as sinful all autonomous reasoning.  Such irrationalities are quite common in Christendom today and are found in those who hold to some form of evolutionism and such things as women being pastors.  This is one reason why we as Christians must be ever vigilant in our thinking and obey scripture by, “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”

Presuppositional Tension

When we talk to unbelievers about life and such things as, the nature of reality, right & wrong, and the nature of knowledge, we have to pay attention to the underlying assumptions within their statements.  We must listen carefully so we can hear what is being asserted about reality, knowledge, and behavior.  We have to be able to categorize what the unbeliever is saying so that we can provide the refutation.   The presuppositions of unbelievers are always inconsistent.  But not everyone clearly and specifically thinks through such questions as, What is the nature of reality, knowledge, and what constitutes good and bad behavior.  Most people do not identify their underlying presuppositions.   If you listen to the atheist or any other critic of Christianity, you will hear what he is taking for granted when he talks about:

  • Reality
  • Knowledge
  • Behavior

REALITY

Let’s say you’re talking to your neighbor who holds to a behavioristic view of man.  He tells you that free will is just an illusion.  Man does what he does because his behavior has been predetermined by antecedent causes such as environment and genetics.   We think and do things not because we choose but because of prior conditioning.  After a while of discussing this your neighbor then brings up a certain child killer that has been in the news for the last few days.  He is outraged at this child killer’s behavior and believes he should be punished to the maximum.  And here’s the tension.  If free will is an illusion and our actions are controlled by antecedent causes, then the child killer could not help but kill children given his previous conditioning.  Since he holds to a behavioristic view of reality, it would then be senseless for him to suggest that the child killer should be punished.

KNOWLEDGE

Your neighbor is still critical of your faith after the last encounter and constantly comments upon how silly Christians are for believing things that you can’t verify with your senses.  After all he says, Seeing is believing.  And Christians are stupid for believing things based upon the so-called authority of God speaking from a dusty old book of myths.  To which you simply ask him, Explain to me how you came to know that we can only know things by observation?  Your neighbor tells you how he read it in a book and heard lectures on it.  And here’s the tension in his theory of knowledge.  Did he see with his physical eyes the assertion that all knowledge is limited to observation?  Of course he didn’t.  Whatever process by which he came to believe that knowledge is limited to observation, he did not observe that.  No one can see abstract entities nor propositional truths.  We can see symbolic representations of propositional truths, but those are sentences.  They are not the abstract concept of that propositional truth.  And so your neighbor cannot observe that all knowledge comes by observation.

BEHAVIOR

Your neighbor is now a bit more wary in talking with you.  He has just said that since there is no after life, then we should enjoy this life as much as possible.  He goes on for some time in this vein and then gets upset on hearing again about the child killer on the radio.  To which you reply, Hey, he was just living for pleasure too and his pleasure was killing children.  And here’s the tension in his ethical system.  He cannot remain consistent while affirming living for pleasure and denying that same right to another person.

KNOWLEDGE vs REALITY

Your new neighbor, who also happens to be an atheist, comments in passing that he only believes reality consists of the material world.  He claims that Christianity is impossible because of all its logical contradictions.  After all, how can God be one and three?  How can God be loving & omnipotent and yet there is still evil in the world?  Such things are logically contradictory and therefore disprove Christianity.  And there is your new neighbors tension between his theory of reality and his theory of knowledge.  (As Christians we know there are no true contradictions in scripture only those things which appear as contradictions to the unbeliever.)  But after letting him go on for a few minutes you point out, But if reality is solely physical then how can there be any laws of logic?  The laws of logic are not physical in nature.  Laws are not particulars.  You can’t have a sensory experience of laws.  You can’t even touch a law because laws are abstract in nature.  When you’re neighbor uses logic against Christianity, he is assuming the reality of the laws of logic in his theory of knowledge and so contradicts himself by affirming a materialistic universe.

The next post in this series will be on the 3rd intellectual sin, the consequences of an argument.

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One response to “Apologetics 101 – Inconsistency

  1. Pingback: Apologetics 101 – Arbitrariness | The Biblical Thinker·

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