Documenting the Coming Singularity

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Begging the Question All Day Long

(Picture credit to Propaganda Critic)

I'm not an expert on logical fallacies, but sometimes I know that one has been committed when I hear it. I heard a real fallapalooza the other day, and it's a great example of the kind of fallacy committed by millions of people every day. Want to hear about it? Too bad. You're gonna.

Listening to a radio preacher, just for kicks. He's discussing the truth of Christianity's claims. Jesus really was raised from the dead. How do we know that for sure? Well, because no one could have removed the body from the tomb, so it must have been accomplished by supernatural means, as the Bible says it did. How do we know that no one could have removed it from the tomb? Well, because the tomb was sealed and guarded; Pilate was concerned that some of the disciples might get up to some hi jinks and attempt to abscond with the body and then claim that their savior had been raised from the dead. He wasn't having any of that, so he made sure that a guard was posted outside the tomb.

Now, the preacher gave the appropriate chapter and verse reference to back up everything he was saying. And yes, those verses said what he said they said. But he had committed such an obvious fallacy that I was a bit stunned, until I realized that I used to do the same thing. And millions are still doing it today. Have you seen it yet? I'll give you a minute to read over the account if you need to.

Again, I'm no expert on these fallacies, but I believe the one I'm referring to is called "Begging the Question." This happens when the premises of your argument include the claim that the conclusion is true or assume (directly or indirectly) that the conclusion is true. Ray Kurzweil calls it "assuming your conclusion."

The preacher claims that Jesus must have been resurrected, as claimed by the gospels' authors. OK, how does he prove their claim? By using the very same authors' claims that the tomb was guarded by Roman soldiers. Sorry, but that just doesn't cut the mustard. That's like freeing Charlie Manson because he says he didn't do it. What the preacher needs are some independent sources that confirm the facts as described by the gospel writers.

At the risk of belaboring the point, reduced to its essence, what the preacher is saying is as follows:

Preacher: Jesus was raised from the dead.
Me: How do you know that?
Preacher: Because the Bible says so.
Me: How do you know that the Bible's account is true?
Preacher: Because it couldn't have happened any other way. You see, the tomb was guarded.
Me: Oh. But how do you know that the tomb was guarded?
Preacher: Because the Bible says so.

The general way this is done by millions today is as follows:

Friend: The Bible is the inerrant Word of God and has no contradictions.
Me: But what about this one, and that one?
Friend: Those only appear to be contradictions. There must be ways to explain them away.
Me: Why? Why can't they just be contradictions?
Friend: Because the Bible has no contradictions. It's the inerrant Word of God. Geez, don't you listen?

If you know more about the names of logical fallacies than I do and can more accurately name the one I brought up, please leave a comment. As O'Reilley likes to say, Where'm I goin' wrong? Thanks.

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Spaceman Spiff said...

I agree this guy is a little simplistic if you're translating him accurately.

I prefer this argument.
1. Given our knowledge of the history of the biblical text, it is reasonable to conclude that we have reliable texts and that the authors of the gospels were eye-witnesses and/or close associates of eye-witnesses, and moreover, much of seems to be based on an oral tradition that extends back much closer to the events.

2. Given our understanding of religion and religious documents, and the history of the early church, the most reasonable conclusion is that the authors of the gospel really did believe they had seen (in the case of Matthew and John) or knew those who had seen (in the case of Luke and Mark) Jesus physically resurrected.

So in sum, the best historical analysis leads to the conclusion that several people very close to the events in question believed completely that they had seen Jesus die and seen him resurrected.

It is therefore not historically unreasonable to conclude that Jesus did in fact raise from the dead if you hold that this is possible. This is afterall the way we determine anything historically.

On the other hand, if your worldview rejects resurrection out of hand (which is pretty reasonable), then you are forced to find an explanation of why they believed this.

Spaceman Spiff said...

Of course, none of this quite explains why people believe in general. I would argue that in most cases it has more to do with personal relationships and experiences both with others, and with God, and with God through others.

When a person experiences God these claims cease being those which we bring skepticism to (like, did Abraham Lincoln write the emancipation proclamation) and become relational claims in which skepticism becomes improper (like when your wife tells you she loves you).