Defending Christianity Depends on Fallacious Reasoning, Part 2

I introduced this topic previously. It's quite possible that if you can think of an informal fallacy then there are some Christians who depend on it to defend their faith.

Before going into several specific examples let me introduce the topic. Psychology has proved that as human beings we are not all that rational or logical. This is a fact about all of us to various degrees. None of us is like Spock in Star Trek, none of us. We are all social creatures, emotional creatures, and habitual creatures, as well as rational creatures. The rational part of us is subservient in many cases to the rest of who we are. Much of what we think and defend is what we prefer to believe, especially when we're taught it by someone we like and respect.

Educated people admit these findings. Christians, especially evangelicals, will respond with the all too familiar "you too" fallacy. They will argue that these findings explain why people don't believe in their particular understanding of the Bible; that skeptics prefer not to believe. However, one reason why this is fallacious reasoning is because there are too many "you's" to "too" as I've said before. Evangelicals would have to say this about anyone and everyone who does not accept their understanding of the Bible, which includes not just people who identify as skeptics or atheists, but people in all religious sects who are not evangelicals. The biggest reason why this is fallacious reasoning is because these facts say something about them too. They believe what they prefer to believe. They are not all that rational, and so forth. So to deflect what the facts say about themselves by fostering it on others is clearly fallacious reasoning. My contention is based on what psychology tells us, which means we should all be skeptics, we should all trust only what the sciences teach us. That point continues to be ignored by many believers. Instead, they turn into science deniers in order to irrationally maintain their faith against the probabilities.

What does this have to do with the fallacious reasoning? Two things. One) Fallacious reasoning persuades people. In fact, I'm sure every person on the planet believes something, lots of somethings, based on fallacious reasoning, because that's who we are as human beings. All of us are persuaded by many non-logical factors. It is my contention that one cannot live a fallacy-free life. Can we ever hope to be like Spock? Not in my lifetime, that's for sure, and not in the next generation or the following one either. Two) The better critical thinking skills people have then the less they will believe. But developing these skills goes against the grain of human nature. So believers will continue to flourish into the distant future. Skepticism and atheism will probably be minority views for a long long time, until such time as human nature evolves further.

In the meantime persuasive reasoning works. It persuades. It's almost unavoidable given who we are as humans. The appeal to force for instance, works, even if one knows it is fallacious. Take for example the politician who is told that if he votes one way then his constituents will throw him out of office. Or, consider how hard it was to get contractors to go over to Iraq because of the threat of terrorists (just note the persuasiveness of the argument).

The fallacious appeal to popular belief, or common practice, may cause someone to reconsider his or her opinions if most people disagree with him. Most of what we believe is based upon authority, and we cannot research everything out. So someone can merely say that since most people believe something that, “I'm comfortable believing what most people believe, since I don’t have the time to check every belief of mine out for myself.” No one does.

If someone assumes an answer to a question as a basis for an argument, then someone else may wrongly label that "begging the question." But he is permitted to assume some background knowledge as a foundation for his discussion. We all do this, even if sometimes it really is a fallacy.

What needs to be understood is that most all of the great philosophers may have committed these informal fallacies within some their best arguments. Or, at least, that's what those who disagree with them will argue.

I took a class with William Lane Craig on "Descartes," and I wrote a paper on the Cartesian Circle. It is claimed by some that Descartes argued in a circle when he argued from the Cogito ergo sum to the particular clear and distinct ideas which were used to argue for the existence of God. Did he? Well that's the whole question and I argued he did.

It is argued that David Hume begged the question of miracles in his definition of miracles as "violations of natural law." Did he? Well that's the question, and I dispute he did.

It is further claimed that Hume is guilty of a "hasty generalization" when he claimed that miracles cannot be known to have happened because a wise man should proportion his belief upon natural law. They claim that the evidence may not all be in, and that in the future God may again do a plethora of miracles. So Hume draws his conclusion too hastily. Did he? Well that is the question, and I dispute he did.

The fact is, many times what is seen as a fallacy to one person is merely an anomaly to the other. And we all have anomalies to all of our control beliefs. That's the place where you say, "its turtle all the way down..." John Locke used the story of "turtle all the way down," when asked how he knows that objects actually exist, if all he can know are the things that represent the objects to him--his representational theory of knowledge. He just assumes they do, and many can claim he assumes what needs to be proved, that he begged the question. But did he? That's the question. Did he argue in a circle or is his argument viciously circular?

So just calling a sentence or group of sentences an informal fallacy doesn't make it so. You have to do the additional work of arguing why it is so.

It's quite possible that we are so woefully inadequate at critical thinking that most reasoning is persuasive reasoning, especially if we do not have metaphysical free will. Persuasiveness might just possibly reign. That which persuades is good enough. It's good enough to gain a following, get a bill passed in Congress, get people on our side, gain donations, sell products, and so forth. Who would rail against any argument if it works? Pragmatism as an epistemology is the epistemology that follows when there is no metaphysical free will. Relativists argue that we simply make up the rules of discourse and this may include the rules of logic that we use to persuade. This troubles me deeply because it means there isn't any truth and that there are probably no rules of logic that are universally binding either. Just like there is no universal language, all argumentation is little more than a language game with rules for each game. Such a view means that persuasive arguments are all we have, all we need, and all there is.

I have a tendency to think we have minimal level of metaphysical freedom, not much, but some. Why? Because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Yes, all we have are brains. But they have given rise to consciousness to the point where we can reflect on our own consciousness. That reflective consciousness is greater than the sum of our brain functions. I have a tendency to think with professor Daniel Dennett that Freedom Evolves.

Yet I acknowledge that persuasiveness still might reign to a large extent even with metaphysical freedom. The use of informal fallacies persuades people, even if the person doing the persuading doesn’t know he is arguing fallaciously. They persuade people to believe or do something because that’s who we are as people.

However, detecting fallacious reasoning is the only way to tell if someone is not arguing or believing correctly. There is no other standard by which a claim can be evaluated. It's all we've got.