The blog of Dr Glenn Andrew Peoples on Theology, Philosophy, and Social Issues

Tag: bad arguments

Hell and the Chickification of Christianity


Recently I posted some thoughts on what I see as the really inappropriate verbal and written attacks being carried out by professing Christians against Mark Driscoll, a pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. The inevitable happened, and some people (whether here at the blog or elsewhere) suggested that maybe I would be more supportive of some of those attacks if I didn’t happen to agree theologically with mark. Really, it was suggested, I was being over sensitive when he was being criticised and giving a free pass to anything he says or does just because I’m on his “side,” doctrinally speaking. That, some thought, is why I don’t think he should be called a jerk, an ass, a slime ball, a “douchebag” and worse. It’s not that I think such conduct is wrong, I’m really just biased and over-sensitive about my theological buddies being disagreed with.

As a response to my concerns about the way Mark is being treated, this is actually a fallacious approach. It’s the old ad hominem fallacy, suggesting that my criticism of the treatment being dished out can be dismissed because of some other feature I have – like agreement with Mark on theological matters. Of course this is a mistake, and even if I agreed completely with Mark on theological matters the concerns that I raised about the conduct of fellow Christians should be taken no less seriously than if I disagreed with Mark on every point of doctrine imaginable. So this kind of reply is a non-starter.

But, as I said in the comment thread of my previous blog entry, I actually don’t agree with Mark at every point, and even some of the things for which he is now lambasted by his spiritual family are things that I disagree with him on. I just choose not to belittle him for them. One such thing is Mark’s concern over the “chickification” of Christianity, and the way he can use that concern to dismiss points of view that really have nothing to do with it. Here’s an area where I think appropriate criticism is required. Although I agree with part of what Mark – and many others for that matter – say about the feminisation of the Christian faith, I think he misunderstands and badly misapplies the principle to which he appeals, in a way that many other evangelicals also do with different principles. So to reassure people that I’m not a “Mark Driscoll sycophant,” I wanted to unpack some of the concern I have here – maybe even for the purpose of modelling the kind of criticism I think is appropriate, having already vented a bit about what’s not appropriate.

How not to argue against Protestantism


Several months ago a Catholic friend of mine made a comment about a church. It was an Anglican church that every year seeks attention by putting up potentially offensive posters that have been known in the past to mock tradition Christian theology (the church has a reputation as being theologically liberal). My friend did not suggest that this showed that Anglicanism itself was wrong (it’s important to add that).

In a rather unfortunate display of something I see far too often when churches and their mistakes are being discussed, a fellow came along and suggested that (my paraphrase) this is what happens when churches abandon God’s true church that Jesus founded, the Catholic church, and they don’t follow the papacy, which is the true repository of apostolic teaching.  Then the argument was clearly stated: Without the English Reformation and the Anglican Church, the above incident would not have happened, and hence the Anglican church shouldn’t exist and the Reformation was a mistake.

So I replied to this stranger:

Greg, maybe a course in philosophy would help here, but the fact that A would not exist without B, and A is bad, does not mean that B should not exist. Sex abuse by Catholic priests would not exist if the Catholic Church did not exist. But clearly that does not mean that the Catholic church shouldn’t exist. Your partisanship is clouding your reason. Put down that hobby horse.

Of course the same is true of any church: Anglicans, Presbyterians, Baptists and so on. Churches, just like any organisation, provide a place where people can do the same bad things people would do no matter where they were. But this fellow was Catholic, so the above example was more appropriate.

Now what happened next? Was I offered a reason to re-think the logic of this counter-example? No. I received a message from Mr Matheson telling me that he didn’t “like” my comment, and asked that it be removed. Naturally, I declined. The only reasons to dislike the above statement might be that one sees that it undercuts their argument but can’t think of a good way to respond (as I believe was the case here), or one misunderstands the statement to mean its opposite, namely that sex abuse in the Catholic church does show that the Catholic church shouldn’t exist – although I struggle to see how anyone could honestly believe that this is what was meant.

Imagine my surprise then, when I logged into Facebook today and saw this:

There’s no recourse to this – no way of appealing or objecting to this bizarre decision, so that’s really the end of the matter – not that I mind. It’s just a Facebook conversation with a stranger after all. You can read Facebook’s community standards here, where I think you’ll see that in fact my comment doesn’t get close to violating any of them. As far as I can see this is nothing more than a case of intellectual cowardice in the utmost: Running scared from a rebuttal and then having it hidden from public view so that nobody sees how one’s argument was undermined.

But if this incident highlights anything, it offers advice to my Catholic friends: Don’t argue against Protestantism (or anything else) this way. Yes, the Reformation, like the counter-reformation, like Vatican II, like movements within medieval Catholicism, like movements within Protestantism, the scientific revolution, and indeed like the very existence of the Catholic church itself, may have made some unfortunate things possible. But that never, by itself, shows that something is wrong, that it should not exist, or that it should not have happened. If you do, you may end up with somebody offering a response that you really wish the world couldn’t see.

Glenn Peoples

Name that Fallacy! Robert Peterson on Annihilationism


In the “name that fallacy” series I showcase some examples of how not to argue; cases of either formal or informal logical fallacies. The latter of these two categories covers a significant range of possibilities, and it’s sometimes a matter of some controversy whether someone’s comments really fit into any of them – especially when they’re your comments! The intent of the series is to help people (and help people to help each other) recognise fallacious reasoning when it occurs, whether it’s used in defence of a position they share or not.

For this “name that fallacy” post, let’s step into into the territory of theology. This time the topic is hell, and our subject is one Robert Peterson. Dr Peterson is a well-known evangelical opponent of annihilationism. Annihilationism is the view that those people who are not saved, or redeemed, or counted among God’s people – or call that state what you will – will not have eternal life, and will finally die and one day be no more. The following is an excerpt from Peterson’s closing comments in an article called “Does the Bible Teach Annihilationism?” It’s important that you bear the title in mind, as it sets out what the argument is about: Whether or not the Bible teaches annihilationism. Without further ado, I give you the words of Dr Robert Peterson:

Annihilationists insist that the obliteration of the wicked is a terrible destiny when measured against the bliss of the righteous. However, it is simply not that bad to cease to exist, especially in comparison to suffering in hell forever… This leads to the final implication. If annihilationism is widely accepted by Christians, the missionary enterprise may well be hindered. True, some evangelicals such as John Stott and Michael Green have consistently shown a zeal for evangelism while holding to annihilationism. Nevertheless what would be the effect on churches and denominations that once held to eternal conscious torment, if they were to shift to annihilationism? Their missionary zeal might well wane.

NOTE: This series is called “name THAT fallacy,” but bear in mind that in some cases there may be more than one.

Have fun – name that fallacy!

Glenn Peoples

Episode 038: Zeitgeist


At the request of a couple of listeners, this episode is a response to the documentary: Zeitgeist.

As I promised in the episode, here are a few links.

First, a link to some astronomical illustrations:

And here are the links to my three part blog series on evidence for the historical Jesus outside the New Testament, as promised:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

You might also find it helpful to check out my previous blogs on copycat theories about the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

The Lottery Fallacy Fallacy


Some arguments are like mosquitoes. They get slapped and well and truly squashed – unambiguously defeated in plain sight for all to see, obviously crushed. The smeared body is witnessed. But then as soon as you try to relax again, that familiar whining sound fades in again. You think, Didn’t I just squash you? Yes you did, and it’s back.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, objections to divine command theories of ethics are a good example of arguments like this. But they’re not alone. Another is the Lottery Fallacy Fallacy. I know, calling something a “fallacy” is a bit of a rhetorical device, but I use the term because the argument that I want to rebut – again – is one that trades on using that word for rhetorical effect, so my use of the word twice must surely double the effect!

Episode 035: Sam Harris, Science and Morality


So-called new atheist Sam Harris maintains that moral values are really scientific facts, and that they have no connection to God (indeed, God does not exist, thinks Harris).

Episode 35 is an analysis of a recent talk given by Harris gave on science and human values. The talk was part of a TED conference, and you can see it here. Here I offer an explanation of how I think he has failed. In brief, I think his entire presentation is an exercise in circular reasoning.

Harris has a new book on the subject, The Moral Landscape, which is to be released later this year.

 Glenn Peoples

Biblical Marriage?


I have my share of concerns about the way some Christians view marriage and whether or not those views are really biblical, but that’s not what this blog post is about. Vorjack over at “Unreasonable Faith” has challenged the familiar appeal that Christians sometimes make to “biblical marriage” in their rejection of same-sex unions. He claims that this appeal is defective because marriage doesn’t just mean one thing in the Bible, it means eight different things. He writes,

Here’s a summary:
1. Polygynous Marriage
Probably the most common form of marriage in the bible, it is where a man has more than one wife.
2. Levirate Marriage
When a woman was widowed without a son, it became the responsibility of the brother-in-law or a close male relative to take her in and impregnate her. If the resulting child was a son, he would be considered the heir of her late husband. See Ruth, and the story of Onan (Gen. 38:6-10).
3. A man, a woman and her property — a female slave
The famous “handmaiden” sketch, as preformed by Abraham (Gen. 16:1-6) and Jacob (Gen. 30:4-5).
4. A man, one or more wives, and some concubines
The definition of a concubine varies from culture to culture, but they tended to be live-in mistresses. Concubines were tied to their “husband,” but had a lower status than a wife. Their children were not usually  heirs, so they were safe outlets for sex without risking the line of succession. To see how badly a concubine could be treated, see the famous story of the Levite and his concubine (Judges 19:1-30).
5. A male soldier and a female prisoner of war
Women could be taken as booty from a successful campaign and forced to become wives or concubines. Deuteronomy 21:11-14 describes the process.
6. A male rapist and his victim
Deuteronomy 22:28-29 describes how an unmarried woman who had been raped must marry her attacker.
7. A male and female slave
A female slave could be married to a male slave without consent, presumably to produce more slaves.

and of course …
8. Monogamous, heterosexual marriage
What you might think of as the standard form of marriage, provided you think of arranged marriages as the standard. Also remember that inter-faith or cross-ethnic marriage were forbidden for large chunks of biblical history.

The important thing to realize here is that none of these models are described as better than any other. All appear to have been accepted.
So there you go. The next time someone says that we need to stick with biblical marriage in this country, you can ask them which of the eight kinds they would prefer, and why.

Someone who’s unwilling to be a cheerleader for scepticism but who actually a) knows enough to know whether or not the claims being made align with the facts and b) recognises poor reasoning when they see it, isn’t going to be impressed by this. But the reality is, material like this more often than not appears on websites or blogs where the visitors are likely to be visitors to the site because of their hostility to Christianity, and will be gleefully received as ammunition without much effort being taken to check its reliability. I’m sure similar things happen at some Christian websites too. I should say, too, that it is possible that Vorjack isn’t trying to be dishonest. He is merely reproducing material from another source – albeit with some additions of his own. I doubt that he is deliberately lying. I still say, however, that when you’re in a position to produce material to a large audience and peddle it as fact, you have a responsibility to exercise some care. This certainly wasn’t done in this case.

OK, here we go. This is the short version of what I found objectionable about the claims posted:

The Protestant bogeyman of thousands of churches


Is it really true that Protestantism is made up of thousands upon thousands upon thousands of hopelessly fragmented so-called churches with nothing uniting them?

A thread over at Theologyweb has had me thinking lately. I’ve added some of my own comments, and I thought I’d sum up some thoughts here.

From time to time, Catholic warrior apologists1 like to argue that since there are so many Protestant denominations, there must be something inherently wrong with Protestantism. In particular, so the argument often goes, the fact that there are so many denominations – about 33,000 of them we are told – shows that sola scriptura must be false, as it results in so many widely divergent interpretations of various parts of Scripture, and what we really need if we want unity is for people to accept Scripture and Tradition – specifically Roman Catholic Tradition, as passed on by the papacy.

I care a great deal about the unity of the Church and it troubles me no end to see people starting up new churches left, right and centre. This is not the way it should be.

I should say first of all that there is a fundamental misrepresentation of a historic Protestant attitude to unity that normally accompanies this sort of polemic tactic. Whether I am a Protestant or not, I care a great deal about the unity of the Church and it troubles me no end to see people starting up new churches left, right and centre. This is not the way it should be. I should also point out that these new churches have no historical connection to the Protestant Reformation, so it is polemical bluster to lump them in with the Protestant movement at all. But that said, I want to focus on the claim about 33,000 churches for now.

  1. By this term I mean those Catholic thinkers whose apparent interest in Catholic theology is about making polemical attacks on Protestantism, rather than positive explanations of theology. Although they may prefer the term Catholic apologetics, in my experience their endeavour is anti-Protestant polemics. Fortunately, most Catholic theologians are not like this at all. []

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