Saturday, October 15, 2016

Don't Be Overwhelmed By "Big List" Arguments

"For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things."
2 Nephi 2:11

"Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he 
was enticed by the one or the other."
2 Nephi 2:16

     So, we find ourselves on a spinning rock, racing through space around a giant, exploding ball of gas. And we try to figure out the meaning of it all. We debate, we philosophize, we observe, we hypothesize.

     Some of us believe that being on earth is part of a plan. We believe the earth was prepared for us to live on, and that we chose to come here. We believe that we came here to have experiences, some of which would be difficult, and also to make choices... some of which would likewise be difficult. And we believe that in order to truly make choices for ourselves, and to have an opportunity to choose the right, we need to be enticed to do things which are wrong and which we would not otherwise do.

     Fortunately, God entices us to have faith, hope, and charity. The opposition however entices us to doubt, to fear, and to look at other people as either objects to be used or as creatures of no importance, instead of looking at others with charity. 

     Sometimes opposition comes in the form of appetites. Sometimes it comes in the form of pride. Sometimes it comes in the form of intellectual puzzlement. 

     All of this opposition is to be expected. As a matter of doctrine. 

     Unfortunately, some people fall into the trap of feeling overwhelmed in the face of large aggregate opposition. And, once overwhelmed, people can lose sight of the divine concepts of faith, hope and charity. For instance, the fact that there is so much suffering in the world might cause some people to struggle with hope (see this post on the problem of evil). Or, the prevalence of loose moral standards in the world can cause confusion about how God wants us to view each other. 

     Of particular interest to this post however is the fact that the large aggregate number of "big list" concerns, or lengthy compiled lists of concerns regarding Church leaders and doctrines, can seem overwhelming, even when each individual concern has plausible answers which fit within a consistent paradigm. 

     The fallacy which makes such big lists seem overwhelming comes in not recognizing that the gospel requires opposition, and therefore the sheer number of arguments which critics have come up with neither proves nor disproves anything. 

     Here the critic may cry foul, claiming that I am dismissing the strength of the individual arguments on their lists. But clearly I am not doing that. Each argument should be taken on it's own merits, and their arguments usually do involve some inductive evidence, which they are welcome to try to connect to build a case, but their interpretation of that evidence usually relies on assumptions which are deductive in nature. In other words, the inductive evidence they present does not clearly point where they want it, so they typically make deductive assumptions. Keep in mind that the plausible answers put forth by apologists need not be proven in order to effectively counter critical deductive arguments (see the Apologetic Proof Paradox). 

     The fallacy typically manifests when a critic realizes a given argument on a big list is not as strong as they had thought, and then resorts to pointing out how big the aggregation of all critical arguments against the Church is, trying to use the number of arguments as a reason for invoking Occam's Razor, while supposing that if the Church were true then it wouldn't be possible for so many critical arguments to exist. Again, the fallacy is in not realizing that the existence of such opposition is expected and even required in the very gospel paradigm which they suppose the existence of the aggregation disproves.

     What this means is that God intentionally allowed history to unfold in such a way that enough uncertainty and confusion would exist to allow the adversary to formulate a wide variety of clever arguments against the Church. Were it not so, where would the opposition be? 

     The doctrine of opposition in all things is not an ad-hoc formulation or in any way spurious. It is integral to the plan of salvation and runs throughout all of scripture, from Lehi's dream to Joseph Smith in the Liberty Jail; from Adam exiting the Garden of Eden, to Pharisees contending with Jesus himself, and ultimately Christ's very atonement, crucifixion and overcoming of all things. 

     Pointing to the amount of opposition does not constitute a viable argument. Yet critics resort to this quite often. 

No comments:

Post a Comment