The bible is infallible. The bible attests its own infallibility. Therefore, the bible is a trustworthy source about the nature of reality.
Ever get frustrated when debating somebody who thinks that way? I have. Facing such people is akin to hitting a brick wall. There is a full stop. Conversation ends. Do not pass Go. Do not collect 200 dollars. The sheer frustration of such circular logic puts us in a place where we lack the words to progress dialogue; so we pick up our toys and go home.
The fallacy of such appeal is called begging the question, or BTQ. Such a fallacy exists wherein a conclusion is wrongly stated as a premise. The claim to the bible’s infallibility is the desired conclusion of the Christian apologist. To state it as a premise is to jump the gun in order to force a desired belief. It’s a frustrating, mind-bogglingly unappealing, and endlessly unproductive fallacy – and one of my least favorite fallacies altogether.
Surely, counter-apologists are above such nonsense!
Well, maybe not. But there is hope for us all the same.
By definition, a supernatural event is one which follows rules beyond the standard materialistic model. As many counter-apologists have pointed out, anything which can be explained ceases to be a supernatural event. Lightning, once thought of as punishment from the gods, is now as natural an event as the rain – though admittedly (and thankfully) more rare.
At the same time that counter-apologists point out the erosion of the supernatural, we put the burden of proof on the religious claim. Since the religious story is the incredulous one, so we say, it is the duty of the theist to prove the existence of god, rather than for the nontheist to prove the nonexistence of god. Even taking questions of status-quo defenses aside, the impossibility of proving a negative demands such an approach.
Independently, the two phenomena would be totally fine in argument. Together, however, counter-apologists have put themselves in a place where they are begging the question with their religious peers. The logical propositions seem to be as such:
1. A supernatural event is that which cannot be explained through natural means.
2. A supernatural frame of reference should not be adopted without proof using natural means.
3. Therefore, because a natural frame of reference has failed to prove the supernatural, the supernatural does not exist.
For what it’s worth, there is much more to this argument – the natural/supernatural distinction, for instance, takes place more within the labeling conventions of the human mind than in the world which exists externally to us. And there are plenty of theists who would contend that all of the cosmos – gods and all – should be treated as on the same plane. However, the counter-apologist, in rejecting the existence of gods, seems to force a dichotomy.
So what is the way forward? We could, I suppose, agree to disagree and call it a day. But that isn’t satisfying and it’s cognitive dissonance to end it there. I’ve rejected the existence of god with what I have – to suggest that what works for me won’t work in argument seems disingenuous (though worth consideration).
Rather, I suggest that we need to start using words other than supernatural. Theists won’t benefit from it, because the first counter-apologetic premise does well to indicate that the supernatural is just a matter for the god of the gaps. Moreover, the ability of religious dialogue to survive the elimination of the supernatural label ought to be enough to justify the change. The “one-storey universe” model is more than appropriate enough for apologetic purposes.
Likewise, counter-apologists need the terminological switch in order to stop begging the question. The issue isn’t whether gods are magical, green, or bearded – it’s simply whether they exist. We lose nothing by pushing for the “natural god” debate, save a few embarrassing fallacies.
What I’ve proposed is merely a change in terminology. It certainly doesn’t end our problems. Perhaps I’m even wrong to suggest that we’re begging the question. Here, then, are two questions:
First – am I correct to suggest that this line of counter-apologetic thinking does, in fact, beg the question?
Second – what other changes in terminology might be productive for both sides of an apologetic debate?