The Enthymeme of Unbelief

October 25, 2009 — Leave a comment

Rather than blogging over the last week, most of my attention was diverted to the comment thread on Idolatry: Pharisees (C). If I wanted to I suppose, I could highlight most of my arguments throughout and use as an example of apologetics, both in the historical sense of apologetics from history and in the philosophical sense of challenging the underlying philosophy of unbelief.

I’ll probably spend some time gathering thoughts and reading further on the former, but on the latter, I’ll go ahead here and say a few words. It is interesting to note though that the evidences necessary to validate Christianity historically are typically what Pelagian7 was intent on attacking. Whether or not he himself realizes this, the historical facts upon which Christianity is based are actually of prime importance, at least it was to Paul. If the unbeliever can undermine the historical claims central to Christianity (the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ as presented in the Bible) then there is little point of arguing further. This is why Paul thought that is Christ had not been raised we were to be most pitied. For unlike any other religion, Christianity rises or falls on the legitimacy of its historicity.

But I will return to that later on.

For now, you might be intrigued, or at least unsure of what I am getting at in the title. An enthymeme is simply an argument containing an unstated proposition (Introduction to Logic,  Copi/Cohen, 2005, 279ff). Everyday discourse relies heavily on them, so there is nothing particularly wrong or sinister about them. However, if you browse back through the comment thread I mentioned earlier, you will see that they occur rather frequently in Pelagian7’s discourse and the reason for that is particularly wrong and sinister. Maybe not intentionally on his part, but nonetheless, it is poor logical form and the unstated propositions in these types of arguments are specifically the ones that need to be addressed.

That is probably the main reason the comment thread went as long as it did. It was a combination of failure on my part to always address them, and a continued effort on Pelagian7’s part to suppress the controversial parts of his argument into unstated premises. Now, I can’t completely be too hard on Pelagian7 as some of the authors he is fond of reading do just that particular thing frequently (a la Bart Ehrman) and he more or less was just parroting what he had read.

To see Ehrman’s enthymemes exposed, check out either Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ or Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus” for a highlight just on Ehrman as it applies to NT textual criticism.

Paul, as well as seeing the necessity of a sound historical apologetic, also recognized the basis of an enthymeme of unbelief in Romans 1:18-19:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.

Now I realize Paul is not explicitly talking about suppressing a premise of your argument when trying to justify your beliefs, but it does seem to be alluding a principle that is at work in the minds of unbelievers.

This comes out frequently as an un-argued bias against either the Christian faith, the life of Christ, or the authority and inspiration of the Bible. In my seminar on Ancient Near Eastern literature, we discuss this often as we come across writings in the ancient world that seem very similar to parts of the Bible. Many times scholars will argue that this undermines the Bible, the suppressed premise being that similarity must mean copying on the part of the authors of Scripture, not vice versa, or the more likely option, they all simply shared a similar cognitive environment that we 3000-4000 years later do not.

Anyway, this typically comes out when arguing with atheists would like to presume that all Christians are biased and that somehow they themselves are not. The un-argued premise again is that they themselves are neutral. It is rarely stated so bluntly as that, which can make it hard to detect, but a quick glance through of the comment thread on Pharisees (C) shows just that. The scholars Pelagian7 continually cited were presented in an un-argued manner as being neutral and objective, while anyone I quoted was biased and did not count.

The correct way to precede in these sorts of arguments is not to deny your own bias, since as a Christian you should be biased, you are not meant to seek to be objective or neutral in your reasoning. Truth is not up for grabs and given to the best argument. If you reason your way into Christianity then you can just as easily reason your way out. Your faith should not rest on your ability to reason. This is not to say reason is worthless, it is just a tool (or as Martin Luther would say, a “whore”) that will serve any master.

As a Christian, you submit your reasoning to the Scriptures and to Christ, and because of that, you lost objectivity and neutrality. But be quick to point out, your unbelieving friend is not neutral either, and your job remains to expose the bias, and to uproot the enthymemes of unbelief buried in their arguments.

All this to say, this comes out very significantly in the creation vs. evolution debates, and since we are getting ready to explore Genesis, this serves as a good hinge between the past posts and the upcoming ones. At some point we will delve into the philosophical arguments against the tenets of evolution as we move the arena away from Genesis, at least in the way it is normally taken there. Genesis plays a role as we will soon see, it is just the part it is meant to play is different than certain groups of evangelicals would like it to be, but in the end, our argument against evolution and against atheism is stronger, not weaker.

So let’s dig in.


Posts Twitter Facebook

I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

No Comments

Be the first to start the conversation.

Want To Add Your Thoughts?