Reviling What They Do Not Understand
“But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. ... But these, like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption” (II Peter 2:1-2, 12).
Reviling What They Do Not Understand - An appeal to ignorance
For some people, if they are unable to understand something, then it must be wrong. In discussing false teachers, Jude warns, “But these speak evil of whatever they do not know; and whatever they know naturally, like brute beasts, in these things they corrupt themselves.” (Jude 10). It is easy to degrade what you do not understand. Because of a fear of the unknown, people find it easier to accept such rejections. This one reason racism is difficult to overcome – people fear what they do not understand and it is easier to remain in fear than to learn the truth.
Surprisingly, while some people reject what they do not understand, some will accept a statement as true if there is no evidence against it. This is what is often done to the Bible in archeology: “The Bible mentions Hitites, but we have no evidence that there was a Hitite nation, therefore the Bible is in error.” This argument is easily defeated when the evidence is eventually found. But until that time, “experts” have a field day with their so-called proof. A lack of evidence only means that one cannot conclude whether something is true or false. The lack of evidence is not evidence in and of itself.
A reversal leads to the same false conclusion. Many people are inclined to deny a statement is true if there is a lack of affirming evidence. Consider this flawed argument: “No Moslems are Christians. No Jews are Moslem. Therefore, no Jews are Christian.” We may have asserted that Moslems and Christians do not overlap and that Moslems and Jews do not overlap, but we have not proved that Judaism and Christianity are not overlapped conditions. This type of argumentation can be spotted by noting that all the premises and the conclusions are in the negative. However, many people accept this flawed reasoning precisely because there is no positive statement.
One group “proves” that located preachers should not exist by citing situations where located preachers failed to do their duty. I suppose you could list evidence until Judgment Day, but men’s failures do not prove whether a duty should or should not exist. If we did accept that line of reasoning, we should say that mankind cannot be saved because they have failed to keep God’s law. I’m sure I won’t run out of evidence of men’s failures, but such evidence doesn’t prove man cannot be saved.
The Gravity Game
Have you ever watched a young child toss a toy from their high chair? Mom or dad, distracted by other matters, picks up the toy and the child promptly deposits it over the side again. The game continues ad nauseam until the parent suddenly realizes that they been down this road far too often.
Many holders of false beliefs play the same game. They argue their point and you counter with a well-researched response. Yet, they respond as if you never made a point. While the particular point you address might not be brought up again immediately, it won’t be long before you find yourself right back where you started.
I think it is to these types of arguments that Jesus’ statement regarding pigs is especially applicable. “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces” (Matthew 7:6). Jewelry is lost on animals. They have no appreciation of its value. Similarly, the truth is lost on some people because they do not have a love for truth (II Thessalonians 2:9-12).
When you find your opponent has no response to your argument but continually returns to the same invalid point that you disproved, you might consider whether it is worth spending more time debating the point. This is what Paul had to do at times (Acts 13:44-46).
Raising the Bar
When one side successfully answers the points brought up by his opponent, the opponent doesn’t admit defeat, instead, he demands additional evidence. When I pointed out to a man that James 2:24 proves that a man is not saved by faith alone, his response was that the books of John and Romans never stated that more than faith was necessary for salvation. He was wrong on this point as well, but the tactic was one of raising the bar. He had no answer for the evidence, so he demanded evidence that only came from a particular source.
Another form of this argumentation is to constantly throw out yet another question when the previous question is answered. The person hasn’t accepted the previous answer, but since he doesn’t have a response, he will delay a decision until you can answer yet another question. Because there is never any agreement, the questions that must be answered never come to an end.
This tactic has been used to keep men out of the eldership. A congregation studies what is needed for a man to be an elder and several men are offered as meeting those qualifications. If someone doesn’t like a particular person or doesn’t desire elders, he will find some fault with the man. When the issue is answered, yet another problem will be raised, often by making the terms of qualification stricter than found in the Scriptures or demanding that a particular qualification must be demonstrated in a certain manner. The demand for ever greater and better evidence of qualification continues until the man in question finally gives up and withdraws his name from consideration.
While we desire to answer all questions asked of us (I Peter 3:15), it is well to make sure a point has been addressed before moving on to another. Demand for stronger evidence than required by the Scriptures does not have to be met.
This line of argument occurs when a person focuses on minor details instead of the issue at hand, thereby sidetracking the discussion onto irrelevant points. If often happens when a person is unable to grasp the importance of his opponent’s logic, so he focuses on a small part and aims his attack at the small piece that he sees. Usually, the focus is on a single word, such as President Clinton’s infamous response of “It depends on what your meaning of the word “is” is.” Such focus on a leaf in the forest keeps the participants from the issues at hand.
Because something is difficult to determine if it is right or wrong, or difficult to define, it is easily ignored. How much hair must one lose to be bald? If I stood several men before you with differing amounts of hair remaining, which ones would you label “bald?” For some, the lack of a precise definition is justification to claim no one is really bald; thereby bypassing the whole uncomfortable position.
This is how the lawyer attempted to handle the uncomfortable conclusion to Jesus’ teaching. Faced with proof that he must love his neighbor as himself, he tried to hide behind the imprecise definition of a neighbor (Luke 10:29). Jesus’s response proved that he really did not have a difficulty in defining the word neighbor. He understood who among all of mankind was his neighbor (Luke 10:36-37).
Another example of this was when Pilate dismissed Jesus’ disturbing statement by asking “What is truth?” (John 18:38).
This same line of argument is used to avoid making a stand on a variety of issues. As an example, since obscenity is hard to crisply define, society has allowed obscenity to proliferate. It is not that people don’t understand what is obscene, but they have a problem drawing the line between the obscene and the not so obscene. Rather than make a stand, they avoid the whole issue and accept the unacceptable. A similar issue is defining when life begins. For most it is obvious, but many have accepted definitions that loose or arbitrary. Once a loose definition is accepted, it is easy for people to become more and more tolerant of inappropriate behavior. How short is too short for a dress to be modest? At what point would a man’s hair length be considered long? How sound can a church be to be called a sound congregation? We can find a seemingly endless list of issues which people would rather avoid than make a stand.
Every question concerning the meaning of words is not one from spurious precision. Far too often people in denominations attach odd meanings to words so that two people can say something and both be thinking something different. For example, you could talk with a Roman Catholic about the importance of baptism and appear to be in complete agreement. Yet, you might see baptism as the choice an adult makes to be immersed in water while the Roman Catholic is talking about infant baptism to cleanse the original sin of Adam from the child.