As I've discussed before, arguments can often be won or lost in the way that the argument is framed. For example, in the United States, there is a lot of talk about tax relief. Now, this talk began with the Republicans – the more conservative of the two major political parties in the U.S. – but the language of tax relief was adopted by the Democrats. However, by adopting the idea of tax relief, the Democrats accepted the issues as framed by the Republicans. You see, the words "tax relief" were well-chosen by the Republicans to present their worldview. The word "relief" suggests that someone is being over-burdened by something, and that some sort of aid is needed to keep the unfortunate person from being buried under the problem. What type of relief is needed according to the Republicans? Tax relief is needed. In other words, taxes are overburdening the poor people, and someone needs to provide relief from those overbearing taxes. The Republicans claimed to provide the relief in the form of tax cuts. Now, the person who provides the relief is a hero. Anyone who doesn’t side with the proposed relief is seen as a villian. Get it? So, the Democrats – who generally do not favor tax cuts – allowed the issue to be framed in such a way that they were seen as the bad guys. Worse yet, they adopted the language of "tax relief" and thus started identifying themselves as the bad guys anytime they objected to any tax cut.
Even in the area of the debate about the existence of God, some issue framing takes place. The skeptics, for their part, try to frame the issue sometimes by arguing that it is irrational to believe in a book that talks about talking serpents (Genesis 3) and talking donkeys (Num 22:28), and thus frame the debate about believing in God as believing in fairy tales. Just recently, a commentor to one of Apologia_Christi's posts argued that belief in God is equivalent to a belief in Santa Claus or unicorns, again trying to frame the debate as concerning rational beliefs versus irrational beliefs. Since belief in Santa Claus and unicorns is not the same type of thing as a belief in God (thus, the argument is both a category error and an argument from contempt), the argument is really a non-sequitur. But skeptics know that if the argument is framed so that Christians look like they are having to defend God in the same way as a belief in unicorns, they have already taken control in the argument.
Certainly, we Christians are also attempting to frame the debate so that it gives the listeners the best impression in their minds. Hence, Christians sometimes frame the debate as the Godly people who are interested in an absolulte standard of morality versus the Godless people who have no basis for their morality. Like the argument comparing the belief in God to the belief in Santa Claus, this argument is more about how the issue is framed since, if the Christian is successful in making the case, then the Christian has taken control of the argument.
Now, I don't have a problem with framing issues because it is part of the process of argumentation. But where I think that the line between legitimate and illegitimate argumentation is crossed when the people try to make cases either through misrepresentation or manipulation. Just a couple of days ago, I came across as clear of an example of illegitimate argument due to manipulation that I have ever encountered. Not surprisingly, it came from the same people who made a video based largely on misrepresentation: Beyond Belief Media.
Beyond Belief Media has set up a "Statement of Belief" that they are encouraging skeptics to require Christians to sign before they can talk to the skeptic about Christianity. Of course, the entire idea is incredibly stupid, but then Beyond Belief Media is the organiation that brought us the Jesus-Myth film "The God Who Wasn't There" and the still-born War on Easter, so I am not particularly surprised. But even dumber than the idea of having someone sign a piece of paper before engaging them in conversation is the things that Christians must admit in order to have the privilege of talking with these skeptics. Here's what the Christian must sign:
STATEMENT OF BELIEF
By agreeing to the following statements, you are not agreeing that they settle any additional questions. You are only acknowledging that you understand the difference between evidence and faith. If you cannot sign this statement, you do not deserve to be taken seriously.
I acknowledge that the Bible is not infallible. It was created entirely by humans and may contain significant flaws.
I acknowledge that a claim can be part of Christian tradition and also be false.
I acknowledge that there is no known evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ that dates to the period of his alleged life.
I acknowledge that the names of the Gospels were most likely added well after their composition, and there is insufficient evidence to believe that these names correspond to the original writers.
I acknowledge that there is insufficient evidence to believe that any of the Gospels were written by disciples of Jesus Christ.
I acknowledge that it is common for religious cults to make things up.
I acknowledge that it is common for religions to influence each other, and for young religions to be derived from older religions.
I acknowledge that no figures such as "God" or "The Holy Spirit" or "Satan" performed any supernatural actions that had any effect upon the formation of early Christianity.
I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the foregoing is true and correct.
Now, obviously, these people don't really expect any Christian to sign such a ridiculous document. The "Statement of Belief" (which is really should be titled "Statement Ridiculing Belief") begins with a false dilemma which says that Christians either (1) sign the document that gives away their argument (since the final argument essentially requires the Christian to deny the resurrection) or (2) they are not worth taking seriously. Of course, the claims required to be accepted are largely untrue. In fact, this setting of the parameters of what contsitutes legitimate evidence is the same type of tactic engaged in by the infamous Jesus Seminar -- set the parameters of the evidence to predetermine the outcome and you win! Of course, if the parameters were all clearly on one side (as this Statement pretends), then there would be no argument in which to engage.
According to Brian Flemming's Blog, apologist J.P. Holding has previously commented on this silly Statement and came to the same conclusion at which I arrived. However, it is fascinating to see how Mr. Flemming (the "brains"[?!?] behind Beyond Belief Media) manipulates Holding's comments:
He says that if he signed the required Statement of Belief, that would be the same thing as saying, "I believe that Brian Flemming is right."
But that tells us a lot right there, doesn't it?
He's essentially said this:
"If the propositions in the Statement of Belief are true, Jesus did not exist."
I don't see how it could be read any other way. J.P. Holding is essentially admitting that without the supernatural trump card, his position loses.
No rational person familiar with the facts could disagree with the Statement of Belief. Every one of those assertions is as obvious as "Brian Flemming takes enormous glee in manipulating Christian lunatics." The only way not to believe them is to use the magic of faith.
So, let's look at what he is saying: The argument is whether Jesus existed. In order to engage in discussion with Mr. Flemming or his ilk the Christian needs to sign a statement that says that the evidence that the Christian wants to present is not valid. Therefore, because (according to Mr. Flemming) no one could rationally disagree with the statements made in his Statement of Belief, he wins the argument! What an absolute joke.
This is just another example of their arguments from ridicule and contempt which Mr. Flemming and Beyond Blief Media regularly employ -- it is a typical example of posturing in which Beyond Belief Media regularly engages. I encourage anyone (skeptics and Christians alike) who has any desire for serious debate to reject this type of argument since it isn't an argument that would be accepted in any other arena whatsoever. It is mean-spirited and counter-productive. Mr. Flemming and Beyond Belief Media should be ashamed.