Atheist Attempt Truth by Stipulation: You Can't Make The Argument Until You Prove IT
There are two really silly debate ploys that people sometimes use. I don't say they are peculiar to the atheist camp, but since I am more familiar with their arguments, than those of creationists, for example, I will use them. My aim is to raise consciousness about these fallacies in an attempt to get people to stop using them.
these two fallacies exist in an interchange, a sublational interplay where one builds upon the other.
The two fallacies are:
(1) privileging one's own position
(2) Truth by Stipulation.
As it turns out the kids who offer the $500 to prove Jesus existed employ no. 1 fallacy in spades. They have erased the comments but before they did so they informed one contestant that he could not use Raymond Brown as an authority because Brown was a priest. It's just so obvious that a Priest is not objective, and they said explicitly that no one with a theology degree could be used. What's really odd is that they themselves use religious thinkers all the time, and they use them to support their own views? It has not yet dawned on them that they are quoting liberals and that liberals have their own faith. One striking example of this is their use of Bultmann. They even declared "Rudolf Bultmann is a non Christian." The reason they thought he wasn't a Christian is because he doesn't take the Bible literally. So they know so little about theology they don't even know that there is a liberal wing of the theological world. All they know of Christianity is the fundies, and yet they are so sure they know all about it, so much so that they can dims Ray Brown as "subjective." Raymond Brown was one of the top textual critics in the world (died in 1998). But they wont allow him in the discussion because he was a priest. As though this immanently rational scholar just goes gaga when he sees the Bile, but he can still learn Greek, decipher manuscripts in ancient script, do hard textual criticism, but somehow his judgment is so impaired that he's just out of control.
I made the same mistake in my youth, so I cannot judge these guys too harshly. Stung by an encounter with a preacher who taught at a local preaching school, who wiped me out in a debate with the use of Josh McDowell (I was fresh out of high school and McDowell's Evidence that Demands a Verdict was still pretty new), I went in search of Biblical scholars who would counter McDowell. I discovered Brunet Hillman Streeter. Streeter published The Primitive Church in 1924, he was killed in a plain crash in India in the 40's. He was the cancan reader at Cambridge in the 20s-40s. One of the finest scholars of the early part of the 20th century. Streeter was a liberal of his day, meaning, a ninetieth century style liberal. He did, however, have a strong faith which manifested itself in mystical consciousness. He even found Saudu Sunder Sing, an interesting case of Christian mystic who had grown up a Sikh in India and had a Damascus Road experience in which Jesus spoke to him out of a great light. Streeter was very impressed with Sing and cultivated a friendship. I was heartened to find his book on the Primitive Church. He seemed to tear the Bible to pieces. Little did I know he loved the Bible, he was not tearing it at all but merely preparing the reader to read it intelligently. The Primitive Church rapidly became one of my favorite books.
One day as I read Streeter I came across a statement he makes in which he declares his faith and speaks in a devotional manner about "our Lord." I was shocked! he was a believer after all! How could this be? He tears the Bible to pieces. He even says it has mistakes in it. He must be mad. That was when I realized there's a lot more to the theological world than I realized. It's not all just a matter of Christians are stupid fools with simplistic little zombie brains and atheist are all smart little bastards like me (as I was then). That realization was truly shocking to me, and it was one of the first stepping stones that put me on the path to conversion. But some atheists, the less adapt at argumentation, have learned to privilege their position, and they do so in such a way that the create a simplistic formulation along the lines of their own ideological conceits: objectivity is good, our side is objective. Subjectivity is bad, their side is subjective. We good, they bad. That privileging is seen at work creating a king's x to rule out the use of any epistemic authority of scholarly expertise that would caution against their position. In this sense fallacy 1 bleeds into fallacy 2 as it becomes truth by stipulation. The privileging of the position works itself into truth by stipulation.
We can see this dichotomy of privilege at work in the exclusion of the NT as any sort of artifact in evidence of the historical Jesus. The atheist community (SEC Web, infidel guy) have it down to a point where the New Testament, especially the Gospels are almost irrelevant to any discussion of the historical Jesus. Once the potentates of mediocrity at the SW decided to declare the Gospels fictional (truth by stipulation) they just wiped out any need to use them. Any references to them are just met with the magical king's X, this is wiped away because we declare it to be fictional and end of comment. A snowball effect occurs whereby the privileging leads to stipulating and the stipulating under girds the privileging. Before long they just ignore anything any Christian has to say. We see this already happening in the exclusion of any priest or anyone with a theology degree. Of course their ignorance binges theologians back into the picture but only because they are haplessly unaware of their own fumbling. How cod anyone logically fight such a syndrome? If we try to play the same game and stipulate our side it's just mattress taste in conflict. If we try to remain steadfast to the scholarship they have that ignored and it doesn't matter to them. So little by little they cut themselves off from any rational discussion. How ironic for the children who call themselves "The Rational Response Squad." Those are the one's offering money to prove that Jesus existed. They could save their money and read my historical Jesus pages, but we will let them find that out for themselves.
Fallacy no two I have seen employed in many ways at many times. It was most recently employed at CARM in arguing about religious experience studies. But I have it used a lot in every God argument. I called this "truth by stimulation" but it works in a particular way. It works out to be truth by stipulation, but it begins iwht the assertion "you can't make that argument until it is proven." I first encountered it in making a God argument. The atheist says 'you can't start an argument by referring to God because that's assuming God exits.' I say "but this argument is an argument to prove God exits. So how do I speak of God in order to prove he exists," "you can't, you must first prove he exists, otherwise you ear begging the question." I swear that's what he said. It destine' take a rhetorical genius to see that if this is taken literally or seriously one can never make an argument. To make an argument one must first make it, then the making of it proves something. But how can you prove an argument before you make it? But the fact is, that's what these guys want. They want a cheap way to shut up talk of God because they know they can't go toe to toe on the logic of God arguments. That's why God arguments are back. So this position works itself out to be a stimulation, "there is no God" period, no need for proof, that's just the way it is. That means you can't begin a discussion about God becasue even to prove God that would beg the question.
Both of these fallacies are arrived at from a basic starting point in the subject/object dichotomy. That starting point is one of fear. These people fear anything subjective, so much so that they have to place themselves in a strict position of stipulation that no subjectivity must ever cross their path. Of course they privilege their own guys as good and objective. That means that they use their own subjective taste to affirm the objectivity of their camp. AS it turns out their critical principle is nothing more than supreme arrogance. This kind of atheist assumes that all knowledge is empirically derived and inductive. Thus only objective observation can be used to understand knowledge. Subjectivity has no place in knowledge, because knowledge must be absolute. There is no room for error.
Of course the amusing part is, they have no objective data for any of their views. They are so horribly subjective they don't even know that there are liberal theologians. They are so horribly subjective that their basic myther position is made up almost entirely of an argument form silence, lacks any kind of objective data. The Christian position on historical Jesus has a lot of data behind it than the myther position does. We have sources from the first century that at least assert that Jesus was a guy in history. But the mythers have not one single source that denies this, not until the eighteenth century! The reason the atheists must privilege their position and wipe out all evidence that counts again them by stipulating it under the King's X is becuase they are afraid to actually argue honestly.