I was contemplating a post I was working on not too long ago and realized I didn’t find one of the arguments I put forward very convincing.
I think that there may be situations in which it is permissible and perhaps even wise to use arguments that you don’t personally find convincing. I want to start this with the caveat that as Christians in no way should you use arguments in this fashion without honestly prefacing them by saying something like “I don’t find this convincing necessarily” or “This is not my view, but some think…” We must be honest in our argumentation, but that doesn’t mean we have to be limited in it.
The Impossibility of Knowing Everything
One reason to use arguments that you don’t personally find convincing is because it is impossible for us to know everything. For example, for a long time I thought Pascal’s Wager was an okay, but not ultimately convincing argument. However, I then read a book on the argument, Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God by Jeff Jordan (review linked), which convinced me that the argument is actually fairly powerful. Indeed, after reading the book I even started to use the argument myself.
Thus, what this means is that there was an argument I did not find convincing at one point, but which I later found to be quite convincing indeed. I didn’t have a complete picture of the Wager type argument, and I still don’t. It’s possible that one day I might discover a strong counter-argument which undermines my confidence in the argument.
Effectively any argument that we consider is in a situation like this. We cannot possibly have read every single angle on most (any?) arguments, and so it is possible that any number of arguments we find convincing are really not; or vice versa.
Thus, it might not be a bad idea in some situations to offer something like this: “I haven’t studied X argument much, but as of now I don’t find it very convincing. However, I do think the position it ultimately argues for is true. Perhaps you’d find X argument convincing, and we can talk about it. [Offer X argument.]”
Opening Up New Avenues for Discussion
The closing example above offers another insight into why mentioning or “using” arguments that we don’t personally find convincing could be effective- they might open up avenues for more discussion. For example, when one is doing apologetics, I could see a conversation happening in which an opening could be found by saying something like “I agree! I don’t find X to be a convincing reason to believe in God. Here’s why. Can we talk about Y, though, which I do find convincing?”
Moreover, we are called to pursue the truth and hold fast to what is good. In discussing an argument we might not find convincing, there might be new points raised which cause us to reevaluate the rejected argument in a different light.
The Pragmatic Use of Arguments
Finally, another reason it might be even wise to utilize arguments that we don’t personally find convincing would be pragmatic. For the sake of the following example, just assume that the positions presented are thought be the apologist to be acceptable biblically, though they favor one over the other. Suppose one is talking to an atheist whose only objection left to Christianity is the doctrine of eternal conscious punishment. In that case, the apologist might mention the alternative Christian doctrine of annihilationism/conditionalism, pointing out that although they don’t personally hold the view, it is a view that is established within the Christian tradition and offers an alternative to the eternal conscious punishment view.
In this case, the atheist’s final objection is at least possibly answered–they are confronted with the reality that their final objection is possibly mistaken. And, the apologist with whom they are having this discussion was honest enough to point out they don’t hold to the view, merely that it is a view which answers their objection.
This pragmatic use of argument must be done carefully, and again very openly and honestly. I have found that if one does use this method in a conversation, it generally goes to more fruitful discussions and drawing out more areas of agreement.
Thus, I am of the opinion that it is at least permissible to use arguments that you do not personally find convincing, with the caveat that you do so honestly.
What do you think? Should you only use arguments you personally find convincing? Is it permissible to use arguments you don’t find convincing? Are there circumstances in which this is different?
By the way, I did take that argument out of the post I was working on.
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Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging and commented:
Great stuff J.W.!
My problem with Paschal’s wager is it seems completely the wrong reason to follow Christ, fire insurance, rather than being drawn by the amazing love of God we see in Christ, or realising our own failings wanting to get right with God. I’m kind of with Terry Pratchett on this one.
“Upon his death, the philosopher in question found himself surrounded by a group of angry gods with clubs. The last thing he heard was ‘We’re going to show you how we deal with Mister Clever Dick around here…'”
Jeff Jordan actually comments on that objection, and the linked post points to expected utility as a possible way to assess belief. I’ll try to look up Jordan’s own response because I don’t remember it offhand (I read the book over a year ago).
I don’t have a problem using an argument I’m not personally convinced of. I use “Big Bang” cosmology all the time, but not necessarily in the same context as is posited by secular scientists.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, (the whole cosmos), and darkness covered the face of the deep. He said “let their be light”, (the big bang.)