apologetics, Christian Doctrines, The Bible, theology

Problems with the “Slippery Slope” argument for Inerrancy

question-week2I believe the Bible is true in all that it teaches, and that this is what is meant by inerrancy. The Bible teaches no error. There is much debate over the meaning of inerrancy, and I’m not going to enter into that debate now (though I have written on it, if you’d like to see my opinion). What is important is that I want to start by saying that I affirm inerrancy, but I think one common argument in favor of the doctrine is mistaken.

The Slippery Slope Argument for Inerrancy

The argument I’m referring to is what I shall dub the “Slippery Slope” argument. Basically, it asserts that if someone doubts that one part of the Bible is true, doubt about the rest of the Bible unerringly follows [see what I did there?]. One example of this can be found in a recent webcomic from Adam Ford. We might write out the argument in syllogistic form as something like:

1. If one part of the Bible is in thought to be an error, other parts are thrown into doubt
2. Person A believes the Bible has an error.
3. Therefore, person A has reason to believe other parts are thrown into doubt.

The syllogism as I have written it is surely not the only way to put this argument. I am providing it largely as an illustration of how the argument might be stated. The core of the argument, however, is that if one thinks part of the Bible is an error, the rest of it is made at least possibly dubious.

Analyzing the Argument

There are several difficulties that immediately come up, ranging from concrete to obscure. On the obscure end, we might question what is meant by “an error” and whether that error is said to be theological, scientific, medical, or something else. We could then debate whether an alleged scientific error in the Bible is grounds for stating that there is “an error” in the Bible to begin with, by debating different views Christians hold about the Bible’s relationship with science (or medicine, or whatever). I’m not going to delve into obscurities here, however interesting they may be (and, in my opinion, they are very interesting).

Instead, I want to focus on some major difficulties with the argument. For one, it assumes that the interlocutor, person A, views the entirety of the Bible as on the same evidential plain. That is, for the argument to hold any weight, person A would have to believe that the Bible is linked together so intricately that a belief that Genesis 34:17 [I arbitrarily chose this verse] is an error (however defined) would entail that John 3:16 is possibly an error as well. Clearly, for the argument to be sound, Premise 1 must be correct, and it seems to be obviously false.

The reason I say this is because the possible errancy of John 3:16 does not follow from belief that there is an error in Genesis 34:17. Suppose you are reading a history textbook and you see that it states the date of General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox to be April 9, 1864. You, being a proud history buff, know that the date was actually April 9, 1865. However, the year is only off by one. You may proceed more carefully through the rest of the book, but you would not have any reason to think that the book was mistaken when it said that General Patton was a United States general in World War II.

The argument therefore assumes a unity of the text such that the entire Bible stands or falls together. Now, that might be a perfectly correct position to hold–and I do hold to the unity of Scripture myself–but that is not an obligatory or necessary view. That is, someone might deny that the Bible is a unified text and therefore need not ascribe to the view that if one part is in error, another must be.

But this is not the only difficulty with the argument. Another problem is that it assumes person A has no more reason to believe the portions of the Bible they believe are true than they do for the portions they believe might be errors. Yet this is mistaken, and demonstrably so. Person A may believe there is overwhelming evidence for the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, such that they affirm that without question, while also thinking that the evidence against Israel having been in Egypt is quite weighty as well. Thus, they believe the Bible is perhaps mistaken on the status of Israel in relation to Egypt in Exodus, but they also affirm that it is clearly correct on Jesus’ resurrection. But the slippery slope argument presumes that they cannot hold these beliefs together without at least significant tension. But why? Again, the reason appears to be because the slippery slope argument relies on the assumption that the evidence for one part of the Bible must be exactly on par with the evidence for another. However, that in itself is clearly wrong.

 

Conclusion

Again, I affirm the doctrine of inerrancy. I just think we should not rely on this as one of our arguments. I have used the slippery slope argument myself in the past, but I believe the above analysis shows I was mistaken to do so. I think that others should avoid the argument as well so that we can present the best possible arguments for the truth of the Bible without error.

I suspect many will take issue with the analysis above. I’m not saying that I believe any portion of the Bible is an error. Nor am I denying the unity of Scripture. What I am saying is that it is not logically fallacious to deny that unity. I’m saying that I believe it is logically consistent to believe that the Bible may have an error while still affirming, for example, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Is that something I would recommend? No, but neither is it something I would say is necessarily contradictory. Those who do want to take issue with my analysis must demonstrate how it is mistaken, and thus provide reason to think that the assumptions the slippery slope argument is based upon are sound.

Again, a final note is that I have taken the place of the interlocutor in several instances in this post. My point is simply that someone who did deny these things could come up with effective counters to the slippery-slope argument for inerrancy. Therefore, it seems to me that the argument is ineffective at best and faulty or fallacious at worst. It relies on presupposing that the opponent operates in the same sphere of presuppositions as the one offering the argument, but they need not do so.

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On the “Fuzzification” of Inerrancy– I argue that we have qualified the term “inerrancy” unnecessarily and to the extent that it has become difficult to pin down its actual meaning. I advocate a return to a simple definition of the term.

SDG.

——

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

3 thoughts on “Problems with the “Slippery Slope” argument for Inerrancy

  1. Thanks for this.:)

    Posted by mnfauth | November 23, 2015, 10:04 AM
  2. I think the real issue is that inerrency holds the original autographs are without error. Developed it winks to the fact there are bad copies and bad translations; the received text may be tampered. Otherwise, they’d have no ability to account for the diverse manuscripts and that there are multiple text traditions.

    Posted by vonleonhardt2 | November 23, 2015, 2:47 PM

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