Friday, August 19, 2016

Rhetorical Tricks of the Enemy's Trade [Pt. 1]

by Hiram R. Diaz III
Tautologies & Ambiguity, or “Before x Existed, There Was No x!
The assertion “Before existed, there was no x!” is necessarily true, for the antecedent phrase “Before x existed…” tells us that there was a “before-time” and this is what the consequent phrase “there was no x” also states. If the antecedent phrase were different, then the consequent phrase would enlarge our understanding of x. For instance, consider the following revision.
In AD 1324, there was no x!
This revised assertion tells us that x was non-existent in AD 1324. may have existed prior to AD 1324, ceased to exist in AD 1324, and then come back into being some time after AD 1324. Or x may have first come into existence after AD 1324. Either way, the assertion tells us that (1.)x came into being, and (2.)x’s coming-into-being occurred after AD 1324.
There is rhetorical force to using tautological statements like “Before x existed, there was no x!” Such statements add emphasis to one’s underlying assertion/s (e.g. “x has not always existed”), and are suggestive of the speaker’s/writer’s confidence in the beliefs he is defending by using these tautologies. For this reason, despite the paucity of sound argumentation in their writings and lectures, antitrinitarians can ruffle the feathers of even mature Christians.
The Method in Action
Among antitrintarians, the following  three tautologies have been in vogue for a long time.
  1. The doctrine of the trinity was formulated by theologians in the late 300’s, not the apostolic writers of the Bible.
  1. The word trinity is not derived from God’s Word but uninspired theologians.
  1. Starting sometime after the close of the NT canon,1 the title “God the Son” began to be applied to Jesus, to whom the Scriptures do not apply the title.
That 1, 2, and 3 are tautologies will be demonstrated in the table below, which divides  the assertions into the initial articulation, or IA, the revised articulation, or RA, and their shared propositional content, or PC.
IA
RA
PC
The doctrine of the trinity was formulated by theologians in the late 300’s.
The doctrine of the trinity was not formulated by the apostolic writers of the Bible.
The doctrine of the trinity was not formulated by the apostolic writers of the Bible.
The word trinity is not derived from God’s Word.
The word trinity is  derived from  uninspired theologians...
The word trinity is not derived from God’s Word.
Starting sometime after the close of the NT canon, the title “God the Son” began to be applied to Jesus.
The Scriptures do not apply the title “God the Son” to Jesus.
The title “God the Son” is not derived from the Bible.
Note that IA and RA have the same PC, indicating that IA and RA are simply two articulations of the same idea (i.e. PC).
The historically ignorant young Christian may be unsettled by the historical data. The Scripturally ignorant believer may be unsettled by the fact that the Bible doesn’t use the word “trinity” or the title “God the Son.” Even the informed and more mature Christian may be unsettled because he is unaware of the fallacious nature of the antitrinitarian’s argumentation. What is more, compounding the unsettled feeling these believers experience is the fact that the assertions listed above are actually true.
It is true that the writers of the Bible did not formulate the doctrine of the trinity. It is likewise true that the word trinity is not found in the Bible. Finally, it is true that the title “God the Son” is not found in the Bible. Assertions 1, 2, and 3 are tautologies that sound profound and seem to be detrimental to the claim that the doctrine of the trinity is taught in the Scriptures and constitutes the church’s universal theology proper. However, they are not.
Disambiguation: The Enemy of Antitrinitarian Rhetoric
It has been demonstrated that the above tautologies have no bearing on whether or not the doctrine of the trinity is true. Why, then, do antitrinitarians use these assertions in their attacks on the Christian doctrine of God? What is their rhetorical value?
Apart from sounding confident and appearing to have uttered some earth-shatteringly profound revelation, tautologies have the added effect of allowing listeners/readers to fallaciously draw conclusions about what they really mean.
Consider, for instance, proposition 1:
The doctrine of the trinity was formulated by theologians in the late 300’s, not the apostolic writers of the Bible.
The proposition can be interpreted to mean that the doctrine of the trinity was invented by post-canonical theologians (spec. the so-called Nicene fathers), or that the doctrine of the trinity was only given its final technical form in the late 300’s. Not clarifying what is meant by his use of the tautology is of value to the antitrinitarian because it allows him wriggle room. He can state the true proposition, using keywords and phrases equivocally at one point and univocally at another.
The ambiguation of keywords and phrases in the true proposition typically occurs in the antitrinitarian’s argumentation in favor of his view. The univocal use of keywords and phrases typically occurs when the antitrinitarian is pressed on his claims or wants to back the trinitarian into a corner, thereby making him appear to concede some other unorthodox point.
In proposition 1, the unorthodox point which the antitrinitarian wants to have validated by the trinitarian is this: “The doctrine of the trinity was invented by church theologians, not revealed by God.” This is neither implied nor explicitly stated by the proposition. However, the undisciplined thinker may fallaciously draw this conclusion, which is very often the intention of the antitrinitarian.
We can offer the same analysis of the antitrinitarian’s use of assertions 2, and 3. In stating that the word “trinity” and the phrase “God the Son” are not found in Scripture, the antitrinitarian is identifying these terms as “unbiblical.” This term is itself ambiguous, moreover, capable of either bearing the denotative meaning of non-biblical/not derived word for word from Scripture, or bearing the connotative meaning of antibiblical/unorthodox

Unfortunately, many readers/listeners do not differentiate between the denotative  and connotative meanings of keywords and phrases that arise in these polemical contexts. This can be to their emotional, intellectual, and spiritual detriment.
Disambiguation of keywords and phrases will help us avoid being fooled by the rhetorical trickery mentioned above.

-h.


[Continued in Parts 2 and 3]


Presumably, the first recorded author to use this title is Athenagoras in Chapter X. of his work A Plea for the Christians (ca. AD 177-180).

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