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Building Your Argument

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Analytical Process for ApologeticsStructuring_Transcendental Argument_Dr_Oliphint

Your research will often turn up many points on which you will disagree with the opposing view (historical facts, logical implications, interpretations of the Bible, etc).

However, you must resist the urge to get distracted by peripheral details and focus instead upon the most foundational, most basic points of disagreement. Often these have to do with the opposing author’s approach to knowledge (epistemology).

Your goal should be to discern the basic worldview of the opposing author and to understand what the epistemological implications of that worldview are. Your argumentation will follow from this foundational understanding of the opposing view.

Structure of a Transcendental Argument

The basic structure of a transcendental (presuppositional) argument is as follows:

1.  For the sake of argument, assume the opposing view to be true.  Ask whether the implications of that worldview are consistently worked out by the author you are reading. 

  • Does the author presuppose anything that the outworking of his worldview does not support (such as the possibility of true knowledge, the existence of moral norms, or the value of the human soul)? 
  • Does the author wish to affirm things that are in fact inconsistent with his worldview? If so, demonstrate this incongruity. 

Effectively, you are saying to the author, “Given your view of the world, here are the standards that must govern your thinking. Those standards do not allow you to affirm what you want to affirm.”  You are seeking to show that the epistemological implications of the unbelieving position’s presuppostitions are in conflict with the affirmations of the position itself.

2.  Having shown how the opposing view is inconsistent with its own assumptions, demonstrate how the Christian position resolves the contradiction inherent in the unbelieving view. 

Specifically, if the opposing view has assumed or advocated things which can only be grounded in the Christian worldview, show how the Christian worldview successfully integrates those assumptions and concerns. In thus unfolding the worth of the biblical worldview, you invite the unbeliever to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps 34:8).

Understanding Logical Fallacies

An important part of apologetic research and writing involves recognizing, avoiding, and challenging logical fallacies. A logical fallacy is an error in reasoning. Errors in reasoning are not always evident, so it is important to study the rules of logic in order to be able to recognize fallacious arguments. 

Structure of an argument

In arguments, one proposition is supposed to follow logically and to be supported or established by the others. Arguments must consist of more than one proposition, but an argument is not simply a collection of loosely related propositions. An argument must have at least one premise and one conclusion. The conclusion is the central or leading claim or thesis, and the premises are the support for that claim. These may appear within a single sentence, or as separate sentences. A given proposition may serve as a premise or a conclusion, depending on how it functions in an argument. In the arguments below, All men are mortal serves first as a premise and then as a conclusion.

Argument #1

All men are mortal.

Socrates is a man.

Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

Argument #2

All living creatures are mortal.

All men are living creatures.

Therefore, all men are mortal.

 The relationship between premises and conclusion is called inference. Inference is the process by which the conclusion is arrived at and affirmed on the basis of supporting premises.

Validity and Soundness

Logicians differentiate between the validity and the soundness of an argument. An argument is said to be valid if the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises. For an argument to be sound, however, it must both be valid in its structure and rest on true premises. For example, consider the following argument:

If there is no justice on earth, then God cannot exist.
There is no justice on earth.
Therefore, God does not exist.

The argument is formally valid but is unsound because it rests on false premises. (It is not true that absence of earthly justice entails the nonexistence of God. Nor is it true that there is no justice on earth.)

Consider the following argument:

 If God exists, then moral absolutes exist.
 Moral absolutes exist. 
 Therefore, God exists.

This argument, as it is here structured, is fallacious (not valid), regardless of the truth value of its premises. The first premise does not state that the existence of God is the only sufficient condition for the existence of moral absolutes. Given the first premise, then, the existence of moral absolutes does not require that God exist. There may, in terms of the structure of the argument, be other conditions under which moral absolutes would exist. This is the common fallacy of “affirming the consequent.”

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