The Rejection of Pascal's Wager
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Another Point in Logic

In this part of the website, we will mainly be talking about Christians and their conduct, it is thus important to point out logical pitfalls for the overzealous believer and the impatient skeptic. Most books of Christian history and hagiography tend to play down or completely skip over any dubious actions by the early church fathers, the saints and popes. We will be taking an honest look at many well known Christians throughout history. The picture that emerges from this is not pretty. Thus most believers would probably be mildly shocked by these stories. The most common reaction from them would then be “Surely, these people can’t be real Christians?!” And for most, this simple apologetic would suffice for them to go on merrily believing that Christians are good people. To ensure that this apologetic trick does not work, we must first get our definition straight about what constitute a Christian.

A Christian, to this author, is someone who practices the and who believes in many of the religion's basic tenets. By practice, it is meant such activities as: receiving the sacraments (for Catholics and Orthodoxs); attending church services or mass on a somewhat regular basis; follow what his, or her, church teaches on matters of practical life [a]; and the occasional proselytizing. By belief it is meant, as elaborated elsewhere: the acceptance of the existence and unity of God (and for most Christians the Trinitarian dogma); the special position of Jesus in the cosmological order of things (most Christians accept Jesus as God); and the belief in the authority of the Bible. This is the basic definition, to the author, of what constitutes a Christian.

On this definition, we will ask a few questions. Do Christians lead virtuous lives? Are Christians better in the practice of the good life than non-Christians or are they worse? These questions may seem surprising, if not startling, to the believer; after all, aren't Christians supposed to be "good people"? That depends. Let us say, for argument's sake, I point out to a believer a Christian man who professes Christian beliefs, goes to church regularly and yet, say, is a wife beater and a drunkard. If the believer then asserts that this man can't be a "real" Christian because of his behavior, the believer is committing the logical error we were warning about earlier. He had implicitly included in his definition of Christians people who, apart from meeting all the criterion above, lead virtuous lives. Hence, by definition, Christians are "good people".

Many people will find nothing wrong in the believer's implicit definition. [b] But it is wrong, not conventionally perhaps, but logically.

Take as an example, a (naive and not-so-bright) zoologist who wants to prove that "all swans are white". Let us suppose that he found a bird with all the characteristic of a swan except that its feathers are black. What is he to do? There are two options. He can admit to himself that his initial hypothesis was wrong and that would be the end of it: "all swans are white" would be confined to zoological oblivion as a failed hypothesis. Alternatively, perhaps he needs the hypothesis to be right for his Ph.D. thesis, he can perform a linguistic trick. He can assert that one of the fundamental characteristics of swans is that they must be white. Thus swans are, by definition, white. He can therefore refuse to see the black swan as a swan.

Note the change in the meaning of his initial hypothesis that has taken place by this linguistic trick. His hypothesis, "all swans are white" is no longer a statement of fact that can be proved or disproved by observation; it has become a definition. The statement becomes trivial and does not convey any new message, it is in the class of "all triangles have three sides". A good example of how different the definition is in use is to take this case one step further.

Suppose the same zoologist receives a very accurate pencil sketch of a bird that fulfills all the criteria of "swanness"; but it was a line drawing, hence the color of the bird was not given, using the zoologist's definition he cannot call this a swan until he ascertain what color it is. Suppose however that "all swans are white" is a statement of fact, i.e. that no one has found any disconfirming evidence against, the zoologist looking the same line drawing can confidently say that it is a swan and that its color is white.

This, in effect, is what the believer had done when he asserts that "real" Christians are virtuous people. He is simply adding into his definition of the word "Christian" the additional criteria of being "virtuous". Thus the proposition "All Christians are virtuous people" ceases to become a statement of fact; since it tells us nothing more than what is already defined by the word "Christian"; it has become a trivial statement.

What is wrong with that? Some may still ask? What is wrong is connected to the intention of that statement. When the believer says that "all Christians are virtuous people" he normally means it to be more than just to make a trivial definitive explanation. What is implied is that people with the normal external manifestations of being Christians- as we mentioned above: going to church, reading the bible, practicing what they believe to be its teachings- also have a tendency of being virtuous. However, this can only make sense if his initial statement was a statement of fact, not a definition. Remember, the believer has simply refused to call anyone a "Christian" who, although showing all the external manifestations of being one, is not "virtuous". Thus seeing the outward characteristic of being a Christian will not show that a person is virtuous, the very thing the believer wants to show. [1]

The believer's defense, apart from being illogical, is most unconvincing to the skeptic. The main point that interests a skeptic is this: does exposing a person to Christian teachings and practices make him a better human being? In this section of the website we will show that the answer is a definite "No!".

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Notes

a.This aspect cannot be denied even by the most ardent fundamentalists. While they may cite the Bible as the ultimate authority on social conduct, many a times interpretation of Biblical passages are still sought from their church's elders or pastors. To Catholics and Orthodox, accepting that the church controls (or at least try to) a large part of their behavior and conduct is probably easier, as it is done in a more outward and forthright manner.
b.After all don't many people say "its the Christian thing to do" when they really mean "its the right and proper thing to do"?

References

1.Thouless, Straight and Crooked Thinking: p65-66

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