Saturday, October 31, 2009

Slippery Slope

One of the intramural arguments popular among young-earth creationists goes like this...
If you dare to entertain the possibility that Genesis does not explicitly teach a young universe and Earth, the next thing you know you'll be doubting the Resurrection of Christ.
Sometimes (as by Ken Ham) it is even suggested that belief in an old Earth is at the top of a slippery slope to denying the faith altogether. I wonder, when I hear the words slippery slope, whether the person making the claim realizes that there is an informal logical fallacy that goes by this very name. When someone wrongly claims that there is a necessary logical connection between belief in Idea A and subsequent belief in Idea B, he has committed the Slippery Slope Fallacy.

Another young-earth creationist, John MacArthur, commits this fallacy as follows, both in the text and on the dust jacket of his 2000 book Battle for the Beginning...
Evangelicals who accept an old-earth interpretation of Genesis have embraced a hermeneutic that is hostile to a high view of Scripture. Those who adopt this approach have already embarked on a process that invariably overthrows faith.
MacArthur is much more widely respected (than Ham), but his argument here is every bit as fallacious. This is really an emotional appeal, by which he hopes to scare young Christians away from exploring the issue (from seeking truth on the basis of reason and evidence). But MacArthur later refuted himself on this (though I'm not sure whether he ever realized it).

You see, I later heard a tape of MacArthur speaking on the subject of biblical inerrancy. And he prefaced his remarks by lamenting the passing away of James Montgomery Boice, whom he called 'the greatest defender of inerrancy of our generation.'

Can we agree that someone considered the greatest defender of biblical inerrancy of our generation would be someone with a high view of Scripture? Can I suggest to you that Boice died without ever renouncing his faith in Christ, an event that 'invariably' follows acceptance of an old earth, according to MacArthur?

And yet here's what Boice believed about the age issue, taken from his Volume 1 expository commentary on Genesis 1-11 (of which my hardback copy runs to 464 pages)...
...we have suggested that any view that makes the earth a relatively new thing (on the order of twelve thousand to twenty thousand years old) flies in the face of too much varied and independent evidence to be tenable. Some would dispute this, of course. But in my judgment the earth and universe are indeed billions of years old.
Of course, there are--and have been throughout church history--many, many others who maintain an extremely high view of Scripture and who have a strong Christian faith and yet deny that Genesis teaches a universe and earth only thousands of years old. And so MacArthur's argument is shown to be a classic example of the slippery slope fallacy.


Ronald J. Martin, Ph.D. said...

I wonder if the slippery slope fallacy is being committed, wondering if the young-earthers are claiming a necessary logical connection of an old earth and denying the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Yet if every slope is slippery, then for every group of ideas that can be placed in some sort of continuum order, we are obligated to choose whatever idea is on one extreme end of the continuum in order to avoid slipping to the idea on the other end. For example, if tax plans can be placed on a continuum of costs to businesses, with a plan with no costs to business on one end and a plan that taxes 100% of profits on the other, then in order to allow businesses to survive at all, they must not be taxed at all, to avoid sliding down the slope of taxing everything they make and destroying them. Many political forces keep a selected tax plan from sliding to either extreme.
All slopes are not slippery slopes, and there is a burden of proof that a continuum is slippery in one direction or another. In reality for most young people who take science courses, the slippery slope of Bible interpretation about creation slides from doubt about a 6,000-year-old earth, to doubt about Josiah's long day, to doubt about Jesus walking on water, to doubt His miraculously feeding the 5,000 and the 4,000 to doubting Jesus' bodily resurrection.

Rick Gerhardt said...

Hi Ronald:

Thanks for reading.

I'll respond to your comment in a blog post.