Monday, December 24, 2007

A Great Display of Logical Fallacies: Fallacious Claims by a Writer

Note: This is a reply to a Straits Times Forum letter. I am surprised this letter was even published by the Straits Times, and right before Christmas.

Dear Mr Menon,

I neither have the time nor feel it necessary for me to write a formal letter to the Straits Times to rebut your letter. Nevertheless, I deem it appropriate to furnish my readers with some entertainment for this Christmas by perusing the logical fallacies in your letter. For one who likes to point out the logical fallacies of others, allow me to return that favor.

Kindly note that I am not acquainted with Mr Roland Chia, the writer of the letter you are criticizing.

I will hereby reply you point by point.

1. “WHILE Mr Roland Chia certainly writes with conviction of the greatness of Christianity and the insignificance of the secular movement, 'Christianity's forgotten impact' (ST, Dec 15), I am surprised at some of the assertions he has dared to make in a national newspaper where these claims are open to public scrutiny.”

You are committing the fallacy of poisoning the well, Sir. Could it be that you are surprised simply because of your inadequate research and measly knowledge of the issue at hand?

2. “The first of these claims is that the declaration of human rights has some grounding in Christian teaching. Let us not forget that the Bible never specifically condemns the practice of slavery, but rather gives instructions on how slaves should be treated (Deuteronomy 15:12-15; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 4:1).”

You have plagiarized your information from this website article (see 2nd paragraph), and almost word for word.

Unfortunately, you have revealed your prejudice with your skewed quotation of the original resource:

The original writer wrote, “The Bible does not specifically condemn the practice of slavery. It gives instructions on how slaves should be treated (Deuteronomy 15:12-15; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 4:1), but does not outlaw the practice altogether. Many see this as the Bible condoning all forms of slavery. What many people fail to understand is that slavery in Biblical times was very different from the slavery that was practiced in the past few centuries in many parts of the world. The slavery in the Bible was not based exclusively on race. People were not enslaved because of their nationality or the color of their skin. In Bible times, slavery was more of a social status. People sold themselves as slaves when they could not pay their debts or provide for their family. In New Testament times, sometimes doctors, lawyers, and even politicians were slaves of someone else. Some people actually chose to be slaves so as to have all their needs provided for by their master.”

3. “Mr Chia then commits a classic fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc, by insinuating that as individual freedoms flourished where Christian societies flourished, ideas of freedom have its basis in Christianity. This is obviously pure assertion and, if anything, the nature of dogmatism in the Christian faith advocates intolerance towards other faiths.”

You have committed the fallacy of equivocation in your failure to define the word "intolerance."

The allegation of "post hoc ergo propter hoc" is in itself a bare assertion. In the context of your article, you have not shown via research that secularism, and not Judeo-Christianity, is the contributing source to such "ideas of freedom."

If "intolerance" means "salvific nonacceptance" of other faiths, the same can be said of most other religions e.g. Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Taoism. Note that "salvation" has a different meaning within the context of other faiths i.e. in Buddhism, failure to follow the precepts of Buddha would mean interminable torment via reincarnation and karmic retribution.

The nature of dogmatism in Secularism - or perhaps more precisely, secular humanism - advocates intolerance towards the dogmatic teachings of Judeo-Christian faiths, and for that matter, any dogmatic religious faith. Aren't you, Sir, equally intolerant towards Christianity, and rabidly dogmatic concerning your own assertion that secularism is a better worldview?

4. “I suppose it is up to me to remind Mr Chia that the American Bill of Rights is far from a Christian doctrine and that the founding fathers were mostly deists, not Christians.”

But you cannot deny that the holy book they used was the Bible, dear Sir. Contrary to your statements, it seems that the thought-process of the Founding Fathers is strongly rooted in the concept of a Creator God who endowed His creation with “unalienable rights.”

“It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists but by Christians, not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ.” - Patrick Henry

“Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers and it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest of a Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.” - U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice, John Jay

“Let us look forward to the time when we can take the flag of our country and nail it below the Cross, and there let it wave as it waved in the olden times, and let us gather around it an inscribed for our motto: "Liberty and Union, one and inseparable, now and forever," and exclaim, Christ first, our country next!” - Andrew Johnson

Perhaps I can refer you to this book by Frank Lambert, The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America.

We can be sure that the worldviews of the Atheist, Agnostic, and Secular Humanist have no place in the history of the American Founding Fathers.

5. “This includes the revolutionary Thomas Jefferson who wrote his own bible which refused to portray Jesus as the son of god, and excluded all supernatural elements from the text: An idea fundamental to Christianity. So was Jefferson borrowing from Christianity then? Maybe he was, but the fundamental point is, he is making a shift away from religion towards secularism; Away from mystical voodoo and dogma towards rationality and scientism.”

By equating "religion" with "mystical voodoo and dogma," you commit the classic fallacies of using loaded words and begging the question. Your allegations of mysticism and dogma have not been proven, and you therefore failed to fulfill the burden of proof.

The fundamental point is, "Thomas Jefferson believed that the ethical system of Jesus was the finest the world has ever seen." Curiously, the "shift" is away from secularism towards the teachings of Jesus Christ, if any.

Once again, allow me to recommended this book for your future research: The Religious Life of Thomas Jefferson, by Charles B. Sanford

Your own words are perhaps the best rebuttal to your point here. If the founding fathers were mostly deists, aren't you telling us that their concept of God has probably influenced their thinking, and not Secularism per se?

6. “The next claim which Mr Chia tries to assert would be that the right to practise religious freedom is something inherently Christian because one Church father had said so in the 2nd century. Interesting claim indeed to make as the Church position, till today, asserts that all practices of other faiths are hell-bound.”

You have committed the fallacies of amphiboly and weak analogy, dear Sir. You have confounded matters of civil rights with doctrinal issues.

What has religious freedom to do with a particular religious organization's conception of eternal punishment? Will its doctrinal understanding of hell affect your civil liberty to practice a particular religion?

7. “I would love to understand just what thought process allows Father Tertullian to preach both freedom to religion and eternal damnation simultaneously.”

It is, I’m afraid, the same thought process that allows a secularist to preach freedom to man and the intolerance of Abrahamic religions simultaneously.

8. “By contrast, a religion far more embracing and far less intolerant would be Hinduism, which promises no such damnation to those who practice of other faiths. But even that is not universally true across Hinduism.”

If “that is not universally true across Hinduism,” why then did you write that Hinduism “promises no such damnation to those who practice of other faiths?”

Honestly, is this a fallacy of fake precision or the fallacy of prevarication? You tell me.

9. “The point is, only secularism offers holistic values on individual freedom to one and all without being contradictory. Christianity and most faiths have often enshrined the inequality of sexes, of races and of faiths in their teachings.”

Bare assertion ad infinitum ad nauseam. Your exposition please, Sir.

10. “There is certainly no issue with the marvelous education provided by Christian schools in Singapore. But one should look to the Bible belt in America, where Christian schools are threatening young impressionable minds with their imposition of creationism into the science curriculum.”

Firstly, you are poisoning the well again.

Secondly, you have committed the genetic fallacy. Is creationism false simply because of its alleged "Christian" origin? Furthermore, creationism is not exclusively Christian, as any monotheist, deist, or polytheist would agree.

11. “It is valuable that Christians may have started schools across the world. But it is more valuable that secular governments, like ours, maintain the integrity of these institutes, and keeps religion out of the science syllabus.”

Bare assertion ad infinitum ad nauseam; poisoning the well; argumentum ad hominem.

How is the integrity of these institutes maintained if we are oblivious to the scientific evidence against Neo-Darwinism?

How would the secularist continue to insist that he is tolerant of others if he cannot even tolerate Judeo-Christian or Abrahamic religions?

12. “Lastly, Mr Chia seems happy to 'prove' that many values present in the secular movement are also present in Christianity. However, he is seemingly misled in thinking that these values are unique to Christianity alone and did not predate Christianity. As any secularist would tell you, religion in (sic) the product of man, and any value which is present in any religion is the product of man's ingenuity.”

This is the classic fallacy of apriorism:

a) Why would a secularist be an authoritative source of information?

b) Certainly, religion is a product of man only if the existence of God is proven false. You have to define "religion" for us as well (fallacy of equivocation);

c) You have made the assumption of an absence of universal moral laws that transcend the physical or material world;

d) Likewise, you have made the assumption of metaphysical naturalism.

13. “Mr Chia's closing line is rather nonsensical in its claim that secularism is parasitic to religion. It is more important that one realises the difference between secularism and theist religions, than to harp on fallacious claims of any a Christian impact on secularism.”

Finally, it is more important that one realizes the difference between the logical fallacies of a Mr Vidyarishik Viyajadas Menon and factual information, than to harp on fallacious claims of any a secularist impact on society.

Yours truly,

Saturday, December 08, 2007

A Local Church in Beijing

It was a humbling experience to worship at a local church in Beijing, China. And I am not referring to the church building or furnishings. A church member, Ling, together with about 20 others were crammed into an old, tiny 500-square-foot apartment to pray and to praise the risen Lord. Folding stools and a small table were squeezed into this two-room flat to provide a makeshift place of worship for some local Christians.

The worshippers were mostly young adults. Some were former students of Peking University, and most were working individuals. This home church was not a registered, “state-monitored” church. In China, the only Christian churches the government recognizes are the state-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Churches, which the government established under a policy of "self-governance, self-support, and self-propagation" to eliminate influence from foreign countries. But many local congregations here believe that only Jesus should be the Head of the Church, not the Chinese government. As such, such gatherings are considered illegal, and run the risk of prosecution and arrest. Despite the prospect of being interrogated or even arrested, Ling's church leaders have decided not to register altogether.

What humbled me was not the condition of the place of worship. It was neither the poverty some of these brethren were going through, nor the persecution these Christians have to face from the Chinese government. As a Singaporean, I was humbled by the Chinese Church, and in fact, felt rather ashamed of the churches in Singapore for a simple reason: by and large the Singaporean Church can be likened to the church at Laodicea. “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked (Rev. 3:17).”

It is amazing what a little wealth can do to a Christian here in Singapore. It takes away his dependence upon God, and makes him worship his own human abilities and worldly possessions. Instead of making the Lord God his help and strength, his bank account and his career become the gods of his life. The curse of the Singaporean Church is her wealth and her economic stability. She has come to rely on, not God, but her wallet.

Those who came from Christian families will know what I am talking about here. Contrary to the persecution the Chinese Church encounters, second-generation Christians in Singapore have experienced the exact opposite within their homes and social circles. There is a pressure to conform to the beliefs of their parents. Sometimes, there might even be an impetus for one to be converted to the Christian religion.

The Chinese Christian from an unregistered house church who proclaims faith in Christ knows what he is up against: his government, his employers, and his family. To be arrested might mean years locked up in jail, and loosing one’s job. Worse, he might never see his wife for the next decade or so. The Singaporean Christian from the megachurch who proclaims faith in Christ knows what he is expecting from God: health, wealth, and acceptance from his Christian family and friends. He might even get a nice-looking girl from the same church (in fashionable dress and high heels, of course). This is especially true for those worshipping in churches that preach the prosperity gospel.

Despite governmental disapproval, these Chinese house churches are very influential. These Christians mince no words when it comes to preaching the gospel. Most certainly they are not ashamed of the gospel, for they are willing to preach the Word boldly to their colleagues, students, and friends, governmental persecution notwithstanding. They are very warm to visitors like myself, and they show great love and concern to each other as brethren-in-Christ. Like the Philadelphians who have “little strength,” what cannot be denied is that Christ has indeed set before them an open door, “and no man can shut it (Rev. 3:8).” The home churches are growing rapidly throughout China, and many Chinese have found Atheism and Neo-Darwinism an inconsistent and meaningless philosophy for life.

Furthermore, it is obvious that these house churches are not your regular thousand-membered church with grand pianos and a choir. These house churches are generally small, and some have yet to find themselves a pastor, let alone elders and deacons. Although certain orthodox Christians would not regard these house churches as true churches - due to the lack of ordained pastors and ruling elders - I believe the Lord has quite a different opinion when it comes to membership within the invisible, universal church. I have little doubt that these Chinese Christians are more avid Bible readers than most Singaporeans. I have also very little doubt that these Chinese Christians are more regular with their gospel preaching and outreach than the average orthodox, educated, intellectual Singaporean Christian.

If we have the opportunity to serve the brethren in China, I think it would be good for us to consider serving in one of these unregistered churches. Perhaps we can even bring back with us a little of their love, passion, and devotion to the Most High God. And to my beloved friends in China, “Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown (Rev. 3:11).”

(PS: “Ling” is a fictional name. The name was changed to protect the identity of the person.)