Anatomy of a Straw Man | The Threshing Floor

Filed under Theology

Practice dummies used for military training are supposed to represent the enemy, but are much easier to attack and defeat.  When it comes to arguing a theological position, Strawman argumentation is far too common place.  When arguing against a particular position, you should be able to state the opposing position in such a way that someone who holds to it would say in response to your summation of it “Yes, that is what I believe.”  However, far too often the one engaging in apologetics will rather confuse his own assessment of an opposing position for that position itself.

What do I mean?

Let’s take Calvinism as an example.  The stock objections to Calvinism (that it makes all men out to be puppets or robots, that it contradicts the love of God for every sinner, etc.) have been answered ad infinitum in many forums.  Yet, when the assessment comes from the opponent of Calvinism, it is based on a faulty understanding of the doctrines of grace.   Usually the critic’s arrows are aimed at Hypercalvinism and not Calvinism properly so called.  Be that as it may, the objections are continually re-asserted and usually without the benefit of addressing the proponent’s specific defense of what he holds to be revealed in Scripture.

So, here’s a little exercise for you.  When an opponent’s assertion is made, ask someone (if possible) who holds that position “Do you believe {fill in the blank}?  I think you’ll find the answers interesting.

What’s the anatomy of the Straw Man?  Let’s consider:

Bob holds position X.

Larry disregards certain key points of X and instead presents the superficially similar position Y.  Therefore Y is a distorted view of X and can be set up in several ways, including:

1.  Presenting a misrepresentation of the opponent’s position and then refuting it, thus giving the appearance that the opponent’s actual position has been refuted.

2.  Quoting an opponent’s words out of context–i.e. choosing quotations that misrepresent the opponent’s actual intentions

3.  Presenting someone who defends a position poorly as the defender, then refuting that person’s arguments–thus giving the appearance that every upholder of that position (and thus the position itself) has been defeated.

4.  Inventing a fictitious persona with actions or beliefs which are then criticized, implying that the person represents a group of whom the speaker is critical.

5.  Oversimplifying an opponent’s argument, then attacking this oversimplified version.

This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious, because attacking a distorted version of a position fails to constitute an attack on the actual position.

That’s why when I read apologetics, one of the first questions I ask before I dig too far into the argumentation is, “Does this person really understand the position he or she is attempting to refute?”  Look for the  summation statement of what the author is attempting to attack.  The answer will be very telling.  It will also save you a lot of time, as you would best be served by reading the critics who actually understand the “enemy”.

[reference Wikipedia under "Straw Man]

Posted via email from Anthony Martin's Weblog


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