The Straw Man Fallacy: Considering Questions of Causality

From wikipedia:

A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. To “attack a straw man” is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting a superficially similar proposition (the “straw man”), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position

When confronted by skeptics, as I’ve noted elsewhere, we should always carefully inspect their questions logically, in order to best determine how we should respond. In many cases, what I’ve noticed is that their arguments are guilty of a number of fallacies. For example, one fallacy that is prevalent in the field of higher criticism is the fallacy of division (as I’ve written about here). At times fallacies are enjoined to one another. If the fallacy of division is committed in respect to what the authors of the New Testament believed, then it follows that the rejection of their theology is not the rejection of the theological content actually presented in  the New Testament, but a distorted form of that theology. In the final analysis, what is rejected is not the theology of the New Testament, but a “straw man” set up in its place.

The above example from higher criticism is a little more subtle; however, there are many more direct examples of this that can be found in some of the most popular skeptical literature available today (e.g. anything by Richard Dawkins). The fallacy is observed in statements like: “We don’t need God to explain why things happen the way they do, we have science.” It can also be found in an interaction between Napolean Bonaparte and French mathematician Simon-Pierre Laplace that gives us a great concrete example of the fallacy in action. From wikipedia:

Laplace went in state to Napoleon to accept a copy of his work, and the following account of the interview is well authenticated, and so characteristic of all the parties concerned that I quote it in full. Someone had told Napoleon that the book contained no mention of the name of God; Napoleon, who was fond of putting embarrassing questions, received it with the remark, ‘M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator.’ Laplace, who, though the most supple of politicians, was as stiff as a martyr on every point of his philosophy, drew himself up and answered bluntly, ‘Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là.’ (“I had no need of that hypothesis.”) Napoleon, greatly amused, told this reply to Lagrange, who exclaimed, ‘Ah! c’est une belle hypothèse; ça explique beaucoup de choses.’ (“Ah, it is a fine hypothesis; it explains many things.”)
Laplace’s famous “I had no need of that hypothesis” statement assumes that the postulation of the existence of God serves as  a hypothetical supernatural alternative to his naturalistic endeavor to explain why things are the way they are. This is a false assumption, but one that is still held by many in their attacks upon the faith. You see, the god of the skeptic is a being who is invoked to provide a (pre-scientific) explanation of why things are the way they are, but this isn’t the God of Christianity. As I’ve explained elsewhere, however, the God of Christianity, from the beginning, encouraged scientific endeavor within its proper metaphysical framework, even giving the first man the job of taxonomist.
The error, therefore, consists in misrepresenting the God of Scripture as a pre-scientific explanation of why things are they way they are; for the skeptic, we can either god as a means of explanation or natural causes, the two are mutually exclusive and never to meet. But this just isn’t the case in Scripture; for Scripture teaches us that natural causes and supernatural causes are never mutually exclusive but represent two sides of the same narrative coin.
A great example of this can be found in the book of Esther, a book that details the socio-political-historical series of events that led to a lowly Jewish woman’s rise to becoming queen, the salvation of the Jews and the destruction of their socio-political enemy (i.e. Haman) for trying to destroy them – all without mentioning God once. Does the absence of God’s name, then, take away from he supernatural nature of the events recorded? Not at all. Rather, God uses human agency to accomplish His will. Simple enough.
So the god of the skeptics is not the God of Scripture. Their god disallows man’s free exploration of nature via science, because either it is he or science that can serve as an explanatory model, but not both of them. Our God, however, tells us that He created us to inspect the universe and contemplate nature. Biblically speaking, God created us to do science.
The God of Scripture invites man to reason with Him; He isn’t afraid of him.
As Christians, we need to point this out to those who would criticize us on the basis of their own misrepresentation of God, and inform our accusers of their logical error. When they claim that we postulate the existence of God to serve as an alternative explanatory model, we can correct them according to Scripture, showing them that supernatural and natural causes are never mutually exclusive in the Bible – only in their own minds.

4 thoughts on “The Straw Man Fallacy: Considering Questions of Causality

  1. Heather says:

    It is interesting how easy it is to get distracted from addressing the main point concerning God’s goodness and sovereignty. But a main tool of the enemy is to create confusion and doubt before actually stepping in with his counterfeit alternative to Truth. We can see this happening even in the Garden, yes?

    Also, I recently finished a sketchy overview of modern history and it is amazing to me how many God-fearing people were at the forefront of scientific discovery and many social innovations. Somehow, we’ve either voluntarily abdicated our position or been bullied out by those who refuse to acknowledge their Maker.

    Secular Atheism is as much a religion as Christianity. In fact, it brings us full circle to what man started in the Garden when he said “I want to be god for myself”. Human intellect is now being worshiped as “supreme” and human-centered “scientific discovery” provides the liturgical text that is used to support the blasphemy.


  2. Hiram says:

    “…human-centered “scientific discovery” provides the liturgical text that is used to support the blasphemy.”

    I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    The irony of it is, as I was telling a friend of mine recently:

    Prior to the grandiose grand-finale statements about collected data and severely limited experimentation that anti-theist scientists make, there is, typically, a very basic error in logic that they sweep under the shag carpet of data and metaphysical assumptions.

    “In the beginning was the [Logic]” and when men deny Him, they become fools.



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