On "Argument by Outrage" as a fallacy
of criticism of the Bible
Many critics of the Bible use of a tactic called "argument by outrage" (if you like Latin phrases, call it argumentum ad cerebrosus, per a reader's suggestion). It runs more or less like this:
- The critic finds some event in the Biblical text that they find morally offensive: The slaughter of the Canaanites; the stoning of the man who picked up sticks on the Sabbath, eternal punishment.
- The critic recounts this event in such a way as to imply that by itself, the event is enough of a moral outrage that there can be no argument or counter to it.
Or as Glenn Miller has put it, similarly:
….an individual's personal moral intuitions, if they run counter to moral intuitions of other experts and peers, may need further analysis and qualification, before they could function plausibly in constructing a logical argument of God's non-existence.
In other words, the argument that I THINK someone might make about this might look like the following:
- The biblical God CANNOT commit any unjust act (Authority: theological tradition)
- God ordered the killing of children (Authority: biblical text)
- The killing of children can never be a 'just' act, regardless of competing ethical demands in a given situation. (Authority: someone's personal moral intuition)
- God, therefore , ordered an 'unjust act'. (authority: substitution of terms)
- The ordering of an 'unjust act' is itself an 'unjust act' (authority: not sure–this is somewhat controversial in ethical theory, but I will grant it here for the purposes of illustration)
- The biblical God, therefore, committed an unjust act. (authority: substitution of terms)
- Therefore, the biblical God CAN commit an unjust act. (authority: from the actual to the possible)
In general reply, we may note that simply stating outrage is not a sufficient form of argument. It is merely a substitute for true argument, with the intention to win over the prospective convert by means of emotional appeal. What must be done — but I have seldom seen done — is an analysis proving that a given action/directive by God was indeed unfair and/or cruel…
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