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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

    1. The biblical God CANNOT commit any unjust act (Authority: theological tradition)
    2. God ordered the killing of children (Authority: biblical text)
    3. 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)
    4. God, therefore , ordered an 'unjust act'. (authority: substitution of terms)
    5. 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)
    6. The biblical God, therefore, committed an unjust act. (authority: substitution of terms)
    7. 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…