Caltrop Argument

CaltropA caltrop is a small object with four sharp spikes arranged such that however it lands on the ground, three spikes are down and one is pointing up.  Ninjas are said to have tossed these on the ground as they ran away to stop barefoot pursuers.

A caltrop argument is a defensive argument that attempts to avoid an argument rather than respond to it honestly.

My favorite caltrop argument goes something like this:

Atheist: There is no absolute truth beyond trivial statements like 1 + 1 = 2.

Christian: Well, that certainly sounded like an absolute truth statement!  Aha—you’ve defeated yourself!

Atheist: [sigh]  Fine.  What I should have said was “I have never seen evidence of such absolute truth statements.”

The atheist in this exchange made a mistake.  But instead of interpreting the statement charitably and finding the valid point wrapped in an imperfect presentation, the Christian tried to use the mistake to avoid the point completely.

Of course, I’m not saying that only one group is guilty of this.  Atheists can toss out caltrops to avoid confronting an argument as well.  But the person interested in the truth confronts an argument directly.

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  • Paul

    The truth can indeed be like a caltrop. The truth will always point up and deflate any false arguments. But those that are willingly ignorant will somehow try and justify their position and give theirs reasons for denying the truth – even by claiming that the truth is a caltrop so that they themselves can avoid an argument rather than respond to it honestly.

    So the question is: Will someone recognize the truth when they see it?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      What truth do you have in mind?

  • Michael Neville

    Just as a historical aside, caltrops were used against cavalry from Roman times until World War I (which marked the end of horse cavalry).

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Interesting. I only think of them as ninja weapons (though they’re clearly not technologically advanced, so multiple invention is easy to imagine).

      • Michael Neville

        The Wikipedia article on caltrops quotes a Roman writer, Vegitus:

        The armed chariots used in war by Antiochus and Mithridates at first terrified the Romans, but they afterwards made a jest of them. As a chariot of this sort does not always meet with plain and level ground, the least obstruction stops it. And if one of the horses be either killed or wounded, it falls into the enemy’s hands. The Roman soldiers rendered them useless chiefly by the following contrivance: at the instant the engagement began, they strewed the field of battle with caltrops, and the horses that drew the chariots, running full speed on them, were infallibly destroyed. A caltrop is a device composed of four spikes or points arranged so that in whatever manner it is thrown on the ground, it rests on three and presents the fourth upright.

        EDIT: Reading the article further, I discovered:

        Caltrops were used extensively and effectively during World War II. The modifications and variants produced by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) of the United States are still in use today within special forces and law enforcement bodies.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Interesting, thanks.