Dismiss the Slippery Slope

I was tempted to call this post something like “Don’t accept a slippery slope argument unless it is from a geocentrist in an arranged marriage” but that seemed a bit too long for a title.

Eric Reitan has been posting about slippery slope arguments, tackling them in detail in order to show how they are problematic.

As for myself, I think that slippery slope arguments should be dismissed outright when they are offered by anyone who is already on the slippery slope and yet claims not to be slipping.

Young-earth creationists use the argument. But they have already shifted away from an unmoving Earth, a literal solid firmament, and many other details the Bible mentions.

Opponents of same-sex marriage use the argument. But few of them are in arranged patriarchal marriages of the sort the Bible takes for granted as what marriage is.

Self-proclaimed Biblical literalists use the argument. But few would say they literally think with their heart. And none I have met have given up all their property, yet they still say they are followers of Jesus.

All these viewpoints, and many others, claim that any departure from their viewpoint leads to a trip down the slippery slope. And yet their stance is a departure from an even more conservative one that some people adopt, or could adopt.

And so those who talk about a slippery slope need to acknowledge, if they are honest, that it is possible to stop at arbitrary points on the slope – in which case it isn’t as slippery as they claim.

Or otherwise they should just lie back and enjoy the ride, because they are already on the slippery slope, and are presumably headed in your direction further down the hill!

I’ve posted on the slippery slope argument several times before, and so I’m embedding links to those posts in this sentence!

  • stuart32

    James, I was an atheist, but I have been questioning my beliefs as a result of reading your blog. It seems that your voice is a particularly reasonable one. Perhaps you have provided a slippery slope to ensnare atheists!

  • http://triangulations.wordpress.com/ Sabio Lantz

    (1) I thought of another analogy besides a slippery hill:

    Imagine your life as a frozen pond.

    Sure enough, we are all slipping around and trying to pretend we are stable.

    (2) Concerning the slippery slope.

    Christians often are worried about doubt, because they see thinking itself as a slippery slope — a slide down heresy into hell.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Pieret/100000023960330 John Pieret

    Of course, the YECs don’t perceive they are on a slippery slope because they have driven a piton deeply into their “ground” by tying their entire belief system to a “literal” interpretation of the Genesis creation account. They then cling to it for dear life and ignore the rest of the Bible falling out of their pack and sliding down the hill.

    My favorite slippery slope argument is by those against same sex marriage to the effect that it will lead to … gasp … polygamy! Just like that practiced by those “godly” people Abraham, Jacob, Gideon, Saul, David and Solomon, to name a few.

  • http://triangulations.wordpress.com/ Sabio Lantz

    Depending on historical patterns and shared education or experiences, gravel could be thrown on a slippery slope and a Schelling patch established to make a stable non-slide spot on an otherwise apparently inevitable perpetual icy slide.

  • John David Walters

    “Young-earth creationists use the argument. But they have already shifted away from an unmoving Earth, a literal solid firmament, and many other details the Bible mentions.”

    That’s assuming, of course, that an unmoving Earth, a literal solid firmament, etc. is what the Bible actually teaches and YECers moved away from it because of extra-Biblical factors. Then they would indeed be on a slippery slope, because when the Bible’s clear teaching is no longer the supreme authority, the possibility is raised that other authorities will become supreme or different authorities will be supreme at different times. But if YEC is what the Bible clearly teaches while the unmoving Earth and literal solid firmament are just phenomenological (i.e. what it looks like) or metaphorical descriptions (i.e. unmoving in the sense of enduring), AND the basis for distinguishing between what counts as clear teaching and what counts as metaphorical is principled, i.e. guided by the features of the text itself as opposed to other considerations, then YECers are on solid high ground and could legitimately fear other positions which do attenuate the authority of the text and/or re-interpret on the basis of extra-Biblical factors.

    (I should say that my disagreement with YEC is based on my conviction that that is not what Genesis teaches, not because science has forced me to re-interpret the text in a way alien to its original intent)

    “Opponents of same-sex marriage use the argument. But few of them are in arranged patriarchal marriages of the sort the Bible takes for granted as what marriage is.”

    ‘Takes for granted as what marriage is’ seems to be your way of circumventing the principled distinction, pointed out by me and others time and time again, between practices narrated in the Bible which were 1) tolerated for a time but fell short of the divine ideal or 2) described precisely in order to censor them, and practices explicitly taught in the Bible or narrated in order to commend them to the readers. There is nothing slippery in that distinction, which emerges from the text itself.

    “Self-proclaimed Biblical literalists use the argument. But few would say they literally think with their heart. And none I have met have given up all their property, yet they still say they are followers of Jesus.”

    A straw man. Literalism involves first determining the genre and authorial intent of the different texts in the Bible, precisely in order to avoid such silly outcomes. A true literalist will interpret historically what the text itself claims as historical, parabolically what the text itself claims as parabolic, mythically what the text itself claims as mythical, etc. And when determining the biblical teaching on, say, poverty, they will take into account the full range of Scriptural data instead of proof-texting from one of the sayings of Jesus. Given your opposition to proof-texting, how can you think that’s a serious challenge to property-owning Christians?

    “All these viewpoints, and many others, claim that any departure from their viewpoint leads to a trip down the slippery slope. And yet their stance is a departure from an even more conservative one that some people adopt, or could adopt.”

    It’s a serious mistake to put all these views on a spectrum from more to less conservative. What matters is how and why exactly one transitions from one view to another. If you decide to become a theistic evolutionist because you are convinced that Genesis clearly teaches YEC but due to scientific discoveries that position is no longer tenable, then yes you would be moving from a more conservative to a less conservative position. But if you transition from YEC to theistic evolution because you become convinced that the Bible does not affirm YEC, independently of any extra-biblical considerations, then you are not becoming less conservative. You are still committed to what the Bible clearly teaches as the supreme authority, but your view of what it is exactly that the Bible clearly teaches has changed.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Pieret/100000023960330 John Pieret

      So what, precisely about polygamy in the Bible designates it as “practices narrated in the Bible which were 1) tolerated for a time but fell short of the divine ideal or 2) described precisely in order to censor them”? I’m not asking for something in the Bible that contradicts polygamy but something that indicates that God was only “tolerating” Abraham, Jacob, Gideon, Saul, David, Solomon, et al. or that God was holding them out to censor all of them.

      Otherwise you are no more “determining the genre and authorial intent of the different texts in the Bible” than any YEC. You are just interpreting the Rorschach test that is the Bible to suit your own views.

      • John David Walters

        Just look at the way these figures taking multiple wives so often results in jealousy, strife and even idolatry and apostasy. Sarah forced Hagar onto Abraham because she doubted God’s promise of offspring through her, which the divine visitor explicitly calls her out on. The strife between Sarah and Hagar led to her banishment with Ishmael. Jacob originally only wanted to marry Rachel but was tricked into marrying Leah, a fact not lost upon Leah as there was continual strife between Leah, Rachel and their children, culminating in Leah’s sons selling Joseph into slavery and lying about it to Jacob. Gideon, Saul and David’s having multiple wives is tolerated in the sense that the author/editor do not highlight bad consequences of their polygamy as such, although the commandment for a king not to multiply wives to himself lies in the background of such narratives, and of course Solomon’s many wives notoriously led him and the nation astray into idolatry and apostasy.We should also note that the first person recorded as taking two wives in the Bible, Lamech, is associated with the distortion of proportionate retaliation against an enemy, hardly a role model. And of course all the following narratives are framed by the first chapters of Genesis, which present unequivocally as the divine ideal the male-female pair, in which a man becomes one flesh with his wife, singular.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Pieret/100000023960330 John Pieret

          Again, where is the part of the Bible that says that God was only “tolerating” Abraham, Jacob, Gideon, Saul, David, Solomon, et al.? I wasn’t asking for what you think were the bad consequences of polygamy or who you think is a role model. There are plenty of stories in the Bible of the bad consquences of non-polygamous marriages.

          Where, for example, does God tell his “beloved” David straight out that He had “unequivocally” designated marriage as one man one woman? How do you know that his tacit approval of David was not God’s real intent, as opposed merely the result of His need in Genesis of an original breeding pair?

          • John David Walters

            “I wasn’t asking for what you think were the bad consequences of polygamy or who you think is a role model.”It’s not what I think, it’s what the author of the text thinks. Do you honestly believe, based on how Lamech is described for example, that the author of Genesis is holding him up as a role model? Or that the strife and jealousy between Hagar and Sarah, or between Leah and Rachel, reflected the author’s view of the divine ideal?”How do you know that his tacit approval of David was not God’s real intent, as opposed merely the result of His need in Genesis of an original breeding pair?”The direct editorial comment that follows the creation of the woman, as well as the way the woman is described, makes it clear that the pairing of one man and one woman goes far beyond just the need for a reproductive unit. The woman is called ‘suitable helpmate’, which does certainly include suitability for reproduction but also for intimate companionship. And the editor concludes by saying that the man leaves his father and mother and ‘cleaves’ to his wife so that they become ‘one flesh’. This union goes far beyond reproductive purposes, although it does include them.

            • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Pieret/100000023960330 John Pieret

              It’s not what I think, it’s what the author of the text thinks.

              Mind reading at some 2,800 years? (When Genesis was actually written down … after editing?)

              Do you honestly believe, based on how Lamech is described for example, that the author of Genesis is holding him up as a role model?

              Did Genesis hold Adam up as a role model? You can’t assert God’s Biblical judgment in one without doing the same in the other. I seem to remember a specific judgment of Adam, but where is it in in the story of Lamech, much less David?

              Or that the strife and jealousy between Hagar and Sarah, or between Leah and Rachel, reflected the author’s view of the divine ideal?

              Why should I (assuming the Bible is a history) think it is anything more than … well … a history? Is there no strife and jealousy in one man/one woman relationships in real life, much less in the Bible?

              The woman is called ‘suitable helpmate’, which does certainly include suitability for reproduction but also for intimate companionship.

              And that excludes having more than one ‘suitable helpmate,’ how?

        • Lee

          I think you may be reading into these texts something that is not there. The fact is that you cannot necessarilly connect the problems you mention with polygamy.In the Bible as in real life today, some of them worked well and some didn’t.

          As far as Solomon, it is a stretch to say that polygamy was the problem. It was the fact that he married foreign women who brought their religious practices with them.

          Why would God tolerate certain sexual practices and not others? Why would God prohibit adultery and yet allow polygamy? It is obvious that having many wives and even concubines was not considered adultery.

          One thing to keep in mind is that women in those days were property. We do not think in those terms today (thank God!) but it makes perfect sense from that standpoint that men would collect wives the same way they collected sheep. My impression is that being able to afford so many wives was considered a sign of God’s blessing.

          At any rate I do not feel that you have proven your point but it is an interesting thought-provoking discussion.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Pieret/100000023960330 John Pieret

            The fact is that you cannot necessarilly connect the problems you mention with polygamy. In the Bible as in real life today, some of them worked well and some didn’t.

            Whut? God couldn’t connect the problems with polygamy with real life today or realize that today some work well and some don’t?

            One thing to keep in mind is that women in those days were property. We do not think in those terms today (thank God!) …

            Thank God some people realize that the Bible can’t be read in a wooden literal manner. Unfortunately, there are Christians who, today, think women are property who can be raped by government requirements (as in having a transvaginal sonic probe shoved up their sexual parts against their will … the very legal definition of rape) before they can have an abortion, which is … whether you like it or not … a legal medical procedure.

            I do not feel that you have proven your point …

            My point is not that that polygamy is good or even that it is sanctioned by the Bible. It is that it takes a lot of non-Biblical interpretation to come to those conclusions.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Pieret/100000023960330 John Pieret

            Lee:
            I missed that you were responding to John David Waters instead of me. My bad. But nothing I said would change.

            • Lee

              I understand and I agree with some of your points. No worries!

          • arcseconds

            It should be kept in mind also that marriage (a long time after polygamy went out of fashion – in fact, up until quite recently!) was often a way of cementing political relationships.

            There polygamy has some advantage, as a single male can have several political alliances so cemented!

            This helps to explain why someone like Solomon might end up with so many wives, many of them foreign.

            I read once about an African society which was matriarchal, at least to the extent it was ruled by a queen. The surrounding societies were patriarchal. As a result, the queen in question ended up with a lot of wives — the political function of marriage overrode any concern for heterosexual mores.

            • Lee

              Good points.

    • Lee

      ‘A true literalist will interpret historically what the text itself claims as historical, parabolically what the text itself claims as parabolic, mythically what the text itself claims as mythical, etc”

      Except for the parables that Jesus said, I know of nothing in the Bible that makes these distinctions. I believe that much of the text is mythological (which does not mean that there is not truth in it as all fables do) Sometimes it is apparent that a story contains much symbolism and cannot be taken literally. In other cases it seems that it may be somewhat historic but also contains symbolism as well. And then there are some things that have an historical ring to them although we cannot necessarilly confirm the stories.

      I am curious to know how you make these distinctions.

      • TomS

        Galatians 4:21 “Which things are an allegory”

        • Lee

          Ah, interesting! Thank you!

    • TomS

      WRT to whether the Earth moves or not, it is clear that no one before the rise of modern science said that the Bible did not tell us that the Sun goes around a fixed Earth. Is there anyone who can claim that they believe that the Earth is a planet of the Sun for any reason other than modern science? It seems to be that anyone who accepts the heliocentric model of the Solar System does so only on the basis of modern science, and then accommodates that belief with what they make of the Bible. Has anyone ever come to a belief in heliocentrism from anything other than modern science?

      Surely, a lot of people accept heliocentrism primaritly because of modern science, if not everybody, and if not exclusively. (Actually, I guess, most people accept it because of social pressure rather than any understanding of the evidence for heliocentrism, but that’s another issue. IMHO the evidence for heliocentrism is not as clear and compelling as is the evidence for biological descent with modification.)

      Is there something wrong with all of those people who in the last few hundred years modified their understanding of the Bible because of their acceptance of modern science about the structure of the Solar System?

      • stuart32

        I suppose the thing about heliocentrism is that it is easy to grasp mentally. You just have to picture one ball going round another ball (even I can do that). An immense effort was required to establish heliocentrism but the end result is easy to digest intellectually.

        Evolution seems to be the opposite. It is intellectually indigestible. I suppose it’s because, with evolution, you have to imagine a process with billions of steps occurring over billions of years. The alternative is much easier to imagine: living creatures simply pop into existence. Of course, when you imagine that you are really deceiving yourself, because you don’t understand how that could actually happen.

        Also, there seems to be something intrinsically disturbing about evolution. People are not concerned in principle if the solar system formed through natural processes but they are concerned if life formed through natural processes. There is something unpalatable about the idea that our own existence is an accident. The thing is that even if the theory of evolution were wrong our existence would still be an accident. That’s because the existence of each us as individuals is an accident. There is an infinite number of ways in which the genetic material from a mother and a father can combine so each of us is the result of a fantastically unlikely event.

        • TomS

          I think that you don’t appreciate just how contrary to intuition it is that this big solid Earth around us is flying through the sky. And how disturbing that is. And how disturbing it is to think of those vast regions of space with nothing in it and no point to it. I suggest that you and I find it easy to grasp that simply because we have been well educated into heliocentrism ever since childhood, and geocentrism being characterized by our culture as something laughable.

          On the other hand, when I go to the zoo, I find it really easy to see chimps and other primates as being related to me, the way they act like people I know (including myself). And evolution is not only what happens over billions of years, it is what happens to make a new strain of flu virus or new breed of dog. Accepting billions of years of evolution is no more integral to evolution
          than accepting billions of light years as part of heliocentrism. Yes, they are both consequences.

      • John David Walters

        “WRT to whether the Earth moves or not, it is clear that no one before the rise of modern science said that the Bible did not tell us that the Sun goes around a fixed Earth.”Wrong. There were plenty of people, including Augustine, Basil of Caesarea and others, who cautioned against deriving scientific information from biblical texts, which had a different purpose.”Is there anyone who can claim that they believe that the Earth is a planet of the Sun for any reason other than modern science?”Irrelevant. The question is not how you come to believe scientific theories, but how you go about interpreting the Bible.”Is there something wrong with all of those people who in the last few hundred years modified their understanding of the Bible because of their acceptance of modern science about the structure of the Solar System?”Depends on what exactly you mean by ‘understanding of the Bible’. If by that you’re referring to their view of what the Bible actually teaches, then yes there is something wrong with claiming the Bible means something other than what it clearly teaches because of new scientific knowledge. If by that you mean our understanding of the authority of the Bible, then there’s nothing wrong with, say, diminishing its authority if you become convinced it contains erroneous information, as long as you are clear and explicit that that is what you are doing.

      • arcseconds

        The evidence for heliocentrism is exactly that for Newtonian physics (or, if you want to be particularly pedantic, General relativity, even in the weak-field limit), including especially the particulars of the motion of bodies in our solar system.

        What do you regard as unclear or uncompelling about that?

        (perhaps I should say ‘near-heliocentrism’, as the bodies of the solar system orbit the center of mass of the solar system, which is close to the sun and often within it, but not always).

        • stuart32

          I think Tom’s point was that heliocentrism wasn’t an easy thing to discover. No one could make the heliocentric model work better than the Ptolemaic one until Kepler discovered elliptical orbits. Then, as you say, Newtonian physics was required to explain the orbits. That required true genius.

          Also, an early objection to heliocentrism was that if the earth orbits the sun then the stars nearer to us should appear to move. The movement of the stars is so tiny that it couldn’t be observed until the 19th century when sophisticated enough instruments were developed.

          • TomS

            I hope that no one got the idea that I was promoting geocentrism!

            What I do suggest is that most people have to trust the scientists when it comes to heliocentrism, while the evidence for biological common descent is easy to see.

            My impression is that most common defense of heliocentrism would be that NASA has photographs of the Earth in motion – which is not very good evidence IMHO. I agree that a Foucault pendulum is good evidence for the daily rotation of the Earth, but the best direct evidence for the annual revolution of the Earth comes from astronomical evidence which is beyond a layman’s ken (stellar aberration and parallax). Other arguments which I would make would require some extended discussion.

            • arcseconds

              Ah, right, you mean that it’s unclear and uncompelling to lay people! Not that the evidence itself is somehow unclear or uncompelling to scientists.

              OK, I see where you’re coming from now :-)

              Yes, you and stuart32 are right: (near)heliocentrism is kind of subtle and sophisticated, whereas once you discover enough strata and fossils, descent with modification over a long period of time is kind of obvious, even if you don’t have any idea as to the cause. It seems a historical accident that heliocentrism was discovered earlier.

          • arcseconds

            Without a dynamical theory, there is no way to tell (from terrestrial observations) the difference between a heliocentric and a Tychonian model (where all the planets with the exception of the Earth go around the Sun, which itself orbits the Earth).

            The Tychonian model might seem a bit weird, and (along with Aristarchus) one might get a bit suspicious with the Sun being much larger than the Earth. But that’s not actually compelling evidence. If you’ve got no real idea what’s causing the motions, then why can’t a larger body fly around a smaller?

            And the Tychonian model doesn’t have the difficulty with the stellar parallax that you mention.

            • TomS

              Even such a famous demonstration of the motion of the Earth as the Foucault pendulum relies on a particular dynamic theory.

              I have had a little exposure to some of the modern geocentrists, and they seem to favor a Tychonian model. The usual arguments that they get are easily refuted for just the reasons that you mention.

              • arcseconds

                I actually was only thinking of observation of planetary (and solar) motion, and I must remember to make that clear in the future.

                Foucault’s pendulum would give some reason to think the Earth moved — I think we can allow some understanding of inertia.

                The other thing that would really push people into thinking the Earth was in motion would be observing stellar parallax.

                Of course, they couldn’t make those observations at the time.

                I believe historically it was Newton’s theory that finally disposed of Tychonian geocentrism as a going concern scientifically, and I think it’s quite interesting that this was answered by the success of a theory, rather than by an observation of some kind.

      • arcseconds

        Also, you ask “Has anyone ever come to a belief in heliocentrism from anything other than modern science?”

        If ‘modern science’ is taken to mean science of the modern period, from the 17th century and later, then the answer to this is yes, several people, including notably Aristarchus of Samos in the 3rd century BC.

        • TomS

          Yes, of course, there were a few people who had the idea. I tried to make the point only with respect to the interpretation of the Bible, and I don’t think that there was anybody who suggested figurative interpretation of the Bible on the issue of geocentrism before the first inklings of modern science.

  • http://triangulations.wordpress.com/ Sabio Lantz

    House of Cards vs. Slippery Slope
    Thinking about this more, I think the “slippery slope” idea has some basis. We all know situations where you start moving out of a position and total exist is almost inevitable. You doubt Santa and the Easter Bunny and angelic Thankgiving Pilgrims fall too. Not everything is like this of course, but since some are, people are afraid that their favorite thing may be a house of cards.

  • dangjin

    “But they have already shifted away from an unmoving Earth, a literal solid firmament, and many other details the Bible mentions.”

    it is clear that the author doesn’t understand what God is saying with those comments in the Bible but then how can he—he doesn’t believe God.

    • Lee

      “it is clear that the author doesn’t understand what God is saying with those comments in the Bible but then how can he—he doesn’t believe God.”

      He obviously does believe in God but scholarship means that he is more knowedgable than you. At any rate it appears that you like to come on here and make assertions without evidence. What was God trying to say? I doubt this will change your mind by I will post this anyway for the benefit of others. I am posting an excerpt from something I posted elsewhere;

      Isaiah 40:22

      “It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.”

      At first this seems to confirm your point of view but in fact it is describing a very different cosmology. We actually have Ancient Near Eastern maps that confirm what I am about to say.

      The circle refers to a flat circular earth, as opposed to a sphere which is what the earth really is. It is surrounded by ocean on all sides. Now this website talks about how this passage refers to an expanding universe. It does not. It is describing the heavens as an enclosure over the earth like a tent. A tent of course can only stretch so far. They believed that there was a solid dome over the earth containing the sun, moon, and stars.

      The dome was called the firmament (sky). From wikipedia:

      “The word “firmament” is used to translate raqia, or raqiya` ( רקיע), a word used in Biblical Hebrew. The connotation of firmness conveyed by the Vulgate’s firmamentum is consistent with that of stereoma, the Greek word used in the Septuagint, an earlier translation. The notion of solidity is advanced explicitly in several biblical passages.[4]

      The original word raqia is derived from the root raqa ( רקע), meaning “to beat or spread out”, e.g., the process of making a dish by hammering thin a lump of metal.[3][5] Raqa adopted the meaning “to make firm or solid” in Syriac, a major dialect of Aramaic (the vernacular of Jesus) and close cognate of Hebrew.[3]”

      Not only do we have maps depicting this but in the history of the church they interpreted the heavens in just the way I described based on scripture. They never envisioned anything resembling a vast universe.

      Now if you have evidence that Dr. McGrath is wrong, please share it. I have a feeling though that you are just a troll and have no evidence at all.

      • TomS

        Not that I am disagreeing with the real point that you are making, but I have to express some doubt about the interpretation of “circle of the earth” in Isaiah 30:22. You are interpreting the expression as an appositive, “circle which is the earth”, while I think that I could be a possessive, “circle belonging to the earth”. I think that picturing the Lord as sitting on the circle which is the earth is not consistent with the context, as much as is the Lord sitting on a round thing, like the dome (or firmament) over the earth. And doesn’t Biblical geography have a rectangular, rather than circular, earth (what with the four corners, for example)?

        • Lee

          To clarify:
          Ancient Near Eastern maps show the world as square and flat but with a circular continent surrounded by ocean. And the verse says that God is sitting ABOVE the circle. Above the firmament is a sort of ocean or sometimes referred to as a “storehouse” where rain comes from. The Genesis story mentions separating the waters above the earth from the waters below using the firmament. Above that level heaven exists as a literal physical place.
          Just google “Ancient Near Eastern cosmology” and you will find maps depicting this. Here is one site but there are plenty of others.
          http://www.religioustolerance.org/cosmo_bibl1.htm

  • Andrew Dowling

    Some slippery slopes take you to a better place. I definitely went down a slippery slope after delving into higher criticism but it went to a place of faith that is concurrently less concrete/encased within boundaries but ultimately stronger.

    • Lee

      I agree.

  • Straw Man

    The slippery slope fallacy illustrates something that has long interested me (as a PhD mathematician, but [disclaimer] not a logician): most of the logical fallacies turn out to be useful rules of thumb. A few easy examples:

    * post hoc fallacy: when looking for what causes X, a good place to start is with things noted to immediately preceded X. See also correlation vs. causation.

    * affirming consequent: whenever I prove a theorem that A => B, the FIRST question I ask is whether B => A is also true. It’s often not true, but it’s ALWAYS the right question to ask.

    * ad hominem: if a Nazi tells you that Ashkenazim are unusually vulnerable to Tay-Sachs disease, it’s still true–but his statement deserves particularly careful scrutiny. There are good reasons to expect half truths, exaggerations, spin or outright lies when a Nazi talks about Jews.

    * ad verecundiam: a biologist affirming evolution doesn’t make it true. But… when you want the right answer, the best place to go is an expert…

    In the case of the slippery slope, in a great many cases the argument is true–not because the force of gravity is involved, but because the individual who asks for one concession is likely to desire a great deal more, and is asking for what he thinks he can get. I prefer analogies like “the camel’s nose” or (the vulgar) “just the tip” for that reason: both involve an actor who starts with a very small poke, intending something considerably greater.

    Politics is replete with such examples, of course. We pass a small tax, or a tiny regulation, but over time it metastasizes into a vast bureaucracy, or a staggering tax rate, etc. In the Beatles’ song, “1 for you 19 for me” was quite literal: the Beatles had just discovered that Britain in the 1960′s still had the 95% marginal tax rate instituted as a wartime measure in WWII.

    In the case of gay marriage, I agree that bigotry and alarmism are on prominent display. “Where will it end? Men marrying sheep? Women marrying toaster ovens? Toddlers marrying their grandfathers?”

    Note, however, that gay marriage isn’t the only taboo rooted at least partly in some sort of bigotry. Cousins marrying is still regarded as scandalous, for example. Consensual relationships between *adults* who happen to be blood relations are generally condemned, but it’s impossible where I sit to see a rational reason for condemning it. You can talk about recessive genes all you want–but the same argument applies to unrelated couples who have recessive genes in common, like sickle cell trait. We don’t ban them getting married, even if we do endorse some sort of measure to look out for the potential offspring.

    I’ve seen advocates of gay marriage bristle when consensual adult incest is mentioned, but that makes sense for purely tactical reasons: it does invite other “slippery slope” comparisons; and more importantly, it forces one to confront additional types of bigotry, fighting a two-fronted war. I get that. But “eliminating societal restrictions that are based purely on bigotry” is a kind of slippery slope: if we start confronting our bigotries, there are several others that will inevitably come into the crosshairs as well.

    • arcseconds

      I’ve always felt that the distinction is most clearly made by referring to Plato’s ‘true opinion’ and ‘knowledge’.

      What Plato means by ‘knowledge’ involves having a thorough understanding as to why something is true. So he means something much stronger than what we normally call ‘knowledge’. This involves being able to demonstrate the knowledge claim, i.e. to prove it. The closest we come to this is actually your field, mathematics: you know something so long as you’re capable of providing a proof for it (*). Things that you ordinary-know some other capable mathematician has proven but can’t prove yourself you don’t platonically-know.

      The logical fallacies obstacles to platonically-knowing. A ‘proof’ involving them is no real proof.

      But if you’re happy with beliefs with a high degree of probability that you’ve got by a reliable manner, and aren’t troubled by your inability to demonstrate them yourself, they aren’t necessarily obstacles.

      And this is what we normally call ‘knowledge’, if the probability is high enough (and some other conditions are met).

      Accepting something an expert says is a good route to probabilitistic ordinary-knowledge, of course so long as you have some trust in the expert — you’d need to put the probability of a statement of theirs being correct (or correct enough) above 0.5, otherwise you’re better off disbelieving them.

      Accepting a consensus of experts is even better — so long as you think enough of them reach the same conclusion independently enough of one another, even if every individual expert is not that great, the probability of the consensus being correct can get very high.

      Rejecting something that someone untrustworthy on a particular topic says is also a good strategy.

      You just have to keep in mind that by doing so you’re not concerning yourself with the logic of the question, but just what are probabilitistically good indicators of the right answer. It’s like looking up the answers in the back of the textbook — you don’t get knowledge that way, just true opinion.


      (*) naturally you’d have to understand the proof, not just repeat it verbatim.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X