Seidensticker Folly #32: Sophistically Redefining “Contradiction”

Seidensticker Folly #32: Sophistically Redefining “Contradiction” April 20, 2019

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker, who was “raised Presbyterian”, runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17“Christians’ arguments are easy to refute . . . I’ve heard the good stuff, and it’s not very good.” He added in the combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” 

Such confusion would indeed be predictable, seeing that Bob himself admitted (2-13-16): “My study of the Bible has been haphazard, and I jump around based on whatever I’m researching at the moment.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes if I am able, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply. It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. But don’t hold your breath.

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog (just prior to his banning me from it), his opinion was as follows: “Dave Armstrong . . . made it clear that a thoughtful intellectual conversation wasn’t his goal. . . . [I] have no interest in what he’s writing about.”

And on 10-25-18, utterly oblivious to the ludicrous irony of his making the statement, Bob wrote in a combox on his blog: “The problem, it seems to me, is when someone gets these clues, like you, but ignores them. I suppose the act of ignoring could be deliberate or just out of apathy, but someone who’s not a little bit driven to investigate cognitive dissonance will just stay a Christian, fat ‘n sassy and ignorant.” Again, Bob mocks some Christian in his combox on 10-27-18“You can’t explain it to us, you can’t defend it, you can’t even defend it to yourself. Defend your position or shut up about it. It’s clear you have nothing.” And again on the same day“If you can’t answer the question, man up and say so.” And on 10-26-18“you refuse to defend it, after being asked over and over again.” And againYou’re the one playing games, equivocating, and being unable to answer the challenges.” Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 31 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning.

Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or search “Seidensticker Folly #” in my sidebar search (near the top).

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In his article, 9 Tactics Christians Use to Dismiss Bible Embarrassments (2-9-19) Bible-Bashing Bob plays the game of pretending that a logical contradiction is not what it is (“A = not A”). Anyone can go look up the definition of logical contradiction. Check out, for example, “Logical Consistency and Contradiction,” by philosopher G. Randolph Mayes. I’ve written several papers devoted specifically to bogus claims about alleged biblical “contradictions” which in fact, are not at all:

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Atheist Inventions of Many Bogus “Bible Contradictions” [National Catholic Register, 9-4-18]
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Bob specializes in inventing this very thing. He glories in it. And, as we shall see, he proudly immerses himself in outright lies and falsehoods and absurdities in this present paper, where he reveals himself to be an open, brazen sophist and literally an enemy of logic. Let’s now look at his “reasoning”:

Tactic 1: Technically, it’s not a contradiction

This excuse splits hairs about the word “contradiction.”

This is very clever, but at bottom is pathetic and intellectually dishonest. Bob appears to think that if one can’t prove that an actual (dictionary / classical logic definition) contradiction is present, then all they have to do is redefine what a contradiction is in the first place. Thus, Bible-Bashing Bob plays the game of pretending that the Christian use of the actual definition of “contradiction” is supposedly “splitting hairs”. We’re the ones parsing and redefining and playing with definitions, and engaging in sophistry, you see, not Bob! He projects what he in fact is doing onto the Christians who defend the Bible against outrageous and false attacks. The real definition of “contradiction” is transmogrified into hair-splitting / Bill Clinton “depends on what is is” pseudo-reasoning and ex post facto rationalization.

A contradiction, they’ll say, is a sentence X that clashes with a sentence not-X, and nothing less precise will do. The two statements must directly and unambiguously contradict each other.

Yes, of course. In other words, a contradiction must be what a contradiction is, according to classical logic. A = A. But Bob objects to this. He wants to pretend that instances of non-contradiction are, in fact, contradiction.

They might apply this to the number of women at the empty tomb. Each gospel identifies a different number of women. For example, John says that it was Mary Magdalene, but Luke says Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James “and the other women.” Apologists will defend the Bible by saying that John didn’t say Mary and only Mary was there, so it’s not a contradiction—at least not technically.

Now his game is to equate alleged fine “technical” distinctions as to the nature of contradictions and to object to the identification and proof of contradiction not being present as merely technical: as if it is not what it is.

This approach might work if the question of women at the tomb were the only problem, but there’s much more than that.

Here’s the key to his whole ridiculous analysis. Because he and other Bible skeptics have difficulty in proving actual biblical contradictions (by the dictionary definition of the word), what they do is collect a multitude of pseudo-contradictions which are not logical contradictions at all, and then rant and carry on that there are just so “many“!!! What he neglects to see is that a pack of 100 lies is no more impressive or compelling than one lie. A falsehood is a falsehood. If a hundred proposed biblical contradictions are all refuted and shown to not be so, then the ones who assert them have not gained any ground at all. They haven’t proven their case one iota, until they prove real contradiction.

And, of course, apologists always resolve the contradiction in favor of their conclusion, which is a supernatural fantasy that is about as far-fetched as it is possible to be. . . . 

Well, we are obviously defending the Bible and Christianity and have our bias, just as the Bible skeptic also is biased in the other direction. But we need not necessarily assume anything (by way of theology) in order to demonstrate that an alleged biblical contradiction is not present. That’s simply a matter of classical logic and reason. One need not even believe in “biblical notion X” in order to argue and assert that opponent of the Bible A has failed to establish internal inconsistencies and contradictions in the biblical account involving biblical notion X. One simply has to show how they have not proven that a contradiction is present in a given biblical text. I’ve done this many times in my previous 31 refutation of Bob’s nonsense.

While you’re haggling with them over the definition of “contradiction,” the Bible problem is ignored, which they count as a win.

Again, we are applying the accepted secular definition. Bob wants to pretend it isn’t what it is, so he can claim that there are numerous “biblical contradictions” which in fact do not exist because the fallacies and errors of the skeptical analysis have been exposed for what they are. Thus he very cleverly (but deceitfully) acts as if the definition of “contradiction” is some mysterious, controversial thing, that Christians spend hours and hours “haggling” over. It’s not. It’s very straightforward and it ain’t rocket science.

If something isn’t contradictory, it’s not a “Bible problem” in the first place. But Bob can’t accept that. He must have at his disposal a catalogue of hundreds of “Bible problems” so that he can pretend that he has an impressive, insurmountable overall case. This has been standard, stock, playbook atheist and Bible skeptic tactics for hundreds of years. They keep doing it because it works for those who are unfamiliar with critical thinking and logic (and the Bible). But the problem is that it’s intellectually dishonest.

Bob then gives a prime example of how he tortures texts (two biblical Gospel accounts of the same general events) into alleged “contradictory” status simply because they differ from each other in non-contradictory ways:

What does “contradiction” mean?

To remember how we evaluate contradictions in everyday life, suppose you’re a newspaper editor. Matthew and Luke have been assigned to the Jesus beat—this is such an important story that you want two journalists working on independent articles—and they drop off their stories (their respective gospels) on your desk. How satisfied would you be?

Not very. You’d call them back and tell them to try again. This isn’t merely Luke having the Parable of the Prodigal Son but Matthew omitting it, and Matthew having the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant but Luke omitting it. Space is limited, and those editorial decisions are understandable, but it’s more than that. Did wise men visit the baby Jesus, or was it shepherds? Was Jesus whisked off to Egypt for his protection or not? Did the dead rise at the crucifixion, who first witnessed the empty tomb, and how many angels were at the tomb? Matthew and Luke disagree on each of these and more. In common parlance, these are contradictions. Relabel the problem if you want, but don’t dismiss it.

Again, it’s utterly irrelevant what “common parlance” holds as to the definition of “contradiction.” All that matters is the standard accepted secular / philosophical definition. If contradictions are actually massively present in the biblical text, then Bob wouldn’t have to play dishonest mind games, messing around with the definition so he can force the square peg of his stupid, failed arguments (that I have refuted now 31 times) into the round hole of a “logical contradiction.”

He can reel off 179 alleged / claimed contradictions (as all Bible skeptics love to do: the mere “appearance of strength”). This proves absolutely nothing because any chain is only as good as the individual links. Each one has to be proven: not merely asserted, as if they are self-evidently some kind of insuperable “difficulty.” 100 bad, fallacious arguments prove exactly nothing (except that the one proposing them is a lousy arguer and very poor at proving his or her opinions). When we actually examine Bob’s arguments individually, we find that they are abominable and pathetic. I’ve done this, myself, probably more than anyone, so I know what I’m talking about, and anyone can go read my refutations of his nonsense.

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Photo credit: Pinocchio; Schwerdhoefer (8-22-15) [PixabayPixabay License]

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