Saturday, April 14, 2007

Questioning the Beggar

As my family got ready for the day last week, we had the morning news on. One story in particular sent me into a rant that nobody in my family particularly cared to hear. Actually, I don't even remember what the story was about (so I'll make that part up), but the part that got me was how the young reporter closed his commentary:

The city council decided that, though the project will provide a great source of recreation for the community, even though it will cost approximately 3.5 million ... which begs the question, "How exactly will that revenue be raised?"

As I said, the story is made up. No city councils that I know of are planning a 3.5 million dollar recreation project. No, it wasn't the content of the story, but the phrase in bold that pinched my nerve.

I guess it is because I'm an English major that things like this bother me. My wife, the accountant, gets worked up over an unaccounted for penny in our checkbook. I cringe at the misuse of a phrase like "begs the question".

Bear with me here - this will all tie into apologetics.

This reporter used the phrase "begs the question" to mean, "it raises the question", which is the way it seems that most people tend to use it anymore, much to the dismay of us language purists.

In actuality, "begs the question" is a logical fallacy, and this post is the first in a series in which I want to examine some of the fallacies that often come up when we attempt to share our faith with others. No matter how well we know the defense for the teachings of our faith, all of us have hit dead ends when the person with whom we are dialoguing throws us a question that just flies in the face of reason. If we aren't able to identify such an exit from the road to truth, our conversation will go down quickly.

To beg the question means to ask a question or make a statement that implies a conclusion, which the two parties have not yet resolved. For instance:

"Are you married to that dead-beat loser?"

"Why are you feeding your kids that poison each morning?"


In the first question, the assumption is that this person's spouse really is a dead-beat loser. Because the question is a yes/no proposition, the only possible responses are "yes, I am still married to that dead-beat loser" and "no, I divorced that dead-beat loser". Similarly, with the second example, the person asking the question is embedding the assumption that some breakfast cereal is harmful, whereas another mom may disagree.

Catholics are hit with questions that "beg the question" all the time, and many who are not able to identify the flawed logic often fall into its trap.

"Where is the word Purgatory written in the Bible?"

"Have you been saved?"

In each question an unresolved question has been "begged", that a church's teaching must be explicitly stated in Scripture (it doesn't have to be) and that salvation is a one-time, past-tense event (it isn't). When asked such questions, one must pause, step back and turn the tables on the person asking these questions. Rather than giving a lose-lose answer to the question on salvation, a better response might be to engage the dialogue with a question such as, "Can you explain exactly what you mean by 'being saved'?"

A lot of people beg the question completely by accident. They have been raised under the assumption that the Bible is the only authority for Christians (it isn't), for example, and just assume other Christians agree.

Others, however, know that their arguments lack integrity, but they use these methods anyway as quick ways of pulling people from what they see as false religions. This seems odd, though, as one would think that if a person believed strongly enough in his religion, he would be relying on truth rather than tricks.

And, as the reporter from the other morning would say, this begs the question: what exactly are they trying to hide?

1 comment:

jeffcityjoe said...

This posting kind of reminds of how, last week, I was accused (by a Federal Highway Administration employee) of trying to "tergiversate". I don't pretend to have known what that meant; I had to look it up.

It turned out to be an intransitive verb meaning, "to use ambiguities in an attempt to purposely mislead". Is that anything like begging the question?

P.S. This career bureaucrat used it as an adjective, as follows. “This is a tergiversate statement, FHWA 23CFR 625.3 requires FHWA approval.” Keep paying those taxes folks.