The Believers Reasoning Scheme

A fallacy is an argument (aka pattern of reasoning, reasoning scheme, argument scheme) that appears valid but upon analysis is shown to be invalid or misapplied. The phrase "Anything is possible" is an example of one of those reasoning schemes that seems valid but is not. Anything is not possible. This article will discuss why an appeal to possibility should be considered for refutation on its face. It will then go on to discuss the effects this fallacy has in a dialogue. Finally it will discuss the process of sound reasoning, and introduce the phenomenon I call the Believers Reasoning Scheme.

Anything Is NOT Possible.
It is not possible for pigs to fly.
It is not possible for there to exist a married bachelor.
It is not possible for me to cut my left hand off with the edge of my right hand.

A person could sit for hours and think up a lot of things that are impossible if they gave it some thought. But under certain conditions is all of the above possible? At the point we introduce conditions then we are in the realm of plausible and implausible. At this point we introduce the word "Because".

"Because, Because, Because, Because, Because...."
It is not possible for pigs to fly because they don't have wings. But if we put a pig on an airplane then a pig can fly. A pig is flying because it is on an airplane.

When we examine what those conditions are we determine if the statement "pigs can fly" under Condition A is plausible. At that point we have to determine if Condition A is plausible. Is it possible that pigs can fly in an airplane? Yes. The airplane makes it plausible. Is it possible that pigs can fly in a boat ? No, it is not very plausible. There is nothing about a boat to suggest that it can fly or that it would change the state of our pig. The flight of our pig depends on the plausibility added by Condition A as a premise or proposition.

Appeal To Possibility, aka Argument From Ignorance
So how is this relevant? The following is only meant to be an example to demonstrate a point, not to resurrect the Problem of Evil.
Atheist: The God of the Bible doesn’t exist because if it did there would be no Evil.
Believer: Isn't it possible that God has reasons that we don't understand and the problem of Evil is really only a problem of perspective?

At this point, the fallacy is in the appeal to possibility and the course of the argument could take any number of turns. But lets analyze it and see what is going on in there.

Does It "Fit" With Existing Knowledge?
The proper course for this dialogue would be that the Atheist should provide a list of reasons why the idea of Evil is inconsistent with a God that is supposed to be all-good. Reasons would be given by the Atheist, and the Believer would either agree or disagree based on her own reasons. At that point the Believer would analyze the Atheist reasons and see if they 'fit' with existing knowledge and evidence that the Believer knows about and/or has committed to.  But in the case of our example there is no prompting for reasons. We can infer that the reasons are understood by the Believer because this is an old argument and the Believer has probably encountered it before. Instead the Believers' reply is a Critical Question.

Questions Control A Conversation (Nance).
When a question is proposed in dialogue it has the potential effect of shifting the burden of proof. Questions can be used properly in a genuine expression of doubt, but it can also be used improperly if the goal is to avoid defending or refuting a claim (Walton). If the Atheist 'takes the bait', then this question becomes a "Red Herring" whether the Believer intended it or not. A "Red Herring" is an attempt to hide the weakness of a position by drawing attention away from the real issue to a side issue (Damer, 183). At this point in the Problem of Evil dialogue we are chasing the scent of the Red Herring, barking off down the field at irresolvable "possibilities".

But The Characteristics Of A Possibility Make It Inherently Weak.
Under certain conditions, such as lack of evidence, if the affirmative is possible, the negative may also be possible. The question may be a valid expression of doubt or it may have an unexpressed premise. And in the case that there is an unexpressed premise behind the question, the question can be treated like a claim. The hidden premise in this case is the claim that God does have reasons we don't understand and that is why the Atheist perceives a Problem of Evil.

Shifting The Burdon Of Proof
Believer: Isn't it possible that God has reasons that we don't understand and the problem of Evil is really only a problem of perspective?
Atheist: No. Because it is just as possible that God doesn't have reasons that we don't understand. Would it be more likely that God has reasons we don't understand?

At this point the burden of proof has been properly shifted back to the Believer and now the Believer is in the uncomfortable position of producing reasons why it is possible that God has reasons we don't understand or accept your rebuttal. Of course the Believer could cry foul by asserting that you have answered a question with a question and insist that you defend it, but in that case the conversation has gotten back on course with the Atheist providing the reasons for the initial claim about the Problem of Evil. At this point in either case, the Believer must confront the Atheists premises and reason together or quit the conversation.

Reasoning Is A Process
Reasoning is a process which requires evidence and/or data that is used to gain knowledge or make decisions. A valid conclusion depends on an hierarchy of logical relationships that depend on plausibility. A conclusion is supported by premises that are supported by warrants that are backed by data (Toulmin).

So if the Believer is to claim it is possible that God has reasons we don't understand they should meet their obligation to show why it is plausible.

The Believers Reasoning Scheme.
The following is not intended to resurrect the Problem of Evil, it is only used as an example of where I perceive the process of reasoning breaks down for the Believer in most of the dialogues I have participated in. Below is a template of a common form of Christian Argument. The Reasoning Scheme of the Believer is a linked argument at the point where the conclusion of the sub-argument (in curly braces) is used to support the backing of the main argument. In fact it may be possible to plug many argument conclusions from Believers in many religions into the conclusion and they will fail.

Conclusion: There is only a perceived problem of Evil because of the following.
Premise1: We can't know the mind of God.
Warrant1: Because he is All-powerful, All-good, All-knowing, Present in all places etc. and we are not.
Backing1: The Bible tells us this.
Conclusion1.a (support for Backing1): The Bible is valid
Warrant1.a: because the bible is the word of god
Data1.a: The bible says it is the word of God.
Data1: Scripture in the Bible

The Circular Form Of The Believers Reasoning Scheme
In the case above, Backing1 (Backing1: The Bible tells us this) depends on circular reasoning of Conclusion1.a (The Bible is valid); therefore it is a faulty premise. The only way to defend this premise is with corroborating evidence on why the Bible contains valid data useful to support the conclusion that "we can't know the mind of God".

This argument depends on the Bible like the Pig depends on the Airplane. But this Pig is going in a circle in a boat, so it won't fly. It has been my experience that the Believer will try all sorts of tactics to avoid letting you get back to this point. It has been my experience that this sub-argument is the premise for most Believers arguments so I look for it and press them on it. In fact it is the fundamental principal that supports my blog; QuIRP: Quality Information Is Religions' Problem

Sometimes The "Appeal To Possibility" Refutes Itself
Under certain circumstances the appeal to possibility refutes itself, and the premise that uses the Bible to support most reasoning that I have ever seen about God is faulty because it is built on the circular reasoning that the Bible gives us useful information (knowledge) about God. This includes some of the Classic Philosophical Arguments for God.

The Tactic Of Critical Questioning
The tactic of Critical Questioning can be used as a Red Herring to divert the dialogue away from the real issues or it can legitimately be used as an expression of doubt intended to press an issue for backing. However, in my opinion, unfortunately, proper Critical Questioning is too slow to be useful in an internet forum so sometimes you have go straight to the point.

Believers Value Faith More Than Good Reasoning Technique
But it is plausible that it won't matter to the Believer that their arguments are not based on sound reason. One example of this is in an Article in Biblical Archeology Review titled "Losing Faith: How Scholarship Affects Scholars". Two of the four scholars had come to realize that up to this point there is no corroboration for the bible and seem to have opted for a purely emotional commitment.

Why Is This Important? What's The Harm?
Opting for a purely emotional commitment moves the standard for belief from being based on a large degree of objective truth to a large degree of subjective truth. A belief based on emotion will allow you to pick what you want to believe out of the Bible and label the rest as 'metaphor'.

By Accepting The Believers Reasoning Scheme, Anyone Is Implicitly Justified in Believing Anything That Suits Them.
For example, people will believe in God but they won't believe in "winged insects that walk on all fours" (Lev. 11:20-23). Using the Believers reasoning scheme, they should believe in four legged insects. Using the Believers reasoning scheme, they should believe that there was a time when there was only one language as it says in the story of the Tower of Babel (Gen.11:6-9). Using the Believers Reasoning Scheme, they should believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible and learn the original language it was written in so they can meet their obligation to understand it.

History Has Shown What Can Happen When A World View Is Not Based On Sound Reason. 
One current example among many in the past and present is that there are millions of people that are suffering from diseases that could be helped through stem cell research and cloning. Another is the attempt to keep homosexuals from having equal rights by justifying it with the Bible, as the Believer has done in the past for women and blacks. And last but not least, young and old earth creationists and Intelligent Design proponents have tried to corrupt one of the most demonstrably useful philosophies ever devised, the scientific method.

Damer, T. Edward. 2004. Attacking Faulty Reasoning. 5th ed. Belmont, California. Wadsworth Publishing

Nance, jef. 2001. Conquering Deception. Missouri. Irvin Benham Group.

Randolph, Lee. 2007. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are Built on a Faulty Premise. Debunking Christianity.

Shanks, Hershel. 2006. Losing Faith: How Scholarship Affects Scholars. Biblical Archeology Review.

The Bible, New American Standard.

Toulmin, Stephen. 2003. The Uses of Argument. 2 Edition. New York, New York. Cambridge University Press

Walton, Douglas N. 2006. Fundamentals of Critical Argumentation. New York. Cambridge University Press.

First posted on 4/7/07