Monday, June 27, 2011

Special pleading

Special pleading is an informal fallacy, in which the author attempts to exempt his own arguments from standards to which he holds his opponents. This may take various forms: for example, appealing to some irrelevant difference between his own arguments and his opponent's, or dismissing arguments or evidence that weakens his case.


In recent months and years, radio preacher Harold Camping predicted Judgment Day on May 21, 2011. He claimed that the day would be marked by massive earthquakes and millions of deaths: "the Bible guarantees it," he said. Of course, nothing happened, and we're still here. On May 23, Camping held a press conference, claiming that Judgment Day did happen - only it was "spiritual" rather than literal. This is special pleading: Camping ignored all evidence that refuted his original claims (namely, that nothing actually happened on May 21, 2011) and reinterpreted the evidence to maintain that he was right all along.

Perhaps a corporation has a by-law stating that no one who has been bankrupt is eligible to sit on its board of directors. It is discovered that one would-be board member has been bankrupt. "But that was years ago," he replies. This is special pleading because the rule forbids anyone who has been bankrupt from sitting; the time since the bankruptcy happened is not a mitigating circumstance.

Of course, not every exemption from the general rule is fallacious. We recognize, for example, that it is necessary sometimes for emergency vehicles to break traffic laws. There is a relevant difference between everyday motorists and ambulance drivers: the latter may be rushing to save a life. Self-defense is a valid legal defense against a charge of murder, because the law recognizes that lethal force might sometimes be necessary to defend oneself from an attack.

On the Fighting Fundamental Forums, KJV-onlyist "OneBook" has been attempting for several months to discredit the English Standard Version (ESV) by noting similarities between it and the New World Translation (NWT) of the Jehovah's Witnesses. For example:

Does altering the word of God matter? Is it good to ignore red flags? Have you ever seen so much commonality between the ESV and the NWT? A good question at this point would be did the NWT come first or the ESV? Who was copying who? What was lost in the change?

ESV – Romans 5:11

More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

NWT – Romans 5:11

And not only that, but we are also exulting in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

KJV – Romans 5:11

And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.

[Source; emphasis in original]

This is a textbook case of guilt by association: taking a superficial similarity and using it to draw a connection between two otherwise unrelated things. We can note three things about this argument: First, that just because a particular rendering is to be found in the NWT does not automatically make it wrong; second, that "reconciliation" and "atonement" are synonyms, and thus OneBook is drawing a distinction without a difference; and third, the rendering "reconciliation" dates back to the Revised Version of 1885, as well as the Revised Standard Version of 1952 - which predates the NWT by a decade, and of which the ESV is a revision. In other words, for the ESV to be connected to the NWT, someone would require a time machine.

However, frequently the wording of the KJV agrees with the NWT as well. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, right? Not according to OneBook:

John 3:1 in the ESV, NWT, and the KJV read basically the same. What does this prove? It simply proves even corrupt translations like the NWT and the ESV can sometimes get it correct and match the AV1611.


In other words, when the ESV resembles the NWT, it's because the ESV is wrong. When the KJV resembles the NWT, well, that's different - sometimes the NWT gets it right. Ignore the incriminating evidence! Full steam ahead!


Point out the double standard, and restate the counter-argument that incriminates the sophist's own arguments.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this series, brother, I needed it. I was getting a bit caught up with this issue, but I did keep noticing that those who advocate for the KJV (which by the way I prefer) kept repeating the same short quotes. I was suspicious, so I looked up the actual writings of Hort. Just did not fit the way he was represented.

    I have to admit though that I am angered by the 4th Edition of the UBS Greek Testament, in that they have decided to leave out many manuscripts of the later type. It still seems inconclusive whether the few early Egyptian mss are actually superior to the late Byzantine ones. Both sides are rife with speculation regarding things no one was there to witness.

    The other thing that bothers me is the UBS4 giving a class one to leaving "submission" out of Eph 5.22, when only 3 of all the manuscripts do so. It does make me wonder if they have bias at work. Any thoughts?

    Again, thanks. Grace and peace be with you, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior.