The Art of Argumentation

News: Commentary
by Raymond de Souza, KHS, KM, KofC  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  August 25, 2021   

How to respond to modernist fallacies

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America is the country that has produced the largest number of lay Catholics who promote apologetics — the art of thinking and speaking with clarity in defense of the Faith. 

In so doing, these defenders put into practice the exhortation of the first pope, St. Peter, in his first Epistle: "Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a defense of the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15).

The word apologetics is taken from a Greek word meaning "defense." However, when we defend the Faith with piety, enthusiasm and vigor, as a true faithful Catholic is called to do, we often encounter a number of objections that make our life difficult if we are not experienced in the art of arguing — not so much because of the strength of the objection, but because of the manner in which the objections are presented: the modernist fallacies. 

I am grateful to the site Veteransforliberty.org for providing the titles to logical fallacies. I only contributed the examples. I trust this list will be useful for Church Militant supporters in their efforts to argue with logic and consistency, refuting the fallacies of the modernists.

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Fallacious modernist counterarguments may include:

Ad Hominem

The modernist, instead of responding to your argument, attacks you as a person — attacks your character. Example: You argue in defense of the Latin Mass as the best expression of Catholic worship. The modernist calls you "rigid," "divisive" or "too conservative." He expects you to defend your character, shifting the argument from the Latin Mass to your person, but he does not refute your argument. 

Anecdotal

The modernist cites an isolated case instead of a valid argument. Example: You affirm the priesthood is a high vocation. The modernist says he knows of a "conservative" priest who had a lover in his hometown and claims "that shows you what kind of breed the so-called conservative clergy is," as if the example of a bad priest — and there are many — refutes the substance of your claim as it applies generally. 

Appeal to Authority

This is when the modernist infers his view is true simply because someone in authority agrees with him. He might invoke a comment a bishop made somewhere, noting that "the bishop is the bishop, after all." Example: You say adulterers cannot receive Holy Communion. He says that, according to a footnote in Amoris Laetitia, there are special cases when people can receive, as his bishop said so, citing the bishops in Argentina. This ignores the inherent wrongness of the authority's views by falsely implying authority automatically confers truth. 

Appeal to Emotion

The modernist may appeal to an emotion instead of providing a valid argument. Example: You say that abortion is always murder. He replies that, in an extreme case in his family, the mother "opted for abortion because the baby was going to be born blind and had spina bifida. How could we be so cruel as to let the poor baby suffer his whole life?" — as though a risk of suffering justifies intrinsic evils.

Bandwagon

He says that since everybody (or at least a good number of people) agrees with his view, it must be true. Example: He says that because many favor transgenderism and homosexuality, "Who are we to judge? Yes, it must be true. All those people cannot be wrong" — as if the number of people believing something determines its rightness or wrongness.

False Dichotomy

This is when the modernist reduces the argument to two possibilities when others exist. Example: You argue in defense of the right to own private property and against socialism. He says you must be in favor of big-business super-capitalism that exploits impoverished workers. (In fact, Catholic social teaching opposes all forms of exploitation, as discussed by Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum.) 

Straw Man 

This is when the modernist totally misrepresents you and your view to make it easier to attack you and your argument. Example: You speak in defense of the legitimacy of the Inquisition. He responds by saying you favor the violent oppression of people who think differently than yourself, perpetrated by Church leaders who wanted to impose their rule by force and fire. But the Church canonized St. Joan of Arc also to show that the abuse does not destroy the use — abusus non tollit usum.

Middle Ground

This approach presumes a compromise between two sides of an issue must contain the truth. Example: You say homosexual "marriage" or union cannot be validated by either the Church or the State. He says marriage is sacred, and he is against the marriages that come out of the bathhouses, but Church and State should at least recognize and encourage stable unions between homosexual couples. This deflects attention from what grounds the truth (e.g., God's purpose for marriage) by shifting the focus of the exchange to conflict resolution. (This is often how the Left achieves incrementalism — winning by obtaining small concessions.)

Loaded Question

Deflection continues with this approach, whereby the modernist words a question such that any answer will make you guilty, shifting the focus to self-defense. Example: He says, "When will you Catholics cease to oppress women by denying them the sacrament of the priesthood?" This wrongly insinuates there is oppression occurring by obfuscating the reasons for male-only priests.

Hasty Generalization

Here, the modernist uses a small sample to represent the whole of the population. Example: He says traditional Catholics in his hometown believe the throne of St. Peter is vacant (sedevacantists), using that example to paint all Catholics devoted to traditional liturgy as sedevacantists. He may even imply anyone who is critical of a pope is a sedevacantist.

False Cause

This is when the modernist presumes a relationship between two things proves one is the cause of the other. Example: Conservative Americans who have guns are growing in number, so the government must watch for an increase in violence against homosexuals and transgenders. But correlation does not mean causation. 

Burden of Proof Reversal

This occurs when the modernist lays the burden of the proof on you. Example: You defend the right to own guns according to the Second Amendment. He responds that you must prove you are not a violent White supremacist who wants to take over America and persecute the Black community. He ignores the idea that the onus of providing proof is on the accuser, not the accused.

Begging the Question

In this scenario, the modernist argues in defense of a position by assuming its premises are true — sometimes called circular reasoning. Example: The pope has signed an agreement with the chief Muslim cleric affirming God wants a plurality of religions. Therefore, conservative efforts to convert Muslims and other non-Catholics defy God's will. Because he deems unquestionable the pope's take on God's will, your insistence on real evangelization is out of step with Christ. In this particular example, the vicar of Christ is not infallible — only when speaking ex cathedra (from the throne) on an issue of Catholic teaching are his words considered infallible.

Raymond de Souza is Brazilian by birth, Catholic by grace and American by choice. He is a knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, a knight of the Sovereign and Military Order of Malta, and a fourth degree Knight of Columbus. Raymond puts logic at the service of the Faith to "re-evangelize the baptized" (John Paul II). He has given in person, on radio and on television over 2,500 talks on apologetics and pro-life issues. He has also assisted religious education programs in dioceses, parishes, schools and lay organizations in 38 countries of the six continents in four languages (English, Spanish, French and Portuguese, plus some Italian and Afrikaans). He writes weekly articles for the oldest national Catholic paper, The Wanderer. He is the delegate for International Missions for Human Life International, the largest Catholic pro-life and pro-family association in the world, having affiliates in over 100 countries. He has volunteered to assist — free of charge — any parish, association, diocese, school, etc., in North America to address conferences in defense of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, from the points of view of logic, Sacred Scripture and the early Church Fathers.
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