Monday, February 24, 2014

The Assailant Position

The opponents of Christianity always choose their own position; and the position they choose is always that of the assailant. They bring forward objections; but never attempt to defend themselves against the objections to which they are exposed.

The cause of this it is easy to perceive. Objections—not only plausible, but real, valid, and sometimes unanswerable objections—may be brought against what is nevertheless true, and capable of being fully established by a preponderance of probability;—by showing that there are more and weightier objections on the opposite side. If, therefore, any one can induce you to attend to the objections on one side only, wholly overlooking the (perhaps weightier) opposite ones, he may easily gain an apparent triumph. A barrister would have an easy task if he were allowed to bring forward all that could be said against the party he was opposed to, and to pass over in silence all that could be urged on the other side, as not worth answering.

Richard Whately, in the Introduction to his annotated edition of William Paley's Evidences of Christianity.

Whately, of course, is an important figure in the history of logic, being one of the central movers in the logical renaissance of the nineteenth century. One of his more famous works (which he goes on shortly after this passage to allude to) is the hilarious Historic Doubts Relative to Napoleon Buonaparte, in which he 'proves' on Humean principles that Napoleon didn't exist and was probably made up in order to sell newspapers. The work was published in 1819 and Napoleon, of course, was still alive (he died in 1821), having only been defeated at Waterloo, after an immense war effort, four years before.

1 comment:

  1. Timotheos1:49 AM

    The essay was great, but I'm not sure why the author kept going on about Hume like he was a real person; everyone knows he was invented by adolescent males in need of a philosophical hero. ;)

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