Christianity and Special Pleading

Make your pleading special

One of the number of logical fallacies that a Christians often gets accused of is special pleading, which is an attempt to justify the exclusion of something from consideration. This is one of the accusations that Neil Carter levels in his post “How Faith Breaks Your Thinker”. This is the fourth post in a series aimed at directly refuting Neil’s claims. 




As I have stated before, both directly and indirectly, I am fully preparing to admit that most Christians engage in some lazy thinking. However, atheists are prone to the same problems with their reasoning, and one of the chief aims of this series is to demonstrate Neil’s own “broken thinker” due to his atheism. So let’s engage with Neil’s argument, which begins,

A person is using special pleading whenever they assert that the normal rules don’t apply to whatever it is they’re trying to discuss. It’s basically a claim of exemption from having to explain or establish good reasons for their assertions simply because what’s being suggested is so out of the ordinary that you cannot expect it to make sense in any other context.

That’s a fair definition of what special pleading is, let’s see if he can prove his point or not. He continues,

An obvious example of this would be the belief that while the cosmos must have a cause, an Invisible Person would not, for some reason. But why wouldn’t it? Because we said so, that’s why. Or perhaps consider the point I’ve often made that, while I’m told it will take trillions of years for me to pay for about seventy years of mostly “thought crimes,” one guy was able to pay for the sins of billions of people in the space of a single Friday.

Okay, there’s a lot to unpack here. So, let’s begin with the assertion that an example would be , “…the belief that while the cosmos must have a cause, an Invisible Person would not…” There are some presuppositions hiding here as well as confused categories. First, this is an attack on the cosmological argument, which is often stated thusly,

  1. Anything that begins to exist has a cause. 
  2. The universe/cosmos began to exist. 
  3. Therefore, the universe/cosmos must have a cause. 

This is a pretty standard argument that has been defended successfully in debate for years. The heart of the argument is twofold: existence and causation. What often occurs is that atheists will often abbreviate the argument, misrepresenting it (also known as a straw man) by claiming that it says that “anything that exists must have a cause” when the assertion is that “anything that begins to exist must have a cause”. To answer his question then would be to point out the error in his understanding, that being the elimination of the three word phrase “that begins to”. I would have to ask, “when was it ever stated that we claimed this ‘Invisible Person’ began to exist, since the argument is only relevant to those things which ‘began to exist’?” It wouldn’t apply because that’s not what is being said. If the argument was “anything that exists must have a cause” then there would be cause to level the charge, but that’s not what is being argued. 

The rest of the statement is incoherent tripe that has nothing to do with historically orthodox Christianity. 

Neil retorts,

The bottom line is that “God” is a special category, so you can’t expect anything about him to make sense. Which is very convenient for them.

Um, yes. God, by definition, is a special category. Immortal, omnipotent, omnipresent, and eternal, none of which applies to any human being. What we can grasp about his person and nature is only a result of what he has deemed necessary for finite beings such as ourselves by his act of self-revelation. 

Are you greatly bothered by the idea of a divine Being with no specific gender (there’s some irony for you, given their disdain for nonbinary sexuality)? Get over it because this is a special case! You wonder how someone has just always been around with nothing to make him/her/it exist? Special case! Three separate persons relating to one another but somehow they’re still one single Being? Don’t think about it too hard—it’ll never make sense.

Well, this is definitely a confusing of categories since it fails to distinguish between what God is and how he has determined to make his creatures. It’s the failure to make the Creator/creature distinctions that he would make in any other situation. The Creator determines how the creature will be, not the other way around. Why does God, who has no gender in his being, have to be gendered to instruct his creatures who are gendered in their being? You want special pleading, it would appear in that answer. There’s no logical argument that can bridge the distinction. 

Further, Neil misrepresents trinitarian understanding of God: it’s not “three separate persons” it’s three distinct persons who share the being. When it comes to trying to fully comprehend this because there is nothing analogous that exists within our experience to even attempt to make the comparison to without straying into heresy, so human minds are simply at a loss. As James White notes in his book The Forgotten Trinity,

The problem is, of course, God is completely unique . He is God, and there is no other. He is totally unlike anything else, and as He frequently reminds us, “To whom then will you liken Me?” (Isaiah 40:25). There is no answer to that question, because to compare God to anything in the created order is, in the final analysis, to deny His uniqueness. When we say, “God is like . . .” we are treading on dangerous ground. Yes, we might be able to illustrate a certain aspect of God’s being in this way, but in every instance the analogy, if pushed far enough, is going to break down. (p.25, Kindle edition)

I hate to repeat myself but God is distinct in his being. He is completely unique and so no creaturely categories can apply. Neil is under the burden to prove his accusation that Christians are placing an unnecessary exemption when the fact is that Christians inherently recognize an inherent exemption. Neil is one that is engaging in a form of special pleading in an attempt to rope God into a category of examination that he cannot, by definition, exist in. Neil’s thinker is broken by his atheism and it shows. 

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