Tue | Jan 18, 2022

Challenging an overworked logical fallacy

Published:Saturday | December 4, 2021 | 12:05 AM


As a former tutor in philosophy at The University of the West Indies, Mona, under Barbadian philosopher Dr Wilvin Wiggins, I am urging critics of the Bible in the newest republic, Barbados, to be informed that, to criticise a book based simply on its age is to commit the informal logical mistake called the genetic fallacy.

If Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley were to wax erudite (as usual) in any upcoming forum about the superior value of being a republic over being a constitutional monarchy and a critic rose in such a forum and chided her presentation, based simply on the fact that her republic is too young for her to be waxing warm about a republic, such a critic would be guilty of the genetic fallacy in addition to courting argumentative slaughter from PM Mottley.

In a published letter to the editor of The Gleaner in 2017, I chided Jamaica’s justice minister, Delroy Chuck (eminent lawyer and a Rhodes Scholar) for committing the genetic fallacy in urging Parliamentarians to tackle the Church about its adherence to centuries-old moral teachings from the Bible.

I share excerpts from that letter below.

“No lawyer of Mr Chuck’s eminence could advance such a silly age-based argument!

I know that many reject the Bible out of hand because it is too old a document to be appealed to in the modern age.

How does the age of a document necessarily negate the wisdom or value of the document’s content? What would such critics say about the almost universal millennia-old taboo on murder, adultery and stealing in every culture studied in antiquity and the abiding negative sentiments and even legal sanctions (excepting for adultery) on those practices today?

Should we by this age-based reasoning trash all literature from antiquity, including the revered pieces of Egyptian literature for some critics and the equally revered pieces of Greek or Roman literature for other critics?

A comparative survey of Ancient Near Eastern law codes is quite instructive: the old Hittite laws of 1650-1500 BC; the 1800 BC Babylonian code of Hammurabi or the oldest Egyptian laws all have some taboos that have modern legal descendants of a kind.

The terribly misunderstood biblical legal principle of the Lex talionis ‘an eye for an eye …’ (c. 1500 BC) is, in modern jurisprudence, a valuable legal principle = the punishment should fit the crime, so if I tailgate you and damage the rear bumper of your Honda Fit don’t try to make a claim for a BMW X7!! The claimed whatever must be comparable to the damaged whatever.”

Students of ancient history have to examine the contents of very old books on history and dare not dismiss them simply because they are too old. Then, think of lawyers/judges who subscribe to the legal doctrine of stare decisis (being guided by established legal precedent, age notwithstanding)!

Neither the Church nor the Bible is above challenge or criticism but let the critics challenge logically!