Tuesday, April 6, 2010



Ever notice how intolerant people are when they accuse someone else of being intolerant or pushing their views onto others?  Ever notice how it is assumed that the Christian must be wrong because of some condition which causes them to be intolerant or unable to think for themselves, otherwise they wouldn't think this way?

Unfortunately this is a common tactic on the Internet.  It is not a new one however.  CS Lewis wrote about it in 1941, and noted it was old then.  It is the assumption that a person is wrong and seeks to provide a motive for why he is wrong… but never in fact PROVES the person is in fact wrong.

What Is A Bulverism?

CS Lewis spoke of Bulverism as follows:

You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became so silly. In the course of the last fifteen years I have found this vice so common that I have had to invent a name for it. I call it "Bulverism". Some day I am going to write the biography of its imaginary inventor, Ezekiel Bulver, whose destiny was determined at the age of five when he heard his mother say to his father — who had been maintaining that two sides of a triangle were together greater than a third — "Oh you say that because you are a man." "At that moment", E. Bulver assures us, "there flashed across my opening mind the great truth that refutation is no necessary part of argument. Assume that your opponent is wrong, and the world will be at your feet. Attempt to prove that he is wrong or (worse still) try to find out whether he is wrong or right, and the national dynamism of our age will thrust you to the wall." That is how Bulver became one of the makers of the Twentieth Century.

—CS Lewis.  God In the Dock, page 273

CS Lewis wrote about this phenomenon in 1941, but it seems to be a common thing today.

The Logical Error of the Bulverism

The logical form of a Bulverism is:

  1. You claim that A is true.
  2. Because of B, you want A to be true.
  3. Therefore, A is false.

In other words, the argument of a Bulverism assumes the opponent is wrong in holding position [A] because of condition [B].  Thus we see Christians defamed because they are assumed wrong.  The attacker then goes on to give a reason for why the Christian holds A.  What is never proven however is that the Christian is wrong for holding position A.

It's a form of non sequitur.  The conclusion does not follow from the premise.  It also begs the question, that [A] is false when that needs to be proven

Lewis uses an analogy to illustrate the point:

Suppose I think, after doing my accounts, that I have a large balance at the bank. And suppose you want to find out whether this belief of mine is “wishful thinking.” You can never come to any conclusion by examining my psychological condition. Your only chance of finding out is to sit down and work through the sum yourself. When you have checked my figures, then, and then only, will you know whether I have that balance or not. If you find my arithmetic correct, then no amount of vapouring about my psychological condition can be anything but a waste of time. If you find my arithmetic wrong, then it may be relevant to explain psychologically how I came to be so bad at my arithmetic, and the doctrine of the concealed wish will become relevant - but only after you have yourself done the sum and discovered me to be wrong on purely arithmetical grounds. It is the same with all thinking and all systems of thought. If you try to find out which are tainted by speculating about the wishes of the thinkers, you are merely making a fool of yourself. You must find out on purely logical grounds which of them do, in fact, break down as arguments. Afterwards, if you like, go on and discover the psychological causes of the error. [Emphasis added]

The Common Attack

This often comes into play in the most crude attack against the Christian.  We hear that if we would think for ourselves, we would realize we are blindly following the error of Christianity [I'm putting this far more charitably than the anti-Christian would do].  This assumes:

  1. Christians claim [Certain moral behavior] are correct
  2. Because Christians [do not think for themselves], they think [certain moral behaviors] are correct
  3. Therefore Christians are wrong in thinking [certain moral behaviors] are correct.

We could apply the "Christians are homophobic" argument here as well… and certain anti-Christians do this as well.

The Overlooked Flaws With Using the Bulverism

The problem is, of course, that if one can use this argument against the Christian, the Christian can use the argument against their attacker.  We can merely substitute "Christian" with "Atheist" or "Muslim" or "Liberal" or "Conservative" and plug it in, and we can sling it back at you.

Of course you haven't proven your point and neither have I.

The use of the Bulverism is in essence sawing off the branch you are sitting on.  If one employs it against an opponent, the opponent can point it right back at the person making the attack.  If one refuses to apply it to their own argument, they cannot apply it to the opponent without being a hypocrite.

First Prove Your Point.  Then You Can Psychoanalyze

What is overlooked in the Internet debate today is that there is only one reason for rejecting something as false… and that is demonstrating that it is false.  All the reasons for trying to explain why something is false is meaningless if the thing is in fact true.

Yet instead, we see appeals to false analogy, appeals to numbers, appeals to age or newness… all of which are logical fallacies which do not prove the point one which one wishes to make.

Advice for the Christian

The Christian should be watchful for the Bulverism… first of all to avoid making the error yourself.  We who believe Jesus is the Truth should first of all demonstrate that the opponent's view IS false before trying to delve into motives why they are wrong.

Second of all to make sure you are not tricked by it.  It becomes easy to get caught up in challenging the reason the opponent provides for why we are wrong, completely overlooking the fact that first the opponent needs to prove we are wrong.

So don't get distracted.  One needs to stick to the point of insisting they prove their point.  Otherwise it will be treated as if they are right

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