Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 27, 1954

Evasions Of The Law Of Rationality -- No. 2

Thomas B. Warren. Fort Worth. Texas

The reader is asked to refer to article number one of this series so that he may have clearly in mind what is meant by "the law of Rationality" and "evasions" of that law. The evasion noted in the first article was "Argumentum ad Verecundiam," a Latin phrase which means, "the appeal to reverence."

II. The Appeal To Emotion

"The structure of this evasion: 'The proposition P is true.' Why? 'Because I (or you) have strong feelings concerning it." Many people accept a certain proposition as being true because they, or someone else, feel very strongly about it. But just because someone has strong emotional feeling about a given proposition does not mean that it is a true one. Emotionalism is such a poor substitute for evidential proof that it is, in fact, no substitute at all.

1. The forms of this evasion. "The appeal to emotion takes two forms, one subjective or personal, and the other objective or social. In its personal form the appeal is to one's emotions . . . In the objective form the appeal is to the emotions of other persons, when a speaker substitutes emotional appeals for evidence."

2. Examples in secular affairs. In the personal form, an individual believes or accepts a proposition as being true because he just cannot bear to think of it otherwise. "Joe Blow is not a Communist because I simply cannot bear to think of him as such. I feel so strongly about this matter that he just cannot be guilty of this." But the fact that one cannot bear the thought of Joe Blow being a Communist is not proof that he is not such a person.

In the objective form, a speaker (or writer) seeks to appeal "to the people." Professor Ruby says that it might be called (in less flattering terms), the appeal "to the mob." It is likely true that the majority of men is swayed by emotion instead of real proof. Speakers and writers alike inflame the masses with words and phrases which are emotionally "loaded." This sometimes takes the special form of "Argumentum ad Misericordiam," or "the appeal to pity." Lawyers are heard to plead, "This man cannot be guilty." Why not? What proof do you offer that he is not guilty? "Because he has a wife and three children." Now it is true, of course, that a man who, if he is sent to prison, will leave a wife and three children without means of support and without the comfort and help of a husband and father is an object of pity. But the fact that he is an object of pity is no proof that he is not guilty of the crime with which he is charged. Such men do, at times, commit crimes, and emotionalism is no substitute for evidential proof.

Or it may appear something like this: "Jack Smith is not seeking to be a political boss." Why? How do you know he is not? "Because he was mistreated when he was a little boy." But men who were mistreated when they were little boys sometimes do try to become political bosses. One cannot arrive at the truth in the matter by using his emotions as a criterion. It requires evidential proof to do this.

Again, it may take the form of trying to meet an opponent's argument by swaying the audience to laugh at him. "What John Brown says cannot be true." Why not? "Because I can tell you something funny about him." Such may be amusing, but is no proof that what John Brown said is not true. Laughter is no better a substitute for evidential proof than is loud talking.

3. Religious examples outside of the church. The common cry of sectarians is, "One church must be as good as another!" Why must this be true? "Because I feel so strongly about it; I simply cannot bear to think of it any other way!" Again, this plea is heard, "I know my mother was saved." Why? How do you know it? Because she did what the Bible said for her to do? "No, just because I cannot bear to think of it otherwise!" But strong feeling on the part of children is no substitute for obedience of the gospel on the part of parents.

Sectarian preachers appeal to the masses with such language as: "Can you accept the idea that one cannot be saved in the Baptist Church, or the Methodist? If so, what about all of the fine, devoted, zealous, God-fearing people who have died in those churches? Will you be heartless enough to say that they have gone to hell? What about your own dear mothers and fathers?" Such appeals are calculated to close the minds of the listeners to a candid investigation of what the Bible teaches on the question of salvation and to cause them to decide the matter on an emotional basis. Such tactics members of the church of the Lord rightly deplore.

4. Examples in the church. "Oh," some Christian asks; "do you mean to say that some members of the church are guilty of deciding religious questions on the basis of an emotional appeal instead of evidential proof from the Bible?" The answer must be, "Yes, some do. Not only do they do it themselves, but they seek to get others to do it as well. Likely they do it not realizing what they are doing."

Ordinarily it is easy for members of the church to see that mere appeal to emotion cannot be substituted for evidential proof. It is not, however, always so easy for them to see it when it comes to matters of their own practice.

Brethren are heard to say, "The Herald of Truth is a scriptural way of preaching the gospel." Why? What proof do you offer that it is? "Because I feel so strongly about it. I would a ten thousand times rather be for it than against it. When I think of one hundred and seventy souls dying every hour, I simply cannot bear the thought that it is not scriptural. If it is not scriptural, we might as well give up; we are dead and cannot get the job done. When I think of the Catholics 'on television, I simply cannot bear the thought of the Herald of Truth not being there as well." But the fact that we all feel strongly about such matters is no proof that the Herald of Truth is a scriptural way of preaching. If emotionalism is to be adopted as the criterion of judgment, then no one could rightly oppose the Missionary Society. On the other hand, the fact someone may feel strongly against the Herald of Truth is no proof that it is not scriptural. The point is, strong feelings just do not decide a question, it takes proof to do that!

Again, brethren are heard to say, "Boles Home is a scriptural way for the church to do its benevolent work." Why? "Because the most pitiful sight in the world to me is a poor, hungry, homeless little orphan child. I just cannot bear to think that the Home is unscriptural when I think of all the poor, little orphans." It's true that homeless orphan children are objects of deep sympathy, but this fact is no substitute for proof from the Bible that such a set-up is authorized by the Lord. The fact that we all feel strongly about the matter is not proof that the church is to work through such an institution. It is equally true, of course, that strong feelings against such a situation is no proof that Boles Home is not scriptural. The emotions of men are just not the standard by which the matter is to be decided!

Again, brethren cry, "The centralized-sponsoring church plan of carrying the gospel to the world is scriptural." Why? What proof do you offer that it is? "Oh, it must be right' because I feel so strongly about the lost people in Germany and Japan." But the fact one feels a burden on his heart because of the lost souls in Germany is no proof that a certain plan or scheme for preaching the gospel is right. Again, appeal to the entire brotherhood is made on a basis such as this: "Brethren, can a plan be wrong which takes the gospel to fifty million Germans?" The correct answer to such a question is, "Yes. Of course, a plan which takes the gospel to millions of people can be wrong. It is not right just because you feel so strongly about it. On the other hand, it would not be wrong just because someone else may feel strongly against it. When we have done no more than give voice to the strong emotions which we have, we have offered no proof at all. Now, let us have the scriptural proof that such a plan is right!"

Brethren, let us not be guilty of evading the Law of Rationality. Let us all be willing for our practices to be called into question without our getting on our "high-horse" and having an emotional tremor. Let us not, in such cases, begin to wring our hands like a sectarian and cry, "Oh, you are against supporting orphans and preaching the gospel." But, rather, let us do as God would have us to do: "Try the spirits," and, "Prove all things; hold fast to that which is good." Don't allow yourself to be swayed into believing a proposition is true just because it is a situation which is highly charged with emotionalism. And do not allow yourself to be swayed from candidly examining a question just because it involves orphan children and preaching to the lost.

Neat week: "Argumentum ad Hominem."