Saturday, June 18, 2011

False Dilemma - Liar, Lunatic or Lord

Continuing with the "logical fallacy" theme that I (unknowingly) started this morning - the False Dilemma is something that you see frequently. Folks like to paint things as "either or" propositions because, frankly, it's simple.

C. S. Lewis asserted that Jesus was either Lunatic, Liar or Lord in his book Mere Christianity. I'd never heard of it until I started reading Michael Shermer's The Believing Brain earlier today - but I get props, because I recognized the False Dilemma of Lewis' assertion immediately, before ever having read the criticism at wikipedia.

The false dilemma is a logical fallacy in which (traditionally) only two choices are considered. It can usually be countered with the assertion that any number of alternatives can be considered ... for instance, instead of a binary "black or white" set of choices, the real set of alternatives may be an infinite number of gradations between the two ... many shades of gray.

Lewis' trilemma presents a variation on this, presenting three dimensions from which he proposes only one choice is possible. I counter that "Lunatic", "Liar" and "Lord" are each distinct choices along distinct axes - the lunatic-to-sane axis, the liar-to-truthteller axis, and the "mundane-to-divine" axis (for lack of a better characterization) - and that each axis has infinite gradations, resulting in quite a set of possibilities. You can imagine that other dimensions could be relevant in making a case for Jesus' son-of-godness. Sticking to just the specified three, he might have been simultaneously divine, liar and lunatic. He may have been neither divine nor mundane, a truthteller, and just slightly crazy. You can see where this could go.

I'd advise apologists to avoid Lewis' Trilemma in debate because it (by itself) makes a crappy argument.

On the bright side, skeptics can tear it apart with little effort.

It's a win-win!

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