Princeton philosopher Thomas Kelly in a paper on the epistemology of disagreement (i.e. what the reasonable response when we find the people just as smart and informed etc. as us disagree on some important matter):
In principle, we ought to be able to give due weight to the available reasons that support a given view, even in the absence of actual defenders of the view who take those reasons as compelling. But in practice, the case for a view is apt to get short shrift in the absence of any actual defenders. The existence of actual defenders can serve to overcome our blindspots by forcefully reminding us just how formidable the case is for the thesis that they defend… But the case for a given view itself is no stronger in virtue of the fact that that view has actual defenders…
Thomas Kelly, ” The Epistemic Significance of Disagreement,” p. 31 (in pre-print).
At first this reminded me of a proverb I’ve often thought of when reading some catholic theologian who has evidently never put the slightest effort into understanding the overall case for unitarianism:
“The first to speak in court sounds right–until the cross-examination begins.” Proverbs 18:17 (NLT)
But this is actually a different point than Kelly’s. A better courtroom analogy for Kelly’s point is:
When only one side in a court case has legal representation, that side usually wins.
And there there’s my fortune cookie version:
He who argues against no one never loses.
This cookie-saying is amusingly ambiguous. You can avoid losing by (1) never arguing with anyone, or (2) by arguing but against no one – i.e. against a straw man.
I often see trinitarian theologians do one or both. There is a whole lot of puffery going on – endless gassing about how central “the” doctrine is to every single issue in Christian theology, to marriage, to politics, etc. – which no one actually believes, mind you, but it sounds good and makes the theologian sound important. (He holds the key to everything – to EVERYTHING!!!) But of course the more basic issue is: is it true? ‘Cause if it isn’t, it is doubtful that it’ll be the key to understanding life, the universe, and everything. And yet more fundamentally, what is “it” – this doctrine of the Trinity which allegedly has been believed by all Christians everywhere, or nearly so? Until we know what “it” is, we can’t seek out evidence for and against it. The first thing, then, is to say just what “the” doctrine is, properly understood; this ought not be skipped. But it very often is.
Others, do sort of, briefly, argue, often against a favorite bogeyman like “the skeptic,” “the rationalist,” or “the anti-trinitarian.” Often this fictional character says: “No, I can’t believe this! It ain’t consistent!” And then the trinitarian makes some quick distinction which is supposed to show that it can’t be shown to be inconsistent. While relevant, this shows, in most cases, total lack of familiarity with actual unitarian Christian writings. Our whole beef is really, at bottom, that (1) the doctrine isn’t derivable from the Bible, and (2) is (at least in most forms – there are many Trinity theories) demonstrably inconsistent with the Bible. If your chosen theory is inconsistent, that’s bad too – but the preceding points are really the crux.
This is nothing new, folks – it’s been an issue since the Reformation, since some “anabaptists” discarded trinitarian theorizing as yet another Catholic add-on which was unjustified on biblical grounds. So, there’s really no excuse for people not knowing these arguments, especially if you are a seminary educated person. Time to put aside the fictional characters familiar from pop-apologetics, and interact with the best the other side can do. What, your seminary didn’t cover all this? Start here or here or here then.
In this blog and in print, I’m trying to bring new attention to these arguments, and to formulate them in a most careful way. As to the print, I’m afraid that I’m very slow…
But I’m also going to a run a series of posts on debates between unitarians and trinitarians. Being a philosopher, I love debates, though I admit their limitations.
Going back to Kelly, his point is that intellectual integrity requires seeking out the very best arguments for a position one is evaluating. Typcially, one finds these directly from the mouths or pens of those actually espousing the theory in question, and not in summaries, histories etc. written by hostile people. Of course, debaters don’t always make the best case, but if a debate is well done, we can always learn from it.