Bulverism

Originally a collection of essays and speeches, God in the Dock, published in 1979, included an explanation for “bulverism,” a word C. S. Lewis invented. The idea is closely related to the “Subject-Motive Shift” concept by Antony Flew. Lewis wrote:

You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong.  . . . [When you use this improper conterfeit of reasoning, you] 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 . . . “Bulverism.”

How much better to simply reason on the subject at hand! How unfortunate that it has become so popular to ridicule ones opponent, to portray somebody as a fool, rather than to discuss the subject! The worst antics of lawyers in courtrooms—that is no excuse for using bulverism in our everyday communications.

In politics, bulverism can take a form of: “He is trying to destroy . . .” (referring to a government official) or “He wants to destroy . . .” (referring to a politician trying to obtain an office). One key to alert us to this faulty reasoning is the accusation of bad motivations, for example, “She really just wants to . . .” or “His real agenda is . . .”

Of course God can see into a person’s heart and know perfectly well that person’s motivations, but for the rest of us . . .

Pterodactyls and Bulverism

When someone publishes a web site with a URL that includes the words “stupid” and “lies,” and the point of the site is to ridicule . . . “bulverism” probably fits . . . Of course “libel” also fits . . .

Strange Flying Creatures and Bulverism

“Bulverism” C. S. Lewis labeled the slick ploy of avoiding reasoning on a subject by pointing out the reason ones opponent is so silly. Do some criticisms of living-pterosaur investigations qualify as bulverism? I believe so.

 

C S Lewis - author and philosopher and Christian

Christian author and philosopher C. S. Lewis (Chronicles of Narnia, etc)

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