You probably deal with this fallacy more than most types of fallacies in today’s social and digital media world. Slanting is when you “taint” or “skew” a description in favor of one position or another. This occurs regularly in most discussions involving polarized positions. For example, when sides of the abortion debate are labeled “Anti-Choice vs Pro-Choice” or “Pro-Life vs Anti-Life” the author is presenting the sides fallaciously (the title should read, “Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice”). These are simple political examples, but there are frequent uses of slanting from neo-atheists, like Richard Dawkins, especially in his book The God Delusion. But, first we’ll take a more detailed look at the definition and function slanting performs in fallacious arguments.
Slanting is a species or subset of the fallacy of equivocation. Slanting is when a term is used to “slant” a statement or description in favor of your position without justification. For example, take the following sentence: “The outdated religion is inhibiting progress.” There are two terms that imply a negative view of religion, “outdated” and “inhibiting.” How do we know that these terms are slanted? First, there are more neutral terms to be used. For instance, instead of outdated why not use ancient? The author, assuming they are being intentional in their meaning, is selecting specific words to convey an implied meaning. Unless the author has proven or justified these descriptions previously, then the term used is slanted. These types of descriptions are usually labeled “uncharitable,” and we should seek to be charitable, not patronizing, in our descriptions and objections of the opposing views our friends and enemies hold.
Thus, Slanting is the result of a term, typically an adjective, functioning as both a description of facts and an evaluation of those facts, in hopes that the slanted term will make you feel a certain way about the topic (i.e., religion, politics, Christianity, competition, etc.):
“The use of ‘slanted’ language “begs the question” by telling you whether to like or dislike the thing the word describes. Instead of proving that the thing it describes is good or bad, it assumes its value or disvalue in the very description of it” (Peter Kreeft, Socratic Logic, 76).
Slanting in Apologetics
In his book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins provides an example of how atheists will sometimes slant their statements. Dawkins writes,
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction . . . ” (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 31; emphasis mine).
Why introduce his argument this way? Has Dawkins proven that God is merely a character, or that the Bible is a work of fiction? No. Dawkins could have simply stated, “The God described in the pages of the Old Testament concerns me. . . .” Now, one may want to propose that Dawkins is not attempting to argue his position at this point in the book, but merely “getting started” or using “rhetoric” before providing his arguments. However, that is precisely the problem; frontloading your arguments with language and literary style to slant the emotions of your reader one way or the other is essential to propaganda. The term “fiction” denotes a form of literature and implies that this literature is false. Recall Kreeft’s definition:
“Instead of proving that the thing it describes is good or bad, [the slanting term] assumes [the thing’s] value or disvalue in the very description of it” (Kreeft, Socratic Logic, 76).
Another example from Dawkins comes from his definition of God:
“It is unfair to attack such an easy target. The God Hypothesis should not stand or fall with its most unlovely instantiation, Yahweh, nor his insipidly opposite Christian Face, “gentle Jesus meek and mild’. . . I am not attacking the particular qualities of Yahweh, or Jesus, or Allah, or any other specific god such as Baal, Zeus, or Wotan. Instead I shall define the God Hypothesis more defensibly: there exists a super-human, supernatural, intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us” (Dawkins, 31; emphasis mine. These emphases denote usage of slanting terms.)
Dawkins immediately defines God as super-human. Is God a super-human? Has Dawkins given us any reason to think that God should be considered a super-human? Do all religions purport their deity to be a super-human, super intelligent being? What about the Vedas, an authorless, divine text, that is believed by Indian religions to be the foundation of all of creation? A description of this religion is found in the Oxford Handbook of the Philosophy of Religion.
“The Veda, a Sanskrit text, [is believed] to be maximally, finally, and unsurpassably significant—to be, that is, divine. . . . More precisely and fully: some Indian thinkers came to understand a particular set of Sanskrit vocables as eternal and authorless and as a sustaining feature of the universe, a feature without which an ordered universe could not continue to exist and without which coherent human thought could not occur” (Paul J. Griffiths, Oxford Handbook to the Philosophy of Religion, 61).
Dawkins slants his definition to exclude the entirety of monotheistic religions that have never assumed their deity to be “super-human.” From the outset of his argument, Dawkins has set used slanting to imply that his definition of God is “more defensible” when it is actually a description of God that appears to be based on his ignorance of religion. The God of Christianity and the monotheistic religions have typically described their deities as non-human. For example, the God of Christianity is Tri-Theistic and lacks composition (See Divine Simplicity Talk from 2016 National Conference on Christian Apologetics).
Dawkins is not the only one who slants his terms. As an example from Christianity, many Christians will label their personal convictions as “biblical convictions” without demonstrating biblical authority. For example, “Biblical Creationism” is used instead of “young Earth creationism,” which implies that any other biblical Creation model is anti-biblical (i.e., old Earth creationism).
Whether you’re a Christian or a non-Christian, you must earn the privilege of volatile adjective usage through argumentation and presentation of the facts. Therefore, don’t use terms that assume their conclusion at the onset of the argument; this type of apologetic does not provide a strong foundation for your position and amounts to cheap literary tactics that should be “committed to the flames.”
Important Note: Don’t Forsake Your Humanity for Logic
We have made it through a few posts on logical fallacies, and I want to take a moment to provide some words of advice. Remember that logical fallacies apply when someone is arguing for his position or investigating the soundness of an argument; you should not use your knowledge of logical fallacies to club people’s opinions or beliefs whenever the opportunity arises. We as Christians should not be like roaring lions seeking unreasonable people we may devour. Rather, we should recognize that any truth or knowledge gleaned in our studies is a privilege and should be used as a service to those who desire the truth, and we should love those who have yet to taste it. Abraham Kuyper spoke these words to his students,
“A single educated man in a humble village is for that village the hub of a higher life. A scholar’s mission in life should be to serve and not to be served. Our maxim will always be: ‘Freely ye have received, freely give’” (Abraham Kuyper, Scholarship, 13).
Therefore, as you follow our blog and glean the knowledge that we have freely given, make sure that you are serving your fellow man, not belittling him or insulting him in his ignorance. Just as Christian doctors do not go around their church providing unsolicited diagnoses to people who need a lifestyle change, you also ought not enter your churches and communities thinking that every time you hear a fallacious argument or comment in a social setting you have been divinely placed there to obliterate the fallacy for all to see. Rather, you should emulate the words of 1 Peter 3:15 in conjunction with the words of Colossians 4:5-6: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Often times it is easy to obtain large amounts of knowledge, but forget the other aspects of apologetics, like love and wisdom. There are times to publicly denounce a deceptive argument or destroy an argument for the benefit of others, but (1) these situations are few, and (2) when these opportunities do present themselves, they should still be handled winsomely. So, continue to read, continue to follow our blog, but don’t pursue knowledge for the purpose of destroying people, rather pursue knowledge so that you too may be able to recognize opportunities and handle them with wisdom, that is with gentleness and respect.
[accordion title =”References”]
Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. New York, NY: Bantam Press, 2006.
Griffith, Paul J. “Nontheistic Conceptions of the Divine.” In The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion, edited by William J. Wainwright, Chapter 3. New York, NY: Oxford Univ. Press Inc., 2005.
Kreeft, Peter. Socratic Logic: A Logic Text Using Socratic Method, Platonic Questions, and Aristotelian Principles. Edited by Trent Dougherty. 3.1 ed. South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2010.
Kuyper, Abraham. Scholarship: Two Convocation Addresses on University Life. Translated by Harry Van Dyke. Grand Rapids, MI: Christians Library Press, 2014.
Parker, Francis H., and Henry Babcock Veatch. Logic as a Human Instrument. New York: Harper, 1959.