An Ancient Strategy, Part 3: Conclusion

The Procession, Logic, and Content of the Serpent’s “Argument”

As we move through the text, we see that the serpent leads up to his argument against the truth and authority of the commandment by questioning 1.)its authorship and 2.)content (i.e. its logical integrity). Genesis 3:4-5 reads:

“Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Having no other recourse, the serpent attacks the moral integrity of God, implying that the commandment was birthed out of nothing more than His own desire to withhold a certain privilege from the woman. The procession seems to begin with reasonable questions, only ending with a fallacious argument against the truth of God’s Word. However, while the question of authorship is a valid question, the question of content is fallacious in that it is an example of equivocation, seeing as the serpent uses a different definition of the phrase “every tree” than that which is used by God in 2:16-17.

What is interesting, almost ironically anticlimactic, is that the most obvious error in logic, the serpent’s ad hominem “argument” against the truth of the commandment, is what convinces the woman to break the commandment. Despite her swiftness to confidently assert its divine authorship and clarify (to some extent) its content, she nonetheless is deceived by a groundless assertion about God’s moral character. Really?

As I reread this passage, I found myself remembering conversational debates that seemed to run in this same cycle: authorship (reasonable)-content(fallacious)-authority(fallacious). The more questions I honestly answered, the more my opponents chose to berate the character of God, mangling the Scripturesin order to do so, in an attempt to thereby disprove the veracity of the scriptures. This same style of “argumentation”, however, can be seen in the most contemporary popular atheists who, failing to provide a valid argument against the truth of God’s Word, resort to calling God a “tyrannical despot” who makes unreasonable demands from the humans He interacts with. Sound familiar?

I believe that Genesis 3:1-5 provides believers with an outline of an ancient strategy of attack. Not only this, but it seems to purposefully underscore the logical errors involved in the serpent’s questions of content and authority (respectively, equivocation and an ad hominem), for our benefit. What we should, therefore, also take heed to pay attention to is that the woman failed to see the error in his final “argument”, which aimed to play upon her subordinate position to God; for this is, I believe, where we are most vulnerable.

How should we respond? Where the woman failed is in her inability to again point to the commandment and respond to the serpent. If she trusted Adam to truthfully report its authorship and content, then why could she not trust the Author of life Himself? As it concerns us, I’ll ask: If we can show that the Bible is the Word of God and defend its content (by careful study and textual analysis), then should we have any reason to doubt the Word of God? No. Yet, at times we often fail to patiently weigh out the words of those who would seek to prove God wrong.

When we are confronted in a conversational debate, there are some things that we should watch for:

1. Interrogative Ambiguity: Although I interpreted the serpent’s opening question as being two questions, the fact is that it is difficult to determine what he is asking. What does evidence, however, is a possible question of authority and a possible use of equivocation. This is a purposeful strategy and is meant to drive his opponent into a trap.

2. De-contextualization: The serpent’s use of equivocation stems from his de-contextualization of the phrase “every tree”. This is also a trap, meaning to lead the woman to the conclusion that the commandment was inherently contradictory. This is, in my own experience, a very popular (and lazy) attack on the Bible. Learning how to spot it, therefore, is pertinent.
3. Ad Hominem Argumentation: As I noted earlier, this is typically the last recourse, although it surfaces immediately in some cases (see, The God Delusion).

Final Note: A very good example of a popular piece of atheist literature that incorporates all three of these errors is Atheism: The Case Against God by George H. Smith.

–by Hiram Diaz

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Posted on September 25, 2009, in Theological Studies. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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