Logical Theology

…considered thoughts and opinions

Poisoning the Well Part 2

Now that we better understand the Poisoning the Well fallacy, let us consider how this fallacy can be committed in Christian dialogue:

Example 1: Teresa says, “In a moment, Job will be here to talk to us about the theological subject of free will and God’s sovereignty. Job has been a teacher for 20 years at Fairbanks College, which is a very small Christian school in the small town of Ely.”

Why did Teresa need to mention that the college Job works at is small and that the town the college is in is also a small town?  Why not just say that Job has taught for 20 years at Fairbanks College in the town of Ely?  Could it be that Teresa is trying to imply that Job does not have the credentials to competently discuss the subject of free will and God’s sovereignty? Even if this was not Teresa’s intention, her statements could still be taken to imply that Job is somehow not qualified to talk about the subject under discussion because he’s from a small town college. Therefore, Teresa is poisoning the well against Job.  For all we know Job may have graduated from Oxford and just because he teaches at a small college in a small town does not necessarily mean that he had not received a quality education and/or that he can not competently discuss the issue.

Example 2: Linda says, “Tomorrow, Gloria is going to come to our church and give the sermon. She will be speaking about what the Bible says concerning baptism and what history teaches us about how the ancient Jews practiced baptism. Do you all remember what we talked about last week? Gloria is from Mission church down in the city of Greenwood. Keep that in mind when you listen to what she has to say.”

This can be an example of poisoning the well; however, it does not have to be. If Linda was reminding the people that Gloria was from a trusted and credible church and was calling to remembrance what the people had learned about baptism last week, then Linda’s statements are not an example of poisoning the well.  In this case, she was just stating that Gloria’s speech will be a continuation of what they had previously heard. However, what if the people at Linda’s church strongly disagree with the doctrine of Mission church, which is possible if Mission church is affiliated with another denomination.  If that is the case, then Linda was preparing her congregation to be very skeptical when Gloria arrives.

Someone may rightly ask, “what is wrong with being skeptical when someone advances a position different than your own?” Absolutely nothing!  People should judge and evaluate what other people say and not accept it uncritically. However, the problem with what Linda said is not that she wanted her people to critically evaluate Gloria’s argument, though that may have been her intention. The problem is that her statements were worded in such a way that it could bias her congregation against Gloria’s sermon so they would then not fairly consider and judge her message.

Even if Mission Church teaches error, it is still a mistake bias a crowd of people before a speaker has a chance to present his/her argument. You must allow someone to completely and freely present their argument before judging it. Therefore, Linda was poisoning the well against Gloria. Biasing a group of people against someone does not refute what the individual is going to say because, since they have not presented their argument, who can know specifically what they are going to present.  So how can it be judged beforehand?

In conclusion, arguments should be fairly evaluated based on the evidence for or against them. Attempting to poison the well before someone speaks does not negate their arguments, it only results in people being less likely to fairly evaluate them.


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