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Argumentum ad Ignoratium

From The Logical Fallacies of the Documentary Hypothesis, Chapter 1:

He has correctly entitled these categories “The Seven Main Ar­gu­­ments,” for argu­ments are the only evi­dence which he presents. In­deed, arguments are the on­ly evi­dence which any docu­mentarian pre­sents, which means that their evidence is only as good as their ar­gu­ments.

In general, arguments fall into two classes: de­duc­tive ar­gu­ments and inductive argu­ments. A deductive ar­­­gu­­ment consists of three parts: a major premise, a min­or premise, and the conclusion. For ex­am­ple:

Major premise: All humans are mortal.

Minor premise: Plato is a human.

Conclusion: Therefore, Plato is mortal.

To be a sound argument, the premises must be true and the ar­gu­ment must be free of all logical fallacies. If the ar­gu­­ment is sound, then the conclusion is necessarily true.

An inductive argument draws a general principle from a set of spe­cific observations (its premises) and then applies that principle to a specific case (its conclu­sion). For example:

Observations: The New England Patriots have won all of the reg­u­lar season and playoff games this year (which was true in 2007).

General principle: The New England Patriots are unbeatable.

Conclusion: The Patriots will win the Super Bowl this year (2007).

At best, even though its premises may be true and the ar­gu­ment may be free of all logical falla­cies, the conclu­sion of an inductive ar­gu­ment can only be probably true, not necessarily true (and in this case, it was not true: the Patriots lost to the Giants in 2007). The strength of the ar­gu­ment depends on how many factors are in­volved in determining the outcome of the conclusion: the more fac­­­tors that are involved, the less probable its conclu­sion. The strength of the argument also depends on its set of ob­ser­va­tions (its sample size): the larger the sam­ple size, the more probable its conclusion.[1] I was a stu­dent in a phil­o­sophy class in which a military officer ar­gued that his gun will never fail him in the future because it had nev­er failed him in the past. The rest of us argued that the history of all guns shows that guns e­ven­tu­ally do fail, which means that his gun will fail him one day. He based his argument on a small sample size, the his­tory of one gun (his gun). Our argument was based on a vastly larger sample size, the history of all guns. Still, his conclusion may have been the correct one: his gun may have been one of the few that never failed.

Of course, in our speech and in our writings, we do not present our arguments in the clearly laid-out for­mats used in the examples above. Doing so would quick­ly render con­ver­sation and the reading of litera­ture mundane and boring. The alternative, however, eas­ily al­lows for the cam­ou­­­flage of logical fallacies. This is not to say that the com­mitting of logi­cal fallacies is de­li­­ber­ately done. Some­times it is, but often the arguer is un­a­ware that he or she is com­mit­ting a logical fallacy until the opponent identifies and ex­poses the logical fal­­lacy, thereby exposing the un­sound­ness of the argu­ment.

For example, the argumentum ad ignorantiam (ar­gument from ignorance) or the appeal to ignorance fal­lacy occurs when the ar­guer says, “My opponent has not proven that my position is false. Therefore, my posi­tion must be true.” That the opponent has not suc­cess­fully prov­en that the arguer’s position is false does not nec­es­­sarily mean that the arguer’s position is true. It may mean that the op­ponent has not yet found the correct counter-argument or evi­dence to disprove the arguer’s position. Or the opponent may think that the position is so obviously false that it is not worth disputing.

Friedman commits this fallacy when, in his “Fore­word” to the twen­tieth anniversary printing of Empirical Models for Biblical Crit­i­cism, edited by Jeffrey H. Tigay, he states,

Tigay discusses why it is called the Documentary Hy­po­­thesis in his introduction, referring to its hypo­thetical methodology (p. 2). Really, it is long past time for us to stop referring to it as a hy­pothesis. The state of the evidence is such that it is now—at the very least—a theory, and a well established one at that. To my mind, in the absence of any proper refu­ta­tion of its strongest evi­dence, it is fact.[2]

Friedman has not defined what he means by “proper,” so, for all we know, valid refutations have been made but have been dismissed by him as not “proper” in his o­pin­ion. How­ever, even if no refutations have been made at all, it does not necessarily follow that the Hy­poth­e­sis should now be promoted to fact.

No matter how Friedman defines a “proper” refu­ta­tion, it should not include absolute proof that Moses did indeed write the Pen­ta­teuch. The conservative scholars should not be required to prove that Moses wrote the Pentateuch any more than the doc­u­men­tar­i­ans should be required to prove that they wrote their own works. Joel S. Baden does not have to prove that he wrote The Composition of the Pentateuch: Renewing the Documen­tary Hypothesis. Fried­man does not have to prove that he is the author of Who Wrote the Bi­ble?[3] However, if I were to claim that Friedman did not write that book, that rather two other authors wrote documents that were then conflated by a redactor to form that book, the burden of proof would rest on myself. So, too, the con­ser­v­a­tive scholars should not be required to prove that Moses wrote the Pentateuch since the Pen­tateuch clear­ly says that Moses wrote it (Deut. 31:9, 24-26; more on this in Chapter 5). The burden of proof rests on the doc­u­men­tar­i­ans.

In that “Foreword”, Friedman claims that the pro­po­nents of the mod­els that seek to overthrow the Doc­u­ment­ary Hypothesis do not chal­lenge

the newest strong evidence, namely: (1) linguistic ev­i­dence show­ing that the Hebrew of the texts cor­re­sponds to the stages of development of the Hebrew language in the periods in which the hy­poth­esis says those respective texts were composed; (2) evi­dence that the main source texts (J, E, P, and D) were con­tin­­u­ous, i.e., it is possible to divide the texts and find considerable continuity while keeping the charac­ter­istic terms and phrases of each con­sistent; and (3) as this book shows, evidence that the man­ner of compo­si­tion that is pictured in the hy­poth­esis was part of the literary practices of the an­cient Near East.[4]

These are the reasons why, in his mind, the Hypothesis should be el­evated to the level of fact. The first line of evi­­dence is also the first of his Seven Main Arguments. The second line of evidence here is al­so the fourth of his Seven Main Arguments. We will examine these two lines of evi­dence in Chapter 2. Later in the “Foreword,” Fried­man will replace the third line of evidence with all seven of his Main Ar­guments.

Of the three arguments presented here, the third of­fers the best support for the Hypothesis. It also offers, as we shall see, the worst. In fact, it can be used to argue against the Hypothesis. But first, let us see why it offers support for the Hypothesis….

[1] For an excellent explanation of deductive and inductive ar­gu­­ments, as well as log­­ical fallacies, see Robert Arp, Steven Bar­­bone, and Michael Bruce, eds., Bad Ar­gu­­ments: 100 of the Most Important Fal­lacies in Western Philosophy (Oxford: John Wiley & Sons Ltd., 2019).

[2] Richard Elliott Friedman, “Foreword,” in Jeffrey H. Tigay, ed., Em­pir­ical Models for Biblical Criticism (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Pub­lish­ers, 2005. hereafter re­ferred to as Empirical), [7]; the pages of the Foreword have not been numbered, so I have num­bered them start­ing with [1]. The book was originally published in 1985 by the University of Pennsylvania Press without the “Foreword.”

[3] Richard Elliott Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible?, 2nd ed. (N.Y.: Si­mon & Schuster, 2019, hereafter referred to as Wrote). All ref­er­ences are to this edition unless stated otherwise.

[4] Friedman, “Foreword,” in Empirical, [1].


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