Bad Faith Arguments

Last night I was thinking about the death penalty: I am generally opposed to it in the United States of the 21st century but perhaps there are times and places where the state must have recourse to it.

Some people argue against the death penalty by appealing to Christian morality: we should forgive our enemies, turn the other cheek, and not harbor poisonous feelings of vengeance in our hearts. All well and good, but these values have nothing to do with whether or not the state should reserve to itself the power to execute criminals. I might forgive with all my heart the pirate who stole my cargo and still in good conscience leave it to the state to decide whether or not incarceration or hanging is more conducive to public order.

Imagine if the judge took it upon himself to forgive the pirate on my behalf and let him go free in the name of Christian charity. I’d suspect that the state had no interest in either my well being or in the public order. In fact, I’d suspect that the judge was colluding with the pirate and splitting up the booty on the sly, as judges have been known to do when they fear neither God nor man. In other words, I’d suspect that the argument from Christian charity was being made in bad faith.

Bad faith arguments like this generally skip the middle proposition. Take, for example, this summer’s discussion of the refugee crisis in Europe:

  1. A Christian should welcome strangers and be kind to people who need help.
  2. Therefore you must let a million Arabs walk right into your country no questions asked.

Somewhere around step two our interlocutor failed to point out that 1) not all the million Arabs are in fact refugees, most of them are just young guys out looking for an adventure 2) there might be other ways of helping the real refugees besides letting them squat in my backyard, and 3) we might have other prior commitments that preclude us from helping them, since we are simply not capable of righting every wrong in the world. Oh, and I almost forgot, 4) some of them are terrorists.

Nota bene that many of the people making the argument from the perspective of Christian charity are not Christians themselves, they just want Christians to get with the political program. And of course, most of the people in power who are making the argument will never themselves suffer the consequences of the decision.

These arguments are bad faith arguments, which is why we find them so annoying.

For example:


Maybe the welfare state is a good thing, maybe not. It is a question of prudence. But what is left out of the above meme? How about:

  • Are my taxes only being spent on helping people?
  • Do government programs really help the sick and poor as much as it is claimed or do they simply shift the burden from local networks to a bureaucracy?
  • Are the proposed programs really the best way to achieve the goal in this time and place?
  • Do these programs have secondary effects, like increasing the power of the government through dependency?
  • Should the government also cast out demons and preach the gospel as Jesus commanded his followers to do?

Because the argument is basically: agree with me or you are a bad Christian, with no discussion of the real nature of the problem, we can qualify it as a bad faith argument.


Like every other meme produced by the group calling themselves “The Christian Left” this pretty clearly designed not to convince anyone of anything, just express hatred for other Christians. The “bad faith” is in the fact that they don’t want the wicked short-haired conservative to undergo a change of heart, just shut up and get with their program, whatever it is.

And so people on the left don’t think I am picking only on them:


The context of this line is the dedication of Solomon’s Temple. The “people” does not refer to the United States of America but to the people of the covenant. If the line is to be taken as having a modern reference at all, both “people” and “land” should refer to the Church, not a nation.





  1. What happens if you reverse your arguments? Do you still stand by the premises?
    If C = πd does πd = C?
    If it doesn’t you’ve got a mathematical problem.

      1. That was *my* question. What happens when you reverse the equation? I have the impression it won’t hold true- although it’s only an guess.

      2. In the sense that if I agree with a conclusion, an emotionally manipulative and condescending argument to get me there is still an argument made in bad faith (yes) or in the sense that some conclusions are always the result of bad-faith arguments (no).

      3. That looks like a distinctive attempt to embrace plausible deniability.

      4. How so? If I use a math analogy, I can arrive at a true answer with faulty calculations (case one) or I can have a false answer that is correct with a different set of calculations (case two).

      5. Not really. If you can correctly represent the problem with variables you can arrive at a reasonable resolution of the problem. The appeal to “faulty” is just the desire to equate math to fantasy- not reality. Ibuprofen cures headaches, sacrificing a chicken will not. Real, honest calculations arrive at that result.

      6. And how does this apply to the post?

      7. reverse your premises in 1,2,3 and 4. How do you feel about them?

      8. The ones about the Arab migration of 2016?
        1) Not all the migrants are young guys looking for a good time, some of them are true refugees. 2) Perhaps the only way to help the true refugees is to let them camp in my backyard, etc.
        Feel the same, because the point of the bad faith argument was to presume all those things.

      9. All of them. Is Arabic synonymous with Muslim? Islamist? Heterosexual? Religious?
        You think none of the migrants are Catholics? LGBT? Atheists? Socialists?
        Your formulation is defective.

      10. What do you think I’m arguing?

      11. In the original post you’re in essence arguing for ignoring evidence.

      12. This is going nowhere.

      13. There’s a reason for that. At every turn you justify the rationalizations.

      14. The problem is this: I am using the one of the arguments surrounding the refugee crisis as an illustration of a bad faith argument. Other arguments could be made for or against one position or another, but that is not the point of the post.

      15. Technically I think to do that really well you should start with an open question. What are the makings of a bad faith argument? If you do that you can then establish a method/equation that can be tested. By you and by other people. That raises the bar substantially.

      16. I prefer what you might call a phenomonological approach: here is this thing we experience, why is it so irritating?

      17. Consider that in a crime scene situation. Is it more important or significant that you’re annoyed someone left the window open, or should you find a way to look at the whole room to see what information you can extract from the scene?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: