Arguing Logically: Qualifying Claims and On Why “There are no absolutes” is NOT an Absolute Statement

It seems like I may be flogging a dead horse here, but it’s come up again, even after I recently blogged about this very same topic. So I thought I would take the time to write a thorough refutation which puts down the horse once and for all.

Needless to say, it amazes me that theists and religious apologists continually contend that “There are no absolutes” is, in itself, and absolute claim. This is false.

I would say it is obviously false, but rhetorical flourishes like this often place one in danger of sounding overly arrogant. After all, it’s not actually the theists fault that they don’t understand basic high school level grammar. But I suppose it is their fault for not correcting the mistake once it has been pointed out to them in clear and intelligible language.

So, the pressing concern here is why exactly is the statement “There are no absolutes” not an absolute claim?

Simple. The statement has not been qualified as an absolute claim. In other words, it’s a general statement about absolutes. It’s not an absolute claim about there being no absolutes.

In the context of an absolute claim we would first need to identify the conditional sentence. Do the conditions, arising from the surrounding grammatical context, require us to qualify the statement as an absolute statement? Is it written as a clause? Or is it something else? In order to claim it is an absolute statement, we need to qualify whether or not the surrounding context requires the sentence “There are no absolutes” to mean that there are absolutely (always) no absolutes, or whether there are only sometimes no absolutes, or whether there are never no absolutes.

Now, what does qualifying a claim actually mean? Well, qualifying a claim demands that we ask ourselves whether the claim can 1) be true in some cases, 2) be true at some times or under certain circumstances, or 3) be true for some groups or individuals and not other groups or individuals. According to authors of The Norton Field Guide to Writing, “Qualifying your claim shows that you’re reasonable and also makes your topic more manageable by limiting it.”[1]

As the sentence is, “There are no absolutes” is merely a general statement about there not being absolutes. Nothing has been done yet to qualify the claim. As such, the “There are no absolutes” needs to be qualified for us to say there are “sometimes no absolutes” or “rarely no absolutes” or “always no absolutes” or “never no absolutes,” &c., &c.

I find the theist and religious apologist’s claim that “There are no absolutes” to be an absolute claim and thus self defeating, even though it’s not, to be a suitable example of an error we are all prone to make if we’re not taking the time to qualify our claims. When the theist or religious apologists makes the argument that “There are no absolutes” to be an absolute sentence, they are, in point of fact, making the logical fallacy of post hoc, ergo propter hoc by assuming that because the sentence has the phrase “no absolutes” that it qualifies this statement as true for all absolutes all of the time.

This realization is entirely devastating to the the theist’s claim that “There are no absolutes” is self defeating because it is an absolute claim, first of all because they have not qualified it as an absolute claim, and so the assumption that it is somehow an absolute claim does not follow. Secondly, it is falsely assumed that it always follows that there are no absolutes; falsely assumed because this condition of always is merely assumed after the fact but not because it has been in any sense qualified, hence the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy is revealed.

Suffice to say, without any context to identify the conditional sentence, we cannot qualify the sentence “There are no absolutes” as sometimes, rarely, always, or never no absolutes. Without this qualification, the assumption that the sentence “There are no absolutes” itself qualifies as an absolute statement is false. It is a general statement about absolutes, not itself an absolute statement minus any conditions to qualify it as such.

[1] For more on arguing logically and qualifying a claim, see The Norton Field Guide to Writing, part 4 strategies, Arguing Logically: Claims, Reasons, and Evidence, pp. 283-299.


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