In my more sober moments, I try to avoid reading blogs and especially blog comment threads. And I certainly try to avoid writing on blogs, especially in said comment threads. (You may have noticed that my own blog lies dormant most of the year nowadays.) Whenever I go against my better judgment and enter the fray, I almost always come away depressed. Here's a little story about my most recent foray.
[Update (6/17/13): Andrew Wilson has graciously and humbly apologized directly to me, van Leeuwen, and McKnight for his original post, which he has since taken down. We all say things we regret on blogs (which is one of the reasons I typically avoid them), and I appreciate his willingness to admit his error. Moreover, Justin Taylor has since removed the portion of his post quoting Wilson's original post. This current post is not meant to criticize either of these gentlemen but rather to describe how things can and do go wrong in the blog-o-sphere. I have made a number of modifications to this post in light of this apology/retraction.]
[Update (6/19/13): Theologian and missional church guru, David Fitch, has written a post addressing this whole "debate.]
Four or five years ago, out of morbid curiosity, I checked out and read Wayne Grudem's Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism? Since it was a library copy, I repeatedly avoided throwing it against the wall and instead channeled my frustration into a slightly more productive exercise: I pulled an all-nighter writing a response to the book—more as a cathartic experience than anything else—in which I enumerated the various logical fallacies committed in the book. I later presented the paper as "Assessing Hierarchist Logic: Is Egalitarianism Really on a Slippery Slope?" at a regional Evangelical Philosophical Society conference at Bethel University in St. Paul, MN, and, after receiving a favorable response, decided to fish around for a journal to publish it. Eventually, Priscilla Papers, the journal of Christians for Biblical Equality, accepted it. So far, so good.
Fast forward a couple years. The issue with my article is published. Before I even receive my copy, New Testament scholar and popular Christian blogger, Scot McKnight, writes a post summarizing my article, titled "Grudem's Logical Errors," in which offers a nice summary, highlighting the three major logical fallacies and showing evidence that he has read the article carefully, even linking to the full text of the article. The next day he posts on the second article in the issue, in which psychologist Mary Stewart van Leeuwen argues that the social sciences are of little help in debates between complementarians and egalitarians over gender differences, as social scientific studies reveal no absolute gendered traits beyond physical anatomy. (As my [Christian] sociologist friend told me, van Leeuwen's conclusion is completely uncontroversial and commonplace in the field.) So, we have two articles, one that discusses complementarian logical fallacies, including the slippery slope fallacy, and one that makes the uncontroversial claim that social sciences should not be relied on to solve debates between complementarians and egalitarians. And McKnight blogs about each of them, distilling their contents into blog-reader-friendly posts. So far, not too bad.
Then, about a month later, complementarian UK blogger Andrew Wilson responds to McKnight's posts (and indirectly to my article) in a post entitled, "Is Egalitarianism a Slippery Slope? It Depends." He writes that he would like to agree with my general thesis that egalitirianism isn't a slippery slope (although, technically, my argument was slightly different: that the "slippery slope" argument is an informal logical fallacy) but that after seeing McKnight's post about the second article (by van Leeuwen), he cannot do so. As Wilson explains:
The very next day, Scot linked to a different post from the same publication, apparently without irony, which argued from social science that there were absolutely no differences between men and women, except their bodies.
The anti-essentialist argument is remarkable in itself, if we take God’s word as our highest authority, and reveals quite how far people are prepared to go to accommodate contemporary perceptions of sex and gender.
What I find equally remarkable, though, is the fact that it could be juxtaposed so merrily with an article debunking the slippery slope idea. I mean: it doesn’t take that much imagination to see how denying any essential differences between men and women could lead to a lower view of the Old Testament, a lower view of the New Testament, an increased openness to homosexual practice, and an approach to sex and gender in which (to pinch a phrase) the Bible is in the dock, and the social scientists are behind the bench in powdered wigs. Does it? Did nobody on the editorial board say: huh?
Recall that van Leeuwen's article was actually about why the social sciences should not be used to determine theological debates about gender. Yet, on Wilson's reading, van Leeuwen is making precisely the opposite argument: that the social sciences trump God's word. Thus, for Wilson, there really is a slippery slope after all: from egalitarianism to liberal, Bible-denying sociologists eager to "accommodate contemporary perceptions of sex and gender." (Apparently, we instead should be eager to accommodate old fashioned perceptions of sex and gender, but that's another story.) Moreover, the Priscilla Papers editors didn't realize that they had juxtaposed an article debunking the slippery slope argument (read: fallacy) with an article giving evidence to that very argument (fallacy).
Except, of course, that Van Leeuwen's article was making precisely the same point Wilson was trying to defend: that the social sciences don't determine our theological views.
About a week later, popular complementarian blogger Justin Taylor writes "An Open Letter to Egalitarians about Liberalism" in which he quotes Wilson's post approvingly (calling him the "always-sharp Andrew Wilson") before giving Wilson "a little push back" on one point. Yes, "we need to be careful with slippery slope arguments [read: fallacies]," says Taylor, but we also need to understand Grudem's argument correctly. According to Grudem, there isn't any necessary connection between egalitarianism and liberalism; however, "there is overwhelming evidence that it historically happens and that it lays the groundwork for it to probably happen."
There are, of course, two problems with Taylor's restatement of Grudem's argument. First, in my article I specifically deal with the supposedly "overwhelming" historical evidence and show that it is not as overwhelming as Grudem (and evidently Taylor) believes. But, more importantly, by making the case that something historically happened and therefore probably will happen again, Taylor has simply restated Grudem's logical fallacy. As my sociologist friend noted: "I laughed out loud to myself when thinking about this some more. Grudem makes numerous logical fallacies, one of which is historical, Cramer points this out, Gospel Coalition [Taylor] refutes Cramer's point by restating historical logical fallacy, but slower this time, and with emphasis."
Taylor continues with a lengthy quote from Grudem's book directed to egalitarians, in which Grudem pleads with his non-liberal egalitarian friends to heed the arguments in his book lest they or their next-generation followers go down the slippery slope to liberalism. Taylor then concludes: "It seems to me that one need not agree with every jot and tittle of Grudem's argument to see the valid points he is raising here."
The only problem, of course, is that Grudem's points are not "valid." As I argue in my article, they are the result of a number of logical fallacies, three of which I discuss in some detail.
Much to their credit, when I pointed out to Wilson and Taylor that they were making van Leeuwen say nearly the exact opposite of what she actually says in her article, they both responded quickly and graciously. Taylor added an update in which he quoted me clarifying the real point of van Leeuwen's article [update: he has since removed the whole section on van Leeuwen], and Wilson responded in a comment:
@DC: Thanks so much for commenting, and for your very kind tone. On re-reading the second article on Scot's blog (which rather foolishly I did too quickly, since I was eager to get onto the main point of the post), I can see that I misunderstood the key point she was making, and have caused confusion as a result. My apologies.
Wilson has since removed his entire post.
While I had good and charitable exchanges with Wilson and Taylor (which I hope I am not undermining with my little rant here), I still am left with the impression that (a) neither of them actually read my article or, if they did, they didn't find it necessary to respond to my actual arguments but instead proceeded to restate the very fallacies that I try to point out in Grudem's book; (b) neither of them actually read van Leeuwen's article but still used her as evidence of a slippery slope to liberalism, despite her article saying the exact opposite of what they claimed it said and despite my article's point that the slippery slope is not a valid argument but is, in fact, an informal logical fallacy [update: Wilson has since admitted that he hadn't read either piece and has apologized for it]; (c) no one, besides me, tried to correct their misreading of van Leeuwen's article and few corrected their misuse of logic. Instead we find comments like:
"Grudem's bang on the money here."
"I can appreciate both what Grudem and Wilson have said."
And so on.
So, if you want to know why I (typically) avoid debating gender issues on blogs, go back and read my article and then reread this post. Or, if you don't have time to read my full article, I wrote a shorter, more blog-reader-friendly version you can read instead. Just be forewarned: In the comments section, someone accuses me of a common informal fallacy:
I'm a complementarian, and I've never once heard this kind of argument. As far as I'm aware this article is simply erecting a straw man.
It is true that it has been suggested that egaliterianism [sic] does lead to liberalism - I won't deny that. Indeed, Wayne Grudem has published a book (Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism) showing evidence that points in this direction, but this is far from the slippery slope argument given in this article.