Enthymeme

Gordon Clark explains the definition of the word “enthymeme” in his book Logic, “Such an argument, one in which a part is omitted or taken for granted, is called an enthymeme” (Clark 3). In other words, enthymemes are arguments containing unspoken assumptions and premises. Enthymemes are incredibly common, since often not all premises of an argument need to be explicitly stated for the argument to make sense to the listener.

A trivial example can be the following:

Person 1: Be sure to wear a jacket when you go outside.

Person 2: Why?

Person 1: Because it is cold outside.

This argument is an example of an enthymeme because there are unspoken premises. Why ought Person 2 wear a jacket? Why would it matter if it was cold outside? We can state the argument explicitly:

Premise 1: Staying warm rather than being cold is comfortable.

Premise 2: Jackets keep people warm when it is cold.

Premise 3: It is cold outside.

Conclusion: Therefore, Person 2 ought to put on a jacket when they go outside.

Premise 3 was the only premise which was explicitly stated, and the other premises were assumed. We all know the purpose of jackets is to keep us warm, and that being warm is more comfortable than being cold, so these premises were assumed in the argument rather than stated. It’s possible to even add a fourth premise stating that people ought to pursue comfort. Premises like these are commonly accepted, and so it is easier to assume them when making an argument rather than to meticulously state them. To meticulously state each of these premises is redundant and a waste of time.

All of this seems trivial since the argument above is a trivial example, but knowing about enthymemes helps to prevent confusion and makes people better critical thinkers. Not only does this aid critical thinking in general, but it is also a useful tool that Christians can use to refute objections to the Christian faith.

All objections against Christianity are invalid because Christianity is the truth of God. Since God has spoken to us through the Bible, what the Bible says is true; as Jesus prayed to the Father in John 17:17, “your word is truth.” Because the Christian worldview found in scripture is divine truth, as such, it is invincible and impervious to refutation. Therefore, all arguments that conclude in opposition against the Christian faith stem from one or more false premises. These false premises are often assumed rather than stated explicitly, so it is the duty of the Christian to clarify these premises in order to refute them and show how stupid they are.

A common objection against Christianity is that God cannot exist because there is so much evil in the world. This argument against God’s existence is often called the problem of evil, or theodicy. In response, professing Christians often accept this objection at face value and stumble over themselves to find a solution. The solution given is usually an incoherent appeal to mystery or attempting to console the objectors’ psychological needs.

Rather than taking the objectors’ argument at face value, the Christian ought to realize that it is an enthymeme, and demand that its unspoken premises be clarified. The argument can be restated in a syllogism or some type of logical form so that the premises that were once implicit in the argument can be stated explicitly. The argument above, when stated explicitly in syllogistic form, looks like this:

Premise 1: If evil exists, then God cannot exist.

Premise 2: Evil exists.

Conclusion: Therefore God cannot exist.

The structure of this argument is called a conditional syllogism, also known as a modus ponens. The logical form of the argument is “If P then Q. P. Therefore Q.” The validity of the conclusion “Q” is conditioned upon whether or not the premise, “P”, is true. Premise 1 is the assumption of the original argument. Since we now know about the objectors’ unspoken assumption, we may better refute the argument.

In order to refute this argument, all the Christian has to do is deny Premise 1. That is all. We do not have to appeal to mystery, we do not have to invent a metaphysical system that defines evil as a privation, we do not have to appeal to human free will, and we do not have to soothe people’s emotional needs. In all of these objections against Christianity, the objector imports an unjustified, anti Christian premise into their argument, and then boasts about how they have thrown a monkey wrench into the Christian system. In reality, in order to make these objections against Christianity, the objector imposes an unjustified premise upon the Christian that the Christian denies in the first place. Since these premises contradict the Bible and Christianity, all the Christian has to do is point out that they reject Premise 1. All premises that oppose the truth of Christianity are unjustified and do nothing more than beg the question.

Unfortunately, many professing Christians uncritically accept the validity of these arguments because they accept the validity of anti Christian ideas. They give more stock to man-made philosophy than the teaching of scripture. Theodicy is nothing more than the imposing of unjustified, anti Christian premises upon the Christian faith. If theologians and philosophers of the past had realized this, then they would have saved themselves much time and headache. Theodicy is solved since there was never any problem to begin with. 

Another common enthymeme is the argument in favor of free will. The argument is that God cannot hold us morally responsible for our actions if we do not have free will. Pelagians and Arminians use this argument to defend their theological views. The argument stated explicitly in syllogistic form looks like this:

Premise 1: Free will is necessary for moral responsibility.

Premise 2: God holds us morally responsible for our actions.

Conclusion: Therefore, free will exists.

Just like the previous argument, Premise 1 is false. Nowhere in scripture does it teach that free will is the necessary prerequisite for moral responsibility. To the contrary, scripture teaches us that God controls everything, including people’s wills. God controls hearts of kings (Proverbs 21:1), he influences the wills of believers (Philippians 2:13), and he causes some people to believe lies by sending deceptive spirits (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12).

This argument is the enthymeme of centuries of theological discussion and confusion. All of these free will speculations come crashing down in a moment when we realize that scripture does not teach that free will is the necessary prerequisite of moral responsibility. In reality, God controls all things, including our wills, and God has the right to hold us responsible for the actions that he causes us to do. To say that this is unjust or immoral is to impose unchristian definitions of justice and morality upon Christianity. God is the definition and source of morality; he does not kneel before moral principles external to himself. God does not submit to the standards that humans make up and impose upon him. Instead, God is the standard, and he has the right to do with his creation whatever he wishes. There is no problem and there is no mystery.

When we examine the unspoken premises of enthymemes like these, we discover that there is no basis for them. People who impose these premises upon Christianity do nothing more than beg the question, since scripture denies them in the first place. They smuggle in anti Christian ideas into their arguments and then proclaim how incoherent Christianity is. Judged through the lens of their stupid philosophies, Christianity would indeed be incoherent, but God rejects their philosophies. God has made foolish the so-called “wisdom” of this world (1 Corinthians 1:20). Christians ought to beware of being bamboozled into accepting invalid, arbitrary arguments that are made up by enemies of the faith. Enthymemes can be a source of endless confusion when we are unaware of them. However, when we realize that an argument is an enthymeme, all we have to do is reject its unwarranted assumptions, and exhort the one making these assumptions to repent and believe the Gospel.

Works Cited

Clark, Gordon. Logic. 3rd ed. Unicoi: Trinity Foundation, 1998. Print.

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2 thoughts on “Enthymeme

  1. Pingback: Myth-Makers | Deal of Theology

  2. You claim that “The logical form of the argument is ‘If P then Q. P. Therefore Q.’ The validity of the conclusion ‘Q’ is conditioned upon whether or not the premise, ‘P’, is true.” This claim is not quite correct. Validity depends on the form of the argument, not the truth or falsity of the statements. The modus ponens argument given is perfectly valid. The problem is, as you point out, that the first premise is false. But you knew that a premise must be false because the conclusion was false, even though the argument is valid.

    If the argument were invalid with a false conclusion, you could not know (based just on that) whether or not the premises were true.

    Like

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