Medieval castles and modern fallacies
For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth (2 Corinthians 13:8).
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Posted on homepage: 2 May 2022 (GMT+10)
William the Conqueror defeated the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, Harold II, at the Battle of Hastings (1066). But William planned to stay, so he needed to consolidate his position. He appointed many of his loyal followers to positions of authority but made sure they were both protected and feared. So over the rest of his reign, he built over 700 castles as strongholds for his appointed lords—for safety and to show who was boss.
He chose a particular design, now called motte and bailey. This design was relatively easy to build. It was also hard to breach with its two defensive barriers. The outer part—protected by a moat or wall—was the bailey, a wide area where people could live and work. If the bailey were breached, the defenders could retreat to the motte. The motte was cramped and unpleasant but more strongly protected on higher ground. Defenders could shoot arrows at the attackers. Once the attackers gave up, they could return to the more pleasant living conditions of the bailey.
Nicholas Shackel, Professor of Philosophy at Cardiff University (Wales), applied this design to name the motte-and-bailey fallacy. This fallacy originates from an arguer holding a very controversial and hard-to-defend position (‘bailey’). When refuted, the arguer retreats to a non-controversial and easily defendable position (‘motte’), pretending this was his real view all the time. When opponents agree that the motte view is fine, the arguer returns to the bailey. And then makes the false equivalence: if the motte is defensible, then so is the bailey.1
The real ‘general theory of evolution’ is “all the living forms in the world have arisen from a single source which itself came from an inorganic form.”2 And the inorganic chemicals ultimately came from hydrogen, itself produced by the big bang, where nothing exploded and became everything (cf. pp. 46–50).
This is the bailey: the true position of atheistic evolutionists and the issue under debate. Sometimes the bailey meets challenges too hard to defend against, for example, an amazing design in nature, such as the baobab tree (pp. 28–32) or bacterial compasses (p. 52–54). The evolutionist will then retreat to a motte: “Evolution is defined as changing of gene frequencies over time. How can anyone be silly enough to deny this?” Indeed not; no creationist does deny it! But this was not the real argument. Many evolutionists hope that creationists will be neutralized long enough, so they can get back to their bailey.
Another one is the fossil record. Evolutionists say this formed over millions of years and records evolution in the rock record (bailey). Creationists point to the need for rapid processes, such as burying huge whales (pp. 12–15) and dinosaurs (p. 51) or carving gorges (pp. 38–41). Sometimes evolutionists retreat to a motte, “A non-deceiving God would not create fossils to test our faith.” No informed creationist has ever taught this, but rather that most fossils were formed by the global Flood of Genesis 6–8.
In opposing creation apologetics, many commit the motte-and-bailey fallacy. Some churchian compromisers don’t want to deal with the clear connection of creation with the Gospel and biblical authority (bailey). So they retreat to the motte, “Belief in young-earth creation is not essential for salvation.” No major creationist organization disagrees. But this evades the real issue, the creationist position that long-age views place human and animal death and disease before sin (p. 16). If death were not connected to sin, how could Jesus’ death pay for sin?
Since its inception in 1978, Creation magazine has encouraged and equipped many believers. And furthermore, it has helped keep the focus squarely on the real issues, rather than evolutionary ‘castles in the air’, medieval or otherwise. Thanks for helping that effort by being one of our subscribers in over 100 countries across the world.
References and notes
- This is similar to equivocation or bait-and-switch. See Walker, T., Don’t fall for the bait and switch, Creation 29(4):38–39, 2007; creation.com/bait. Return to text.
- Kerkut, G.A. (1927–2004), Implications of Evolution, p. 157, Pergamon, Oxford, UK, 1960. Kerkut, although an evolutionist, did not commit the fallacy. Return to text.