Sunday, December 02, 2007

True Style over Substance: An Odd Defense of DW

There's a big caveat to be placed on this post. Doug Wilson does generally preach the gospel and doesn't back down from convincing folks of sin. He takes a lot of flak for that, including various forms of persecution, from opposition at the Moscow (Idaho) zoning board, to anonymous libel/mockery/attack sites on the net (that's far from an exhaustive list).

On the other hand, not every criticism of DW is because he stood up for something right.

In this post (link), a writer who seems to be a DW partisan (he seems that way from the post, but DW has indicated that the author of this post is not in the FV camp (here))attempts to defend DW against what the writer feels has been a slanderous attack on DW.

The essence of the alleged slander is: "DW is slandering the PCA (or its SJC)."

The essence of the alleged defense to this charge is that one can only slander individuals, not institutions.

Now, the writer may have an etymological and/or legal point. Let's suppose that it is true that only individual people (not groups of people or institutions) can be slandered.

The writer continues by arguing: "Even then, slander requires that the charge be knowingly false and defamatory. Gossip need not be knowingly false. Slander must be."

I hope you see the problem with this line of argument. If one were a lawyer arguing to get his client, the defendant, off from a charge of slander, those arguments could be handy. Maybe the technical elements of the crime/tort have not been met.

On the other hand, the clear point of those who say that Doug is slandering the PCA and its SJC, is that Doug is making false, negative statements about the PCA and its SJC. He is unjustly defaming them.

A real, positive defense of Doug would be say either:
1) that Doug's claims were correct (the truth defense); or
2) that Doug's claims were based on facts that Doug believed to be true at the time (the innocent mistake defense).

Of course, for (2) to work, DW would have to admit that he had made a mistake - something that I do think DW is man enough to admit, though it doesn't happen frequently. As far as I know, DW has not done so in this case - and anyhow the writer of the post does not make this defense.
Likewise, for (1) to work, the writer of the post would have to take DW's side on the substance of the matter. Yet, and this is why the post seems so odd, the writer never even says (much less proves) that DW's negative claims are true!

Why is all this a useful discussion, rather than just a tempest in a teapot?

Because we all need to be careful about getting involved in a debate at that lawyerly/technicality-driven level. We need to see the forest, not just the trees. We need to be willing to get past nuances and get to the meat. I doubt that the writer of the post is actually taking the position that Doug is unintentionally making false statements that harm the reputation of the PCA/SJC, and that is really the important issue, not whether those who criticized DW should have used one label or another.

A good apologist needs to hit the nuances - the technicalities - and move on to the substance.


UPDATE: Except that I'm sure they've never heard of my little blog, I'd think the Bayly brothers were trying to woo me by quoting from such a great source in their follow-up post (link).


Anonymous said...


thank you for that!

I have one bit though: both slander and gossip are found worthy of the lake of fire that burns and burns!

I for one am a coward and don't even want to get close to them. In fact, happily, I don't have too, any more!!!

I wish I would learn my lesson or yours and stay in the Grace of God and Truth. These produce JOY, yes, yes, RIGHTEOUSNESS, PEACE AND JOY in the Holy Ghost.


David Bayly said...

No, brother, I had happened across your blog several days ago from a link on a comment you left on Greenbaggins. And I did read this post (which I don't think reflects the essence of what I was saying, though I'm not offended). But Tim's quote from Turretin is simply a reflection of the esteem in which we hold him. I don't think Tim had read your comment. However we share your affection for Turretin.

In Christ,

David Bayly