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The Unproven Premise

I’ve heard the argument many times; it goes something like this:

We shouldn’t divide over mere preferences; therefore, we shouldn’t divide over music.

It’s admittedly a clever argument. Who would disagree with the first premise? Who would defend dividing over mere preferences? No one would.

So, the argument gets the listen to immediately agree–of course we shouldn’t divide over preferences–and then drops the hammer: Since we shouldn’t divide over preferences, surely we shouldn’t divide over music.

Right?

The important thing to recognize here is that the argument is formed as a traditional syllogism:

Major premise: We shouldn’t divide over mere preferences.
Conclusion: We shouldn’t divide over music.

“But,” an observant logician will interject, “A valid syllogism draws its conclusion from at least two premises.”

Correct, and herein lies the problem.

The argument presented above does draw its conclusion from two premises, but the second premise is assumed and unstated:

Major premise: We shouldn’t divide over mere preferences.
Minor premise (assumed): Music is a mere preference.
Conclusion: We shouldn’t divide over music.

As far as it goes, this syllogism is perfectly valid. If both premises are true, then it logically follows that the conclusion is also true.

However, the second premise is not only assumed and unstated in the argument, it is also unproven.

In order for the conclusion “We shouldn’t divide over music” to be true, those making the argument must prove that the second premise, “Music is a mere preference” is also true. Problem is, they have not proven it.

Not only have they not proven that music is mere preference, the burden of proof clearly lies with them since the vast majority of history has insisted that music is not a mere preference.

It’s one thing to assume a premise without proving it because it is axiomatic or generally accepted. But this is certainly not the case with this second premise. It is only fairly recently that people have come to assume that music is neutral, amoral, and merely a matter of preference. Philosophers, theologians, and people at large have for most of history, on the contrary, assumed that music is moral, powerful, and a matter of significance.

No, this assumed premise must be proven first before anyone can assert that we shouldn’t divide over music.

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Cutlure, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and three children.

13 Responses to The Unproven Premise

  1. Nick,

    I don’t think he’s hinting at anything, so much as pointing out a flaw in a common argument. That flaw would be present if someone made the opposite assertion: in his response to me he said that the stones would cry out if someone made the claim that we SHOULD divide over music. If he chooses to develop his thoughts further (which I hope he does), then we can weigh his arguments.

  2. Hey, Nick. No, Chris is correct; my aim here is not necessarily to argue that music should be a matter of division (although any regular reader will know what I think there). My central point is that no one should claim that it is not a matter over which we should divide without proving such, especially since the majority of history would argue that music is indeed something quite significant.

  3. The converse is true. No one should claim that it is a matter over which there should be division without proving such.(you mentioned this earlier in a comment)

    Both sides of your reasoning have identical conclusion: there should be no division without sufficient reason.

    The burden of proof rests on those who would advocate for division over music.

    Furthermore, in my own opinion, there should be a burden of proof that “division” is Biblical and healthy for a church. This is an assumption you’ve made inherent in the first statements of this article. The burden of proof also rests on those who would advocate for any kind of division in a church.

  4. Yes, I already agreed that the converse is true as well.

    But if you are going to take into account centuries of consensus concerning the significance of music, then the burden of proof rests on those who deny its significance.

    Finally, of course not all division is good; that’s the obvious premise upon which the argument in question rests.

    But surely you would agree that division is sometimes necessary and even healthy, would you not? For example, if a contingent in your church insisted that irreverence was the best way to approach God in worship, wouldn’t it be appropriate and healthy to divide over that?

  5. We agree that not all division in the church is good. Unity among the body of Christ is better. It follows that those who advocate for division in the church should have sufficient and valid reasons for doing so.

    It seems you are conflating 2 different claims:

    A) The claim that music is not mere preference.

    B) The claim that music is a sufficient and valid reason for advocating for division in the church.

    Since these are 2 different claims, they have 2 different burdens of proof. Proving claim A does not prove claim B. Proving claim A can certainly provide beneficial data to your attempt to prove claim B, but it cannot alone prove claim B.

    Suppose you did prove claim A and establish that music is not mere preference but instead has some sort of significance to the church. You would then need to prove claim B; whether or not this significance is sufficient and valid reason to advocate for a division within the church.

    You may be correct in stating that “the burden of proof rests on those who deny its [music’s] significance” but this statement is only valid for claim A.

    You are incorrect to state that “…no one should claim that it is not a matter over which we should divide without proving such…” since the default position is non-division. (Unity in the body of Christ). This is like someone saying “no one should claim that murdering someone is a bad thing without proving such…” – this is a poor statement since the default Biblical position is that murder is wrong.

    The burden of proof lies with those who advocate for disrupting the unity of the body of Christ. Those people who advocate for division in the church must provide sufficient and valid reasons for going against the default Biblical position. If their reasons are valid, then a division is warranted. If not, then the default position remains unchanged. In either case, they retain the burden of proof for their claim.

    Your article appears to be an attempt to move this burden of proof onto the shoulders of those who are defending the unity of the body of Christ. They may disagree with you about the significance of music, but surely that doesn’t entitle you to shrug off the burden of proof for advocating for division in the church, does it?

    In summary, those who disagree with you about claim A are only required to shoulder the burden of proof for claim A. Those who disagree with you about claim B have no burden of proof, since they hold with the default Biblical position. It is you who must prove that music is a sufficient and valid reason for advocating for division in the church.

    And if you can prove that, then I would agree that division is warranted. But it’s up to you to prove your claim, and not up to others to disprove it.

  6. Nick, once again, I have already agreed, in my very first comment above, that one who believes music is an issue worth dividing over must prove that it is so.

  7. Did you read all of my previous comment?

    I ask because I was suggesting that your article is an attempt to shift the burden of proof onto those who disagree with your position.

    Perhaps I was not clear enough.

    Your article starts with a loaded question, and while de-constructing the loaded question, you conflate 2 claims together, and then you shift the burden of proof for your position onto the shoulders of those who disagree with you. (That’s at least 3 logical fallacies)

    Regardless of the determination of the first claim (music is mere preference) you cannot shift your burden of proof for the second claim (music is something we should divide over). You cannot say that “no one should claim that it is not a matter over which we should divide without proving such”.

    For the reasons why you cannot say this, please see my previous comment.

  8. Nah, if something is merely preference, then it’s automatically not worth dividing over. But if it’s not merely preference, then it’s a matter of right or wrong (or at least better/best), and thus worth dividing over.

  9. I guess you’re not interested in discussing the points I’ve raised while questioning the validity of your article.

    Have a good Thanksgiving.

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