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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.


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.

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies 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 Culture, 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 four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.