I found the following passage in The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine

When Samson ran off with the gate-posts of Gaza, if he ever did so, (and whether he did or not is nothing to us,) or when he visited his Delilah, or caught his foxes, or did anything else, what has revelation to do with these things? If they were facts, he could tell them himself; or his secretary, if he kept one, could write them, if they were worth either telling or writing; and if they were fictions, revelation could not make them true; and whether true or not, we are neither the better nor the wiser for knowing them. When we contemplate the immensity of that Being, who directs and governs the incomprehensible WHOLE, of which the utmost ken of human sight can discover but a part, we ought to feel shame at calling such paltry stories the word of God.

Is the the last statement a rhetorical argument? Does the author make any faulty assumptions?

  • 2
    I don't think that this is meant to be a piece of formal argumentation. Instead, Paine seems to invite the reader to contrast two hypotheses: (a) that the Judeo-Christian god has limitless power and insight into the mysteries of nature, on the one hand, and (b) that the Bible, including the Old Testament, both of which contain a large quantity of stories which don't really teach you anything and which are pre-occupied with individual people living around the Mediterranean, is the best message that god could formulate for everyone to learn, for all people and for all time. Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 10:05
  • Did you already know the answer to your question when you asked it? (I kid, I kid...)
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 21:44
  • I get the impression that maybe your doubt is not about rhetorics but something more specific in the reasoning behind that passage. Could you explain further why is that you think there is some faulty assumption there? What exactly is bothering you in that passage?
    – Tames
    Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 22:42

2 Answers 2


Rhetoric has three modes of persuasion: logos, ethos and pathos. These modes may appear alone, but usually they are combined. The subject of the speech will define which modes are adequate. If someone is talking about mathematics, probably it will be based on logos alone, but when someone is talking about subjective issues, there's no way it can be done with logos mode only.

Any sort of religious argumentation could not rely solely on logic. Beginning with assuming that God exists and accepting this would be an act of faith despite proof, any other argumentation with this assumption is already beyond logic.

As I see it, these three elements are present in that passage. Sometimes people regard "rhetorical" as being something bad, meaning that is is not logical. But the use of logos mode is a type of rhetoric as well. Either way, the use of different speech elements to reinforce the communication of a message is something we cannot do without in many cases.


It can be viewed from a rhetorical perspective, of course, but it also can be viewed as a fragment of a logical argument, with several of the propositions left implicit.

The reconstructed argument would go something like this:

  1. There is a God, who is omniscient and omnipotent (axiom)
  2. The Bible is the Word of God, and represents God's message for mankind (axiom)
  3. Therefore, the stories of the Bible must be important (from 1 and 2)
  4. Some of the stories in the Bible are trivial, and appear pointless, in contradiction to #3

  5. Therefore, at least one of our axioms is false.

This is a common reduction ad absurdam form.

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