I got the following question from a reader:
>”isn’t it begging the question in favor of religious theism to think
that someone with theological training is an “expert” qualified to have
a credible opinion? After all, if there are no gods, then theology
itself is a field of inquiry with no object to study.”
My first reaction would be this. Begging the question occurs in the context of an argument. It’s hard to see what the argument is here. Second, not many theologians are literally “God speakers” as the name might suggest. Many theologians study religious traditions, texts, and histories. Whether these have a supernatural character remains an interesting question, but it’s hardly the only one. And, at least as theology is studied where I come from (The Land of Jesuitica), that’s not one that gets asked in the theology department. Finally, I wouldn’t know either what is meant by “credible” opinion in this instance. The theologian, as any expert, as a legitimate claim of expertise over a certain material–say, a religious tradition or text–that expertise is not diminished by their being no God–that would be. But the mere existence of theologians does not itself constitute an argument for the existence of God. Some philosophers of mind argue that there are literally no minds at all, merely brains and their processes. Would it be the case, then, that psychologists “beg the question” by their mere existence against reductionism? I don’t think so.
Too often charges of “begging the question” are just confused ways of making burden claims: the person who makes the charges claims that it’s incumbent on the, say, theologian, to prove the existence of their object of study, and until they do, they beg the question. Alternatively, some claim that anyone who does not articulate every single assumption inherent in their view–does not prove their starting point–begs the question. Both of those charges are misplaced and ultimately self-refuting. To the second, no one can prove their own unprovable starting point (and this does not mean they’re all the same), so getting my Cartesian than Descartes will only wind you up in the loony bin (as Descartes himself suggested and as Foucault and Derrida–I bet you never thought you’d see their names here–famously discussed). To the first, argument analysis is best limited to specific arguments. If someone assumes something his conclusion to be true then proves it, fails to prove an obvious assumption, or simply restates his conclusion in different words, he begs the question. If he does not address your objection, he does not address your objection. He doesn’t beg the question against you.
More certainly could be said on this topic. Perhaps another time.