They go like this:
These are the extremes of making and destroying straw men (on the one hand), and drawing out possible or necessary inferences (on the other). Both can be devastating, though only one legitimately so.
If A, then B.
If you say A, then you necessarily imply B.
If you say blort, then gazoogie follows.
Here's an odd thing: I've found that the people who most cry "Straw man!", or object to a slippery-slope argument, are often those who most richly deserve it.
For instance: thirtyish years ago, folks like Harold Lindsell (famously) and me (infamously) were warning that a host of evils would necessarily follow from the refusal to affirm the Bible's claim to inerrancy. Gleason Archer pointed out that, if we introduce the possibility of error in the text itself, we necessarily become spiritual judges of the Word. Here's how he said it (A Survey of Old Testament Introduction [Moody: 1964, 1974, 1994], p. 31):
In the last analysis, the, every man must settle for one of two alternatives: the inerrancy of Holy Scripture, or the inerrancy of his own personal judgment. If the Bible contains errors in the autographs, then it requires infallible human judgment to distinguish validly between the false and the true in Scripture; it is necessary for every affirmation in the sacred text to receive endorsement from the human critic himself before it may be accepted as true. Since men disagree in their critical judgments, it requires absolute inerrrancy on the part of each individual to render a valid judgment in each instance. ...These, then, are the only alternatives available to us as we confront the Scriptures: either they are inerrant, or else we are.Lay aside the inerrancy of the Scripture, we were warned, and we inevitably would place ourselves and our judgment over the text itself. No doctrine, no moral absolute, would be safe. One person's orthodox predilections might minimize his own straying, but his premises would necessarily validate a world of iniquity for others not so (irrationally-) inclined.
Lindsell and his like were greeted by storms of tush-tushing from the intellectuals. Lindsell's line of argument was dismissed as a "slippery slope" argument.
(Pause. I've never understood why a "slippery slope" argument is necessarily a bad argument. If a slope is slippery, and if my stepping on it at the top means I'll wind up at the bottom -- isn't that worth a decent warning? But I digress.)
People like Jack Rogers and Donald McKim responded, trying to argue that inerrancy was a recent invention never held by Christians. They were unconvincing, but arguments went back and forth, amid much cry and clamor against the inerrantists' "slippery slope" "straw man" argument.
Fast-forward a few decades to our day. How has it worked out for those with a loose doctrine of Scripture?
Well, Jack Rogers now advocates full acceptance of same-sex couples and gay clergy. It's hard to think of a doctrine that hasn't been blurred or perverted, or an area of life unaffected, in the wake of this defection. Egalitarian marriage, a "whatever" attitude towards the opening chapters of Genesis, women pastors, abortion on whim (no need to "demand"), denial of God's omniscience ("open theism"), translations born dishonestly and of world-pleasing fads, inclusivism, corrupted Gospel -- all these and more find lush pasture in the mushy swamp of Biblical errancy. The root denial of inerrancy may be de jure, or it may be de facto -- but a healthy view of Scripture would be the death of these spiritual viruses.
In this case, I'd say the slope very slippery, and the straw man had fangs and claws.
It is perfectly logical and reasonable to examine a position, or the progression of a position, and work out its implications. Paul himself does this to the Corinthians.
Evidently swayed by Greek philosophy, some puddingheads in Corinth denied the doctrine of bodily resurrection. Paul was appalled, and with inexorable logic worked out the implications of this view. Notice his progression, "If you are saying A, then B naturally follows, as well as C, and D, and...."
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then [A] not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then [B] our preaching is in vain and [C] your faith is in vain. 15 [D] We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, [E] not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, [F] your faith is futile and [G] you are still in your sins. 18 Then [H] those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, [I] we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)Paul works out easily nine implications of this fundamental error, all designed to show where it necessarily leads. Perhaps the errorists would have cried, "Paul, that's a straw man! We're not saying any of that!" To this, the apostle might have replied, "Not yet. But this is where your premises necessarily lead."
The "straw man" complaint occurs now commonly in dialogue between those who believe that some sort of fresh, but low-grade revelation still trickles down from Heaven (i.e. Charismatics), and those who affirm the Scripture as sufficient and complete and final (i.e. cessationists).
Cessationists point out that Charismatic thought necessarily leads to the conclusion that the Bible is, contrary to its self-testimony (2 Timothy 3:15-17, etc.), inadequate for Christian living. In fact, I would say that I have never, ever heard an argument for the necessity of revelatory gifts that did not involve denigrating the sufficiency of the Bible. (A Charismatic friend tells me that he does not do so in making his case for ongoing sorta-revelatory gifts; I look forward to a first-ever experience.)
We point out that most people, offered a choice between the hard work of Bible study, analysis, memorization, reflection, comparison, and learning -- and getting instant answers straight from God, will choose the latter. We point out that the notion that the Bible needs supplements necessarily shifts attention and expectation from Scripture to those supplements. We observe that, if what the Charismatics are producing is really revelation, we should really all be jotting it down at the ends of our Bibles; and if it isn't, we really should wave aside the distraction and get back to the Book.
And then we take the positive arguments of our Charismatic friends and follow them out. We're told that praying in tongues creates a more intimate relationship with God. "Then we should stop praying in English altogether," we reply. We're told that a ministry without signs and wonders is an incomplete ministry. "That must mean that John Calvin, John Knox, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, George Whitfield and all the others had incomplete ministries," we respond -- and we further ask whether the new, "super-charged" ministries have outperformed those great men yet.
In these and many other teachings and arguments, we follow out the premises to their conclusions. The response? "Straw men! We don't believe any of those things!"
"Not yet," we reply.
See, I've lived long enough to find their objection unpersuasive. When I was a young erstwhile tongue-talker, I was stopped dead by a certain question that occurred to me. "If I am arguing that all of the gifts must be extant, simply because no Scripture says they aren't -- then that must mean that there are apostles and prophets around, today."
That consideration stopped me, because most sane, Biblical Christians would have backed right away from that progression. Nobody center-wards of the fringes thought that apostles and prophets were around... even though that was the logical progression of the argument. One would either have to follow the logic through, or mangle the facts, or step off the progression.
And now, thirty years later? The argument progressed without me. Scores of Christians do affirm apostles today, and they do affirm prophets (though most have had to "Clinton down" the definitions, thus mangling the facts). They were faced with the choice of backing away from the slick declivity, or taking the next step -- and they dove.
Yesterday's "straw man" is today's baleful reality. We're well down the slope.
(NEXT, DV: Straw-manning "cessationists")