The Protestant Bible consists of 66 books. Some believe this set of books is inerrant. Others do not.

Question: According to non-inerrantist Christians, what are the strongest arguments for the belief that at least one of these 66 books contains at least one error?

Addendum - What do I mean by error?

I'm borrowing the meaning of 'error' from the definition of Biblical inerrancy:

Biblical inerrancy is the belief that the Bible "is without error or fault in all its teaching";[1] or, at least, that "Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact".[2] Some equate inerrancy with biblical infallibility; others do not.[3][4]

The belief in Biblical inerrancy is of particular significance within parts of evangelicalism, where it is formulated in the "Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy". A formal statement in favor of biblical inerrancy was published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society in 1978.[5] The signatories to the "Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy" admit that, "Inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture." However, even though there may be no extant original manuscripts of the Bible, those that exist can be considered inerrant, because, as the statement reads: "The autographic text of Scripture, ... in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy."[6]


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    One only needs to google "Bible contradictions" or "Biblical Errors" to pull up a numerous amount of "errors" or "contradictions" that we are told go against the doctrine of inerrancy. What exactly are you looking for in an answer?
    – Luke Hill
    Commented Oct 7, 2022 at 3:07
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    By virtue of having read the Bible and being a faithful Catholic, I am an inerrantist. I also believe this view is consistent with scholarship and history. However, I wanted clarification on exactly what you expected for in an answer. Would you like me to go to websites like godhatesshrimp.com and copy paste their arguments? Or would you like me to give a broad overview of arguments used?
    – Luke Hill
    Commented Oct 7, 2022 at 3:14
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    @SRI not to be a pain in the butt, but isn't "strongest" a very subjective opinion?
    – Luke Hill
    Commented Oct 7, 2022 at 3:28
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    I think the question is asking for examples of scripture that directly contradict the historical record (excluding supernatural events and text that can be attributed to copying errors). For instance, if the historical record showed that Pilate was the Roman governor from AD 46 through 56, and that during the early 30s Sailer was actually the governor, then clearly this would contradict the Biblical record. Commented Oct 7, 2022 at 15:50
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    Don't have time to do this, but as someone who is open to inerrantism being right but doesn't currently hold to it, I would say this starts by shifting the onus of proof. Why would anyone hold such a view about a text written by human hands?, even if divinely inspired. Instead, offer an alternative, in which trust in the texts is built up out of true or useful statements within the texts. Because I think the main argument for inerrancy is a (fallacious) all-or-nothing idea - either you have to trust it all, or can't trust any. Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 17:08

5 Answers 5


The strongest argument for there being at least one error in the 66 books of the bible is that there are so many plausible candidates for such an error. Defenders of inerrancy are left having swat down hundreds of examples, using arguments from a simple copyist error (which doesn't count even though it became part of the textus receptus) to translation issues, mental contortionism to reconcile conflicting ideas, and arguing that a statement or entire story is poetic hyperbole rather than meaning what it actually says.

The evangelical scholar Mike Licona discusses this problem in a 2014 article here. For him, the problem with a strict adherence to inerrancy is that once a reader is convinced of even one real mistake by biblical writers, the whole house of cards falls.

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    +1 "For him, the problem with a strict adherence to inerrancy is that once a reader is convinced of even one real mistake by biblical writers, the whole house of cards falls." Right, it's creates a (fallacious) all-or-nothing mentality, a highly brittle epistemic structure. But Christianity is actually supposed to rest on a living relationship to Jesus Christ, not an inerrant view of the Bible. Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 17:12
  • So the argument is that since one position is much easier to hold than the other, it's best to take the easy position, regardless of which is correct? Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 17:54
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    Theology professor Roger Olson has interesting personal experiences about inerrancy that makes him think that evangelical understanding of inerrancy has become a shibboleth and instead we should focus on infallibility. Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 18:00
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    @GratefulDisciple "My experience teaching theology has been that more students give up belief in the Bible’s authority because they were taught it depends on absolute inerrancy (even in matters of cosmology and history) than because they are taught it isn’t inerrant." Right. Self-inflicted gunshot wound to the knee for these people re Christendom, IMO. Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 19:27
  • @RayButterworth the OP asked for the strongest argument against inerrancy. Some are clearly stronger than others. Commented Oct 12, 2022 at 19:19

Much depends on what is meant by "inerrant". Let us consider the following grid of potential meanings:

A. All Bibles B. Some modern critical text C. Autographical text
1. Grammatically without error A1 B1 C1
2. Historically without error A2 B2 C2
3. Doctrinally without error A3 B3 C3

Some of these possibilities are clearly consistent with the Chicago Statement, others clearly are not (that said, the Chicago Statement on inerrancy is not the only existing view on inerrancy), but the chart, while not exhaustive, is helpful in acknowledging that an "all or nothing" argument is unnecessary.

A1 would be the strongest claim, and I'm unaware of anyone today who believes it. C3 would be the most cautious statement, and is by far the hardest to reject (especially if the Bible is considered the source for doctrine).

Contradictions within the text

There are many purported pairs of contradictory statements in the Biblical text.

  • The most popular example is (probably) the account of the death of Judas -- Matt. 27:3-7 vs. Acts 1:18-19 -- what did Judas do with the money and who bought the field?
  • Acts 9:7 vs. Acts 22:9 - did Saul's companions hear the voice?
  • Joshua 10:40 vs. Judges 1:28, Joshua 11:21 vs. Joshua 15:13-15, etc. -- did Joshua really destroy all that breathed or did some people remain alive?

There are hundreds of such examples--those who do not believe in inerrancy have compiled extensive lists and those who do believe in inerrancy have compiled extensive responses. As already noted by Dan Fefferman, the abundance of examples makes the possibility of an error compelling. If even one is a genuine contradiction, and we rely upon an all-or-nothing paradigm, inerrancy leaves us with nothing.


Contradictions with the outside world

  • 1 Kings 7:23 appears to suggest that pi = 3; although other interpretations of this passage have been suggested, pi = 3 would be the most straightforward reading. Modern mathematics has shown pi is an irrational number: 3.14159.... One can thus claim that the Biblical text was rounding--understandable for an audience that hadn't discovered the use of decimal places--but this would be "good enough for the contemporary audience", not an exact reflection of the real world.
  • Genesis 26:1 speaks of the Philistines during the lifetime of Isaac, yet the Philistine people almost certainly were not around until many centuries later.

As in the prior section, there are many such examples and various proposed responses to them.



To my knowledge, no scholar argues that the Bible is grammatically inerrant, though I have seen the topic come up in lay conversation. The reason no scholar holds this view is that the text--especially the Greek text of Mark--unambiguously contains grammatical oddities (e.g. Mark 4:41 has a plural subject use a singular verb)

Why does the grammar argument matter? If God is perfect but His servants writing holy write are not, it demonstrates that--at least sometimes--God allows people to put what they have learned through inspiration into their own words, and God considers such efforts adequate and acceptable.


Authoritative claim or authoritative text?

There are number of claims made about the Bible that the Bible does not make about itself. In addition to spawning some interesting discussions regarding the authority upon which such claims are made, one is left with the question if this were an essential Biblical truth, why is it not in the Bible?

  • The Bible itself does not delimit a canon
  • No book in the Bible claims itself to be inerrant

Thus, while 2 Tim. 3:16 gives a clear statement regarding the inspired nature of scripture, it does not:

  • Indicate which written records the statement applies to (and several Biblical books were most likely written after 2 Timothy)
  • Define inerrancy (see 9 potential definitions above; other possibilities could be listed as well)
  • Require that the humans recording what was inspired by God preserved the message in an inerrant manner

While 2 Tim. 3:16 does explicitly state that these inspired writings teach doctrine, it does not make the claim that the inspired writings teach history or grammar.



Error by omission is another broad category all its own. Does it count as an error if something was inspired but never recorded, or was inspired & recorded but subsequently excluded or lost? And what if one or more such statements provided vital clarity to passages that have been preserved? (the degree to which Christians disagree on many topics strengthens this argument)

  • Some assert that the Protestant Bible is imperfect in that it lacks 7+ holy books that ought to be part of the canon.
  • The Biblical text refers multiple times to apparently authoritative texts that have been lost (e.g. 1 Chron. 29:29, 1 Cor. 5:9)
  • John concludes by informing the reader that he has left much material out (John 21:25). Surely other things Jesus said were authoritative too?
  • Early Christian writers assert that passages were removed from the book of Jeremiah by Rabbis intent on weakening arguments for Christianity
  • There's a reasonably robust case that the original ending of the Gospel of Mark was lost long before the Biblical texts were compiled (the link is to my own work on the subject)
  • The New Testament frequently quotes the Old Testament but quotes a text that differs from both the Masoretic & Septuagint texts known today (more generous exegetes allow that the New Testament authors paraphrased the Old Testament)



Finally, there is the practical argument from utility. What is the value of an inerrant text if it will not be read, or if it is sufficiently unclear that it will not be understood?

It is often asserted that the utility of inerrant autographical (original) texts is that we know we can trust the Bible because it makes no mistake. However, how would knowing that an ancient manuscript was inerrant help me believe the Bible I read today, which is not inerrant?

Even if we adopt the bold claim (I do not--see discussion on the ending of Mark) that every original word of the autographical texts has been preserved in at least 1 manuscript:

  • Of what utility is this knowledge in cases where it cannot be determined which variant is original and which is the error?
  • Of what utility would this be for those who accept the authority of the Alexandrian texts (which would be most textual scholars), given that modern knowledge of the Alexandrian texts puts a great deal of weight on manuscripts that were lost/unknown/out of circulation for many centuries?

Furthermore, even if one accepts that the original manuscript of each of the 66 books of the Protestant Bible was inerrant, there never was an inerrant Bible -- the first Bibles were not compiled until the 4th century (and they included more than 66 books), allowing a millennium for textual errors to creep into the Old Testament (and a few centuries for the NT).

If the Bible's value derives from its inerrancy, and modern textual scholarship is needed to extract the inerrant text, then the Bible's value has been inaccessible to most of the billions of people who have read/heard its words over the last few millennia. If producing & preserving an inerrant text was so central to God's purposes, why did He exclude most people from His purposes? If we should trust the Bible because modern scholarship has reconstructed (most of) the original text, were Christians of past centuries wrong to trust the Bible?

If one cannot believe in an Omnipotent God unless one also believes that He preserved a set of writings without error, discovering that no Bible in all of history was without error would lead to rejecting the existence of God. Indeed, many Christians' fall from faith was precipitated by the commitment to an all-or-nothing view on Biblical inerrancy (Bart Ehrman being one of the more famous examples).

To be clear, I'm not claiming God couldn't preserve a text perfectly; rather, I'm pointing out the apparent lack of utility in His doing so. We wouldn't be talking about a very Omnipotent God if one mistake by Tertius while penning Romans (he was Paul's scribe) would have frustrated the entire work of God.



I listed above 9 of the many possible meanings of inerrancy. The case for row 1 in the original chart is essentially non-existent, and even most believers in Biblical inerrancy reject columns A & B, so the crux of the debate here revolves around cells C2 & C3.

I have shared textual, historical, and practical arguments regarding C2. I acknowledge, however, that none of these arguments impeach C3. I submit that it is possible to believe C3 is true while acknowledging that there would be no utility in C2. The scriptural texts were given to teach doctrine (C3), not history (C2) (see 2 Tim. 3:16).

  • Indeed, I like how Glenn M. Miller puts it, "I have a partial doctrine of it from the NT, and every passage I have examined personally (that were HIGH candidates for being 'errors') somehow eludes that title. The historical errors all seem to get 'resolved', the contradictions all seem to have a 'strange' degree of ambiguity in one statement or the other, with the result that I really can't in good conscience say they 'contradict'--an honesty thing, not a religious thing!" - christian-thinktank.com/let1101.html
    – Jess
    Commented Oct 15, 2022 at 17:42

The strongest arguments are from those who come from traditional sectors of the Christian faith. For example, recently, John C. Poirier did an examination of one of the key texts in formulating the doctrine of inerrancy. His book detailing the results of his linguistic study is, The Invention of the Inspired Text: Philological Windows on the Theopneustia of Scripture. The overview runs as follows:

John C. Poirier examines the “theopneustic” nature of the Scripture, as a response to the view that “inspiration” lies at the heart of most contemporary Christian theology. In contrast to the traditional rendering of the Greek word theopneustos as “God-inspired” in 2 Tim 3:16, Poirier argues that a close look at first- and second-century uses of theopneustos reveals that the traditional inspirationist understanding of the term did not arise until the time of Origen in the early third century CE, and that in every pre-Origen use of theopneustos the word instead means “life-giving.” ...

Than there is the Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis. He writes:

The earliest stratum of the Old Testament contains many truths in a form which I take to be legendary, or even mythical—hanging in the clouds, but gradually the truth condenses, becomes more and more historical. From things like Noah’s Ark or the sun standing still upon Ajalon, you come down to the court memoirs of King David. Finally you reach the New Testament and history reigns supreme, and the Truth is incarnate. And “incarnate” here is more than a metaphor. It is not an accidental resemblance that what, from the point of view of being, is stated in the form “God became Man,” should involve, from the point of view of human knowledge, the statement “Myth became Fact."

Although, to be fair, Lewis viewed his thoughts in a tentative manner. For example, he writes:

My present view — which is tentative and liable to any amount of correction — would be that just as, on the factual side, a long preparation culminates in God’s becoming incarnate as Man, so, on the documentary side, the truth first appears in mythical form and then by a long process of condensing or focusing finally becomes incarnate as History. This involves the belief that Myth in general is not merely misunderstood history . . . nor diabolical illusion . . . nor priestly lying . . . but, at its best, a real though unfocused gleam of divine truth falling on human imagination. (Miracles: A Preliminary Study [New York: Macmillan, 1947], 161n1, emphasis original).

That this was the view of his for the majority of his life can be seen in the 1959 letter that Lewis wrote to Clyde Kilby, a professor at Wheaton College, in which he states in part:

Whatever view we hold on the divine authority of Scripture must make room for the following facts...The apparent inconsistencies between the genealogies in Matt i and Luke iii: with the accounts of the death of Judas in Matt xxvii 5 and Acts i.18-19.

Of course harmonists, at least with the New Testament, are fine with agreeing with the various scholarly insights that have traditionally been offered to reconcile alleged contradictions. For example, legal scholar Simon Greenleaf, the author of "Treatise on the Law of Evidence" supports a harmonist understanding in his book "The Testimony of the Evangelists: Examined by the Rules of Evidence Administered in the Courts of Justice."

Lewis might very well have changed his viewpoint had he taken the time to more thoroughly examine the various positions.

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    This 2013 lecture has full analysis of possibly every known comment and opinion of Lewis on Scripture including his previously unpublished correspondence which the lecturer (Philip Ryken) uses to contrast Lewis's view with the evangelical doctrine of Scripture and to evaluate CS Lewis's orthodoxy (i.e. belief in verbal inspiration although not plenary verbal inerrancy) compared to liberal use of Scripture. Commented Oct 14, 2022 at 12:31
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    This lecture also has good coverage on what Lewis means by "myth", a significantly related concept for Lewis for some passages of the Bible, although he maintains historic reading of the Gospel of John, for example. It's critically important to understand all the nuances of Lewis's myth to see how he is still orthodox in his reading of Scripture: treating miracles as proper acts of God, and to take seriously other passages as verbally and divinely inspired as another example. Commented Oct 14, 2022 at 12:41
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    +1 for addressing the foundations of the belief in inerrancy. If you have a theory like inerrancy, any possible problem within the text can be given an account, but the more basic question is "Why are you trying to do that in the first place?" Commented Oct 14, 2022 at 18:10
  • @OneGodtheFather "Why are you trying to do that in the first place?" Evangelicals would answer: "These men refined their articulation of biblical inspiration and authority in response to challenges such as Romanticism, Darwinism, and historical-critical interpretation." From a good essay by Nathan Finn, the same essay cited by Dan Fefferman here, on the 20th century history of evangelical inerrancy and on the challenge for a new generation. Commented Oct 14, 2022 at 21:35
  • @GratefulDisciple Right - and then the debate, rightly, goes to "Is inerrancy the correct response to things like Romanticism, Darwinism, the historical-critical method, et al.?" Commented Oct 14, 2022 at 22:17

Okay I'll take the bait.

Depending on your point of view, the strong arguments would probably be categorised into two key areas, taking your evangelical notion of 'error' given in the question.

From within the Bible

Comparing parts of the bible that say different things, is considered a strong argument. It is also a very old view. I'm not going to research and link here to biblical contradictions, since they are widely available on the internet, but I might give a couple of examples:

First the death of Judas - compare Matthew 22:5, where Judas rejected the money and hanged himself, with Acts 1:18, where Judas used the money to buy a field, and then was disembowelled in the field. You can read an attempt to resolve this on Answers in Genesis which provides a fairly unconvincing explanation that ignores the differing accounts of what Judas did with the money and requires an implausible interpretation of Luke's choice of words in Acts.*

Second: the length of the flood in Genesis, is it 40 days and 40 nights (Gen 7:12) or is it 150 days (Gen 7:24).

I could go on, but I find this activity about as enjoyable as catching butterflies and sticking them to boards with a pin and it serves nobody.

From outside the Bible

Again this is information that is very widely available, since many commentators take a lot of glee in finding supposed errors in the bible. The basic idea is that knowledge carefully built up in various unrelated fields of knowledge comes together to refute biblical claims. I will only consider one example: the age of the humankind and of the earth (with the caveat that, as always, Christians who do not think it is literally true also do not think it is in error, but that it is metaphorical/poetic/mythical). In this case you have evidence from a wide array of fields of study with completely different methodologies, including:

Geology The study of rock formations allows a person to estimate the age of different strata, of different rock formations, and indeed of the whole earth. Understanding magma and plate tectonics allows you to track backwards to events in the far past - such as the creation of the himalayas by the collision of the Indian Subcontinent with Asia.

Biology and evolution Modern molecular biology dovetails extremely well with the fossil record. Basically you can look at two species and use mutation rates of genes and estimate when they had common ancestors, and by and large this fits very well with the fossil record of such ancestors actually existing. The reason this kind of thing is so pursuasive is that the molecular biologists are in their labs with the machines and computers and DNA strands, and the fossil hunters are out in the field with their shovels and brushes, and so the fact that there is an incredible convergence between the two is considered convincing.

Astrophysics Comes to the party with the agreement between the extremely old age of the Sun, from principles of nuclear fusion and star formation, and the age of the earth from geology. Also, the extreme age of the universe based on the expansion of the galaxies, led to predictions about the big bang and people theorised that a big bang would produce leftover background radiation, which was much later discovered to be pretty much exactly where and of the form it was expected

Archaology Particularly patterns of human migration, the age (40 - 60,000 years) of human settlements in Australia for example (Note that archaological evidence can be used to 'contradict' various historical claims in the old testament, I think some people would find it very convincing and others wouldn't).

Carbon Dating Fits nicely with archaological finds and geology to look at when living matter died (if in the last couple of tens of thousands of years).

Anthropology: In Australia, indigenous people have stories of changes in the environment that date back many thousands of years. For example, there are stories and archaological finds that date back to when Lake Mungo was filled with water, which was around 16000 years ago according to geology, and another indigenous story about palm trees being brought from the 'North' in the distant past matched with genetic analysis estimating that the local palm trees had diverged from Indonesian trees 30,000 years ago.

I think what Christian literalists sometimes fail to appreciate is that this isn't one field of 'science' having some uniform critique, it's various completely unrelated fields coming up with compatible conclusions through completely unrelated methods, that makes their arguments so strong. As Pope John Paul II said while speaking favourably about evolution (source, and original source in French (starting from para 4)),

New knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is, in itself, a significant argument in favour of the theory.

*This is not related to your question, but to a Catholic or mainline Protestant these discrepancies are often seen as the result of the weaving together of different oral traditions that refer to the original events. In the same way that languages diverge, so do traditions and stories, and there are two divergent traditions on the death of Judas that Matthew and Luke are recording. So the fact that these depictions are different are not "errors". I want to answer this question in the spirit you've asked it, but I also want to be clear that not everybody shares the evangelical definition of, or obsession with, errors.

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    This shows why one wants to hear a strong argument. Most arguments are like the above, minor details that are the result of a lack of understanding on the part of the person presenting them, or arguments that pit one denomination's interpretation of scripture against another's. It gets really tiring to have to respond to them over and over. E.g. 40 days of rain and 150 days for the flood to recede, and another waste of time explaining the obvious. E.g. Some denominations believe the universe was created 6000 years ago. How does that make the Bible wrong when it makes no such claim? Commented Oct 13, 2022 at 3:46
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    What is a strong argument is not the same as an argument that convinces you personally. Many people believe that mismatches of details within the bible, and mismatches of genesis 1:11 with scientific understanding of the world, are strong arguments for not taking an inerrant view of the bible. Commented Oct 13, 2022 at 5:40
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    +1 "I could go on, but" Hey, I get it, but a link to a source that tries to comprehensively list these would be useful, I think. Commented Oct 13, 2022 at 17:16

The strongest argument are the actual problems within the text.

2 Samuel 24:1 states that God incited David to take a census of Isreal, but according to 1 Chronicles 21:1 Satan incited David. Both cannot be factually correct. There are other examples, but this is one of the clearest ones.

Other examples include things which we know are false due to advances in science, e.g., the earth resting on pillars. But inerrantists usually find sophisticated arguments to dismiss these.

Update: now that I think about it (and after I have witnessed a mod on this site delete comments under my question which revolved about this issue), I think the strongest argument against inerrantism to me, personally, is the attitude of those who hold it. The readiness to dismiss arguments which don't fit the narrative (see remaining comments below) and the lack of rigor (problematic verses? let's just define the problem away) of its proponents is not exactly helpful in making the theory seem intellectually reliable.

  • Those are among the easiest of all for inerrantists to explain: God can incite Satan to incite David, and the earth resting on pillars can be a metaphor. While there are arguments for non-inerrancy, those two are not strong ones!
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Oct 14, 2022 at 7:23
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    "God can incite Satan to incite David" that's not what the text says.
    – Thomas
    Commented Oct 14, 2022 at 7:24
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    The Bible never says everything that could have been said. Instrumental causes are frequently left out. There are contradictions that are much harder to reconcile than that one.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Oct 14, 2022 at 7:27
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    – agarza
    Commented Oct 14, 2022 at 13:06
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    @curiousdannii This is a bit like Trinitarianism. Answers can be offered, but the underlying question is "Why have this theory (in this case, inerrancy) in the first place?" So any argument about specifics is going to be pushed back to an argument about the motivation for the theory motivating the treatment of specifics. Commented Oct 14, 2022 at 18:03

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