Just For Fun: Logical Fallacies. Post Three in a Series of Three.

What is wrong with what’s below?*

1)      “Last week Joe committed his life to Christ. He’s been a changed man ever since.”[i]

2)      “All claims to truth are relative. There is no absolute truth.”[ii]

3)      “If you had not been brought up in a Christian home, you would never have become a Christian.”[iii]

4)      “Christians are like zombies. They don’t think for themselves. They just follow their leaders and believe everything they say.”[iv]

5)      “Theologians just don’t get Science.”[v]

6)      “You cannot be an Atheist unless you hate religion. This is why all atheists are militantly obsessed with destroying religion. They are all on a hate-crusade towards religious-minded people. ”[vi]

*= most info taken from James Sire’s book, Why Good Arguments Fail.

[i] False Cause: Post Hoc. The implication is that Joe’s faith changed his life. Although Christians take this at face value, those who are not and who do not know Joe are less convinced, and this statement may have little merit as a justification for Christian faith. Genuine life stories do make a difference (C.S. Lewis, Chuck Colson, Solzhenitsyn) but some statements can seem too simplistic, claim too much and can easily be countered by contrary experiences and illustrations.

[ii] Contrary Hypothesis: If the claim of the principle itself “all truth is relative” is true, then it would be false since it is a claim to absolute truth. It contains within itself an internal inconsistency since it is framed to undermine itself.

[iii] Hypothesis contrary to fact: A simple study of historical Christianity shows this to be untrue. Some of the most healthy and growing Christian movements are coming out of non-Christian societies. Take a look at the Global South. America, a “Christian” nation is where Christianity is in decline. I also have a friend who is now Christian but was raised as a Muslim. This is a situation where someone wants to hold against you what is uncontrollable as if that is the controlling factor of life.

[iv] False Analogy AND Dicto Simpliciter: This objection shows the objector has not met many genuine Christians. Some Christians are in fact anti-intellectual, but many are not. Scripture even tells us in I Thessalonians to “test everything, hold onto the good.” The best witness here is to show yourself as an exception to the objectors’ experience.

[v] Poisoning the Well, Ad Hominem: This is when the credibility of a speaker is challenged instead of actually making a cohesive argument against the speaker’s claims. It is an attempted short-cut which is clearly not true. Take for example, Dr. Pablo Polischuk, professor of Counseling and Psychology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is not only an ordained member of the Assemblies of God tradition, he has also taught psychology at Harvard’s Medical School. This theologian “gets science!” What if someone told you, “he is a carpenter, therefore he doesn’t understand how to drive a car.” You would realize that the claim is non-sensical, and is spoken with an attitude of unqualified prejudice. Clearly a non-sequitur.

[vi] Straw-Man Fallacy: This person has misrepresented the atheist in order to make them sound worse than they are. It is easier to refute a misrepresentation, so these statements are frequently made but are only shortcuts and do not speak to the heart of the issue. In reality, many atheists do not hate religion and are not required to. Although defining “Atheism” is a complex matter, this is not an excuse to create any definition you want. For some, atheism means they don’t believe in any gods (many will not even say that “there is no God,” only that they “don’t believe there are any”). Atheism, in its broadest definition has nothing to do with hate towards other people. Of course there are some atheists who not only reject the idea of theism but also put down others of different faith communities (Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens). However, someone can be an atheist and accept other religious people and even see the benefit religion has had in culture. Many atheists I know refuse to be associated with the hateful speech of these so called “new or radical” atheists. We must not assume all atheists are this radical.


Just For Fun #2: Logical Fallacies You May Have Heard (Or Said): The Second in a Series of Three.*

All these statements involve the same logical fallacy. Can you figure it out without looking at the answers?

1)      Muslims believe in holy war. We will never find a way to live in peace.[i]

2)      Christians are a peaceful people.[ii]

3)      Wars are the result of religious controversy. It would be better if religion disappeared completely.[iii]

4)      You Christians are hypocrites. You accuse others of the sins you yourselves commit. Look at Jimmy Swaggart![iv]

5)      If you’re not a Christian, you have no reason to be good.[v]

6)      Christians are so loving.[vi]

These fallacies are associated with inductive arguments (that is, they begin with evidence and move toward generalization). It is important to remember that with inductive arguments, certainty is almost never attainable; rather the argument is more or less increasingly probable. This is in a persuasive sense problematic. The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead called inductive arguments “the despair of philosophy.” Those of us who seek to be persuasive and effective must remember the weakness of generalizations.

*= Most info taken from James Sire’s book, Why Good Arguments Fail.

[i] Dicto Simpliciter: This is a hasty and unqualified generalization. This statement may have a grain of truth but statements of this nature are so unqualified (and reliant on stereotypical understandings) they almost succeed in being false. As Sire reminds us, “we must guard against making claims like these. They weaken our credibility and end up belying the truth” (36).

[ii] Dicto Simpliciter: Some are, some aren’t. Most aren’t all the time.

[iii] Dicto Simpliciter: This statement is made often but is easily shown to not be universally true. Of course religious passions have been a factor in some wars.  But when the conflicts are looked at more closely, other factors like economics and political power are many times more important.

[iv] Dicto Simpliciter: Some Christians are hypocrites and shouldn’t be defended. However, not all Christians are hypocritical. Billy Graham is one example of a Godly Christian example for genuine character and Christ-like behavior.

[v] Dicto Simpliciter: When we make these sorts of statements, we should expect to be challenged. Either this needs to be qualified and justified or it should not be said at all. For example, even if someone is not a Christian, they still may want to treat their spouse kindly for their own sake.

[vi] Dicto Simpliciter: haha, I’m not even gonna start. Unfortunately, this statement is known almost instantly and instinctively as hasty.

Just For Fun: Can you find the logical fallacies? The First in a Series of Three.

I just finished reading, Why Good Arguments Fail, by James W. Sire. I really enjoyed it. I was reminded how often I hear logical fallacies in everyday conversation. I even use them every once in a while. Sire offered some really clear examples of common fallacies and so I thought I’d share some of his info. Enjoy!

1)      Exercise is good. Therefore everybody should exercise.[i]

2)      You can’t speak German. I can’t speak German. Classmate Jim can’t speak German. I must therefore conclude that nobody at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary can speak German.[ii]

3)      If God can do anything , he can make a stone so heavy he can’t lift it.[iii]

4)      A man applies for a job. When the boss asks him what his qualifications are, he replies that he has a wife with 6 children, his wife is a helpless cripple, the children have nothing to eat, no clothes to wear, no shoes on their feet, no coal in the cellar and winter is coming. [iv]

5)      Students should be allowed to look at textbooks during their tests. After all, surgeons have X rays to guide them during an operation. Lawyers have briefs to guide them during the trials, carpenters use blueprints when they build a house. So why can’t students use textbooks during their tests?[v]

6)      If Madame Curie had not happened to leave a photographic plate in a drawer with a chunk of pitchblende, the world today would not know about radium.[vi]

7)      Two men are having a debate. The first one gets up and says, “My opponent is a notorious liar. You can’t believe a word he is going to say.”[vii]

How did you do? I may follow up this post with examples that are more “spiritual.” Maybe ones Christians commonly hear and even (gasp) use.

[i] This is an argument based on an unqualified generalization. Formally named a Dicto Simpliciter. “Exercise is good” needs to be qualified. For example, if you have heart disease, exercise is bad, not good. Many people are ordered by their doctors NOT to exercise. It should be said, “exercise is usually good” or “exercise is good for most people.”

[ii] This is a fallacy because it is a hasty generalization. There are too few instances to sufficiently and reasonably prove the point.

[iii] Here, the premises of the argument contradict each other. Logicians would call this “Contradictory Premises.” When the premises of an argument contradict each other, there can be no argument.

[iv] Formally, an Ad Misericordiam. It isn’t an argument, the man never actually answered the boss’ question. He simply appealed to the boss’ sympathy (emotions).

[v] Here, the speaker is using False Analogy. Doctors, Lawyers and Carpenters aren’t taking a test to see how much they have learned, but students are. The situations are necessarily different. Thus it isn’t fair to make an analogy between them.

[vi] Maybe Madame Curie would have discovered radium at some later date. Maybe somebody else would have discovered it. Maybe any number of things would have happened. You can’t start with a hypothesis that is not true and then draw any supportable conclusions from it. This would be labeled, “Hypothesis Contrary to Fact.”

[vii] Here, the man is doing what is called, “Poisoning the Well.” It isn’t fair. He has poisoned the well before anyone could drink from it. He has hamstrung his opponent before his opponent could defend himself. Neither respectable nor respectful, don’t do it!