Logic and Logical Fallacies
A great way to begin to practice thinking rationally and logically is to be able to identify flaws in logic. If you are tuned in to logical fallacies I think you will find that they are used frequently. Too much of the time the person taking the brunt of the fallacy is caught off guard and is at a loss for responses. Most of the time, also, the person using the flawed logic will not be aware that they are doing so; all they know is that they have relieved the pressure of a response off of themselves for the moment.
Being aware of logic versus logical fallacies will help us become more fluent in sharing and defending our faith. It will also help us with sending fallacious attacks to their rightful grave. We don’t have to be adversely affected when an opponent uses logical fallacies to deter us from the goal of our message.
A goal of our rationale should be making clear points that lead to a specific conclusion. The point we are trying to make needs to be one that follows from the premises. Our premises are our supporting statements. For example, if our goal is to show that Christ loved the church, our premises could be 1. The greatest love is to give up your life for somebody, and 2. Christ gave up his life for us. From here you see that it necessarily follows that (3.) therefore Christ loves the church.
Ways to look at logical conclusions in sentence form:
A=B. B=C, therefore A=C
If A is so then B is so, A is so, therefore B is so
Either A or B, B therefore not A
Either A, B, or C; not A, not B; therefore C
There are some invalid, fallacious formations too (don’t fall for these!):
A does not = B, B does not = C, therefore A=C
If A is so then B is so, B is so, therefore A is so
Either A, B, or C; not B, therefore A
Either A or B, not A, not B
(this one’s a little tougher) If A=B and B=C then A=C, A=C, therefore A=B
Get it? Let me provide a little example. (A) If the door is open then the dogs can come in. (B) The door is open. (C) Therefore the dogs can come in. It happens to be the case that the door is open, but the dogs did not come in. There are also other cases where the door could be closed, yet the dogs would be in.
Here’s another one: I will not bike in the rain, it is raining, therefore I am not biking. OK, that’d be the valid form. Here’s an invalid form: If it rains I will not bike in it, I am not biking, therefore it must be raining. The truth is that I am not biking, yet it is not raining. For that one to be valid it would have to have been stated that “the only time I am not biking is when it is raining” (“I am not biking, therefore it is raining”).
Now to pick apart some of the famous logical fallacies:
Equivocation: This fallacy involves using the same word for different meanings. It will mean one thing for your benefit and one thing for your demise. I probably began encountering this one in second grade: “Are you P.T.?” “What do you mean?” “Just… yes or no” “Uh, yes” “Ha ha, you’re a pregnant teacher!” (Of course if I answered “No” then they’d say “Ha ha, you’re not potty trained!”)
It seems certain skeptics and Darwinists have not fully overcome this little game. They use both micro-evolution and macro-evolution under the term “evolution”. So when they say evolution has been demonstrated and observed they are referring to micro-evolution, but will try to trap the person under macro-evolution.
Straw man: This fallacy sets up a false representation of a subject and attacks that figure instead of encountering the real one. The new atheists milk this fallacy. Since the actual attributes of God are too difficult to insult, they will make up terms that are easier to attack like “capricious sky-daddy”. However, unless and until you interact with the true attributes and characteristics of something, you can do nothing to disprove it. It’d be like if I said “I hate the Miami Dolphins because I can’t stand John Elway.” There is no connection between Elway and the Dolphins; and, in a imilar fashion, there is usually no connection between God and the terms ascribed to Him by skeptics.
Genetic fallacy: In this fallacy the credibility is attempted to be taken from a belief because an aspect the origination of the belief is explained. But where a belief comes from does not have any bearing on whether it’s true or not (unless, of course it’s from the mind of God).
True to the term “genetic”, this fallacy was used against Jesus. When Jesus performed his signs and wonders the people’s criticism was not based in sound reasoning, but instead they began to explain the origin of Jesus. “Hey, this is the guy that grew up in Joseph the carpenter’s home. We’ve known him since he was a little runt.”
A more modern example is the origin of the Bible. The skeptics will say that it was written by a bunch of bronze age desert wanderers. Even if that’s where it came from, how does it then follow that it’s not true? Isn’t truth much bigger than time and location?
Category error: Sometimes evidence is given in one area that does not actually relate to validity in another area. Evidence can only be given in the area that the argument relates to.
An example from Mormonism: They’ll say that the Book of Mormon is from God because it doesn’t contradict the Bible (certainly a debatable point). Not contradicting the Bible and being as valid (or more so, as they say) as the Bible are two different categories (yes, with a little overlap). Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat doesn’t contradict the Bible. Certainly there are more categories that non-contradiction to imply inspiration.
My favorite category error fallacy is from the naturalists. They demand that the Christian give scientific (physical) proof of God. But the physical “frequency” doesn’t directly detect the spiritual entity any more than a walkie talkie could tune a piano. Or you couldn’t judge the quality of music based on what the instrument looks like.
Circular reasoning: This is also known as Begging the question. It means assuming to be true the thing you are trying to prove. In sentence form it is: A=C because A=B, and we know B=C because A=C, and we know A=C because A=B, and we know B=C because A=C, And we know A=C because B=C… and on and on it goes forever.
The most blatant one of these that has affected our education system is from the geologic column. The age of the fossils is determined by the rock layer they are found within. The age of the rock layer is determined by the fossils that are found within it. Really? That’s like two strong guys attempting to levitate by picking each other up simultaneously.
Christians are not exempt from this fallacy. Christians are often asked why they think the Bible is the inspired word of God. A lot of times the response is “because the Bible says so”. So, by that reasoning the Bible is the word of God because the Bible says it’s the word of God… and it’s right, because it’s the word of God… I certainly don’t disagree with the statement, but unless it’s explained better, it’s no more valid than the reasoning behind the geologic column.
Non-Sequitur: This fallacy is from something that doesn’t follow in sequence. This fallacy is very broad and foundational. It is siply a conclusion that is not lead to by the premises. A=B and B=C, therefore A=D. This fallacy is often mixed with others. Let me blur the line between Non-sequitur, equivocation, and category mistake. (A) The Miami Dolphins haven’t been good since Dan Marino left. (B) Miami will not win it all. (C) Therefore the a team other than the Heat will win the NBA championship.
Sometimes we expect to see this fallacy occur on our bad days. I spilled the milk, the dog got paw prints on my pants, therefore I probably won’t be able to find my keys.
How about a simple non-sequitur example from religious and governmental history relating to apologetics. (A) European countries went to war against each other. (B) The Pope often had more say that the king. (C) Therefore the Christian church is responsible for the wars.
This is the first part on the subject of logic and logical fallacies. If you find this helpful, continue to part two.