This is a continuation of various fallacies in logic that the active supporter of Christianity is likely to run into. I am sharing these so that you can be aware of their usage in both your opponent and yourself. I believe that straight and clear thinking is in line with who God is, therefore it is useful for knowledge and glory of God.
Ready to work through more of these?
False dichotomy: This fallacy occurs when only two options re given, but other options exist. It may also be referred to as a false dilemma. I showed this one earlier, maybe you caught it: A,B, or C; not A, Therefore C. Don’t let somebody trap you with two options when there are more available. This happened to me in a chat room- they thought they stumped me because I refused to answer according to their fallacy. Matthew and Luke do not contain the same genealogy. They gave me two options- either Matthew is right or Luke is right. There are actually 4 options, Matthew is right, Luke is wrong; Luke is right, Matthew is wrong; they are both wrong; they are both right. In reality, they are both right because there are many ways to trace back a genealogy.
Another very deep topic that this might be found is in examining the foundations of morality. Is good a standard that is beyond God that He adheres to? or is good just arbitrary because it’s whatever God happens to do that becomes “good”? This is a false dichotomy because two other options exist. Good is a mere illusion, is not real. Good is necessarily inseparable from God’s nature (so it’s neither above God nor arbitrary).
Red herring: A red herring is anything that deters your mind from real importance of the topic. It’s a little bit like a magician creating a diversion through elaborate movement or sound. While the big move is taking place a subtle little deception has slipped through unnoticed. Red herrings are a huge reason that conversations never follow through as planned. This is why we should know what our goal is going in to a conversation. Other things that are brought up should be gauged by whether they lead to that point or not.
Examples of red herring could be endless- even the little ADD quirks that steal our attention. The most significant red herrings are the ones that seem like legitimate issues that we would seem heartless or helpless not to address. The one I will note (which could also be a category mistake) can be found in many existence of God debates. The atheist will often bring up issues with the text of the Bible instead of dealing with the presented evidence of God’s existence. If the theist takes the bate, the conversation will put the theist on the defensive as he continuously chases the off topic objections.
Sentence form would have to be: A=B, B=C, therefore… Wait! what about D?!
Composition: The fallacy of composition assumes that what is evident of a part is true for the entirety. People love to obsess over a shocking minority and extrapolate their opinion of such a thing based on that. It is closely related to jumping to conclusions (Hasty induction).
The Christian culture battles against this. To many non-christians Christianity is what they see portrayed on TV- big hair and livin’ large mega-pastors. The fallacy of composition has taken effect and resulted in the Christian culture at large being viewed in this light.
The fallacy of composition has also come against the Bible. Generally, anti-Christians do not seek to know what the Bible really says. So they will take a shocking story from the Bible and claim that the Bible teaches and condones such things. Taken in its entirety we see the Bible teaches a far different story than what a single line in Joshua says. We can avoid this fallacy by portraying the true and big picture of things.
Sentence form may look like this (more creative liberty taken): Part of A=B, Part of B=C, therefore A=C
Unfair proof criteria: I kind of, well, made this one up. It may go by another name. Here’s how this fallacy works, the opponent asks you a fair question, but demands that you answer it according to his specific limits. The limits are totally unnecessary and only exist to put more pressure on you, the responder.
Where I work, I often present 4 choices, one being the correct answer. If I wanted to demonstrate this fallacy to the students, I would offer 4 incorrect answers and demand that they give me the answer only by choosing from them.
A popular one of these is when the Christian is told to prove the resurrection was a historical fact, but don’t use the Bible. Another similar one is “Prove that Jesus existed… without using biased authors”. Both of these criteria can still be met, but why submit to the added challenge of honoring their meaningless criteria. At the same time, there could be certain situations where the criteria do need to be narrowed, but stay aware of whether it is valid in each particular case.
Ad Hominem: This is an attack of the person’s character instead of the rationale that he presents. Sometimes we are thrown off guard when another spouts off insults about us. This is merely another form of non-sequitur. It does not bring the actual facts and information into the equation. It is also a lot like the genetic fallacy. “I don’t like the origin of the information, so the information is not valid.”
Sometimes, though, the credibility of the person does come in to play. When an astrophysicist like Hugh Ross says that our measurements to distant stars are accurate, it means more than if you were to ask a second grader drawing stars on a piece of paper. In matters of knowledge and expertise, the person presenting the information can make a big difference, but it correlates directly with having a grip on the facts and having an honest reputation. So this is not what I’m talking about when I refer to the ad hominem fallacy.
I have had some views of this fallacy this week. One high school chants that the other high school sucks. There was no background information to the chant by which they could accurately assess the standards by which qualifies the entirety of people and structures as being extremely below average (maybe I’m over-thinking rivalries here). It just shows that it is easy to jump on a bandwagon of slander without really having knowledge by which you came to your conclusion.
Where do Christians get hit with this fallacy? Haha… It’s everywhere. Look up any Christian- atheist debate on YouTube and see the amount of vitriol slung against the Christian. It’s amazing how many people think that their side is bolstered by ignorant insults. Far from making the atheist side look good, to the mind that thinks carefully, it actually makes them look like their side doesn’t have the evidential or logical support. Generally, your opponent will turn to ad hominem attacks when they feel the pressure of not having a reasonable answer. To relate it to the rivalry, when the whole war of words ran its course, it came down to the players letting their game do the talking. For the Christian apologist, we do not defend ourselves, we defend truth. Therefore ad hominem attacks mean nothing to us.
Part 3 will address some other ways that we can have our confidence thrown off and lose control in a conversation.