Critical Thinking and Logical Fallacies

by Bill Muehlenberg

critical thinkingBelieve it or not, Christians are to think critically. Now before you drag me off and stone me, let me remind you that there are at least two different meanings of the word “critical”. One has to do with negative criticising and condemning. That is not what I have in mind here.

The other meaning has to do with careful evaluation, testing, discerning, assessing, and judging. That is something Christians should do all the time, as Scripture makes clear:
-Proverbs 14:33 Wisdom reposes in the heart of the discerning
-Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD.
-1 Corinthians 2:15 The spiritual man makes judgments about all things
-1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 Test everything.

An important part of critical thinking is the use of logic. This is not the place to say much more about logical thinking in general, and the basic principles of logic. Instead I here want to just focus on what are known as logical fallacies. Simply stated, these come in two varieties: formal fallacies, which have to do with errors in the way an argument is put together; and informal fallacies, which have to do with errors in clarity or soundness of the reasoning process.

As to the former, let me only very briefly discuss these. Referred to as deductive reasoning, they have to do with a logical formulation, or a syllogism. Here are some basic features of a syllogism:

-A syllogism is an argument with two (or more) premises and a conclusion.
-An argument is valid when the conclusion necessarily follows from the premises. In such an argument it is logically impossible for the premises to be true and the conclusion false.
-An argument is invalid if the premises do not entail the conclusion.
-An argument is sound if it is both valid and the premises are true.

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