How Not to Argue Like an Idiot: The 15 Most Common Logical Fallacies
by Nicholas McDonald
Whether we like it or not, the protestant tradition is founded on “reason and the scriptures” – whether it’s Martin Luther standing before the Diet of Worms, C.S. Lewis apologetically defending the faith via radio waves, or Jonathon Edwards detailing the philosophical argument for the captivity of the soul – we are a community founded on the ability to reason. But I’ve used and heard plenty of bad reasoning from Christians. The following list is composed of some of the most common logical fallacies; I’ve chosen to limit it to only those I’ve actually heard in the last couple years.
Warning: I think logical fallacies have limited value; citing logic as the ultimate end-all of argumentation is itself a logical fallacy – it is a circular argument (I believe logic is authoritative because that’s logical) and it’s an appeal to authority (logic). That doesn’t mean, however, that’s its useless! Logic is a good tool, just not an authoritative tool.
Either way, whether you write or preach, communicator beware:
1. Ad Hominem – Attacking someone’s character rather than their argument. I was sitting with my friend a few weeks ago, debating the significance of a Greek word when he blurted out: “Well, they all translate it that way because theologians want people to go to hell!”
2. Straw Man. This essentially comes down to stating the argument of your opponent in a way they themselves wouldn’t have said it. I’ve heard countless sermons in hyper-conservative circles portraying non-Christians saying things I’ve never personally heard a non-Christian say.
3. False Analogy. In our age of creativity, this is probably the most common – how many times have I heard a debate “settled” because one person uses a beautiful analogy to illustrate their point? All analogies break down at some point; we need to know when and how in order to analyze them.
4. Slippery Slope. The argument that the extreme of a position must be true as well. I heard a Catholic radio DJ say that if we didn’t take the “body and blood” of Christ literally, we’d have to throw out his deity and the gospel itself as well. Or we might say, “If we allow homosexuals to marry, we must allow humans to marry dogs and cats and multiple partners, etc.” This is a different argument than the lesser to greater argument (by the very same principle, this also must be true) – sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.
5. Confusion equals Cause. This argues that because we don’t understand something, God must be the solution. Because science can’t explain ______, God must be responsible…