Jesus and Logical Fallacies: Answering Absurd Claims
by Lenny Esposito
Not many people think about Jesus and his intellect, but Jesus was the smartest man who ever lived. He wasn’t a philosopher, but he could argue logically and philosophically when the need arose. For example, in one passage of scripture, the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus by asking him if the faithful Jews should pay taxes to Caesar or if they should rather choose to love God. Jesus unraveled their trap by pointing out the logical fallacy hidden in their question.
The Pharisees weren’t the only ones, though, that tried to trap Jesus. The Sadducees, who were another group within first century Judaism and the sect that had the primary control over the Temple in Jerusalem, also tried to catch Jesus by asking him a question. In Mark 12:19:27, they offer a thought experiment, one that was designed to prove their belief that once people die, they cease to exist.1 They asked Jesus to imagine a man who has six brothers. He married a woman, but then died, leaving the wife childless. They then said that the mans brother took the woman for his wife, but he also died, and so did all the brothers, each after taking the woman as his own wife. (One must wonder what kind of a scary cook such a woman would be!) Finally the woman dies. The Sadducees then inquire “In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife. (Mark 12:23)”
Trying To Leverage the Reductio
In this example, the Sadducees are using as tactic from logic known as arguing from absurdity or the more formal Latin title of reductio ad absurdum. Basically, the tactic is to take whatever proposition one is arguing against and follow it even in an extreme situation to see if the proposition still makes sense. Parents are famous for this tactic. After asking to stay home alone because your friend Johnny is allowed, you may have heard them respond, “If Johnny jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?”
Reducing an argument to absurdity is in itself not a fallacy; in fact it can be very effective in clarifying the points of someone’s position. I’ve used it myself in arguing against abortion. But, the problem with this attempt is the Sadducees were committing another fallacy in their argument…
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