Bro, Your Argument Stinks: Theological Fallacies

As Christians, we sometimes debate things. Usually doctrines or practices, mainly because those are the only real categories. But alas, often¬†in these¬†debates people use terrible arguments and logical fallacies. So I’m just going to review a few common logical fallacies I’ve seen used in Christian debate in alphabetical order, and¬†show some example problems involving them.

(Also, before you read all of these, don’t even bother trying to deduce things about what I think from the examples I use. People on all sides of every aisle use bad arguments, and I select whatever comes to mind.)

Anecdotal Fallacy: Well, In¬†My¬†Experience…

An anecdotal fallacy is when you simply use an¬†example of something that happened, especially one from your own experiences,¬†as evidence¬†instead of any rational argument. “My interpretation of my experience” becomes enough to settle the debate.

Examples:

  • My leg was healed, so the Charismatics are right!
  • I’ve spoken in tongues before, so I know it’s real.
  • I’ve seen a lot of evil in my lifetime, so I know total depravity is true.

Ad Hominem: You Have Problems, So Your Argument Does, Too

An¬†ad hominem fallacy is when you attack the person instead of the argument. Just because the¬†person you’re debating has flaws does not make you right.

Examples:

  • You skipped church last week, so you’re wrong!
  • You don’t have a degree, so I won’t listen to your arguments.
  • You like Rob Bell, so your belief in the Trinity is mistaken. (Ad hominem-ception!)

Appeal to Consequences: If You Are Right, Then Bad Things

Appeal to consequences¬†is the mistake of saying someone’s position is right or wrong just because of what¬†it might lead to. Even if something unfortunate or bad would be the result of a position, the position might still be right. Likewise, even if a position leads to something good, it might be wrong.

Examples:

  • If¬†all your past, present, and future sins are forgiven when you’re saved, then people can sin all they want! So that can’t be right.
  • Jesus couldn’t have died for all people because then some of His blood would be wasted on those who aren’t saved.
  • If Hell isn’t real, more people will want to be Christians, so it must not be real!

Appeal to Emotion:¬†That Just Doesn’t¬†Feel Right

An appeal to emotion is an argument which using emotions to force the point instead of any actual reasons. It can work with anything from intuitive tension to outright horror.

Examples:

  • Would you really want to worship a God who sends people to Hell forever?
  • There’s no way that sweet little babies go anywhere but Heaven!
  • Calvinism is disturbing, and so must not be true.

Begging the Question: (Assuming One Thing) This Must Be True!

Begging the question is when you make a claim or present a set of choices which actually rely on a hidden assumption. By saying what you do, you actually raise a new question which you might not acknowledge.

Examples:

  • If there is no free will, people are robots. (Begs the question: Is¬†free will the important difference between people and robots?)
  • Love must be freely chosen to be love, so¬†Calvinism is false. (Begs the question: What kind of freedom is necessary for love, and is this kind of freedom not present in Calvinism?)
  • Humans¬†were involved in writing the Bible, so there must be errors. (Begs the question: What is the relationship between the divine and the human roles in the Bible?)

Circular Reasoning: This Is True Because That Is True Because This Is True

Circular reasoning is when you try to prove one point by another point which actually relies on the first point. A because B because A.

Examples:

  • God must¬†control all decisions to be sovereign, because He would not be truly sovereign if He did not control all decisions.
  • Free will must not be determined by God, because if they were determined by God they would not be free.
  • The KJV is the only pure Bible because modern translations are corrupt. Modern translations are corrupt because they are different from the KJV.

Etymological Fallacy: This Word Meant This

An etymological fallacy is when you take the meaning of a word in modern day use and project it back onto the word’s history or roots. This is something used frequently in informal Bible studies.

Examples:

  • The Greek word translated “power” is¬†where we get our word “dynamite.” So it means an explosive power!
  • Predestination since the Reformation¬†refers to God choosing specific individuals for salvation, so that’s what Paul meant when he said we were predestined.

False Dichotomy: This or That, No Other Option!

A false dichotomy, also called the false dilemma, black-or-white, or excluded middle fallacy, is when you force an issue into only two choices, even though there are or might be other options.

Examples:

  • Does God love everyone, or does He condemn gays?
  • The Bible is either 100% inerrant or¬†totally worthless.
  • You must pick: either Jesus died for¬†only the elect or everyone will be saved.

Red Herring: Squirrel!

A red herring is a statement or question¬†thrown into¬†an argument to¬†change the subject or switch the attention from one thing to another. It¬†sends you down a rabbit trail so you don’t have to keep¬†following whatever reasoning is threatening.

Examples:

  • Regardless of whether Jesus died for everyone or not,¬†Calvin murdered Servetus!
  • I don’t know about that omnipotence paradox, but atheism¬†takes as much faith as Christianity.
  • Did Jesus rise from the dead? But¬†the Exodus never happened!

Slippery Slope: Next Thing You Know…

A slippery slope argument is when you try to say that if one thing happens or is true, the next thing you know some crazy catastrophe will be the end of it. Slippery slope arguments act as if one step in a possibly wrong direction necessitates you falling down to the bottom of the well.

Examples:

  • If you¬†think there is one error in the Bible, then¬†you will inevitably have to question the whole thing.
  • If Genesis 1 isn’t literal, then where does it stop? Genesis 2? 5? 11? John 13? You’ll lose the whole Bible!
  • As soon as you say drinking alcohol isn’t a sin, you’re opening the door to¬†rampant debauchery and drug abuse.

Straw Man: No, You¬†Really¬†Think…

A straw man argument is when you caricature your opponent’s position so that it is easy to defeat. You turn their real position into a fake¬†version, a straw man, with obvious weaknesses.

Examples:

  • Calvinists believe that the Bible was just mistaken when it says, “He died for all!” But the Bible is not mistaken, so Calvinism is false.
  • Arminians¬†say that man’s free will isn’t hurt by sin. But Romans teaches we are slaves to sin. (Hint: If you don’t get what’s wrong, Arminians affirm that man’s free will is totally¬†enslaved to sin until God sends prevenient grace.)
  • Evolutionists think that God couldn’t have created the world in 6 days. But He can!

 

There are, of course, many other fallacies out there, many used in¬†Christian debate, but I don’t wish to go on for now. If you are interested, you can look up¬†some other fallacies I see used a lot including the genetic fallacy, poisoning the well, retrospective determinism, kettle logic, and the fallacy of the single cause. Hopefully, paying attention to these things will bring greater clarity and charity to all Christian discourse. Peace and grace!

I'm 22. I'm married with a toddler and a newborn. love Jesus Christ. I grew up a Southern Baptist and now situate myself within Evangelical Calvinism (which isn't TULIP!). I also draw substantially from N. T. Wright, Peter Leithart, and Alastair Roberts. I go to the Baptist College of Florida. I'm also a bit nerdy.