Logical Theology

…considered thoughts and opinions

Tu Quoque Fallacy Part 1

A Tu Quoque (Latin for “you, also”) argument is an Ad Hominem which is committed when someone attempts to refute another person’s argument by pointing out that the person is being inconsistent with something he/she said or did, either recently or in the past.  In short, the fallacy is committed by wrongly arguing that a person’s hypocrisy invalidates their argument.

Hypocrisy can, in some limited cases, rebut someone’s argument, such as when a hyocritical and lying individual insists that they are a morally upright person.  However, when hypocrisy does not refute the argument being made, dismissing the argument solely because of the speaker’s hypocrisy is a logical fallacy. Consider the following examples:

Example 1: 

Bob says, “You really need to stop spending so much time playing video games. Your personal life is suffering because of it.” 

Tom replies, “No offense, but you play video games for eight hours a day, which is more than twice the amount of time that I play. There is nothing harmful with spending four hours a day playing video games and I will continue to do it, regardless of your opinion.”

Question: Does Tom’s response prove that spending great amounts of time playing video games is perfectly fine?

Answer: No, it does not.  Tom only accused Bob of hypocrisy. He did not present an argument in favor of his opinion. In addition, even if Bob is being hypocritical, that does not mean his argument can be dismissed. In fact, considering how much time Bob himself spends playing games, he might have just been warning Tom to not get so addicted to games because he knows from personal experience that it is unhealthy. If that is the case, then Bob would not be unreliable or hypocritical. Rather, it would mean that he wanted to help Tom avoid making the same mistake. However, even if Bob was being hypocritical, that does not disprove his argument.

Example 2:

Susan says, “I heard Mr. Smith say that we need to pass legislation that would require farming and meat companies to raise their animals in more humane ways. However, Mr. Smith used to work on the board of directors for a major meat producing company that has always kept its animals in appalling conditions.  Mr. Smith is a hypocrite, and we should not listen to anything he says.”

Question: Has Susan given us a good argument?

Answer: No. Susan’s argument was that because the past actions of Mr. Smith are inconsistent with his current statements, then Mr. Smith’s arguments should be dismissed.  This is fallacious for two reasons:

    1. Mr. Smith may have genuinely changed his mind. Not to allow someone to change their mind and to insist that people will perpetually believe and act the same is fallacious.
    2. As with the previous example, hypocrisy does not refute the argument being presented.

Now consider the following example which is not a logical fallacy:

Example 3:

Jason says, “Dorothy claims that she is a fine example of what it means to care for other people and to help the poor,  for she donates considerable money to the poor and works in a soup kitchen once a week.”

Gloria says, “While that is true, Dorothy also is the CEO of a major technology company which manufactures most of its goods and wares in Chinese factories. The working conditions at these factories are appalling, leading to many deaths.  In addition, the workers are paid so little, worked so hard, and treated so mercilessly that there have even been riots in these factories. Frankly, Dorothy’s acts of kindness to the poor are just a cover for who she really is–a greedy and selfish woman who abuses and takes advantage of the poor to enrich herself.”

Question: Is this an Ad Hominem Tu Quoque fallacy? 

Answer: No, it is not. The argument under consideration is not whether it is good to help the poor and to work in a soup kitchen. The argument was that Dorothy is a good example of what caring for the poor should look like.  However, as Gloria correctly pointed out, Dorothy’s other actions contradict her image as an caring person. Thus, Dorothy may appear to be a good example of what it means to care for the poor, but when we see her for who she truly is, she is a bad example indeed.

THE BOTTOM LINE: It is a mistake to think that hypocrisy automatically refutes a person’s argument. Hypocrisy can, in some cases, does discredit a person, make them unreliable, and possibly refute their claims. However, when hypocrisy does not refute the argument being made, to claim that it does, is a logical fallacy.

Openness Part 2

Now that we understand the importance of being teachable, let us consider how this works within Christianity. Should Christians be open to changing their minds?

My answer is absolutely yes.

Keep in mind that no one Christian or Christian denomination has perfect doctrine in every area. Even the Apostle Paul said that “all our knowledge is fragmentary” and “I know in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9, 12). In light of this, it follows that Christians could believe things that are mistaken.  Therefore they should be open to considering the opinions of others and accepting them if they can be proven true.

This should not come as a shock, because theology itself is a human endeavor to properly interpret the Bible.  Since humans make mistakes, it follows that Christian beliefs and doctrines can also be mistaken. Because of this, Christians should willingly subject their beliefs to scrutiny and testing, and accept that which can stand up under testing (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

Unfortunately, not everyone is willing to do this. Consider the following two examples:

Example 1: 

Robert says, “Personally, I believe that suffering can in fact be beneficial and that the more recent Christian interpretations on suffering are mistaken.” 

Rachel responds, “I have read many books from many authors defending your position, and all their arguments have been exhaustively refuted. In addition, this position would seem to imply many negative things about the character of God. Therefore, I am not interested in hearing another defense of your position.”

There are multiple problems with Rachel’s statement. First, she wrongly assumes that Robert can not add anything new to the discussion because of the fact that (in her opinion) many authors have not succeeded in defending Robert’s position. She is also committing the appeal to consequences fallacy, which is committed when someone assumes that the positive or negative consequences of a belief render it true or false.  In this case, Rachel is saying that Robert’s position is false because, if it were true, it would imply that God possess negative characteristics. This is a fallacy because simply stating that negative consequences would result from a belief being true does not, in and of itself, refute the belief.  As can be seen, Rachel’s unwillingness to consider Robert’s position has resulted in logical fallacies. One wonders whether Rachel really did fairly consider the arguments of the many authors which she claims to have read. If she did not, it doesn’t necessarily make her position false, but it does mean that she does not know how to give an adequate response to those who disagree with her position.

Example 2:

Bob says, “Personally, I do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus, for I don’t believe in the possibility of miracles.  In my opinion, God cannot violate the fixed laws of nature, making miracles impossible. I further believe that my position is supported by strong evidence. Are you interested in hearing why I believe this?”

Susan responds, “While I respect your right to believe what you do, I do not wish to hear your case. I have already made up my mind about what to believe. The Bible says that Jesus was resurrected, and that is good enough for me.”

While we can give Susan credit for being blunt and honest, as opposed to trying to hide her beliefs, the fact remains that she has not presented a strong argument for her position. Susan did not present a specific response to Bob’s argument, nor was she willing to do so.  It can be tempting for Christians to refuse to look at arguments that challenges their core beliefs. However, when someone presents an argument against your beliefs, your response should not be to refuse to evaluate the argument.  Rather, you should take your beliefs, and the beliefs of those who disagree with you, and test them.  If you refuse to do so and insist that you do not need to look at what challenges you, then you are implying that it is impossible or unnecessary to test your beliefs.  If Christian beliefs are untestable, then how can that be reconciled with 1 Thessalonians 5:21 which says, “Test everything that is said and hold on to the good.” This obviously implies that we should test our interpretations of the Bible. 

If you believe that Christian doctrine does not need to be subjected to testing, then you are essentially saying that people should accept without examination the opinions of  “authorities.”  This point of view is why Susan did not bother to respond to Bob’s arguments. On the other hand, if you attempt to respond to skeptics or those with different doctrinal positions, you are assuming that Christianity can be tested and confirmed. And if Christian beliefs can be confirmed, then it is possible that they can be disproved.

The Bottom Line:  Christians should be willing to look at other points of view, put their beliefs to the test, and learn how to effectively respond to those who disagree with them.

 

Openness Part 1

At this point, let’s take a break from the list of logical fallacies and spend a little time talking about why people commit them.

Granted, many people have not been taught how to think critically. It is far more difficult to avoid fallacious reasoning and logical fallacies if you are not even aware of what they are and the need to avoid them. This problem can be corrected through education. However, there is another more significant problem which can not be eliminated by education alone.

This problem occurs when one is simply not teachable.

Everyone has their opinions and believes that they have good reasons for the opinions they hold. Yet while some are open to considering differing points of view, there are others that simply are not. When someone is not open to changing their mind, it can often result in that individual not taking their opponent’s argument seriously.

After all, if someone has already made up his mind and will not consider changing it, he may not go to the trouble of offering good reasons for rejecting someone else’s position.  It is important to give good reasons for one’s beliefs and opinions. If a person won’t consider the possibility that he could be wrong, that person may not even be motivated to learn how to defend his own beliefs.  Being overly-confident in one’s position therefore could lead to logical fallacies.  On the other hand, someone who is open to changing their mind will be willing to look at what challenges them. 

Most people are not going to state bluntly that they won’t even consider the possibility that they could be mistaken, and more often, they will make statements that imply that they are not willing to change their minds. Consider the following two examples:

Example 1: 

Sara says, “I think that Tom has a good argument in favor of limited government as opposed to big government. We need to listen to and evaluate what Tom says.” 

Jack responds, “Look, Tom is a Republican. We are Democrats and have always been Democrats, as were our parents and grandparents. What could we possibly learn from the Republicans?”

In this example, it is apparent that Jack believes he has nothing to learn from Republicans. Jack’s statement is another way of saying that he is not open to considering the possibility that a Republican may believe something correct, and that he himself might believe something that is incorrect.  Thus, it should come as no surprise that his statement is a classical appeal to tradition fallacy—that is, saying something is true because many have always believed it to be true.

To see this how this works in religious circles, substitute Catholics for Republicans and Baptists for Democrats. In this case, Jack would be saying that Baptists have already got the correct beliefs and that those beliefs have passed the test of time to the point that Baptists have nothing at all to learn from Catholics. Not being willing to change one’s mind indeed can make one more likely to commit logical fallacies.

Example 2:

Mitch says, “I think there are good philosophical and scientific arguments in support of the theory that there are multiple universes. I know those who believe otherwise have their reasons, but I think the philosophical and scientific arguments in support of multiple universes are much more powerful.” 

Barbara says, “I don’t want to discuss this. I have heard all of these arguments before, and they have all been rebutted. I certainly am not very interested in hearing them again.”

The problem here is that Barbara mistakenly thinks that because the previous arguments in favor of multiple universes have been rebutted, she does not need to take give the theory any more consideration. Barbara seems to have closed her mind to new input. However, the fact remains that history has shown that many scientific theories initially were not accepted but later were embraced.

Take heliocentrism and continental drift as two examples. In the time of Plato, it was a given that geocentrism was true. Likewise, scientists at one point believed that the theory of continental drift was incredible. Nevertheless, both heliocentrism and continental drift were later proven true. So is it a mistake to refuse to look at and consider new scientific data because past arguments for a theory have been refuted. The same can be said for philosophical arguments.

Ultimately, being closed to new input is a mistake because if someone holds a belief that is, in fact, true, then their belief can always survive criticism and scrutiny. When someone is unwilling to subject their beliefs to scrutiny and to consider the possibility that they could be mistaken, it is difficult to have an open dialogue with them.

The bottom line here is that we must all be open to changing our minds.


Poisoning the Well Part 2

Now that we better understand the Poisoning the Well fallacy, let us consider how this fallacy can be committed in Christian dialogue:

Example 1: Teresa says, “In a moment, Job will be here to talk to us about the theological subject of free will and God’s sovereignty. Job has been a teacher for 20 years at Fairbanks College, which is a very small Christian school in the small town of Ely.”

Why did Teresa need to mention that the college Job works at is small and that the town the college is in is also a small town?  Why not just say that Job has taught for 20 years at Fairbanks College in the town of Ely?  Could it be that Teresa is trying to imply that Job does not have the credentials to competently discuss the subject of free will and God’s sovereignty? Even if this was not Teresa’s intention, her statements could still be taken to imply that Job is somehow not qualified to talk about the subject under discussion because he’s from a small town college. Therefore, Teresa is poisoning the well against Job.  For all we know Job may have graduated from Oxford and just because he teaches at a small college in a small town does not necessarily mean that he had not received a quality education and/or that he can not competently discuss the issue.

Example 2: Linda says, “Tomorrow, Gloria is going to come to our church and give the sermon. She will be speaking about what the Bible says concerning baptism and what history teaches us about how the ancient Jews practiced baptism. Do you all remember what we talked about last week? Gloria is from Mission church down in the city of Greenwood. Keep that in mind when you listen to what she has to say.”

This can be an example of poisoning the well; however, it does not have to be. If Linda was reminding the people that Gloria was from a trusted and credible church and was calling to remembrance what the people had learned about baptism last week, then Linda’s statements are not an example of poisoning the well.  In this case, she was just stating that Gloria’s speech will be a continuation of what they had previously heard. However, what if the people at Linda’s church strongly disagree with the doctrine of Mission church, which is possible if Mission church is affiliated with another denomination.  If that is the case, then Linda was preparing her congregation to be very skeptical when Gloria arrives.

Someone may rightly ask, “what is wrong with being skeptical when someone advances a position different than your own?” Absolutely nothing!  People should judge and evaluate what other people say and not accept it uncritically. However, the problem with what Linda said is not that she wanted her people to critically evaluate Gloria’s argument, though that may have been her intention. The problem is that her statements were worded in such a way that it could bias her congregation against Gloria’s sermon so they would then not fairly consider and judge her message.

Even if Mission Church teaches error, it is still a mistake bias a crowd of people before a speaker has a chance to present his/her argument. You must allow someone to completely and freely present their argument before judging it. Therefore, Linda was poisoning the well against Gloria. Biasing a group of people against someone does not refute what the individual is going to say because, since they have not presented their argument, who can know specifically what they are going to present.  So how can it be judged beforehand?

In conclusion, arguments should be fairly evaluated based on the evidence for or against them. Attempting to poison the well before someone speaks does not negate their arguments, it only results in people being less likely to fairly evaluate them.


Poisoning the Well Part 1

Poisoning the Well is a fallacy which occurs when someone presents unfavorable information about another in order to influence people not to believe or not to take seriously what the person is about to say.

The reason this is fallacious is because negative facts about an individual do not necessarily disprove any arguments that the individual makes. Whether the presented information is true or false, preemptively using it to cause an audience not to take a speaker’s argument seriously is very often fallacious.

Let us consider a few examples to better understand this fallacy:

Example 1: Jack says, “Before we welcome Michael onto the show to discuss the proposed Senate bill, let us take a moment and remember that this individual is a convicted felon and perjurer.”

Notice how Jack is using the fact that Michael is a convicted felon and perjurer to bias us against anything he would say. This is fallacious because any argument Michael makes needs to be evaluated based on the evidence for or against it. While it is not good that Michael committed the crimes he did, it should have no bearing on the argument he will be making.

In some cases, negative information does have bearing on a person’s credibility. However, that depends on the argument being made. If Michael was arguing that he is a trustworthy man who would never lie, the fact that he was a perjurer and felon would naturally make us think otherwise. On the other hand, if Michael was arguing for the earth being round, his crimes have no bearing on that argument. Presenting the negative information before the individual presents their argument is still unacceptable because it is a mistake to dismiss someone’s argument before they even have an opportunity to let you know what it is and to present it.

Example 2: Rose says, “In a moment, Todd is going to present his argument in favor of position X.  However, let us remember that all arguments for position X have been proven false.”

Rose’s statement implies that because all previous arguments in favor of position X have been defeated, no strong argument can be given for position X. This is a fallacious statement because even if it were true that all the arguments in support of position X have been proven false, that does not mean one is justified in automatically rejecting what Todd has to say. If Todd is going to present a new argument in favor of position X, his argument will have to be tested on the basis of the evidence for and against it. The fact that all previous arguments for position X have failed does not automatically negate Todd’s argument. This is easily seen if one imagines that Todd is living during the time of Plato and Aristotle and is arguing for the heliocentric model as opposed to the geocentric model. Just because all previous arguments for heliocentrism have been defeated does not mean Todd can not give a good argument in favor of it.

In conclusion, attempting to bias an audience against what a speaker is about to say is a logical fallacy. When someone is going to present an argument, it is important to allow them to make their argument before you judge it. 


Logical Fallacy: Circumstantial Ad Hominem Part 2

Now that we better understand the Circumstantial Ad Hominem, let us consider how this fallacy can be committed within a Christian setting:

Example 1:

Mitch says, “In my opinion, position X provides the best framework from which to accurately interpret the Bible. I believe this to be true because of the large amount of evidence that supports position X.”

Rebecca replies, “It is not surprising that you accept position X, because you are employed at a Bible college which requires its faculty to accept that position.  Therefore, because you are simply saying what you are required to say, I will look for an unbiased presentation of position X before I decide whether or not to accept it.”

Understanding Rebecca’s mistake:

See how Rebecca is not rejecting position X but is in fact, rejecting Mitch’s presentation of it due to her perception of Mitch’s motives. As already stated, just because someone is required to believe something in order to hold their position, that does not make their arguments invalid, nor does it excuse you from having to look at and consider their argument. It is true that in some cases, we are justified in seeking an unbiased source, as in the case of Michael Jordan being paid to endorse Wheaties.  However, it is still fallacious to completely dismiss what someone is saying because of bias on their part. Refusing to consider an argument even if you know the speaker is biased, can be faulty logic as well.

Let us now see what specifically was wrong with Rebecca’s statement:

Just because Mitch is required to hold to a particular world-view in order to keep his position, this does not necessarily mean that he is biased and therefore can’t be trusted to give a fair analysis of the evidence for and against position X.  After all, it is a stereotype to think that people who attend groups and colleges with doctrinal statement can not be trusted to fairly present both sides of an argument. This stereotype is false because people can be required to accept a belief and still be fair in their analysis of the evidence. They can also be willing to change if shown to be wrong.

Example 2: 

Kimberly says, “I believe that the leadership of the Catholic Church is making some mistakes in how they govern their churches. For example…”

Kate interrupts: “You would think and say that, for your denomination disagrees strongly with what the Catholic Church teaches.”

Understanding Kate’s mistake:

Kate’s reply assumes that Kimberly’s denomination is teaching its people to think and talk negatively about the Catholic Church. In Kate’s mind, this negates what Kimberly is saying. This is a logical mistake because even if Kimberly’s denomination is teaching its people to view the Catholic Church negatively, that does not rebut Kimberly’s statement. It could very well be that Kimberly’s statement about the Catholic Church is true. If this in fact is the case, then her negative view of the Catholic Church is irrelevant.

Notice also how Kate rudely interrupted Kimberly and dismissed her argument before giving her a chance to defend herself. This too is fallacious.

In conclusion, it is a mistake to dismiss an individual’s argument simply because of perceived bias on their part.  Don’t interrupt them.  Give them a chance to present what could be a good argument. While you may prefer to hear it from an unbiased source, even the fact that someone is biased does not automatically mean you have a good reason to reject what they have to say.


Logical Fallacy: Circumstantial Ad Hominem Part 1

The Circumstantial Ad Hominem fallacy occurs when someone rejects an argument simply because of a perceived bias on that person’s part.

This is a mistake in logic because even if the arguer is biased towards accepting or rejecting an argument, that does not necessarily invalidate the argument itself. While it is true that in some cases, bias can discredit someone, that does not mean the argument itself has been refuted.

To better understand this common mistake, lets consider a few examples:

              Example 1:

  •  John argues, “Michael Jordan appeared in a commercial endorsing Wheaties breakfast cereal. Since he is a famous athlete, it is safe to conclude that he is endorsing Wheaties because he was paid a large sum of money to endorse the product. Therefore, the product is worthless because famous people would not be recommending products unless they were being paid to do so.”

Understanding John’s mistake:

Michael Jordan may well have said what he did about Wheaties only because he was paid to say it;  however, that does not mean he doesn’t eat Wheaties and enjoy them every day for breakfast.  It simply means that people should not accept Michael Jordan’s endorsement uncritically.

It is safe to assume that product advertisements are not usually going to give you logical reasons to purchase the product. In most cases they will attempt to motivate your emotional desires, wants, and needs, often using appeals to authority to close the sale. However, that fact alone does not prove that their products are “good” or bad for that matter.

Therefore, John’s argument must be seen as fallacious.

Example 2:

  •  Todd says, “I don’t believe that the gods of any of the world’s religions exist.”
  • Mary responds, “You disbelieve in any deities because, as president of the University Atheists Association, you are required to say that. Therefore, I am not listening to anything you have to say on this subject.”

Understanding Mary’s mistake:

Even if Todd was required to be an atheist in order to be the president of the University Atheists Association (as opposed merely to being non-religious or agnostic), would that automatically make him unable to provide an unbiased and reliable defense of atheism? Not any more than being the president of a Jewish university means that all your arguments in support of Judaism are unreliable. Just because someone is required to believe something in order to hold their position does not make their arguments invalid.

Example 3:

  • Steve says, “I just finished interviewing Bob, and he seems to be the perfect man for the job. What do you think?”
  • Sarah responds, “I think hiring him would be a big mistake. He claims to be a very honest and hard-working man. However, did he tell you that he was fired from his last three jobs for being disrespectful to his bosses? I think you should find someone else because he deliberately neglected to be honest about his past experiences.”

Did Sarah commit a Circumstantial Ad Hominem? 

No, she did not. In this case, the situation does affect Bob’s arguments. Bob argued that he is an honest, hard-working man; however, the reality is that his bad attitude got him fired three times already. Therefore, unless new information can be given which shows a change in Bob’s character, Steve would be justified in not hiring him. Thus, arguing that the situation rebuts an individual’s statements is not always fallacious, but because it can be, you must always think before you speak and make sure that the situation truly does rebut someone’s argument.

Logical Fallacy: Ad Hominem Part 2

Now that we understand what the Ad Hominem fallacy is, let us consider how the Ad Hominem fallacy can appear in Christian discourse. Consider the following example:

Example 1:  Thomas says, “I am not sure I agree with that denomination’s theology. I favor the belief that the Bible teaches ‘X’.”  Barbara responds, “So you don’t accept the plain teaching of the Bible?! Well, I don’t need to listen to anything you have to say about the scriptures!”

It would be a mistake to think that Barbara’s response provides a valid reason to reject what Thomas said. All Barbara did was to use a blatant Ad Hominem insult. Even if Thomas was rejecting what seems to be the plainest interpretation of the Bible, Barbara’s attitude was dismissive and rude. In essence, Barbara was stating that because Thomas does not interpret all the Scriptures in the same way as she does, none of his beliefs need to be given serious consideration.

This is BIG mistake for the following reasons:

  • Barbara has not offered a defense of her belief that the Scriptures always need to be interpreted in the plainest way. Because many theologians disagree with such an opinion, Barbara must offer a defense of this belief, which she did not.
  • Even if Barbara could convincingly demonstrate that her method of interpreting the Bible is best, she was rude and insulting. It is always a mistake not to take your opponent’s views seriously simply because you do not agree with them.
  • Even if Thomas’ acceptance of doctrine X is mistaken, it hardly follows that Thomas is unreliable in whatever else he says about the Bible.

Unfortunately, Ad Hominems are often used as a substitute for presenting a good argument because the individual using them does not want to deal with something that challenges his beliefs or forces him to question his own world view.  An insult is all too often used to shut down conversation because it’s much more convenient than actually evaluating and presenting a logical argument. You see this all the time when people resort to name-calling in religious discourse, using offensive labels such as “Papists,” “Legalists,” “Compromisers,” “Holy Rollers,” “Bible-Thumpers” and so on.

In conclusion, using Ad Hominems as a substitute for providing a good argument for your position is unacceptable; furthermore, an insulting and dismissive attitude does not promote open discussion.

Remember, if you sincerely respect your opponent’s arguments, it is much more likely that they will, in turn, respect (and be open to) yours.  


Logical Fallacy: Ad Hominem Part 1

The Abusive Ad Hominem is a very common logical fallacy. In essence, it is committed when someone wrongly argues that a personal fault or failing rebuts what an individual is saying. In other words, you are directing your argument against the person’s character instead of against their actual position.

It is fallacious to argue that a personal fault of someone defeats their argument when that is not the case. In the event that the personal character of someone actually does invalidate their argument, you have not committed this fallacy. Consider the following examples:

Example 1: Person A asks, “What do you think about Mr. X’s beliefs regarding the economy?”  Person B replies, “Mr. X is a liberal, pro-choice idiot. I wouldn’t listen to anything he has to say.”

The problem with this is that Person B is obviously dismissing Mr. X’s position on the basis of his perception of Mr. X’s character.  However, Mr. X can say true things despite his support for abortion.  What if Mr. X said that “The President of the United States is Barack Obama.”  This is in fact a true statement; however, Person B’s argument is wrong because he assumed that a perceived character flaw in Mr. X makes him unreliable in everything he says.  As you can see, Person B has substituted an insult for a good argument. Likewise, he presented no argument against Mr. X’s beliefs. He did not even demonstrate that he understood what those beliefs were.

Example 2: Person A states, “I believe that all those who support position Y are racists. Therefore, position Y is wrong.”

There are multiple fallacies with this statement, but let’s focus only on the Ad Hominem aspect of it.  The problem with this example is threefold:

  • First, Person A has not explained why people who believe in position Y are racists. He has simply asserted it as fact.
  • Secondly, the assumption that a group’s moral deficiency invalidates everything they believe is a mistake. This is easily seen if you make position Y the belief that the earth is round.
  • Thirdly, Person A gave no argument against position Y whatsoever. Rather, he used an insult to dismiss position Y, thereby delivering him from having to give an argument against the position.

Let us now consider an example that is not an Ad Hominem fallacy:

Example 3: Person A states, “Mr. X stated that he is a very honest man who can be trusted with the job. This is an outright lie. Mr. X is a habitual liar. He even spent five months in jail for perjury. Therefore, it would be a mistake to trust him with the job.”

If Person A is telling the truth about Mr. X’s character and actions, then it certainly would be a mistake to trust him. When the moral deficiency does rebut an individual’s claim or argument, the Ad Hominem fallacy has not been committed.

A moral deficiency or character flaw (real or perceived) in someone or some group does not necessarily make everything that they say or do false.  Usually these sorts of Ad Hominems are used to win arguments without having to provide a good basis for one’s position. Unfortunately, they are often very successful, partially due to the fact that many people are not schooled in logic and critical thinking and are easily led astray by bad arguments.

If your position is indeed correct, it can (and should) withstand the most intense scrutiny and testing. Therefore, let it be tested—tested with good arguments as opposed to bad ones.

One final thought…

Insulting someone, rather than discussing the issues, is often an easier way to win an argument. However, once you know what to look for, it becomes very easy to spot Ad Hominem arguments. When you do notice them, recognize them for what they are, and politely point out that you have not been given a good reason for rejecting someone’s position.

Introduction to this blog…

This is my brand new blog I’m calling Logical Theology.  I love to study theology, philosophy, history and science and I hope to have the opportunity to share my love of these matters and to discuss them with other readers.

I will be beginning with a very lengthy topic which I especially enjoy – logic and critical thinking. I have come to understand that this is vitally important, especially in the fields of theology and philosophy.   I have also noticed in recent years that many people are not equipped to use logic and critical thinking in their everyday lives.  Even worse, many well-meaning Christians do not know how to engage in meaningful dialogue with others and have great difficulty in . presenting well-constructed  and compelling arguments for their positions.

Though there are multiple places and topics where I could begin, I have decided to concentrate specifically on identifying and eliminating logical fallacies and faulty logic from our conversations and arguments.

I will be offering a description of common fallacies and giving  examples from everyday life.  This will hopefully allow us to better spot these errors in logic and remove them from our conversations.

I believe that a good way to learn about these fallacies and how to avoid them is to practice identifying them in our own conversations and day-to-day lives. In light of that, since I am a Christian, I will also be highlighting specific examples of how these fallacies can often appear within Christianity, Christian discourse, and Christian belief.

Avoiding common fallacies is so very important because it demonstrates that you are taking “your opponent’s” argument seriously.  Taking another’s point of view seriously (especially when they are disagreeing with you) is respectful and above all, is showing them love.

Since there are so many fallacies and logical mistakes, going through them all will take us some time; however, it will be time well spent.  Once we have covered the basics, we can move on and discuss the various skills which we can use to engage in meaningful dialogue with other people.  Our goal is to be able to competently present our viewpoints to others, so that people are more likely to receive what we are saying to them.

As we move forward, I absolutely welcome your comments and feedback.

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