33 Logical Fallacies Everyone Should Know

Logic is a proper way of thinking. Norman Geisler writes that “Logic deals with the methods of valid thinking” (Geisler 1999, 427). Logical fallacies, then, are errors in the way one thinks or presents an argument. Logic and logical fallacies are important for everyone to know, but it is especially important for Christians to know since they are called to promote truth. Paul writes that the Christian should be in the practice of “laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another” (Ephesians 4:25, NASB). So, the Christian should know how to speak the truth and to avoid any fallacy of thinking. Unfortunately, many sites devoted to logic promote an atheist agenda. One might think that the atheist has a stranglehold on logic, but nothing further could be the case. Therefore, this article will provide 33 logical fallacies that every Christian, in fact every person, should know.

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Ad Hominem:  This fallacy means literally “against the man.” This is a classic debate tactic. Instead of attacking an argument’s validity, the debater will instead attack one’s opponent. For example: some atheists have attacked the character of William Lane Craig instead of dealing with Craig’s cosmological arguments. This is an ad hominem fallacy.

Ambiguity:       The fallacy of ambiguity is used when the debater uses vague language that could be taken in a variety of ways. This is also known as someone speaking “out of both sides of one’s mouth.” Politicians are normally the worst culprits of this fallacy. When posed with a particular problem, the politician may claim that he or she may not have known about the issue when it is clear that the politician did. Or, it could be demonstrated by a politician presenting a bill without directly expressing the contents of the bill.

Anecdotal:       The anecdotal fallacy is found when one uses one’s experience instead of a sound argument when making a case. For instance, one could argue that one person benefited from taking a particular medicine; therefore everyone should take that medicine. It could be that not everyone would benefit from that kind of medicine due to the differences in each person’s body. It is for this reason that the Christian should not only rely upon their experience with Christ when making a case for Christianity, but provide the evidence for Christianity in addition to providing one with their experience. If one relies only on their experience, one could be found guilty of committing the anecdotal fallacy.

Appeal to Authority:    This fallacy is often used in the atheist community, but is often used in the theist community, as well. The appeal to authority fallacy is committed when one uses the beliefs of one in authority (scientist, archaeologist, theologian, philosopher, etc.) instead of dealing with the argument itself. It may be that the authority in question is correct. However, just because one is in authority does not make the authority figure correct. Consider the fact that at one time; most scientists and theologians believed that the world was flat. Thus, an appeal to authority would have been flawed in those days.

Appeal to Consequences:        In this fallacy, one uses consequences without providing any real evidence that a consequence would follow the antecedent. Mothers forgive me. But this is normally used by mothers when they tell their children that if they do not eat their Brussel sprouts they will not grow up big and strong. It may be that the children will grow up big and strong without eating Brussel sprouts. The mother has not provided a clear link between the consumption of Brussel sprouts and growing up big and strong. (Note to children: I would not use this against your mothers or you may find yourself the victim of the appeal to force.)

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Appeal to Emotion:     This fallacy is found in the classic “guilt trip.” In this fallacy, the debater will manipulate an emotional response from the listener without providing any clear evidence for the debater’s claim. For instance, atheists will appeal to the atrocities performed by Christians as an argument against the resurrection of Christ. It could be that Christ has risen and that Christians have performed atrocious acts, but the atrocities do not deny the validity of Christ’s resurrection. Grandparents are good at the “appeal to emotion.” For instance, a grandmother may claim, “You never come see me. You must not love me anymore.” In fact, it could be that the grandchild loves the grandparent very much, but is not able to see the grandparent as they wish they could. Nonetheless, this is an appeal to emotion.

Appeal to Force:         The appeal to force is also known by its Latin name argumentum ad baculum. This fallacy is found when a person, or institution, forces their beliefs upon another by issuing threats. The person or institution has not proven its case but forces others to believe by force. For instance: in certain regimes of the past, if one did not become an atheist and adhere to the government’s new system of control, the person could lose his/her occupation, could be ostracized, or could be executed.

Appeal to Nature:        This fallacy claims that just because something is “natural” it must be good. For instance, some will argue that men are drawn to have multiple relationships with other many other women, so infidelity must be okay. One can find the falsehood in such a claim. Just because something comes “natural” does not make it right. Unfortunately, this fallacy is made by many trying to cover up their misdeeds.

Appeal to Novelty:       This fallacy assumes that just because something is new that the thing, or idea, must be better. For instance, many believed that Windows Vista was going to be better than Windows XP because it was newer. It was later found that Windows XP was far better since Vista had many programming flaws. Therefore, just because something is new does not make it better unless it is demonstrated to be better.

Appeal to Poverty:      This fallacy occurs when one assumes that just because a view is held by the poor that it must be true. This is the opposite of the appeal to wealth fallacy. It may be that most poor people believe that the government is oppressing them. The view may or may not be true. However, such a view cannot be accepted on the merits that the poor hold it without any other evidence.

Appeal to Tradition:    This fallacy is the opposite of the appeal to novelty fallacy. In this fallacy, one holds that just because a viewpoint is old that it must be true. For instance, some Calvinists will hold that their view is true because it correlates with the view held by Augustine. It could be that the view is true. However, one cannot claim the accuracy of the view by its antiquity alone.

Appeal to Wealth:        This fallacy is opposite of the appeal to poverty fallacy. In this fallacy, one holds a view as true because its adherents are wealthy. For instance, one might claim that Al Gore is correct about global warming because Gore is wealthy. The merits of global warming have nothing to do with the wealth of one of its advocates: Al Gore.

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Bandwagon Fallacy:   This fallacy is based upon an appeal to popularity. One claims that something is good based only on the fact that everyone else thinks that it is good. For instance a young lady may ask her parents if she can have her tongue pierced because all of her friends are piercing their tongues. The problem is that a view can be popular and be incorrect. Therefore, the bandwagon fallacy should be avoided.

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Begging the Question/Circular Reasoning:    Circular reasoning is performed when the conclusion is presented in the argument. For instance, a Christian may be asked, “How do you know that the Bible is true?” The Christian responds, “I know the Bible is true because the Bible says that it is true.” This is providing absolutely no evidence whatsoever. Such a form of defense should be wholeheartedly rejected.

Black or White:           This fallacy is committed when only two options are presented when more options may be available. For instance, some claim that one can only have faith or reason. However, it can be that one can hold faith and reason.

Burden of Proof:         This fallacy is committed when one assumes that they do not have to provide evidence for their claim and that the burden is upon the one trying to prove them wrong. For example, the atheist may desire to have 100% certainty that God exists in order to believe. Therefore, the atheist will declare that the Christian must provide this level of evidence or the Christian’s view is wrong, or vice versa. Therefore, it could be said that a person that desires more evidence than is necessary to believe/disbelieve.

Composition/Division:            The composition fallacy assumes that what is true of a part is true of the whole. The division fallacy assumes that what is true of the whole is true of the parts. Someone might claim that since North Carolina has islands offshore and is one of the states of the United States of America, that all states in the United States of America must have islands offshore. This is impossible since many states are not aligned along an ocean. Therefore, this is the composition fallacy. Someone could also claim that since the United States is one nation, all the states of the nation must experience the same weather. This would be considered the division fallacy.

False Cause:               This fallacy occurs when someone finds a correlation and assumes a cause. For instance, one may view a chart to find that the crime rate in a particular community is rising while the immigration rate in the community is also rising. One may assume that the immigration rise was causing the rise in crime. There may be other causes afoot than just the rise in immigration.

Gambler’s Fallacy:     This fallacy has ties to Las Vegas. This fallacy occurs when one attributes a run of events to independent events. For instance, a gambler may claim to have a “run” on the roulette wheel. In fact, there is no run but a series of independent events. For instance, assuming that since 9 red cards have been consistently taken from a card deck that a black card will be drawn next is committing the gambler’s fallacy.

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Genetic Fallacy:          This fallacy is committed when one’s argument is considered good or bad only based upon the advocate’s ancestry. For instance, a theologian from Nigeria may not have his arguments taken seriously because he is dark-skinned and comes from a third world nation. The guilty party would have committed the genetic fallacy. Or, a Christian scientist may not have her experiment considered because she is a Christian. This is also a genetic fallacy.

Loaded Question:        This fallacy is committed when one asks a question with a presumption built into it. This is performed in order to side-track the particular person in question. For instance, one may ask a Christian apologist, “Since a belief in God is primitive and superstitious, wouldn’t that make your arguments primitive and superstitious?” Or if one were to ask another, “Do you need help with your drug problem” when there is no evidence of a drug problem; this would be an example of a loaded question.

Middle Ground Fallacy:         This fallacy assumes that a “middle ground” between two extremes is always true. Or, this fallacy can be conducted when assuming that a middle ground exists when it does not. For instance, some may try to find a middle ground in the debate on the existence of God. However, there are only two options: God exists or God does not exist. No middle ground can exist in such a case.

Moralistic Fallacy:      This fallacy is the opposite of the appeal to nature fallacy. In this fallacy, one assumes that because something should be a certain way, something is that way. For instance, one may claim that all parents will take care of their children because all parents should take care of their children. Unfortunately, not all parents do take care of their children.

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No True Scotsman:     This fallacy is somewhat difficult to describe. To simplify, this fallacy avoids criticism by changing the dynamic of the argument so present the case unfalsifiable. The tenets are changed to avoid scrutiny. On http://yourlogicalfallacyis.com, a good example of this is presented, “Angus declares that Scotsmen do not put sugar on their porridge, to which Lachlan points out that he is a Scotsman and puts sugar on his porridge. Furious, like a true Scot, Angus yells that no true Scotsman sugars his porridge” (https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/no-true-scotsman).

Personal Incredulity:   This fallacy is committed when one passes off difficult concepts as inherently false because one does not understand the concept. For instance, Jimmy does not think that Thomism is a valid theological system because he does not understand the writings of Thomas Aquinas. Or, Betty does not believe in the distance of light-years because she cannot understand how light can travel at 186,000 miles per second. Therefore, a light-year must not exist.

Post Hoc Fallacy:       This fallacy is committed when one assumes that things happen after an unrelated experience. For instance, athletes participate in certain rituals before they take the field. They believe these rituals will help them perform in the game. In reality, there is no correlation. Note: some sites have claimed that the efficacy of prayer is a post hoc fallacy. However, this claim is committing several fallacies including the anecdotal and black-or-white fallacy. The author who claims that prayer is superstitious is abiding by their own preconceived notions that God does not exist. If God does exist, then it is entirely logical to expect an answer to one’s prayer. It is just as logical as expecting a person on the other end of the telephone line to respond to one’s question. Beware of sites that promote a genetic fallacy in designating that people of faith are automatically wrong because they believe in the power of God.

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Red Herring:   The red herring fallacy came from fox hunters who sent out their dogs to chase foxes only to find that their dogs were distracted by red herrings (perhaps purposely placed by opposing hunters) which led them off the trail of the fox. This is a tactic used to get a person off their point. For instance: a Christian apologist is addressing the evidence for God’s existence. Someone then asks, “What about the crusades? Don’t the evil acts performed by the Crusaders in the name of God negate God’s existence?” Obviously, the Crusades have nothing to do with the plausibility of God’s existence.

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Slippery Slope:            This fallacy assumes that just because a person does one thing that the person will eventually do something else. For instance, some would claim that if one listens to rock music then one will become a delinquent. Or others assume if one reads any other translation other than the King James Version, one will become a flaming liberal. Obviously, the consequents do not proceed from the antecedents with the slippery slope fallacy.

Special Pleading:        This fallacy is similar to the No True Scotsman fallacy. In this fallacy, one refuses to accept that one is wrong by inventing ways in which to hold to old notions. For instance, it has been demonstrated that the Alexandrian codex is a better than the Byzantium codex for use in translating the Bible. However, for those who desire to hold to the Byzantium texts, one will claim that the Alexandrian texts were modified by cults when there is no evidence to back up such a claim. If science demonstrates something to be true, one will claim that science is faulty. These are cases of special pleading.

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Strawman:       Strawman fallacies are among one of the more popular fallacies that are employed. This fallacy misrepresents someone’s argument to make the argument easier to attack. Unfortuately, this happens far more than this writer would like to imagine. For instance, Bill might claim that Sally is a tree-hugger because she believes in global warming. Or, Brent makes Hugh out to be a Darwinist because Hugh believes in an old-earth interpretation of Genesis. These are examples of the strawman fallacy.

The Fallacy Fallacy:   This fallacy accuses a claim to be false because it is poorly argued or another fallacy has been committed. In other words, the claim is not evaluated on its own merits but by the way it was presented. Since Susan presented a poor presentation on the nutritional value of blueberries, Barbara believes that blueberries should never be eaten. Barbara has committed the fallacy fallacy.

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The Texas Sharpshooter:        This fallacy gets its name from a sharpshooter who shoots holes in a barn and then paints a bullseye around the majority of bullet holes (Richardson 2012, http://yourlogicalfallacyis.com). The person committing this fallacy will choose data that only suits his argument or presumption. For instance, a drug company may only choose positive data that supports a drug that they are promoting without considering the negative data. Or, Zane, a statistician, evaluates the educational systems of various states. He only chooses the best schools to evaluate in his state, while choosing the worst schools in other states, in order to demonstrate that his state’s educational system is better than any other system. Zane has committed the Texas Sharpshooter fallacy.

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Tu Quoque:     Pronounced (too-kwoo-kee), this person committing this fallacy turns criticism back upon the critic instead of dealing with the criticism itself. It’s also called “passing the buck.” For instance, Christine’s theory is challenged by Cassandra because of a mathematical error. Christine retorted, “Oh yeah, well your last theory had two mathematical errors in it and you didn’t hear me say anything about it.” In this case, Christine was guilty of the tu quoque fallacy because she did not deal with the criticism but instead dealt with the criticism by offering criticism.

Conclusion

One may find that they have engaged in these fallacies more than on one occasion. While these logical fallacies are certainly not the unpardonable sin, they should be avoided by the one promoting truth. The Christian’s faith is built upon fact and reality. The Christian has nothing to hide. Therefore, these fallacies should be avoided as much as possible. Remember the words of Paul, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:15, NIV).

 

Bibliography

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999.

Richardson, Jesse. (2012). http://yourlogicalfallacyis.com. Accessed July 28, 2014.

Scripture marked (NASB) comes from the New American Standard Bible. La Habra: Lockman, 1995.

Scripture marked (NIV) comes from the New International Version. Grand Rapids: Biblica, 2011.

Some information taken from www.logicalfallacies.info. Accessed July 28, 2014.

© Pastor Brian Chilton. 2014.