Why is revealing a bad argument so thrilling? Maybe it’s just my high school debate excitement catching up to me. I think part of it is the human craving to be right and point it out to people. I suspect many people jump into comment section debates in the hopes of having that thrill. Traditionally, a sound, logical argument involves a claim and support for that claim. I might be claiming that smoking is bad for you and back it up with decades of statistics and research. Alternatively, I might be trying to convince you that Jesus existed and support it with manuscripts of eyewitness testimony. A logical fallacy is when you make a claim, but the support for it is broken. Even if your claim is true, the steps you took to get there make no sense. We’re going to look through 3 logical fallacies Christians should know because they regularly show up in conversations about Christianity.
Fallacy #1. Ad Hominem
If there’s one fallacy that everyone should know right now, it’s Ad Hominem. In English, it better means to “Attack the Man.” An Ad Hominem is when you respond to someone else’s claim but completely ignore the claim in favor of attacking the person making it. Suppose I was trying to argue that Toyota cars are better than Hondas. In that case, I might support that claim with sales numbers, safety statistics, opinion polls, or some measurable scale. An Ad Hominem argument would be if I instead said that Toyota is better because all people who buy Hondas are racist lying idiots. Even if that absurd claim was true, it tells you nothing about the car. You’ve just resorted to name-calling on the people who buy them. This kind of name-calling is perhaps the lowest form of argument, despite being perhaps the most common.
Have you ever been called something simply because you’re a Christian? Intolerant, hypocrite, judgmental, ignorant, childish, take your pick. Even if everything they say about me is true, it says absolutely nothing about the truth of Christianity. My character has no impact on whether or not God exists, Jesus rose from the dead, or if the Bible is reliable.
Of course, Christians can be just as guilty as anyone else with this one. Don’t return their name-calling with your own, and certainly don’t start the fight.
Fallacy #2 The Genetic Fallacy
This one is similar to an Ad Hominem, but with a different focus. Instead of attacking the person’s character, it attacks the origins of the person or the argument. Rather than refuting your claim, they point out where it came from and dismiss it. This comes up all the time in political conversations, such as rejecting something because of which news source said it.
Skeptics like to push back and say that we’re only Christians because we were born in America or to Christian parents. Even if that is true, it says nothing about whether Christianity is true. Don’t let people dismiss your beliefs or the evidence to back them up because of your origins.
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” To the Christian, that makes sense. After all, we believe that the Bible is God’s word, his word is perfect, and that should be enough to support your claim. To the non-believer, this sounds like a genetic fallacy. Something is true not because of evidence or support, but because your book says so? I understand the sentiment behind the phrase, but I would be cautious with it.
Fallacy #3 The Strawman
A strawman argument is when you take someone’s belief or argument and misrepresent it before responding. You build up this fake version of what they believe, attack that, and claim your victory. Because it is only a fake straw version of their argument, it is much easier to take down. The problem is, this is not what they actually believe. By tearing it down, all you’ve really done is waste everyone’s time.
Sometimes this happens accidentally because of an honest misunderstanding. Sometimes though, especially in public debates, it is used to convince the audience you won. A good argument will accurately represent the other person’s view rather than distort it for a cheap shot.
Take the famous argument by the late Christopher Hitchens. He would always pose the challenge for Christians to name one moral act that they can do that he can’t as an atheist. His goal was to refute the claim that we need God to be moral. However, this is not the claim that his opponents made. The moral argument for God states that objective morality is only possible if God exists. Because objective morality exists, God must exist. The claim is not that people who do not believe in God can do moral actions. Hitchens made a rhetorically powerful claim that was ultimately little more than a strawman.
There are countless other ways we can run into this fallacy. The nature of Hell, the trinity, old-Earth creationism, take your pick of touchy or complex subjects.
Of course, we are guilty of this very often as well. One popular one is when Christians argue against evolution by pointing out how monkeys still exist. If humans really evolved from primates, why are there still so many primates? This misunderstands the evolutionary view: humans and apes evolved from a common ancestor, so both would still exist.
There are many more, but these are 3 logical fallacies Christians should know. The point of learning logical fallacies is not showmanship. We want to communicate the gospel in the most effective way possible. If bad arguments are used against us, we must defend ourselves with the truth.
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