In discussions about any number of topics, people often resort to using logical fallacies in an attempt to prove their point. These fallacies appear logical on the surface, but are actually based on poor logic. As a result, the arguments often collapse under the questioning of someone aware of logical fallacies.
Teens and even older children may be exposed to logical fallacies used by people trying to undermine God as well as Christians trying to convince teens to obey God. It is not necessary for Christians to use logical fallacies as God is Truth. Teaching teens about logical fallacies can help them avoid false teaching, attempts to convince them to deny God and other things that could weaken or destroy their faith.
It is crucial that your ministry volunteers and especially your teachers work to avoid using logical fallacies in their teaching of the Bible to teens. Often a little research or re-wording a few sentences can remove the most common logical fallacies used by Christians and actually make your Bible lesson stronger as a result.
Below are some of the more commonly used logical fallacies. There are many more you can access online if you wish to explore this topic in more depth.
- Fact, Inference or Opinion. While technically not a logical fallacy, it can confuse teens in a similar fashion. Authors and speakers may state or imply something as if it were a fact, when it is actually their opinion. Follow up questions can often expose a fact or inference as an opinion. Inferences and opinions can be correct, but it is important to understand whether or not there are actual facts that support or undermine them.
- Existence on the internet equates to verifiable truth. While this also falls under other logical fallacies, it is an important dynamic for many young people. They often get much of their information online. They have come to believe if a statement or source is listed on a search engine it is a reliable source of truth. In reality, anything found online must go through the same filters for truth as information obtained from other sources.
- Correlation equals causation. This is the assumption that because two things are often found in correlation to one another that one causes the other. This may or may not actually be true and requires further scrutiny to assess causation. Example: Christianity causes mental illnesses. The logical fallacy would assume there is something about Christianity that causes mental illness because a large number of Christians have a self reported mental illness. There could be any number of reasons for the cause of mental illnesses found among Christians.
- False dilemma. This assumes that the extremes of an issue are the only options. It is often used to portray Christianity as extremist. Example: The Bible says lying is sinful. The false dilemma would assume that therefore Christians believe everyone who tells a lie is going to Hell. This is ignoring the possibility of repentance, forgiveness and other Christian beliefs.
- Argument from authority. This fallacy quotes an “expert” who may or may not actually know the truth. This could be anything from a secular scientist, to a famous preacher and even taking Bible scriptures out of context. There is also a possibility that what the “expert” said surrounding the quote actually helped to clarify that the speaker believed the exact opposite of the quote.
- Red herring. This logical fallacy is usually used by someone in the course of an argument, often when they appear to be losing. It is a statement thrown out to distract the opponent and change the topic of the argument.
- Loaded question. This logical fallacy makes use of a question in which any answer will make the person giving the answer look foolish. It is often asked not because the person actually wants an answer to their question, but because they want their opponent to appear in a negative light. For example, if someone asked, “Where exactly is Heaven?”, any answer would be problematic. Attempting to give an exact location would cause scorn, because there is no way to prove you are correct. Likewise, responding “I don’t know” makes it appear there is not a Heaven because you cannot identify its location.
- Possibility fallacy. This fallacy argues that because something could possibly happen, it will probably happen. This can be used for example to make people feel threatened by God in some way. God struck Annanias dead for lying, therefore he will probably strike Bob dead if he is lying, too. God may or may not give everyone the same earthly consequences for disobedience.
- Ad hominem. In this logical fallacy, a person discounts what is said based on the person rather than analyzing what was actually said. This often takes the form of disparaging the person. Example: “Well of course the Apostles confirmed the resurrection. They had an ulterior motive.”
- Bandwagon. This assumes that if the majority of people believe something to be true, then it must indeed be true. The truth may actually rest with the minority.
- Either-Or. In this fallacy, a person presents two unacceptable options as if they are the only possible options. In reality, there may be numerous possible options that are better for one or both parties.
- Argument from ignorance. This fallacy is used by someone in a discussion when they begin throwing out ideas and “facts” with no actual knowledge of whether those things have been tested or are true.
- Circular Logic. This is when someone continually repeats their original belief as the support for its validity. Example. “That is just wrong.” “Why?” “Because it is just wrong to do that.”
- Dogmatism. This person will not listen to any views except their own. Nothing the other person says or does will ever change their mind on the topic.
- Emotional Appeals. This often occurs when someone trusts their emotions more than any evidence. It can also be used in an attempt to scare the other person into agreeing with them. Example: “God says it is a sin to lie.” “It just does not feel right for God to get upset because someone lied to spare another person’s feelings. Surely, God is okay with those lies.”
- Fallacy of exclusion. Often this is used by someone who can think of one or two specific examples of the supposed truth of their argument. Those examples, however, may be the exception instead of the rule. Example: “All Christians are hypocrites. I knew this Christian one time, who was a preacher and I caught him lying.”
- Faulty analogy. This is an attempt to relate two things that may actually have nothing in common. Example: Christianity is the opiate of the masses.
- Non sequitur. This is when the conclusion does not follow the premise. Example: If God were good, he would not let bad things happen.
- Slippery slope. This logical fallacy is itself a slippery slope. Sometimes starting down a road does quickly lead to more intense consequences. The fallacy is in assuming every choice will lead to rapid, desperate consequences. Example: If we don’t have Sunday School on New Year’s Day, the next thing you know, we will never have Sunday School.
- Lack of evidence. This is when someone claims you cannot be correct in your position, because there is no definitive, irrefutable proof or evidence. This is often used in religion in disagreements that align with, “You can not prove God exists.” and “You can not prove God does not exist.” In reality, neither side will be able to produce irrefutable evidence until Christ returns.
- Straw man. In this fallacy, one person makes a statement so extreme, no one would agree with it in hopes of destroying the other person’s argument. Example: Two people are discussing Christianity. One person says, “Hitler was a Christian.” As if the fact that Hitler may have been a Christian, therefore undermines Christianity itself.
- Repetition. While technically not a logical fallacy, repetition is a common tactic in propaganda. The theory is that if you repeat your message often enough and loudly enough, many people will begin to believe it is true – regardless of the statement’s actual validity.
- Glittering generality. This is when people use a broadly defined word such as “love” without defining it in an attempt to win an argument. Example: Two people are discussing something God has called a sin in the Bible and whether or not they should speak to a fellow Christian regarding that sin.. “But God wants us to love our neighbors.” While that is indeed true, “love” in this person’s argument is used very generally. Love in this case may actually be encouraging the person to repent of their sin, not ignoring the sin.
- Transfer. This is another technique often used in propaganda. It is portraying someone or something in a particular way in hopes that image will transfer its meaning upon the person or philosophy. It is often employed when portraying Christians in movies and books with actors and characters who appear judgmental, backward and unattractive. The hope is that those introduced to the image will transfer the negative image to all of Christianity and not just that specific example.
- Snob appeal. This is an attempt to convince an opponent that everyone that person admires agrees with the speaker’s position. It is often most effective with people who are already in an elite circle or are in hopes of becoming part of one in the future. It is a form of peer pressure that focuses on attaining or maintaining a highly desired social status in their culture.