In Why Christian Kids and Teens Must Learn About Logical Fallacies, I shared how learning about logical fallacies can help protect your kids from false teachers and teachings in the Church. You may have tried to find more information about logical fallacies only to read pages full of Latin terms and pretentious explanations. It probably feels like you are missing a piece to your child’s faith puzzle.
I’m no expert on the subject, but below I have given the most common logical fallacies easier names to remember and hopefully definitions a bit easier to understand. I have also given examples of the types of ways they may be used in the context of Christianity. (Any resemblance to any actual teaching is purely accidental.)
- Scare Tactics. This one is really tricky, because there are very negative consequences for disobeying or rejecting God including an eternity spent in Hell. Which is why, it is a favorite used by many false teachers. If your kids hear a teacher say, “If you do xyz, God will send you straight to Hell (or send an earthquake, etc.).”, they need to do some searching of the scripture. Did God really condemn this behavior? Does the definition of the behavior the person is teaching against really match God’s description? (It is common to hear words like “divisive”, “unity” and “judging”, for example, given vastly different meanings than those actually given in the context of the entire scriptures.)
- Assumption based on larger group. This fallacy is very common today. It usually begins with “Bob (or implied Bobs in your congregation who disagree with the speaker) is in XYZ generation so he is obviously wrong. (Implied because they are old/young and not like you and the speaker who are “smarter”.) Sometimes known as “guilt by association”, in the religious context, it more often presents itself as you can’t believe what someone else says about what the Bible teaches, because the group they are a part of is untrustworthy for some reason. This often appeals to perceived differences in people who should be viewing themselves as the same in Christ (Galatians 3:28 and more).
- Just because something has some potentially good side effects does not mean it is truth. In other words, someone may try to convince your kids they should do something because it has some positive side effects and therefore must be a good thing. Often with young people, this type of argument is used to convince them to try drugs, alcohol or premarital sex. (“God would want me to be happy”) It can also be used to introduce things into the Church that are unwise (1 Corinthians 10:23) at best. A silly example would be something like, “Worship should be conducted by clowns. People are happy around clowns, so it would be great!” The reverse is also true. Just because doing something may have some negative effects doesn’t mean it is untrue. Confessing our sins can have many negative consequences that result from our sin, but it is necessary in order to receive God’s forgiveness – therefore a very good truth in the end.
- The person who disagrees with me isn’t perfect. This is extremely common in today’s world. Instead of explaining why their interpretation of the Bible is more accurate than the other interpretation, they attack the person who disagrees with them. This is a more direct approach than assumptions based on a larger group. This could potentially happen when your child is disagreeing with a teacher about something in the Bible. For example your child might say, “But doesn’t XYZ scripture say just the opposite of what you just said God wants?” Instead of answering your child’s question by pointing out other scriptures that may give a more complete picture, the teacher replies with something like “You are just too young too understand” or “You are being disrespectful!”. Even if the teacher is right about the student, it doesn’t mean what they originally said was correct unless they can give scriptures to back up their statement.
- There are only two choices. This often comes across as “my way or the highway”. The person fails to admit there may be other choices. While there are many things in scripture that are definitely right or wrong, there may be more than one way to serve others (for example) that are equally acceptable to God. Sometimes this tactic is used to distract from a third choice that is more difficult, but often more effective than either of the two choices presented. A silly example would be, “We need to help joyful people use their gifts for God, so we should allow clowns to preach or have it your way and clowns don’t preach – which means joyful people can’t use their gifts in the Church.” Actually, the “best” answer may actually be finding ways to help everyone in the congregation address heart issues that are keeping them from treating joyful people with the same love and respect with which they are treating non-joyful people. While the worship service idea may seem helpful on the surface, it is ignoring the root of the problem – the hearts of people treating joyful people as “less than”. It is also ignoring there are potentially many ways for joyful people to serve God – not just preaching.
- Your example doesn’t count. This one is tricky. Many people do have a tendency to find one verse in the Bible that more or less agrees with their point. It may be taken out of context though or fit into a much larger picture where the conclusion is actually the opposite. On the other hand, sometimes truth is rejected because there is “only that one passage”. Often this is paired with a comment about how if you read it in five other versions or different languages, then it means the opposite of what it clearly says. Or they will discount that book of the Bible for some reason – either it was just written for “those people” (discounting the fact that the books of the New Testament were letters circulated and taught as truth in all of the congregations starting during the life of the Apostles) or that the author of that book of the Bible was somehow not inspired by God in what he wrote (which undermines the entire Bible).
- An expert said I am right. This one is also very common in Christian circles. It is often used when a preacher, a “famous” Christian, a theologian or for that matter grandma has an interpretation of scripture that agrees with the speaker, but just doesn’t seem to fit with what is in the Bible. It’s the commonly heard “So and so said this passage means this, so I must be correct.” The Bible ends with an admonition not to add or subtract from it – implying the only “perfect” interpretation of scripture is the Bible itself. Everyone else is merely human and is just as likely to be right or wrong as any other person – no matter how many degrees they may have or the title they may hold. Make sure your kids understand the Bible itself is the ultimate authority. If anyone disagrees with what is clearly written in the Bible – the Bible always “wins”.
- My opponent is their friend. The underlying assumption is that the person disagreeing with them is taking the side of a larger group that also disagrees with the speaker only because of some previous association. In other words, let’s assume a Christian University has said a certain doctrine is unbiblical based on their study. The speaker thinks the doctrine is great. A member addresses the doctrine by saying they have studied the scriptures and have come to the conclusion that the Christian University was correct in saying the Bible does not agree with this doctrine. The speaker promoting this new doctrine responds by saying something like “Of course Brother Bob feels that way. His daughter goes to school there.” It’s implying the person in disagreement is only disagreeing because of a type of peer pressure, not because of their personal understanding of scripture.
It’s a lot to understand and communicate to your kids. An understanding of logical fallacies needs to be combined with strong Bible knowledge though, if your kids are to avoid being fooled by false teachings. It’s worth taking the time and effort to help them master it.