3 More Logical Fallacies to Avoid (and How to Tell When Someone Else is Committing Them)

red herring[This post continues the series on Logic and Apologetics begun in previous posts]

Logical fallacies are flaws in reasoning that superficially seem to be sound, but upon examination are found to be false. The power of logical fallacies is that even after they have been shown to be flawed, they still retain their power to convince because they are often emotionally satisfying.

  1. Red Herring—an argument that seems to support a person’s position, but in reality, has nothing to do with the question at hand. The name of this fallacy is derived from the practice of dragging a bag of red herring across a scent trail, so dogs would be distracted and lose the scent. When the question at hand is ignored and a related idea is argued instead, a red herring has been committed. This is a difficult fallacy to spot. We must always fight mental confusion and drift to maintain clarity on what the real issue is.

How Christians do this:

“It doesn’t matter that there are so many religions in the world. Christianity is still the truth. You don’t have to eat all the different kinds of cereals at the grocery store to have a favorite.”

“If the Bible is not true, then you must be saying that my grandparents were wasting their time when they read a Bible verse each day of their lives.”

How unbelievers do this:

“How can Christianity be true when there are so many more ways that the church could be helping the homeless?”

“I know God is not real, because I asked him to show himself to me in some way and he didn’t.”

  1. False Dilemma—only two choices are offered when, in fact, there are more options available. Almost always one option is too distasteful to accept, so the listener is forced into a choice he does not want to make.

How Christians do this:

“Ask Jesus to be your Savior right here, right now, regardless of your questions and objections, or you can count on the fact that you will never get into heaven.”

“Either you believe in a literal 24-hour, six-day creation or you cannot become a Christian.”

How unbelievers do this:

“Either you believe in science and reject religion, or you must remain in blind superstition and reject modern science.”

“Either God is not all-powerful, or he is not all-loving. If God were all-loving, he would want to rid the world of evil. If he were all-powerful he would be able to get rid of evil in the world. But there is evil in the world, so either God is not all-powerful or not all-loving.”

  1. Hasty (or Unwarranted) Generalization—a conclusion about everything of a particular kind based on one or a few examples. For example, when we judge all car salesmen based on our experience with one or two of them, we commit hasty generalization. We tend to believe that every individual person, thing, or idea is just like the few we have encountered, heard about, or read about online.

How Christians do this:

 “Atheists are dangerous and immoral people. I know; my neighbor is an atheist, and he has skull tattoos and yells obscenities at his live-in girlfriend.”

“Muslims will never listen to the gospel. Look at how they persecute Christians around the world.”

“Nobody wants to hear the gospel anymore. I have tried witnessing to my coworkers, and they just shut me down and refuse to talk to me about God.”

How unbelievers do this:

“Christians are dangerous to society. That last shooting was carried out by someone who went to church.”

“Churches are all about guilting people into giving their money in exchange for heaven. I visited a church once that took two offerings in one day and the pastor was preaching on money.”

“Fundamentalists are intolerant of other religions.”

In the next post we will conclude this series on logic and apologetics.

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