“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32
I was invited to have a chat with an atheist named Tony Murphy on social media who calls himself Hackenslash. When I asked him for the topic that he was interested in discussing, he sent me a meme that indicated he wanted to discuss (my) logical fallacies. A logical fallacy is a flaw in reasoning. The intention of this blog is to define some of the most common fallacies and to offer examples in an attempt to reduce their prevalence.
The ad hominem means “to the man” and refers to any attacks on the person advancing an argument rather than on the validity or logic of the argument itself. The reason a person rejects the conclusion is because of the characteristics of another person (unrelated to the argument) and not because of the content of the argument itself.
This video by William Lane Craig explains the ad hominem fallacy well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrVGuUsL2PM
The anecdotal fallacy occurs when someone attempts to generalize a person’s individual experience to a larger population. For example, an atheist may indicate that he does not believe in God because when he prayed, he felt that God did not answer. Therefore, he determines that God must not answer prayers for anyone.
Appeal to Emotion
Appeals to emotion include appeals to fear, envy, hatred, pity, pride, selfishness, or another emotion to manipulate an emotional response rather than offering a logical argument. This particular fallacy is commonly applied by atheists when they post pictures of injured or dead babies to generate emotion and animosity against God.
Argument from Authority
This is the opposite of the ad hominem. In this case, the argument is put forth based on the authority of the person who is advancing the argument. The authority may be via power or knowledge. The fallacy occurs when the person puts forward an authority, yet the authority put forward has no authority (power or knowledge) concerning the particular subject matter being discussed. For example, atheists may state that Richard Dawkins believes we have no objective moral values or duties. Since he has a Ph.D. in biology, they may claim that he is someone to whom we should pay attention when forming our own opinions on morality. Yet Dawkins is not an authority on morality, religion, theology, or psychology, so suggesting we should defer to his authority in this instance is flawed.
Argument from Ignorance
This argument suggests that a proposition is true only because it is not proven to be false. When I telephoned the Atheist Experience, I was accused of using this fallacy. I had asked Matt Dillahunty for the reasons the apostles stopped hiding out and started preaching illegally for Jesus. I said something like “What other reasons could there be for their bravery?” Dillahunty responded that I was making an argument from ignorance (e.g., since there are no other possible options but mine, my opinion is the answer).
Instead of offering a decent answer to my question, he shut down the argument by claiming I used “fallacious reasoning.” This is an example of the fallacy fallacy, which I’ll explain in detail below.
Let me explain why my question is valid and should be thoughtfully considered. The apostles preached for decades and risked beatings, imprisonments (click here for a long list of Paul’s experiences: http://www.biblecharts.org/apostlepaulcharts/15%20-%20The%20Sufferings%20of%20Paul.pdf), stoning (see Stephen’s experience in Acts 6), crucifixions, and torching. Peter was crucified upside down, James was killed by Herod Agrippa (Acts 12: 1-2), and Paul was beheaded by Nero in Rome. These were confirmed by the Eusebius, the first church historian, in his book “Ecclesiastical History.” The martyrdoms of Peter and Paul were also documented by Dionysius of Corinth, Tertillian and Origen. The martyrdom of James was also documented by Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement of Alexandria (Habermas & Licona, 2004). Tacitus documented Nero’s cruelty towards other Christian martyrs as well.
When I have asked Matt Dillahunty and other atheists to explain the apostles’ bravery, almost all of them acknowledge that they believed in Jesus, but they stop short of admitting exactly what that means. These early Christian martyrs stated that they saw the risen Jesus and they risked their lives to share this information with the world. They refused to recant their testimonies, as documented by the aforementioned sources.
Atheists often state that a “willingness to believe” in something does not mean that the belief is true, which is true. But this is not about a willingness to believe; this is about the content of the belief itself. Comparing early Christian martyrs to people who believe or believed in David Koresh or suicide bombers who believe in Allah is akin to comparing apples to oranges. David Koresh followers did not claim to have seen David Koresh rise from the dead. Muslim terrorists did not claim to have seen Allah (as no Muslim makes that claim as per the Quran). In the Christian martyrs’ cases, they believed what they saw, which was the risen Christ.
This argument suggests that because others have adopted the idea, the idea must be right. In other words, popular ideas are correct because they’re popular or the current fads. When Christians say that Christianity is true because it is the most practiced religion in the world and it is growing, Christians are making this fallacy. When atheists say that atheism is trending upward in secular Europe so atheism must be true, atheists are making this fallacy.
Circular reasoning occurs when the conclusion is supported in the premises and the premises is supported in the conclusion. An example is as follows: We know this person is great and he is great because we know it.
Atheists often say that Christians use “circular arguments” when they indicate that Jesus fulfilled 330 prophecies in the Old Testament because “the Bible is a single book.” The assumption is that if a single book includes both the prophecies (premises) and their fulfillment (conclusion), the reasoning is circular. Yet the books of the Bible are authored by forty different authors over hundreds of years, so the Bible is not a single source and thus, the claim that this is a circular argument is invalid. Furthermore, the Old Testament was written hundreds of years prior to the New Testament.
Burden of Proof
The burden of proof lies with the person making a claim. Atheists often state that Christians make the “God claim” and have the burden of proof, yet we are hard-wired to believe in God (see my blog on this matter here: https://christian-apologist.com/2017/10/23/are-we-hard-wired-to-believe-in-god/), so the ones making the claim that there is no God have the burden of proof.
Failing Occam’s Razor
Occam’s Razor states that the simplest of any given hypothesis is likely the correct hypothesis. For example, if I asked atheists to offer a response to explain why Jews, Romans, and others never recovered Jesus’ body from the empty tomb, they weave tall tales to offer an answer instead of admitting the answer that convinced between five and six million Christians to worship Christianity without legal protections before Christianity was legalized in 312 A.D. by Constantine (c.f., Wawro, 2008).
This fallacy occurs when two extremes are offered and other relevant options aside from the extremes are not offered. The famous Euthyphro argument offers an example. The Euthyphro argument began when Socrates asked Plato “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” The argument presents a false dichotomy, as it forces respondents to make one of two choices, as if there are only two choices. The third option is the answer, which is that God is love and the standard of what is pious.
The fallacy fallacy occurs when an argument contains a fallacy, so someone rejects the conclusion due to the fallacy and not necessarily due to the content of the entire argument. As stated above, Matt Dillahunty stated that I had “fallacious reasoning” when I indicated that the only possibility for the apostles’ bravery and willingness to come out of hiding was that they had seen the risen Jesus. I said “what else could it be?” Dillahunty said “maybe they were hungry.” Dillahunty then chose to reject my conclusion because it contained an “argument from ignorance.” He shut down further discussion due to this fallacy within the content of the argument.
This fallacy occurs when someone judges the beliefs of a person based on where the person came from. Atheists use the genetic fallacy when they state that Christians are Christians because of where they were born and raised. They try to invalidate Christian beliefs by stating how Christians came to those beliefs. Compare this with a person who attempts to invalidate someone’s beliefs in the earth as a globe by saying the fact they learned this information in an unaccredited school or on a television show makes the belief in the globe invalid.
Leading or Loaded Questions
Leading and loaded questions are used when they contain the answer that the person presenting the question hopes to obtain. An example of such a question would be to ask someone, “You were in Atlanta in August, correct?” An example of a question from an atheist would be “Since God did not eliminate slavery in the Bible, God must be immoral, right?”
No True Scotsman
This fallacy occurs when a person compares the actions, words or beliefs of one person (one Scot) to all people (all Scots). For example, if a Christian said “all Christians are morally good,” someone might respond that some Christians are in prisons. If the Christian responded with “then those Christians must not be true Christians” he would be making this error.
Non sequitur means “it does not follow,” which is to say that the conclusion does not follow the premises. Atheists (who believe in objective moral values, like Sam Harris) often claim that Christians use non sequiturs in the following arguments. Christians disagree, as each of these arguments is logically consistent and sound.
The Moral Argument for God.
- If objective moral values exist, God exists.
- Objective moral values exist.
- Therefore, God exists.
Alvin Platinga’s Ontological Argument for God.
- A being has maximal excellence in a given possible world W if and only if it is omnipotent, omniscient and wholly good in W; and
- A being has maximal greatness if it has maximal excellence in every possible world.
- It is possible that there is a being that has maximal greatness.
- Therefore, possibly, it is necessarily true that an omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good being exists.
- Therefore, (by axiom S5) it is necessarily true that an omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good being exists.
- Therefore, an omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good being exists.
William Hurst Davis Sr.’s Aesthetic Argument for God.
Proposition 1: Every human culture demonstrates a capacity to apprehend aesthetic value.
Proposition 2: The best explanation for this capacity is supernatural causation.
Conclusion: God’s existence is the supernatural cause of man’s capacity to apprehend aesthetic value.
Personal incredulity refers to the belief that something is not true because you find the topic either difficult to understand or you do not understand how it works. It takes the form “I can’t believe X, therefore not Y.”
Christian fallacy examples:
- I can’t believe that life has no purpose; therefore there must be a God.
- I can’t believe that there is no accountability for sins; therefore there must be a God.
Atheist fallacy examples:
- I can’t believe in a God who would allow slavery in the Bible, therefore there must be no God.
- I can’t believe in a God who wouldn’t allow me to live my life as I choose, therefore there must be no God.
- I can’t believe in a God who holds me accountable and judges me, therefore there must be no God.
- I can’t believe an intelligent designer would design me with physical flaws, therefore there must be no God.
Post Hoc or Faulty Causality, or Correlation vs. Causation
Post hoc is short for “post hoc ergo propter hoc”, which means “after this, therefore because of this.” Correlation is confused with causation. Correlations may also be causal. For example, a person’s weight is both caused by and correlated with his diet. But sometimes the relationships may or may not include causality. A person’s depression or suicidal tendencies may be correlated with his religious beliefs or non-beliefs, yet his depression or suicidal tendencies are not necessarily caused by his religious beliefs or non-beliefs.
Red herrings occur during debates when tangential topics are tossed in to move the goal posts. When I asked Matt Dillahunty why the early Christian martyrs were so brave, he asked me whether I knew the definition of an argument from ignorance.
This occurs when a person avoids engaging with an issue by presenting an extreme hypothetical. If we allow A to happen, then eventually Z will undoubtedly occur. If I said that we should simplify the process to obtain a work visa in the United States for international college students and someone responded that this would result in a flood of criminals and terrorists into the United States, then that person has engaged in the slippery slope fallacy.
Special pleading occurs when one applies standards or rules to other persons while considering oneself exempt from the same standards or rules without providing adequate justification. Eve Keneinan uses the following example:
“When theists are talking about God, they are talking about what is infinitely unlike anything else – infinitely special, if you like – and so it will not be a case of special pleading to discuss God in terms which are unlike the terms used to discuss anything else. Atheists are of course free to dispute that God exists, but they are not free to force theists to mean something by the term ‘God’ that they do not mean. Most theists do not mean by ‘God’ something that could be discussed in ordinary terms.”
The straw man occurs when one side of an argument is misrepresented. One gives the impression of refuting the argument while refuting an argument that was not presented by the opponent. For example, atheists may misrepresent Christians by saying that Christians have faith in God, but no evidence for God whereas science is based on evidence. This creates a straw man assumption that Christians have no evidence for God. A second example is presented when Christians offer the following argument for God.
The Cosmological Argument for God.
- Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
- The universe (space, time, matter) began to exist.
- Therefore, the universe has a cause.
- The cause had to be immaterial and timeless: God.
Atheists would ask, then who created God? They failed to acknowledge the qualities of an eternal, omniscient, omnipotent and intentional Creator.
This is an appeal to hypocrisy when one person answers criticism with criticism.
The wool blanket fallacy, which I am now coining, occurs when one party intentionally omits information in an effort to boost the credibility of his argument, effectively tossing a wool blanket over the eyes of those he is intending to deceive. An example comes from an atheist activist called Seth Andrews. His words are as follows: “The whole point of my broadcast wasn’t the movement is dying. The point was that a vocal fringe was declaring the Atheist Movement on the decline, and yet the statistics refute them at every turn…Statistically, religion is bleeding to death in this country. Pew reports that ‘the share of Americans who identify as atheists has roughly doubled in the past several years.’” Yet Andrews omitted the actual percentages, which indicate that 1.6% of U.S. adults identified as atheists in 2007 and 3.1% identified as atheists in 2014. Such an omission is misleading. This fallacy is also known as “cherry picking,” which occurs when one only picks the evidence that one wants to share, intentionally omitting evidence that should be included to fairly present an argument or information.
Thank you for your time.
Habermas, G.R. & Licona, M.R. (2004). The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.
Wawro, G. (2008). Historical Atlas: A Comprehensive History of the World. Elanora Heights, Australia: Millennium House.