Logical fallacies can worm their way into even the most well-trained minds. It is much harder for me to catch my own logical fallacies than to detect them when listening to others. Some of the most common logical fallacies used by Christian fundamentalists are listed here. (I hope to soon add more details and examples of each of these logical fallacies.)

Top ten logical fallacies used by Christian fundamentalists I know

  1. Circular logic/reasoning: Extremely common; "The Bible says this, so it must be true…" The circular part is the false assumption that the Bible is literally true because the Bible itself says it is.
  2. False dichotomy (Bifurcation, black & white thinking): I see this assumption made with alarming frequency. It involves the false belief that there are only two choices, or a limited number of choices, when in fact there are usually too many other choices or possibilities to list that are not being considered by the person speaking.

    "Since the Big Bang could not have happened by itself, then the Christian God is the actual Creator and Christianity is for real." (What about all the other possibilities, e.g. unlimited alternate versions of a different deity, whether personal or not, whether anthropomorphic or not, etc.; untold possibilities that are simply beyond human thought; highly advanced beings that are not deities; natural phenomena yet undiscovered; something relating to matter and energy’s virtual eternal nature; interdimensional phenomena; and so on, ad infinitum.)

    "Stephen rejects popular versions of Christianity, so he must be an atheist." (What about the endless number of other possible beliefs?)

  3. Argumentum ad populum (Argument from popularity): "Everyone else in my circles is a believer"
  4. Ad hominem (Personal attack): "Look at your life: No money, no career, no girlfriend… Your religious stance is therefore incorrect" (Completely daft!)
  5. Ad ignorantiam (Argument from ignorance): "You cannot disprove my God, so it has to be true…"
  6. Argument from authority: "I asked my pastor, and he said…"
  7. Argument from personal incredulity: "It just has to be true; I personally know it to be true…"
  8. Confusing currently unexplained with unexplainable: "My amazing religious experiences have revealed the truth to me in a highly personal way; I could not possibly explain it to you; You cannot understand since you are not a believer"
  9. Plurium interrogationum (Insistence upon simplicity): "Evolution, et al is so complicated; the Bible reveals the simple truth…"
  10. Special pleading: "This is a unique case not subject to your logic; My beliefs are beyond your arguments…"

The fallacy of false choice, Either-or fallacy, Black-and-white thinking

The logical fallacy called fallacy of false choice is also known as false dilemma, false dichotomy, the either-or fallacy, black-and-white thinking, or the fallacy of exhaustive hypotheses. As a former religious fundamentalist guilty of using similarly naive reasoning errors in youth, this writer can relate to the fallacy of false choice rather well.

Here’s a simplified example of how black-and-white thinking might play out. A girl is asked by a religious fundamentalist, “Do you believe the Bible?” The girl answers, “No.” The Christian fundamentalist immediately believes the girl is an atheist, thus employing the fallacy of false choice as if there were only two choices:

  1. You believe what the Bible teaches, or
  2. You are an atheist.

In truth, there are virtually infinite levels of “belief in the Bible” ranging from a high of “I believe the entire Bible as literally interpreted” to a midpoint of “I believe none of the Bible as literally interpreted to what might be a low of “It’s all a farce.”

While I’m on the subject, the following examples of false dichotomy — occasionally heard by authority figures in the United States and elsewhere — are perhaps the clearest examples of the logical fallacy.

  • You are either with us or you’re against us.
  • You are either part of the solution or part of the problem.

No matter how strongly one might feel about the subject being addressed, the statements consist of very poor reasoning. The purpose of such claptrap (which often results in excited applause from superstitious listeners) would probably be to…

  • Increase feelings of divisiveness among gullible listeners and shallow thinkers,
  • Encourage outsiders to be considered opponents, or perhaps
  • To convince neutral simpletons to join their cause.

Resources: Common logical fallacies in religious debate

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Lately, this writer has been on a bit of a documentary film kick (thanks in part to Mike E., the hiking friend who recently turned me on to the Wonders of the Universe documentary film series produced by the BBC in 2011). A 2004 documentary film titled The Privileged Planet

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Thankfully, I have gotten out of the habit of intentionally instigating religious debates with conservative Christian fundamentalists – or anyone else, really. Most of the people I know are Christian fundamentalists, so one can easily predict the social consequences of pursuing arguments concerning their religious beliefs.

Despite my retirement from most vocal religious debate, I remain perfectly willing to discuss religion calmly, rationally, intelligently, and in a respectful, friendly, spiritually principled manner. Much stronger and more significant than that, though, is my willingness to communicate about religious belief in writing.

I still lose my temper occasionally, even with email as the means of discussion; it happened once in the last six months. The truth is, I became somewhat impatient not due to any notable revelations or arguments made by my friend, but due to his overall lack of knowledge about his own religion (this is so common) coupled with his judgment of my personal spiritual practice, which included (probably unintentional) a direct insult based on an uninformed assumption regarding my own personal spiritual condition.

The episode served as proof that I still have a ways to go in terms of spiritual development, although that fact was certainly not news to me. I stumbled over the same log that gives the vast majority of us trouble on occasion: the thoughtless taking of a comment, judgment, criticism, opinion, etc. personally.

Some may be thinking, What’s wrong with taking a direct insult personally? Doesn’t everyone do that? Well, not really… that tiny fraction of humanity that’s actually enlightened – and believe me, they do exist – is not likely to react negatively to anything said to them — or at least, not due to their having taken it personally.

The spiritual principle Do not take anything personally, ever, is clearly and specifically taught by Miguel Ruiz in his wonderful book, The Four Agreements.

I’ll write more on this soon; I want to provide specific details about my recent experience being confronted with these logical fallacies during conversations and emails with friends who are still for whatever reason involved in conservative Christian fundamentalism.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012