Poor Christian Reasoning
Perhaps the most aggravating ordeal in discussing religious theory is the burden of listening to logical fallacies used by someone with an opposing viewpoint. Logical fallacies are arguments outside the bounds of reality, commonly used by zealous defenders of their respective religions. While some of the arguments used by such an individual may seem sound or valid to a lay audience, especially one with beliefs deeply rooted in the debated system, this chapter should assist you in being able to recognize when such disingenuous methods of argumentation are used. In fact, the illogical attributes of Christianity itself prematurely handicap the ability for a Bible defender to use sound logic in defending his position. I will support examples of these poorly developed techniques with hypothetical religious arguments in order to reinforce the often-confusing explanations.
It’s important for the freethinker to avoid these faulty methods of argumentation in order to remain above an intellectually dishonest level. As the tools of logic and reason are on the side of those who don’t blindly delve into the comforts of false superstitions, there’s no foreseeable excuse to ever resort to the use of logical fallacies in the “defense” of disbelief.
This section will discuss a variety of general arguments that use unreliable methodologies to arrive at a desired conclusion. The first example is argumentum ad ignorantiam, which means an argument from ignorance. This is a proposal that something is true (or false) because it has yet to be proven otherwise. A Christian might say, “The crucifixion is a historical fact because no one has found any documents conspiring to invent the story.” In the same manner, I could claim that Jesus had four arms. Since no one can solidly disprove my ridiculous assertion, the previous speaker’s fallacious logic allows my statement to be considered a historical fact. Needless to say, a lack of evidence against a claim doesn’t make the proposal a historical certainty.
Some apologists (those who defend a religious doctrine) will consider an argument more valid if the audience hears it more than the opposing viewpoint. We call this erroneous consideration an argumentum ad nauseam, which is an argument that depends on mere repetition. A speaker using this method of argumentation will go to great lengths in order to ensure that he voices his opinion as often as possible. Although the argument itself may be perfectly sound, it’s no more or less true the thousandth time that the speaker used it than the first. A silent form of this argument may be self-utilized when someone forms an opinion on the legitimacy of Christianity based on the abundance of related literary works. While Christian nations tend to publish extraordinary amounts of Christian material, the arguments contained therein do not increase in soundness based solely on the number of times that writers regurgitate the information.
Christians will often make arguments that imply something is true because society has generally accepted it as the truth for a lengthy but arbitrary period of time. This is an example of argumentum ad antiquitatem, which means an argument based on age. A Christian might say, “People have believed in God for thousands of years. This belief has existed for so long that there must absolutely be some truth to it.” Apologists of even older religions could also make such bankrupt claims, but such assertions would no doubt go unheard by a close-minded Christian apologist. In short, the age of the belief in question is independent from the legitimacy of the belief itself. Conversely, some Christians will argue that certain beliefs are true because they’re newer than others. This would be an example of argumentum ad novitatem, an argument from novelty. “Jesus Christ was crucified during the time of recorded history. Many people wrote about his death, and it’s much harder to forge such a record in this era. Therefore, the account is true.” Scholars have adequately disproven several modern beliefs, religious or otherwise, in the past 2000 years. While there may be an increased obstacle of difficulty in forging records of a modern event, a belief isn’t true just because it’s newer than others in the same field.
Apologists often cite the attributes and qualities of people during arguments as evidence to support an assertion. Let’s suppose there’s a multi-billionaire preacher who has dedicated his life to serving God. This hypothetical character might often be apologetically used as an example of how Christianity is more likely to be true than other religions. Because this rich individual obviously made many correct choices in life, his belief in Jesus, according to the apologist, only makes sense. We call such a ridiculous proposal argumentum ad crumenam, an argument based on wealth. If this rich man also believed in the Easter Bunny, the mythical rabbit doesn’t leap into the bounds of reality. Conversely, another Christian might consider a poor individual to be more virtuous since he isn’t preoccupied with materialistic possessions. Therefore, according to the apologist, we should hold his religious viewpoints in higher esteem than those of the common person. That’s an example of argumentum ad lazarum, an argument based on a lack of wealth. What if the poor man also believed in the Easter Bunny?
If a person is famous, Christians will
often appeal to that individual as an additional example for the legitimacy of
their religion. For instance, “Since the past few Presidents of the
If an ignorant debater considers a single person to be good evidence, then billions of people probably seem like pure gold. Argumentum ad numerum is an argument based on the number of people who believe something to be true. Christians often suggest that Jesus Christ must be an actual historical figure because close to two billion living people now believe that he is the son of God. However, over one billion people believe that Muhammad split the moon in half. Where is the imaginary boundary for the number argument to work? What happens when the world’s Muslim population inevitably exceeds the number of Christians? Will biblical apologists then accept Islam as the truth based on this reasoning? Of course not, and they shouldn’t. The number of people who subscribe to a religion doesn’t make the belief system any more or less factual than it already is (or isn’t). Similarly, argumentum ad populum is the use of a statement that appeals to some popular notion in society. A Christian might argue, “To insinuate that the Bible is a hoax is to call a countless number of our past heroes misguided.” Even though such a statement might successfully enrage the audience against the speaker’s opponent, it’s a blatantly dishonest but often unintentional utilization of the audience’s emotions to turn them toward a certain viewpoint. No matter how popular or widespread a religious belief can be, these qualities don’t add to the soundness of the facts.
Distorted Timelines And Irrational Congruencies
Those who overly claim that certain events are dependent and/or evident of other events commit logical mistakes as well. Thus, we’ll look at a few examples of these common fallacies in this section.
Christians often falsely attribute one event to another because they concurrently took place. This is called cum hoc ergo propter hoc, translated as “with the fact, therefore because of the fact.” An example might be a reference to a study demonstrating that crime rates have dropped steadily in an area over the previous two years because of increased church attendance. Note that this is a possible explanation for the drop in crime, but there’s no conclusively causal relationship between the two events. The person making the claim ignores other possible reasons why the crime rate may have dropped (e.g. an increased budget for the police department). A similar fallacy is post hoc ergo propter hoc, translated as “after the fact, therefore because of the fact.” An example along the lines of the previous proposal might cite the improved emotions in those who attend church for two years. An apologist might conclude that the improvement resulted from church membership, but this individual once again ignores a plethora of other possible explanations, such as lifestyle modifications or antidepressant medications. Both of these logical fallacies are more specific forms of non causa pro causa, which is an attempt to draw a link between two events without any good evidence of a relationship.
In addition to the previous unsuccessful arguments attempting to bridge two events, there are some fallacies attempting to create a link between two theoretical events. Denial of the antecedent is a form of argument that concludes a proposal isn’t true because it was implied by another proposal now proven to be inaccurate. A Christian could say, “The theory of evolution was dependent on modern man descending from Neanderthals. Since the Neanderthal descent hypothesis has proven to be false, the theory of evolution also fails.” While it’s true that scientists once speculated that Neanderthals could be ancestors of modern humans, by no means does this advancement in knowledge disprove the entire field of evolution. Similarly, affirmation of the consequent is a fallacious argument suggesting that if one event implies another event happened, the first occurrence is true because someone has proven the second true. A good example might be similar to this: “Jesus said that there would be war and famine in the last days of this world. Since we see prevalent war and famine, Jesus truly made this statement.” Events simply don’t take place for the sole purpose of fulfilling prophecies. Besides, I’d like to hear about a point in history void of these unfortunate circumstances.
I’ve actually known some people who have suggested that meditation is a form of prayer. Consequently, they think those who meditate are actually praying to God. However, individuals making this baseless suggestion fail to expand on why prayer is the same as meditation. They simply want you to accept the premise that they’re similar and accept the conclusion they provide. We refer to this irresponsible method of assertion as the fallacy of the undisturbed middle. Christian believers also tend to utilize such an inconsistency in order to harmonize a discrepancy between the Bible and known scientific data. The most common example is the timeline for the creation of the earth’s contents. These individuals may concede that the earth was created billions of years ago while simultaneously maintaining the accuracy of the Genesis account. However, both statements simply cannot be true because they’re in direct conflict. The speaker would need to justify this proposed harmonization in order to avoid making an erroneous and fallacious argument.
An often-used logical fallacy is ad hoc reasoning, or an explanation offered after the fact. It’s a common apologetic practice to fall back on an alternative solution once the foundation of the original position has crumbled. For example, a Christian might state, “There’s great evidence that the earth is only a few thousand years old.” Once someone exposes the error in such a blatantly false statement with the overwhelming counterevidence, the Christian might then say, “God made it look that way to mislead those who rely on their own opinions rather than having faith in his word.” The speaker has totally dropped the original indefensible claim and substituted it with an alternative explanation, one that only makes sense after the fact. In other words, the speaker is justifying the problem with an invented solution in order to protect his position.
Those attempting to obtain approval for an idea often unknowingly use the slippery slope argument. For example, a Christian might suggest, “If you take prayer out of school, children will learn to be less dependent on God throughout the rest of their lives. When the methods these children use to solve their problems fail, they’ll often result to other means that may endanger them. If they don’t end up getting killed, they’ll wander into a life of crime in order to fill their needs instead of turning to God.” I hope you can see why it’s called the slippery slope argument. The speaker insinuates that if we take a certain action, a cascade of other events will inevitably follow. As is the case here, the speaker typically offers no evidence on which to connect the series of crude assertions.
The logical fallacies included in this section are most likely the result of accidents or ignorance. We’ll discuss intellectually dishonest methods of argumentation in a moment. The first such accidental case is the reliance upon anecdotal evidence to prove a point. Such “evidence” is nothing more than assumed conclusions based on casual observations and personal experiences rather than honest and impartial scientific analyses. For instance, “Childbirth is the result of a divine miracle. There’s no other way to explain it.” On the surface, childbirth may appear to be beyond our comprehension. However, once a thorough study is made of the biological events leading up to childbirth, it should become an extraordinary but explainable natural bodily process.
Special pleading is another foolish and unsuccessful method of argumentation frequently used within the Christian community. This fallacy is committed when the speaker directs a plea toward his opponent or the audience in an attempt to win them over to the desired position. For example, a Christian apologist might say, “Only a small part of my opponent’s counterevidence works against my claim. If you ignore that small bit, my position stands unscathed.” While it may sound intentional, the speaker is most often unaware of the erroneous nature of his request. We can’t simply ignore or wish evidence away when we don’t like it.
A sweeping generalization is the act of applying a general rule on a specific situation. For example, when apologists often claim that most atheists have never read too far into the Bible, they conclude that one atheist in particular must not have read the Bible. While it’s probably true that the majority of atheists have not bothered with reading the Bible, it’s improper and prejudicial to apply this general guideline to a particular individual. Similarly, a hasty generalization is the making of a claim based on a limited number of examples. Imagine a story running on the news about three Muslims burning down a number of churches across a city. Someone committing a hasty generalization would conclude that all Muslims are radical terrorists. Likewise, apologists will also use a very similar argument known as the fallacy of division to make favorable remarks about their fellow worshippers. “Roger is a Christian. Therefore, he could not have killed Larry.” While the vast majority of Christians aren’t murderers, this statement underhandedly applies the overall quality of the group to a specific individual.
Many Christians truly believe that none of their peers would engage in something as heinous as kidnapping people to sell them into slavery. Once we’re able to convince an apologist that many slave traders were members of the Christian faith, he might alter the meaning of what it is to be a Christian by claiming that no true Christian would ever commit these acts of treachery. We refer to such desperation as the no true Scotsman fallacy. Even if the apologist’s definition of what he felt comprised a Christian included being unable to kidnap and sell slaves, he’s only offered a baseless and arbitrary guideline. Someone else could easily assert that no true Christian would ever tell a lie. Such a bold proposal would undoubtedly eliminate all two billion Christians at the blink of an eye.
Christian apologists will often use references to the natural world via the naturalistic fallacy for their justifications or condemnations of particular behaviors. In addition to quoting Bible verses condemning homosexual acts, they will often refer to the absence of these behaviors in the natural world. As a result, they will conclude that homosexuality isn’t a natural practice for humans. The problem with this argument is that the natural world doesn’t offer a glimpse at many of the things humans do. The use of birth control devices isn’t seen anywhere in nature, yet many Christians partake in this “unnatural” act. Such a counterpoint perfectly exemplifies why the argument goes down in flames. Incidentally, much to the chagrin of ultraconservatives, there are homosexual acts currently taking place in the natural world.
An extremely common logical fallacy often serving as the sole foundation of a Christian argument is petitio principii, more widely known as begging the question. This mistake occurs when the premise used to support a conclusion is as equally questionable as the conclusion itself. For example, “The Bible is the word of God. Because it tells us that accepting Jesus is the only way to enter Heaven, there’s no other way to avoid Hell other than accepting Jesus.” The speaker predicates his conclusion upon the premise of his argument being true. In other words, he bases the conclusion of non-Christians going to Hell on the assumption that the Bible is the word of God. However, the premise is definitely a questionable one. A conclusion based solely on a questionable premise must, of course, be questionable as well. It would then be the speaker’s responsibility to provide proof for his premise or withdraw his conclusion.
There’s an interrogative form of begging the question called a complex/loaded question. This is where the speaker assumes certain facts when asking a question. “Are you still sending people to hell by convincing them to turn away from God?” The question contains a predetermined conclusion that turning people away from God will send them to Hell. Again, the speaker is required to present proof of a causal relationship between a disbelief in God and banishment to Hell. A one-word response will not satisfactorily answer the question even though the speaker has phrased it in such a manner.
Another similar logical fallacy is termed circulus in demonstrando, otherwise known as circular reasoning. Here’s a painfully common example: “The Bible is the word of God. Since God wrote the Bible, we know that it contains only truthful accounts. Since the truthful accounts are inspired by God, we know that the Bible is God’s word.” In other words, the Bible is the word of God because the Bible says so. If you can’t spot the enormous gaping hole in this argument, I’m afraid that I’m not doing you much help. The Qur’an says Muhammad is Allah’s prophet, but that doesn’t make it a fact. There must be good evidence to support these claims.
I find circular reasoning to be a particularly aggravating method of argumentation, especially when a Christian denies those with different religions the luxury to make the same bald assertions. It’s even common for apologists to make the extremely frustrating claim that relying on complimentary evidence, such as the discrete sets of scientific data yielded by radiometric dating and fossil deposits, is the same thing as invoking the use of circular reasoning. In other words, they believe the only validity that we can derive from these two tests is that one supports the other. This is simply not the case. Each test independently yields the same conclusion; therefore, each test reinforces the validity of the conclusion made by the other. No one is saying that the age from radiometric dating is true because it agrees with the age from fossil layers and that the age from fossil layers is true because it agrees with the age from radiometric dating; that would be circular reasoning.
When the going gets rough for Christian apologists trying to defend their biblical views, they’ll often say, “You can’t prove God doesn’t exist.” They’re exactly right. Similarly, they can’t prove the Easter Bunny doesn’t exist. However, they can be reasonably certain of its nonexistence when they make a judgment based on all available data. The proposal for the other party to disprove the positive assertion is a logical fallacy known as shifting the burden of proof. It’s never the responsibility of the person denying the claim to prove otherwise, nor is it possible to prove something doesn’t exist unless we burden this hypothetical phenomenon with rules and logic of our universe (e.g. disproving squared circles). The person who makes the positive claim is always responsible for proving it’s factual. Whether or not you believe that a god who makes a magical egg-delivering rabbit is more ridiculous than a god who is pleased by the smell of burnt flesh is simply a matter of perspective. Each demands the same amount of proof.
Smoke And Mirrors
Unfortunately, many apologists use arguments that they know are wholly lacking in credibility. Perhaps some part of them even realizes the absurdity of their position and creates the need to resort to such tactics in order to defend their beliefs. This section will discuss those logical fallacies most often intentionally used under intellectual dishonesty.
A good starting example is the use of bifurcation, commonly known as the black and white fallacy. This is a way of offering only two possible answers to a scenario when there are credible alternative solutions. An individual practicing bifurcation might say, “Either Mark knew about Jesus and wrote the Gospel account, or he didn’t. Since Mark records Jesus’ miracles several times, we can conclude that he knew Jesus.” The problem with this particular statement is the lumping of Mark’s knowledge and authorship into one inseparable unit. The speaker ignores the possibility that Mark wrote about Jesus but didn’t know him, or vice-versa. There’s also an interrogative form of bifurcation known as plurium interrogationum. This fallacy is committed when the speaker requires a simple affirmative or negative answer to a more complex question. “Did the biblical characters exist? Answer yes or no.” If you wish to retort by saying that some existed while others didn’t, such a question requires a more detailed explanation for a satisfactory answer than the one word allotment provided by the speaker.
An apologist defending his position may even resort to force, argumentum ad baculum, as a way of getting an audience to adhere to his belief. This cunning individual might say, “If you don’t accept Jesus Christ as your savior, you’ll burn in Hell for eternity.” While the apologist obviously believes he’s speaking the truth, the statement by itself isn’t any truer than “If you accept Jesus Christ as your savior, you’ll burn in Hell for blaspheming Allah.” However, this shamefully dishonest method is an appreciably effective scare tactic to use on a gullible audience.
A Christian speaker might also attack the credibility of his opponent by using factors unrelated to the credibility of the opponent’s position. An example of such an argumentum ad hominem would be this: “The man who stands before you is an atheist. He claims Christianity doesn’t have a good moral code, but I happen to know that he’s verbally abusive toward his peers.” Such an unwarranted attack against the opponent has no value toward supporting the issue of Christianity’s moral code. While the hostility doesn’t have any logical credibility as a valid argument, it speaks volumes about the credibility of the individual resorting to its usage.
An irrelevant conclusion is self-explanatory. This act of deception is committed when a speaker makes a conclusion that has absolutely no relationship with the point he wishes to defend. Perhaps a Christian wants to protect the notion of Jesus being the son of God. He might consequently say, “Jesus died on the cross for our sins. This took away all our sins and gave us eternal life. Many people have now turned to Jesus. This tells us that Jesus was the son of God.” Notice how the supporting ideas do nothing to prove Jesus was the son of God. The conclusion is, therefore, irrelevant.
A similar argument might have a non sequitur, the use of a premise having no logical connection with its proposed conclusion. For example, “Because Mark wrote a biography of Jesus, he must have been well versed in ancient Hebrew Scriptures.” The premise does nothing to support the conclusion, nor can you logically infer the conclusion from the given premise.
The immensely popular red herring occurs when someone attempts to introduce irrelevant material into a discussion. Suppose two sides are debating whether the followers of Christianity or Islam have committed the most historical atrocities. A Christian apologist might say, “Christianity hasn’t committed more atrocities than Islam. I know many loving Christian people who go out of their way to help others regardless of the religious faith to which the beneficiaries subscribe. Everyone in my church does volunteer work for the community. We’ve all donated our life savings to the homeless. You never hear about Muslims doing any of these things. Thus, Christianity hasn’t committed more historical atrocities than Islam.” In this instance, the speaker did nothing more than offer a few anecdotal evidences to support the notion that Christianity is a kinder religion than Islam. However, the speaker’s examples did not deal with the issue of which religion has committed more atrocities in its history. Whether or not Christians perform caring acts is entirely irrelevant to the debate. The speaker is deceitfully attempting to divert the audience’s attention away from the topic at hand by distracting them with irrelevant material.
Next, we have the cleverly titled straw man. This fallacy is committed when the speaker alters or misrepresents the position of his opponent in order to enable an easy but unwarranted attack. Suppose two sides are debating over the existence of the Hebrew god. After side one proclaims that he probably doesn’t exist, side two might reply, “You say that God probably doesn’t exist as though you had all the answers yourself. Tell us how you know the universe didn’t need a creator.” Notice how the speaker begins his retort by mentioning a specific god but quickly broadens his opponent’s stance to include a decoy position of atheism. Side one never claimed that a god doesn’t exist, nor did he say that the universe didn’t require a creator. Side two has maliciously misrepresented his opposition because side one only claimed that the Hebrew god probably doesn’t exist. There’s an obvious and crucial difference between these two positions.
Finally, no overview of poor logical reasoning would be complete without mentioning the universal reply. If apologetic responses repeatedly have no more value than “You just need to read the Bible to understand Jesus and God’s word,” you’re probably wasting your time trying to talk some sense into the speaker. Any statement capable of being recycled by another religion never qualifies as evidence. Change Bible to Qur’an, Jesus to Muhammad, and God to Allah to produce an equally irrational “special insight” assertion ready for Muslim consumption. If anything, belief only poisons the ability to make an unbiased judgment of the evidence. Similarly, we cannot consider personal experiences to be solid evidence for the legitimacy of a religious system because members of all religions claim to have the same experiences. How many times have you heard of God getting credit for curing someone’s cancer? Strangely enough, so does Allah!
Now You’re Ready To Understand
This chapter should provide you with a sufficient overview of disingenuous arguments commonly used by apologists to support their beliefs. Any Christian readers who have utilized these illogical methods of argumentation should understand why they are not valid. Likewise, anyone wishing to engage an apologist in biblical debate should always be very mindful to avoid utilizing these logical fallacies. This successful avoidance will no doubt facilitate the use of logically sound arguments. Thus, it would serve anyone well to memorize these fallacies and be able to explain why they are considered to be blatantly foolish methods of misguided argumentation. Now that you have a basic understanding of the common apologetic stance, let’s analyze the Bible, without relying on such desperate measures, to derive plausible explanations for its content.