Tag Archives: appeal to emotion

The Fallacy Factory

Before I wrote this piece, I spent a lot of time in contemplation and prayer.  My intention is not to impugn my friend’s character or beliefs.  I have genuine concern for him and hope my words are not misconstrued.  This is simply an attempt to understand him better, and at the same time, it has been a great opportunity to consider my own views and the fallacies I cling to. This is an important matter but my arguments are often met with silence. All I can do is assume that my argument is completely valid until I’m shown otherwise.

Have you ever felt like you are wasting your time?  I’m not denouncing the integrity of Candy Crush, either.  We all know that is not a silly diversion, but is an important application that we use to hone our skills to effectively crush candy.  Even burning ants with a magnifying glass carries more import than some discussions into which you may ensnangle yourself.  (As far as I know, ensnangle has not found itself into the English lexicon until this moment.  You’re welcome.)  I’m reminded of something Jesus said that illustrates my quandary.  He confesses, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” (Matthew 13:57 ESV)  The fruitlessness of sharing the Gospel with people that know you well is apparent.

I have a number of unbelieving friends, but there is one in particular that makes me want to set my hair on fire.  There was a time when he was an angry atheist who raged against anyone who exhibited any belief in God.  I’m specifically discussing the Judeo-Christian God because I don’t recall any moments where he became unglued at the mention of Brahma, Dagon, Zeus, or any other false deity.  He has since completely changed positions since he read some of the Bible.  Now, instead of his entertaining conniption fits, discussions are loaded with fallacy upon fallacy.  That’s fine, but the moment I call shenanigans the discussion is immediately terminated. (I know that some know me as Captain Fallacy, so before you pick apart my argument, I already know it is probably fallacious.  I believe that statement alone is known as the Fallacy Fallacy.)

In a previous post, I explored his argument that people are basically good.  You can always find someone more evil than you that makes you look virtuous.  It’s an association fallacy known as reductio ad Hitlerum, or the Hitler Fallacy.  Nobody thinks the idea of going to hell is very appealing, but if we rationalize our comparative goodness against Hitler’s badness, we might conclude that only Hitler deserves to go to hell.  Jesus’ own words dismantle this argument when He said, “No one is good but God alone.” (Luke 18:19 ESV)

In the same discussion, my friend pelted me with the Genetic Fallacy.  His belief is that the matter of faith is merely based on geography and the parents’ faith.  Essentially, I am a Christian because I was raised by Christians in America (when Christianity began about 2000 years ago after the resurrection of Jesus Christ in Judea.)  If we follow this logic, should I not be in Israel or should I hold a belief native to North America?  It is true that faith is influenced by geography and family, but that isn’t the point of the Genetic Fallacy.  The argument is to subvert any validity of any one faith over another.  Instead of boldly rejecting John 14:6, the unbeliever can rely on an error in logic.

He also tells me about his new philosophy of not judging peoples’ beliefs. As you may have guessed, this includes his refusal to “impose” his ideology on others. Is this an act of respect or nescience regarding his own convictions?  Perhaps he thinks that truth is relative.  If truth is relative, then it doesn’t matter what you believe, so why bother discussing belief systems, right? The Relativist Fallacy is quite popular as people seem to be so unsure about their own beliefs that everyone else’s must be just as valid. In my estimation, nihilism is preferable to the postmodern nonsense in which we are subjected.  Let’s reject all principles if our beliefs are so squishy they are not even worth sharing.  Additionally, how do we know that judging (or discernment) is inherently wrong? The sheer fact of stating you don’t judge someone’s beliefs is a judgment statement in itself.

Finally, my friend paraded the tour de force of fallacies: he will not submit to God because of the threat of hell. (This is the argumentum ad baculum or the Threat of Force fallacy.) He actually said, “If it results in him facing everlasting damnation, then so be it.” Really? That is a ridiculous conclusion, but Christians have to shoulder some of the blame for perpetuating this argument. He should be afraid of hell as the Bible is clear as to who will go there.  John, the author of Revelation, states, “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8 ESV) Though true, the eternal damnation argument for those who choose unbelief is not likely to win any beauty contests.  We should want to submit to Christ because of His mercy and love for His creation.  We should turn to Him out of gratitude, not fear.

Image courtesy of Bob Walsh.
Threatening me with hell is a fallacy! (Image courtesy of Bob Walsh.)

What is interesting is that this argument unveils logical inconsistencies.  Why is submission to God so loathsome? Submission is not foreign to us.  We submit to parents, teachers, the police, the government, etc., but we don’t want to submit to God. Certainly it’s not because He is unworthy as the people we submit to are definitely flawed, and in some cases, may not even deserve submission, but we do so anyway.

If we choose defiance over compliance to basic demands such as following the speed limit, are there repercussions?  We are threatened with consequences, and most of us choose compliance.  I, however, choose to reject authority and am inclined drive 55 mph in a school zone.  Will there be consequences?  I’ll have to pay a hefty fine.  Again, I am determined to defy The Man and I refuse to pay the ticket.  That won’t work because the police will track me down and throw me in the hoosegow.  My rejection of authority did not nullify the consequences.

The same is true with God. We have sinned against Him and we have a fine to pay. We can allow Jesus Christ to pay our fine for us, or we can pay the fine ourselves by going to hell.  Unbelief in God is a sin that condemns an individual to hell, but even if we set that one sin aside, we still have to answer for a lifetime of sin.  Yet we still insist that we are good when, in fact, we are utterly depraved.  Paul said it best in his letter to Corinth, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV)

Life is much easier when you can pick up your toys and go home.  I can be defiant by withholding the Gospel.  It saves me grief.  I can shorten my prayer list.  Besides, my friend is intelligent.  He might figure it out.  He might embrace the cross.  He might not.  Even Penn Jillette, an atheist, believes it is exceedingly unloving for a believer to withhold the Gospel.  He states, “How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”  Jillette’s appeal to emotion may be fallacious, but that doesn’t abrogate our responsibility to share the Gospel.