Fallacy and Logic Part 2

Genetic Origins, No True Scotsman, and the Texas Sharpshooter

By Kersley Fitzgerald

In a world that rejects Christian beliefs, arguments are inevitable. Good arguments, however, take work. When arguing with a skeptic, let him reject Christ because he chooses to, not because your poor logic skills presented him with an opportunity for fallacy fallacy.


In a genetic fallacy, the con refutes the pro's claim based on the origin of that claim. Christians are both the victim and the perpetrator when it comes to genetic fallacies. It's especially popular around Christmas and Easter as we argue over whether we should incorporate what were pagan practices (rabbits, eggs, trees, etc.) into our celebrations of Christ. Despite the fact that ingesting sugar-coated marshmallow bunnies at the annual church egg hunt have never actually resulted in spontaneous worship of a Northern European fertility goddess.

Christians also like to use this one when it comes to politics. Well, we like to use any argument method when it comes to politics. Any law, bill, or statute is rejected if it came from a politician from the wrong party. As if we're afraid that the tiniest support of someone who disagrees with us in other issues will give them ultimate power to destroy the world.

A better way: Unless the origin is directly related to the worth of the issue, stick to the issue. For instance, the swastika used to be just a random figure, like a hashtag or a smiley face. It's an ancient symbol that still means auspiciousness in eastern religions. To westerners, however, the modern origin is Nazism, and the symbol is irredeemably associated with the horrors of WWII. But for issues further removed from their origins, step back and think about why this is such an issue. Ancient pagan goddesses are no threat compared to over-commercialism — which is it more reasonable to react to? As for politics, the world of power and influence is a slippery proposition, but the mule is more likely to do what we want if we occasionally put down the stick, tell him "good job," and hand over a carrot. You can still vote against him next election.

No True Scotsman

Also called "moving the goalposts," the "no true Scotsman" fallacy is based on a short fable: Angus insists that Scotsmen don't put sugar on their porridge. Lachlan says that he does. Angus declares that no true Scotsman puts sugar on their porridge. The argument is also called "moving the goalposts." It means to refine the conditions when the original argument is proven wrong. We do it all the time when we say, "There's nothing on TV," then change our complaint to, "There's nothing worth watching on TV."

No true Scotsman is used a lot by the Word of Faith movement. They say that Jesus wants you to be rich and healthy. If you're not rich and healthy, it's because you don't have enough faith. It's a ridiculous argument that is completely contrary to the image of a Christ Who had nowhere to lay His head. But it's effective, because the argument is so easily turned back on the victim who is made to believe that the argument is true — he isn't doing it right.

A better way: This fallacy is interesting because if you spend any time in biblical apologetics, you're going to feel like you're using it at some point. I don't know how many times I've had to explain that when the Bible gives a list of sinners and says they will not "inherit the Kingdom of Heaven," "Kingdom of Heaven" does not mean these people are beyond salvation, but that they will not experience God's blessing to the full on earth. The solution is to know your Bible and recognize the context of verses. And if you're proven wrong, admit it and find out the truth. "No true Scotsman" is about pride and not wanting to admit you could be mistaken. We should be about truth and humility.

The Texas Sharpshooter

This could also be called the cherry-picker; the Texas sharpshooter picks and chooses data points that affirm his cause, and rejects the rest of the data. Salesmen and marketers do this all the time — the car I drive is well known for decent gas mileage and excellent results in the small overlap front crash test. Does that mean it's the best car out there? It is if you get hit in the front corner, but not if you want to accelerate up a hill pulling a trailer.

Christian cults and false teachers use the Texas sharpshooter quite a bit. A big one is regarding baptism and salvation. No fewer than six passages seem to support baptismal regeneration, but only when taken out of context and when ignoring the rest of the New Testament. Another is if salvation is by faith or works. Read individual verses and it can get confusing.

A better way: The best way is to avoid this fallacy is to take everything in context and understand where individual data points fit into the big picture. In this case, it means knowing the Scriptures. The old adage is, if ten verses say one thing and the eleventh seems to say something else, go back and figure out what number eleven was trying to say. Just don't use "no true Scotsman" to make it fit.

I don't know that it's terribly effective to argue Christianity, but if you find yourself in a spot where it's inevitable, it's at least good to know how to do it. For another list, with examples, see here. It's written by an atheist, but to reject it because of its author would be a genetic fallacy.

The Series
Part 1: Straw Men, False Causes, and Bandwagons
Part 2: Genetic Origins, No True Scotsman, and the Texas Sharpshooter
Part 3: Appeal to Authority, Personal Incredulity, and the Slippery Slope

Image credit: Kristen Brenemen; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  |  Political-Issues  |  Witnessing-Evangelism

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Published 7-7-2014