Fallacy and Logic Part 3

Appeal to Authority, Personal Incredulity, and the Slippery Slope

By Kersley Fitzgerald

Jesus argued with the Pharisees. Paul debated the Sanhedrin and the Greeks. There is room for logically discussing Christianity. The trick is to make sure your argument is actually logical. Here are a few more logical fallacies we should all avoid.

The Appeal to Authority

To appeal to authority means to rest the weight of the issue on the shoulders of someone who supports it and not on the worthiness of the issue itself. The irony of rejecting this argument is that it's used all the time in academic papers. We are trained to bolster support of our opinions by finding experts who agree and noting the precise location of that agreement down to the book page. The trick is that it can only be used on technical matters, like the nature of textual criticism or biblical archaeology. It doesn't work with spiritual matters unless your opponent agrees with your authorities.

Among Christians, the appeal to authority has been abused since 1 Corinthians 1:12 when the members of the church broke into factions, following Paul, Apollos, or Peter. Paul himself reminded them to identify with Christ, not a particular preacher. We appeal to authority whenever we use a quote or a post or an article from an authority to support our own opinion on a topic that isn't objective. We also use this fallacy against ourselves when we read a post or watch a video that challenges and then breaks down our faith.

A better way: Answers in Genesis has an article that lists three things to keep in mind when faced with an authority: 1. Make sure the person is an authority in the issue at hand, and not just a random philosophizer with access to teh interwebs. 2. Consider the authority's worldview and preconceptions before accepting his judgment. 3. Remember that the authority could be wrong, either because of insufficient data or even deception. And remember the Bereans of Acts 17:11: "These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so." *

The Fallacy Fallacy and the Personal Incredulity Fallacy

I grouped these because they're two sides of the same coin. In the fallacy fallacy, the con rejects the pro's position not because the position is illogical, but because the pro doesn't know how to explain it properly. In the personal incredulity fallacy, the con rejects the pro's position because he doesn't understand it. In both cases, the con isn't taking responsibility for understanding the issue before he makes a judgment call.

We do this all the time. I can't stand the thought of going through the tribulation, so I'm pre-trib rapture. Or the government didn't explain Obama-care sufficiently, so I'm anti-Obama-care. I don't understand the Trinity, and my pastor can't explain it, so it must be false. I can't imagine how a loving God could send anyone to hell, so I believe in universal reconciliation.

A better way: Both the fallacy fallacy and the personal incredulity fallacy rely on laziness. The con is rejecting the claim because he doesn't want to take the effort to understand it. He doesn't have the intellectual honesty to discover and accept the truth. The cure is to stop being lazy. Help the pro explain his position better, or read literature privately. And constantly compare every word against the Bible to discover the truth.

The Slippery Slope

The slippery slope is a common fallacy. It's used as a warning — if we let this happen, then eventually that will happen and then the world will end! It always reminds me of that scene from Ghostbusters:
Venkman: This city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.
Mayor: What do you mean, "biblical"?
Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath of God type stuff.
Venkman: Exactly.
Stantz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!
Spengler: Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes…
Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave!
Venkman: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together…mass hysteria!
Mayor: All right, all right! I get the point!
The slippery slope is tricky because it may be true. But it may not. I have an uncle who, every time there's a strong democratic contender for president, insists, "This is the most important election in the history of America!" Maybe. Maybe this democrat will lead the country into allowing dogs and cats to live together. Or maybe America's headed that way, anyway. I find this argument to be popular among adamant homeschoolers.

A better way: It's okay to think through the ramifications of something. Personally, I'm curious as to how the Hobby Lobby verdict is going to play out when other religions with strong views about medical conditions (like, say, female genital mutilation) state their case. But there's a difference between a prophetic warning and a claxon call designed to create the very mass hysteria it's supposedly warning against. Sometimes the slope is slippery. That's no need to overreact out of fear.

There are other logic fallacies out there; see the poster for a more comprehensive list. But also remember that people come to Jesus because they need a savior, not usually because they were convinced by a well-honed argument. As Paul told the church in Corinth:
And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2:3-5

* Sometimes we are talking about more subjective or non-technical issues, and someone else said what we mean in better words than we can come up with. In that case, it's good to say where you got the words. But the strength of the argument should still be on the issue, not the original speaker.

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: Keven Saff; "Slippery Slopes"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  |  Political-Issues  |  Witnessing-Evangelism

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Published 7-16-2014