Logical Fallacies Article Graphic March 2022

Guarding Against Fallacious Thinking

By Lisa Quintana

Back when I began learning a thing or two about apologetics, I thought I was ready to get out there and begin converting atheists. Boy, was I massively naïve. With the best of intentions, armed with a few good classes under my belt, I started a Twitter account aimed at converting the lost, correcting misinformation about the faith, and sharing the evidence for Christianity. But my first few attempts on Twitter somehow landed me into a ‘tweet-feeding frenzy’ of angry atheists. I was swirling around in this frenetic mess of tweet assaults, as it seemed like every atheist online was swarming on me, hashtagging this budding apologist into a mess that I didn’t know how to escape. Every response I tweeted was slammed back in my face as I was quickly losing a battle that I didn’t know I started. And then someone said I was “straw-manning” them. Um…wut? Was this like some kind of weird scarecrow thing? To say the least, I was clueless.

I kept seeing these terms like straw man, red herring, and ad hominem. I didn’t know what these terms meant, but I quickly learned they were related to erroneous thinking that occurs when making arguments. I then realized that they had to do with logic, but I was the least logical person I knew. Seriously. Logical arguments are kind of like mathematical equations using words. I hated math and I was certain I wouldn’t like logic any better. As my apologetics studies continued, I knew I needed a course on logic. I had to learn how to argue better and understand what I was doing wrong, e.g. using that “straw man” fallacy.

Every thoughtful Christian should know a bit about fallacies. So, what is a fallacy? A fallacy is a deceptive, misleading, or erroneous argument or way of reasoning; the argument [1] contains a specific defect that can distort how clearly a person views reality.

It makes sense that fallacies often go undetected since many don’t know what they are or have not been trained in recognizing them. So, how can we guard against fallacious thinking? We have to learn how to avoid common missteps in the reasoning process by studying what makes an argument sound and what constitutes fallacious reasoning.

  1. Focus on backing an argument with solid support.
  2. Acknowledge your presuppositions and avoid unwarranted assumptions.
  3. Be cautious when analyzing cause-and-effect connections.
  4. Present substantive evidence to support an argument.
  5. Reflect clarity of thought and expression.
  6. Identify evidence that is useful for supporting an argument. This includes facts, documentation, or testimony that strengthens a claim.
  7. Respond directly to an opponent’s argument without attacking character (the ad hominem fallacy; Latin for “against the man”), unless the person’s character is the logical issue.
  8. Avoid distorting the opposing viewpoint or oversimplifying it; take time to respond intelligently to their position (the straw man fallacy).
  9. Stay on topic—don’t introduce a diversion that distracts or misleads people away from the main argument (the red herring fallacy).
  10. Be fair with opposing evidence and show intellectual integrity by acknowledging an opposing point well-made.

Examples of Fallacious Thinking

There are many types of fallacious thinking. One type is when people connect events to coincidental causes, forming a false-cause fallacy. An example would be concluding that a natural disaster is the result of God’s judgment against sin without evidence or justification. Related forms of problematic reasoning include the oversimplification fallacy of attributing something to one cause when multiple causes were involved, and the domino fallacy, which asserts that a certain action will set off a chain of events leading to devastation. Lastly, faulty analogies occur when someone assumes that just because two things are similar in some ways, they must be alike in other ways as well. Such arguments are suggestive at best and lack sound reasoning. It’s best to stick with good evidence from reliable authorities.

When we use bad reasoning, whether out of ignorance or by design, we misrepresent the Lord. He is the author of clear thinking, and intellectual integrity is critical in the life of the Christian. We represent Jesus to the non-believing, skeptical world, and so we must make every effort to reflect the virtues God expects of those who call him “Lord”. These include honesty, charity, and fairness, as well as rationality, cogency, and soundness of mind. Intellectual integrity matters to God, and it should to the believer as well.

Today, I still would not consider myself the most logical person I could be. I tend to forget what certain fallacies mean or fail to recognize them in every instance. But I keep a cheat sheet nearby with short definitions of the most common logical fallacies, much like this one* from Women in Apologetics, which helps me avoid using logical fallacies myself and allows me to more quickly identify poor reasoning from others.

Learning to avoid fallacious reasoning has been an important step forward in making the case for Christianity with clarity, accuracy, and integrity. As a result, I am more accurate in my representation of others’ beliefs, more reflective in my responses, and more persuasive in spreading seeds of truth that may benefit others and honor the Lord.

“The fear of the LORD is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” Proverbs 1:7


Footnotes:

[1] A reason or set of reasons given with the aim of persuading others that an action or idea is right or wrong.

*Sign up to become a WIA subscriber and receive our free, 12 Common Logical Fallacies infographic!

Disclaimer: All views expressed by those associated with this ministry or on our platforms do not necessarily represent the opinions of Women in Apologetics, Inc. or its individual team members.

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