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Logical Fallacies

When engaging in discussion with an individual over a matter of difference, keeping the discussion honest and fair can prove trying. A discussion can get dishonest when logical fallacies are introduced. A logical fallacy is defined simply as, "A fallacy in logical argumentation." Since all of us are guilty of this at some point, let's look at some of the more common ones to watch out for:

  1. Ad hominem: Literally meaning "to the person", an ad hominem fallacy is an argument made personally against an opponent rather than toward the argument itself. This is a common tactic to change the subject when an individual realizes his argument doesn't stand on solid ground. For example, when Jesus tried reasoning with His Jewish brethren regarding truth, they responded, "Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?" (John 8:48)
  2. Begging the question: This fallacy comes about when a person merely assumes a claim they are trying to prove. It is also called circular reasoning. One simple example is, "Evolution must be true because it is a fact." A more subtle example might be, "If God was good then there wouldn't be so much suffering in the world. Since there is so much suffering, He either isn't real or doesn't care." This begs the question of how one could objectively determine what good and evil is if there is no moral standard upon which to base this observation.
  3. Argumentum Ad Populum: This is a fallacy in which a claim is accepted as being true because most people are favorably inclined towards it regardless of evidence to the contrary. When the officers would not seize Jesus because they had never heard a man speak as He, the Pharisees responded, "You have not also been led astray, have you? No one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in Him, has he?" (John 7:47-48)
  4. Appeal to flattery: This is more than just "sucking up". It is an attempt to break down a person's defenses through complement and thereby weakening his ability to critically analyze a claim. One example is, "You, as an intelligent person, shouldn't have any problems understanding how atheism is superior to theism." The Pharisees and Herodians pulled this on Jesus when they said to Him "Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any. Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?" (Matthew 22:16-17)
  5. Ambiguity: Fallacies of ambiguity appear to support a conclusion only because of their imprecise use of language and definitions. This can occur when a particular set of words is stressed in a sentence without changing the words themselves. Another example of this, called "equivocation", is when a term is used in two or more different senses within a single argument. This most often occurs when an individual cannot be clear in his position lest the consequences of his position be exposed for what they really are.
  6. Appeal to humor: This fallacy is used by ridiculing an opponent or a position to direct attention away from the real issue. Perhaps you've seen the clever pictures and clich├ęs on Facebook. Don't be deceived! There is a method to the madness; to manipulate through distraction is useful only in undermining truth, not establishing it.