One doesn’t have to spend much time discussing (i.e. debating) anything online before bad logic enters the fray. It seems to be just too easy to craft a fallacious argument, that no one can resist. Just what is “bad logic”, you might ask? To put it simply “bad logic” is making an argument that really doesn’t mean what you think it means (or shouldn’t be used to support a claim, because it is weak.) Bad arguments are used by critics, apologists, anti-Mormons, TBM’s. No one can resist. I seem to be most sensitive to fallacious arguments that are used to argue for the Church, because it is my belief that something like the Gospel Of Jesus Christ shoule be defended with something better.
So, with that in mind, here are the names and examples of some fallacious arguments, as seen in the wild:
Straw Man – Very common. Whenever someone is rewording or summarizing a view they don’t agree with, there is strawman danger.
Begging the Question – “If you want to know if there is a God, pray to Him and He will reveal himself to you”, “A testimony can be found in the bearing of it”. If the only way to believe in God is to first believe in God, then that might be a little problematic in discussions with atheists.
False Dilemma – “Either the Church is true, or it isn’t”, “Either Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, or he was the biggest liar and fraud in all of history”, “Either the Book of Mormon is a true history, or it is a book of lies.” Any time someone phrases something complex and layered as an “either/or”, there is danger of throwing out important details and subtleties in an effort to force a decision.
Attacking the Person – Anytime an argument turns to the personal characteristics or history of someone, there is danger of getting off track and “Attacking the Person” instead of their argument. While a certain amount of context is nice, and certainly a person’s trustworthiness is a consideration if their argument involves us taking their word for something, generally speaking, you know someone is losing an argument when they shift the focus to the “person”.
See: FARMS Review of Books, Volumes 1 – 17,
|“When I was preaching in Philadelphia, a Quaker called out for a sign. I told him to be still. After the sermon, he again asked for a sign. I told the congregation the man was an adulterer; that a wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and that the Lord had said to me in a revelation, that any man who wanted a sign was an adulterous person. “It is true,” cried one, “for I caught him in the very act,” which the man afterwards confessed, when he was baptized.” Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 5, p.268|
Post Hoc – It’s easy to look at two events, and assume the later event was somehow caused or related to the earlier one. This is commonly seen in Church with statements such as “I was sick and had a blessing. Soon after, I felt better. The priesthood healed me.” “I payed my tithing, and the next day, a check for $300 arrived in the mail. The Lord blesses those who pay tithing.”
Unless we have some way of knowing what would have happened if the preceding events hadn’t transpired (and since people get better and get unexpected checks in the mail all the time), a little more discretion may be in order.
Affirming the Consequent – “If the Book of Mormon is “true”, I will get a warm, spiritual feeling when I read it. I get a warm, spiritual feeling when I read it, so therefore the Book of Mormon is “true”.” Alternate explanations need to be considered.
Subverted Support – The phenomenon being “explained” isn’t even true in the first place. For example, “The reason the Church is the fastest growing in the world is because it is true”, “[insert any of a bazillion faith-promoting-rumors here], therefore the Church is true.”
Circular Definition – “A prophet is a prophet only when he is acting as a prophet”. Obviously he isn’t acting as a prophet when he isn’t acting as a prophet. Who would argue otherwise? (could also be Equivocation)
Popularity – anytime a claim is made regarding Church growth rates, “Every Church leader I’ve known has said not to watch rated R movies, therefore Mormons shouldn’t watch them.”
There are many others, and of course critics, anti-Mormons and others make these mistakes much more often than those who argue to defend traditional Church positions. Further discussion (and a few responses and rubuttals) from this thread at the MA&D board: