Western Rite Critic

A Balance to Contagious Enthusiasm

Logic

Crash Course in Logic for Christians

DJ LogicThis can be helpful in the discussion boards out there where hurling invective and illicit attacks often proceed without comment, where dogpiling the purveyor of unpopular ideas is the norm, and for which the untrained have little defense.

Remember, illicit attacks that are easily identified as failures of logic are usually failures of Christian morality, as well:

  • Argument by Force (Threat of force to silence opposition): This is an Inquisition approach, and not Christian, since we believe in free will. In Latin: ad baculum.
  • Attack on the Man (Personal attack): Contemptable for someone who claims to follow Christ. ad hominem.
  • Appeal to Authority (X is so because Person Y says it’s so): Neopapism. Strange stuff from non-Latin quarters, if indeed they’re non-Latin anymore. Indicates absolute relativism – a belief that truth is the result of power. A kind of solipsism of authority figures. That which is real is that which my authority declares to be real. ad verecundiam.
  • Straw Man (Substituting argument x for argument y, refuting argument x, and so presuming y refuted): Diversionary tactics. Misdirection. Fairly dishonest.
  • Argument by Repetition (If we repeat it often enough, it’ll pass for truth): Shows casuistry – a commitment not to truth, but to prevailing w/o truth. Again, not something a Christian can do. Shows utiliarian/pragmatist ethos – ends justify means. ad infinitum.
  • Appeal to Circumstances (Rejecting the argument, based on the speaker’s circumstances – uncanonical, member of world Orthodoxy, etc.). Includes Appeal to Motive. Christians can’t do it, because it’s a form of Judgment and/or presuming to know the heart. Known as ad hominem circumstantial
  • Argument by Abuse (reliance on out and out personal attacks): a barrage against a person’s character, campaign against the person, etc.. Christians don’t do this, of course, in fear of God. All Christian scriptures and fathers speak against this. Known as ad hominem abusive or argumentum ad personam.
  • Appeal to Ridicule: Mocking or parodying the argument in order to seem to have refuted it. Involves creating an illusion of the triumph of one’s ideas – actually is a form of despair of one’s ideas being able to triumph. This would be terrible if the ideas of the attacker were presumably Christian, because it would mean an incisive mind would have to reject them.
  • Appeal to Personal Belief: NeoProtestantism. I just believe x, I just don’t believe y. Expects others to adopt an attitude on the strength of your conviction. Not our brand of Christianity.
  • Appeal to Fear: Arguably demonic, since it inspires fear or depends on the spirit of fear. Attempts to dissuade one from a proposition on the basis of prejudice. Also known as appeal to prejudice or appeal to distrust. The “be afraid, be very afraid” non-argument. Christians don’t do this. ad metum or argumentum in terrorem .
  • Thought-terminating cliché: a catchphrase used to resolve cognitive dissonance by quelling thought itself. Ranges from the “Whatever” response to platitudes like “Every man is entitled to his own opinion” to various religious phrases. Gnostic techique.
  • No True Scotsman Fallacy: “No Scotsman drinks vodka.” “But I saw a Scotsman drink vodka the other day.” “Yes, but no TRUE Scotsman drinks vodka.” Religious versions are obvious.
  • Poisoning the Well: Special form of ad hominem. Adverse information about someone is pre-emptively presented to an audience, with the design of discrediting or ridiculing everything that person is about to say.
  • Style over Substance: one emphasizes the way an argument is presented, while marginalizing or outright ignoring the content of the argument. Typically a special form of ad hominem. A form of judgment.
  • Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy: information that has no relevant meaning is interpreted or manipulated until it appears to have relevant meaning. Named for a Texan who fired several shots at a barn, drew a target around them, and claimed to be a sharpshooter. Dishonest form of argument.
  • Fallacies of Relevance (non sequitur): all of the above.

One could go on and on, but you get the drift. It’s like a litany of things forbidden by Christ, and understood to be forbidden almost universally by Christians. But, they’re as common as a discussion over a cup of coffee and prevalent on discussion boards. And when identified, because anyone with any experience in them is trained to peg them immediately – they’re like trying to take your wallet right out of your hand while you’re looking at it – they’re obvious. Strangely, these techniques are still even defended as though they’re appropriate for Christians, as though the user gets a pass, because he believes strongly enough in his convictions.

There’s a tacit assertion that the truly devout, doctrinaire, religious ideologue needn’t be burdened with morality. It’s the superman ethos of Nietzsche; the moral man being above reality. Some of these things have far reaching implications that are deeply disturbing. Many people have actually fled religious movements for Orthodoxy precisely because they wanted to get away from these things.

And they’re contagious, too. You only have to do these things once or twice and, like cutting someone off in traffic, or not coming to a full stop at your neighborhood stop sign, and you see it start to spread. It starts to become normal behavior to treat each other in ways that repudiate the Christ we then presume to pray to.

Interestingly, once someone sanctions one of these fallacies as normative, there is a change being presumed to Christian doctrine. Someone says that x is true because an authority says its true and so it cannot be disputed. The very doctrine of truth is under attack in that epistemology. Someone says that uncanonical people cannot make true statements, besides being at odds with the Church, which has persecuted Saints, deposing and excommunicating them, which it now venerates precisely because the Saint held the Faith (because the Saint was canonical and the Church was not), is changing the doctrine of truth again, judging his brother, and standing in the place of Christ, as though a vicar of Christ on the Earth. He has become a pope. Each of these (and this is a partial list) is an assault on truth itself and a repudiation of some key belief or attitude in the Christian Faith.

It can be difficult to learn to use discern them properly in a discussion. Practice is needed. It’s not as simple as just throwing it out there because it looks like a fallacy. But there is also no need to let the truth be taken captive by these techniques.

5 Comments »

  1. Great enumeration of rhetorical tricks. I’ve seen them all used frequently in cyberspace and frequently by self-professed Christians!

    Comment by deathbredon | November 17, 2009 | Reply

  2. Thank you. Corrections made. Grim indeed.

    Comment by tuD | February 20, 2008 | Reply

  3. A rather thorough list; thanks! Just one small correction from an old Latin teacher. “Ad metam” should read “ad metum” (“ad metam” is “to the point”–too refreshing for this grim list). Also, “not true Scotsman” should read “no true Scotsman.”

    Comment by hieromonachusaidanus | February 20, 2008 | Reply

  4. Thanks. Not really anti-WR here. But that’s ok. Glad you like it.

    Comment by tuD | February 20, 2008 | Reply

  5. This is pretty freaking cool, except for the weirdo guru, which I don’t get. I’m a big fan of logic and the use of reason. I don’t get the whole anti-Western Rite thing. I used to be Western Rite, and since I’ve been Eastern Rite, I really don’t see that much difference. But to each his own. I collect lists of fallacies, and I like your list – it’s the first Christian list I’ve seen. Good job.

    Comment by Asher | February 20, 2008 | Reply


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