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Are Informal Fallacies Bad Form? I Reckon Not.

…as for us, we reckon that no evil can be done us[1]

Justin Martyr

He must have been a Southern man, this Justin Martyr. He reckoned.

All kidding aside, he was a thinker. To the Church, his well-reasoned apologetic for the Christian Faith has been a blessing through the ages.

Reason directs those who are truly pious and philosophical to honour and love only what is true, declining to follow traditional opinions, if these be worthless[2]

For Justin though, all the reckoning in the world did little to save his own life.

I’m afraid sometimes that we share the same faulty circumstances, and we may share Justin’s fate as well.

Justin reasoned with a culture that rejected his reasons. He used logic to convince a culture that wasn’t interested in logic. He appealed to the culture’s sense of rationale, while the culture rationed sense through its emotions or experience.

We appeal to a culture that suffers from the same malady.

We generate great ethical arguments.

I am amazed at the clarity and precision of the arguments against abortion. They are so tight that debates featuring them are rarely even entertaining. They are impenetrable to the blows of pro-abortion advocates.

Yet it took shocking videos to reawaken America’s conscience when it comes to killing babies, even though those logical arguments had been around a long time. Pictures on a screen and cold words of hate stirred many to ask Congress to act. It wasn’t enough to convince the President though.

Now, those who made the videos are the persecuted at the hands of the government, the hand of the people, you and me.

As the same-sex marriage debate raged like a whirlwind across the nation, there were men and women who made top-notch logical appeals for traditional marriage. Very few were even given an ear and almost none met any real rebuttal.

Only personal attacks and false accusations of bigotry could be lobbed back at logic in that case. They were aimed at stopping the rhetorical efforts of the rational few and diminishing them as non-human.

The nation and the culture went the wrong way and no decision was made based upon a well-informed mind. The Supreme Court’s mini-majority turned history on its head in a moment of Constitutional empirical weakness that has resulted in a weak constitution for those of us who believed its words mattered.

Most of the time the same thing is true with theist arguments for God’s existence. Reason is set aside in favor of experience and desire, overwhelmingly. The good atheist rarely makes the good philosopher.
It happens in Christian intermural debates as well.

In a recent meeting with some brothers, we were discussing paedobaptism and credo-baptism. As I described my definition of paedobaptism and framed it against how I would define credo-baptism, I admitted preemptively that I was guilty of somewhat of a straw man, if only an emotional one.

My Presbyterian friend actually had a great comment. He said, “I don’t mind the occasional straw-man”.

Not only was my friends comment appropriate (my comparison wasn’t really a straw-man), but also he was right.

Christian apologists often confuse our responsibility to always be honest and represent the truth well with the idea that we can’t make our arguments emotionally effective. Most of the time we would avoid any emotion for the sake of clarity and a commitment to honesty. That’s poor debate and it disregards our responsibility to convince people for merely giving the facts. Its also unconvincing that we lack passion for what we say we believe.

Emotion is not bad.

In fact, the occasional use of informal logical fallacies are not only permissible, but I’d go so far as to say that they ought to be used sparingly. This is true especially in light of the culture we live in.

Let’s take the argument that I presented the other day.

I framed a comparative argument between two views of baptism, making them both cohere to a shared descriptive phrase; “baptism is the sign and seal of the New Covenant”. Since we all basically agreed that that was an accurate description of baptism, it became a good first premise.

So then, “baptism is a tangible gift from God to us (sign) that is a guarantee (seal) of God’s promise to save those who have faith in Him.” That is my view that I stole from Stephen Myers.

But, I said, “to you baptism is a tangible gift to God (sign) that is a guarantee (seal) of your faith in God.”

“Which view sounds more biblical?”

Do you see what I did there? There may be a couple of informal fallacies hidden in my framing of their view of baptism, but it’s not inaccurate in the sense that it’s not true.

It’s also an emotionally effective argument. No one wants to believe that such an important Christian doctrine is so man centered. But in this case, it just doesn’t feel right to take the second view.

Now, since most of you probably adhere to Believer’s Baptism, don’t let the content of that argument get in the way of what I’m proposing. We’re on the same team as apologists for the Faith. But notice how we can convince without tricking. I accurately framed the argument, but in such a way as to make my view seem emotionally preferable to theirs.

No harm, no foul I say.

Informal fallacies can be effective tools if you’re careful. They don’t necessarily mean an argument is false. They may not even be poor sport. They are emotionally charged and can be the prod that moves an argument from a vicious cycle of misunderstanding to where it needs to be taking place in the first place, the battle ground of volition.

What am I “not saying”? 🙂

I am not telling you to lie. Always tell the truth.

I am not telling you to misrepresent the other side. Represent them well.

I am not giving you an excuse to trick people. Only use emotion to help them see the truth when logic fails to do so.

We live in a time when logic is not king.

With post-modernism waning, rationalism has given way to empiricism for many. In the wake of relativism are the debris of broken minds and the casualty of truth. Emotion may be the glue that you can use to repair them…sometimes.

So, are informal fallacies bad form? I reckon not.


But if no one can convict us of anything, true reason forbids you, for the sake of a wicked rumour, to wrong blameless men, and indeed rather yourselves, who think fit to direct affairs, not by judgment, but by passion[3]Justin Martyr





[1] Justin Martyr. (1885). The First Apology of Justin. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, p. 163). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

[2] Justin Martyr. (1885). The First Apology of Justin. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, p. 163). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

[3] Justin Martyr. (1885). The First Apology of Justin. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, p. 163). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

I was born in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, born again at a very young age, married a beautiful and likeminded woman, moved to Tennessee, and raised two children in the Southern traditions of loving God and neighbor, exercising manners, and being stewards of the land and its bounty. After becoming involved in youth ministry in our local church, the need of teaching people "what they believe and why they believe it" became painfully apparent, especially in my immediate context (rural Southern churches). We began an apologetics/theology ministry there but have since moved on. After serving in church leadership and being called to faithfulness and duty to protect our congregation from a rogue pastor under church discipline of his previous church, my experiences in this biblical process shape much of what I believe about how churches in the South have become weak and why nominal Christianity is prevalent. I love the Church and Southern culture so you can expect to read about apologetics and theology as well as church and culture here, written southern style, by the grace of God. Deo Vindice

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