Informal fallacies are fallacies that relate to the meaning, rather than the form of, words and propositions in an argument. Fallacies can arise over misinterpretations due to ambiguity or vagueness in language, the presence in an argument of propositions irrelevant to the meaning, or unreasonable inductive inferences.
Below is brief description of the major informal fallacies.1 This list is not a comprehensive list, but includes a few of the most common fallacies that have manifested as hermeneutical mistakes in commentaries of various interpreters.
Begging the question occurs when a conclusion is simply assumed in the premises. Usually begging the question assuming a conclusion without attempting to support it through arguments, but sometimes it can be used as circular reasoning.
Cherry picking occurs when an interpreter selectively picks only data that is useful as evidence for a particular point of view. This is a frequent problem in Biblical hermeneutics. People will cherry-pick proof-texts and string them together to form doctrine without considering the broader context or other passages to get a more complete view of Scriptural teaching.
Example 1: One sect teaches that 1 John 3:9 teaches that Christians cannot sin because they have cherry-picked the text that says "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." Other sects insist that we will always have sin in our lives while we are on the earth because of 1 John 1:8 that says " If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. " different sect draw contradictory conclusions by cherry-picking two clauses that are not only in the same book, but also in the same context. 1 John, when seen in context, asserts that the born experience transforms human nature by planting the Word of God as spiritual DNA. The action of the Word of God in the life of the believer will progressively transform that believer from one who sins to one who does righteousness.
Cherry-picking is also common in anti-Christian polemics. Anti-Christians will pull verse out of context to create a picture far removed from the picture that was intended by God and the human authors of the Bible. These haters would cherry-pick difficult passages from have you believe that Moses is a genocide-loving, pro-slavery fascist. They avoid the many other Scriptures that extol the sanctity of human life, particularly the fact that the unequivocal condemnation of child sacrifice in the Mosaic law was unprecedented for any ancient near eastern nation of that era. The pagan world in which God revealed Himself was quite inhumane and particularly hostile to women and children, and that it was the influence of Judeo-Christian morality that enlightened the world to the heinous nature of practices like slavery and genocide that are today universally condemned.
A complex question is a question that has two or more components that present a concealed dilemma. Complex questions are worded such that any yes or no answer involves implying something that is false or scandalous. For example, any yes or no answer to the question "have you stopped beating your spouse" implies that the person interrogated has beaten their spouse. If the implication has already been established, then the complex question is valid as a follow up question; otherwise, it is a fallacy. Unless spouse abuse has already been factually established, this question would be fallacious.
A loaded question is a complex question that contains emotionally loaded language The question "Do you support marriage equality or the continuation of bigotry" is a loaded question. It assumes that the only possibilities are support for same-sex marriage or bigotry - that there is no possibility of reasonable disagreement. Here I Blog shows a real world example of this:
" Fallacy of Complex Question – is loaded with assumption so the opponent is guilty no matter the answer.
"Again, from the Anderson – Morgan debate. At about 2:40 Morgan begins asking Anderson about prisoners’ rights to marry asking, “You would rather defend a prisoner’s right to get married than you would Suze Orman’s right to get married to her partner?”
"If Anderson simply answers “no” then it appears he is not in favor of prisoners marrying. If he simply says “yes” then Morgan has not only been allowed to re-define the topic again, but it seems as though Anderson wants greater rights for convicted criminals than for Orman and all homosexuals."
Fallacies of distribution (composition - division) are fallacies that wrongly interpret the relationship between the whole or collective of a class and the particular members that make up that class. Such fallacies can be fallacies of composition or division. Fallacies of composition are fallacies that make wrong inferences about the whole of something based upon known facts concerning some or every part of the whole. Fallacies of division are fallacies that make wrong inferences about some or every part of the whole based upon known facts concerning the whole of something.
Atheists commit the fallacy of composition when they argue that religion is the source of all wars, violence, and repressive behaviors. They cite the behavior of certain extreme groups, but commit the fallacy of composition by arguing that the attribute that lead these group to violence are attributes of religion in general. What applies to certain sects does not apply to every sect - or to the whole.
Rationalization, in both psychology and logic, involves making excuses. The informal fallacy of rationalization occurs when people resort to making an excessive number of ad hoc hypothesis to salvage a view that has many difficulties. An ad hoc hypothesis is an alternate explanation that is invoked and applied exclusively to plug up a hole in a theory. Ad hoc hypotheses are not always fallacious; sometimes they can provide important modifications to a theory that make it workable. When done excessively, however, it can destroy the possibility of as coherent understanding of a topic - bringing instead an incoherent patchwork of ideas that just don't fit together.
Rationalization occurs in Biblical hermeneutics when a doctrine is asserted is found to run contrary to the plain meaning, and the interpreter re-interprets the passages that contradict the doctrine in way different from the plain sense. An occasional rationalization can be justified, because sometimes literary and textual considerations indicate that a passages is best interpreted in a fashion different than the plain sense. If one's doctrine requires them to constantly or excessively rationalize a large number of Scripture to make the Scripture fit the doctrine, then there is a big problem. Interpreting the plain sense is the default - and most of the time - best way to read the Scripture.
Rationalization is often employed alongside cherry-picking, particularly in defense of denominational "sacred cows." The sect will cherry-pick verses that support their sacred cow doctrinal point, and then explain away large number of Scriptures that contradict the doctrine. They employ any fallacy, whether it is a hermeneutical mistake or logical fallacy, to evade the plain application of the passage in refuting the pet doctrine. They may argue that the passage is allegorical, and interpret the allegory to fit the pet doctrine. They may deconstruct either the passage or a key word, interpreting in way that fits their pet doctrine rather than the context in which the passage is actually found.
Relative privation is a fallacy that argues that a point is unimportant because another may be perceived as more important. It is often used in an attempt to dismiss the condemnation of one sin because another is not being adequately addressed, being often tethered to accusations of hypocrisy. Those who would advocate that the Bible fails to condemn homosexuality will argue that those who condemn it fail to condemn adultery, charging them with hypocrisy. Their intent is to stop people from condemning homosexuality. This is fallacious, as the Biblical condemnation of hypocrisy was never intended to become a license to sin but a call to be consistently sin-free. When we find ourselves having inconsistent attitudes towards sin, we should continue to pursue a more consistent righteousness rather than justify sin. Since the Bible calls both homosexuality and adultery sinful, our moral teaching should be consistent with the Bible.
Correlative-based fallacies occur when errors are made in representing the number of logical possibilities in a given context. There are three type of correlative or correlation-based fallacies: Denying the correlative, Suppressing correlative, False dilemma.
Denying the correlative is attempting to insert a possibility that does not really exist. Suppressing the correlative involves defining the possibilities such that one or more are eliminated. The most common correlative fallacy is the false dilemma.
A false dilemma exist when it is asserted that there are only two logical possibilities when in fact there are other possibilities. The Jewish religious leaders sought to trap Jesus with a false dilemma in Matthew 22:15-22. They asked him " Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? " The dilemma they were trying to set up allowed only two possibilities: Be a traitor to the Law of God and give tribute to Caesar, or be a traitor to Caesar and reject tribute to Caesar. They thought they had Him trapped.
"Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. 16 And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. 17 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? 18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? 19 Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. 20 And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? 21 They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's. 22 When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way." - Mat 22:15-22
Jesus, however, saw through their scheme. He demonstrated that it was a false dilemma and grab the dilemma by the horns. In vs 19-20, He asks whose image is on the money. They answered it was Caesar. Jesus replied " Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's. " Jesus pointed out that the Jewish leadership had, by their actions had entered into a social contract with Caesar. They used Caesar's money, Caesar's roads, and in less than a week they would use Caesar's police power and courts to crucify Christ, claiming that their only king was Caesar. They had entered into a social contract, or in Hebrew thought, taken a vow or promise of allegiance to Caesar. Jesus answer, then was one that was legal under both God's and Caesar's law.
Inductive fallacies include sampling bias, false analogy, slothful induction, hasty generalization, and "correlation proves causation."
False analogy is where an analogy is drawn on irrelevant grounds. For example, it is a false analogy to conclude that bizarre facial hair causes people to become ruthless dictators because there is no connection between attribute of one's facial hair to their political philosophy or moral character.
Sampling bias occurs when the data observed in a sample is not representative of the whole population or class of objects. Sampling bias often occur in comparing statistics. For example, comparisons between the United States and many other developed countries on standardized test are faulty due to sampling bias; in the United states any high school student is eligible to take the SAT test, whereas in many other countries only the top students are allowed to sit for an SAT-comparable test. The test sample in these countries are not representative to the total student populations, but only the elite students, so it is unable to provide a valid comparison between the overall student populations between the United States and other developed countries
Hasty generalization occurs when a conclusion is drawn based on insufficient observations. Hasty generalizations fail because there is not enough information to know whether the observed sample is representative of the whole class. Hasty generalization occurs in the promotion of many ideas in the evolutionist movement, as we do not have an adequate basis of observation to know whether the observation sample is representative of extreme of space and time.
Slothful induction occurs where there is sufficient information to justify a conclusion, but no conclusion is drawn. Atheistic scientists commit slothful induction occurs in relation to the fine-tuning argument, which present strong evidence against a random universe but presents implications that are difficult for an atheistic or materialistic philosophy. Many scientists who are philosophic materialists have conjectured that the current universe is just one of an infinite number of universes in a multiverse. This theory, by its very nature, is untestable; it is a rationalization - the creation of an ad hoc hypothesis without any testability in order to salvage their viewpoint and avoid the strong inference that is suggested by the fine-tuning argument.
It is a fallacy to assert that mere correlation proves causation. Merely because things are similar or coincide does not imply a causal connection. For example, there is a strong correlation between the consumption of ice-cream and the rise in juvenile crime rates. It would however be a fallacy to conclude that consumption of ice cream causes crime. Such an explanation is fallacious because it provides no explanation of any mechanism adequate to account for causation. There is no mechanism to that connects causally ice-cream consumption to juvenile delinquency. There is, however, a mechanism that connects summer vacation via boredom to juvenile delinquency; and there is also a mechanism that connects heat to ice cream consumption - both of which occur in the summer months.
Fallacies of correlation occur in evolutionary theory when similarities amongst fossils and genomes of various types of organisms. Mere similarity does not prove common descent, and scientists have not observed any mechanism adequate to account for the diversity of life. Evolutionary biologists have proposed such mechanisms, but have not, and due to the nature of evolution likely never will, confirm the existence of these mechanisms.
Fallacies of Amphibology and Equivocation are fallacies related to ambiguity in language. Amphiboly involves ambiguity in sentence structure and equivocation involves people shifting the meanings of words in the middle of a discourse.
This ambiguity of amphibology allows people to parse words in a very misleading way by exploiting the range of meanings possible in a given word or sentence structure. The greater the amphibology, the more wiggle room careless or dishonest interpreters have to focus on the range of meaning that is most convenient for their purposes. It is even entirely possible to have war of definitions. The Bible calls this striving over words.
" If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; 4 He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, 5 Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself." - 1 Timothy 6:3-5
The Bible strongly condemns this parsing of words, characterizing this practice as "perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth (verse5)." God wants us to pursue truth in interpretation. We should specifically avoid informal fallacies in both Biblical interpretation and our broader thinking.
1 List of Fallacies, sect Informal Fallacies, Wikipedia
1What are Informal Fallacies?
2 What are three types of informal fallacies?
3 Which two-fallacy combination is the most common in Biblical hermeneutics?
4 Fill in the blank the fallacy
a ( ) occurs when an interpreter selectively picks only data that is useful as evidence for a particular point of view.
b ( ) occurs when a conclusion is simply assumed in the premises.
c A ( ) is a question that has two or more components that present a concealed dilemma. Complex questions are worded such that any yes or no answer involves implying something else that is false or scandalous without actually establishing the implication.
d A ( ) is a complex question that contains emotionally loaded language.
e ( ) are fallacies that wrongly interpret the relationship between the whole or collective of a class and the particular members that make up that class. Such fallacies can be fallacies of composition or division.
f ( ) are fallacies that make wrong inferences about the whole of something based upon known facts concerning some or every part of the whole.
g ( ) are fallacies that make wrong inferences about some or every part of the whole based upon known facts concerning the whole of something.
h ( ) occurs in Biblical hermeneutics when a doctrine is asserted is found to run contrary to the plain meaning, and the interpreter re-interprets the passages that contradict the doctrine in way different from the plain sense in order to salvage the doctrine.
i ( ) is a fallacy that argues that a point is unimportant because another may be perceived as more important. It is often used in an attempt to dismiss the condemnation of one sin because another is not being adequately addressed.
j A ( ) exists when it is asserted that there are only two logical possibilities when in fact there are other possibilities.
k ( ) is where an analogy is drawn on irrelevant grounds.
l ( ) occurs when the data observed in a sample is not representative of the whole population or class of objects.
m ( ) occurs when a conclusion is drawn based on insufficient observations.
n ( ) occurs where there is sufficient information to justify a conclusion, but no conclusion is drawn.
o The fallacy of ( ) is the assumption that events or phenomena that are similar or coincide imply a causal connection.
p ( ) involves ambiguity in sentence structure
q ( ) involves shifting the meanings of words in the middle of a discourse.