When emotions run high, we stop thinking rightly. Three things are needed right now for Christians: clear minds, good hearts, pure intentions. This should help with at least one of those:
Because fallacies birth forth from problems in one’s head and one’s heart, I have provided here advice on how to avoid each fallacy in one’s head and in one’s heart.
Arthur American: “The looters are so wrong for the havoc they are wreaking!”
Fred Fallacy: “Are you seriously saying that officer is not a murderer?!”
Fallacy committed: Argument from Silence
Explanation: If a man is silent on a subject, we cannot necessarily posit what he has concluded about that same subject. One should not accuse another of having presented an argument about which they were silent. To say that “beef is an important meat for American delis” is not to say turkey is not important. It actually says nothing about turkey whatsoever. And so a conclusion cannot necessarily be drawn about the speaker’s views on turkey.
How to avoid this fallacy in one’s head: Consider carefully what your opponent is speaking about and what they are not speaking about. Find the subject of the sentence, and consider clearly what they have predicated about that subject. If that’s not the subject you want to discuss, then ask to change the subject.
How to avoid this fallacy in one’s heart: Love your opponent more than your own position. Do not try to hear something your opponent did not say so that your position will be more justifiable.
Arthur American: “Why do you keep saying George Floyd got what’s coming to him?”
Fred Fallacy: “None of the video proves he is completely innocent, and so I’m sure there is a good reason he was in police custody, getting into trouble.”
Fallacy Committed: Ad Ignorantium (Latin for “to ignorance”)
Explanation: This is an appeal to ignorance. This is where one argues that their conclusion must be true, because there is no evidence against it. What this does is take the burden of proof off the speaker and places it on the negation of the speaker’s position or proposition. That is to say, the speaker puts forth that if there is no evidence against their position, then it must be true.
How to avoid this fallacy in one’s head: In a conversation, be wise and open-handed with what is a truth-claim, what is a conjecture, what is possible, and what is still in question. We ought not to believe beyond sound reasoning and good warrant for belief. One is not at liberty to believe something simply because there is a lack of evidence to the contrary.
How to avoid this fallacy in one’s heart: Don’t look to always put pressure on your opponent. Be the kind of person that seeks and defends the truth in every conversation, even if the truth is not on or supported by “your side.”
Arthur American: “Why are you going to the rifle range every afternoon?”
Fred Fallacy: “Trump said, ’If they start lootin’, we start shootin’ and so I guess I better get this baby dialed in!”
Fallacy committed: “Ipse Dixit” (Latin for “he said it himself”)
Explanation: Authorities have their sphere of sovereignty, and we cannot make a sound argument by relying on a person or institution who has overreached their sphere of authority. A Head of State does not have ethical authority over whether an individual ought to shoot another individual, or over what earthly treasures an individual ought to defend. It is neither legal nor ethical justification to say “I shot the looter, because Donald Trump said I could shoot the looter.” It is the same with celebrities, politicians, and government institutions.
How to avoid this fallacy in one’s head: Consider whether the authorities to which you appeal are the ones which can rightly support your claim, which have the right and power to set the limits and guidelines for your proposition. Just because the celebrity said to wear a face mask doesn’t mean you should. And just because the celebrity said you should not does not mean you should not.
How to avoid this fallacy in one’s heart: seek to provide your opponent with the right authority for their argument before you grasp for ones that may be able to support your claim. That is, seek to understand before being understood.
Arthur American: “Why do you say we ought to engage in the race-rhetoric with liberal leaders?”
Fred Fallacy: “I’m saying this because I am white!”
Fallacy committed: Skinism
Explained: Skinism is referencing the mere color of skin, something physical, in order to explain something non-physical, something moral or spiritual. The speaker or someone else cannot use the color of one’s skin in order to conclude anything non-physical about that person. This is not the same as “racism,” as people of variant skin colors may be from the same race, and people with similar skin colors may be from different races. Skinism is to use skin color as a tool for reasoning and discernment on non-physical matters.
How to avoid this fallacy in one’s head: Consider the real reasons for your position on a matter, and not merely what your opponent may want to hear or even what may be a more popularly accepted reason. Consider the universal virtue or idea behind your claim rather than merely the local reason, even if the local reason is related.
How to avoid this fallacy in one’s heart: Love the truth over social acceptance. Do right by your neighbor by seeking the truth and not merely by satisfying your or your neighbor’s emotional expectations.
Arthur American: “I appreciate Trump for mobilizing federal assistance against the violent riots.”
Fred Fallacy: “You’re just saying that because you’re a white man!”
Fallacy committed: Poisoning the Well
Explanation: This a “fallacy of distraction” because it distracts from the point that was made. It takes the focus off the person’s position and places it on an area that is tangential to the topic at hand. In short, it attacks a separate issue, usually personal in the speaker, in order to discredit the speaker or take the conversation down a separate path. It “poisons the well” from which the water of the discussion flows: the speaker. Another variety of this is bulverism. Bulverism attacks how a person came to hold a position rather than the position or proposition itself.
How to avoid this fallacy in one’s head: Restate your opponent’s position, and then state your opposition to it. As if your opposition aims at your opponent or their position. That is, are you referencing the same thing in your opposition as your opponent references in their original proposition. Ask yourself simply if their proposition is true and how they support it.
How to avoid this fallacy in one’s heart: In your imagination, place yourself beside your opponent, seeking to know the truth about the thing that is in front of both of you. Do not simply place yourself as across the battle line from your opponent. Also, realize that your opponent is more than that single idea they are presenting to you. Be fair in helping you and your opponent find the truth by staying on topic and not by distracting away from it, even if it does help your agenda.
Arthur American: “It was an awful, just awful, thing that happened to George Floyd!”
Fred Fallacy: “You’re just saying that because you’re a black man.”
Fallacy committed: Poisoning the Well
Explanation and avoidance: See above.
Arthur American: “People are making this all about race! There is much more to police brutality than just simple issues of racism.”
Fred Fallacy: “I can’t believe you don’t think black lives matter! Unfriend me right now from Facebook!”
Fallacy committed: Straw-Man
Explanation: A straw-man resembles a real man, but it is not. In a similar way, a straw-man fallacy may have resemblance to your opponent’s argument, but is not actually their argument, and so presenting it and defeating it is neither logical nor helpful. This is one of the most common fallacies, for it allows us to set up our opponent’s argument in an unfavorable light, making it easier and obvious for us to defeat, when actually what we have set up is not their original position at all.
How to avoid this fallacy in one’s head: Before you respond to your opponent’s argument, repeat their position back to them and ask if you have adequately portrayed their position. Allow them to clarify or correct their position or argument, then respond to it.
How to avoid this fallacy in one’s heart: Seek to love your neighbor and the accuracy of their beliefs more than intellectual or social-media victory. That is, desire to win the argument and the man and not merely win the argument. A straw-man is a veiled version of falsifying information, and if you know you have done this and you go forward with it, then you are willing to lie in order to appear to have victory. Friendship is then lost completely from the argument; trust is severely damaged and your opponent, rightly, suspects you will not be fair.
Arthur American: “Why are you burning down the stores and houses in the city?!”
Fred Fallacy: “Did you see what that police officer did to that man in Minneapolis?! No justice! No peace!”
Fallacy committed: “Two Wrongs”
Explanation: Two wrongs do not make a right. Justice is not necessarily served because the offending party suffers pain at the hands of the victim or because the victim’s subjective standard for justice is met. Justice is an objective standard, and for this reason it cannot be bartered with; it does not negotiate with terrorists. A multitude of offenses does not wipe out a single offense.
How to avoid this fallacy in one’s head: Consider objectively a just theory of war and not just a practice of personal or communal vengeance. If someone has done wrong, ask if you are responding with wrong or if you are responding within the bounds of virtue and peace, even if that route will require delayed gratification.
How to avoid this fallacy in one’s heart: seek the redemption and reconciliation of your neighbor rather than their destruction and defeat, even if it is their ideas that ought to be defeated. You may smash a man’s ideas without smashing the man.
Arthur American: “Why are they burning down the stores and houses in the city?!”
Fred Fallacy: “Because something has to be done! Today it’s a black man unjustly killed; tomorrow it’s fifty; soon enough Jim Crowe will be reinstated and lynching will be normal again!”
Fallacy committed: Slippery Slope
Explanation: A slippery slope exists when someone tries to link together a series of actions which have not been sufficiently proven to be linked. This is similar to a straw man fallacy or a fallacy of hyperbole, where an exaggeration is unreasonably made in order to get the upper hand in an argument. “If you allow your child to have one sip of wine, next it’s a whole bottle, and then they are alcoholics.”
How to avoid this fallacy in your head: Be honest with the consequences of ideas and not the possible consequences that will give the greatest emotional response from your audience. Winning the argument and the man is about presenting the facts of the case with the utmost clarity and proportion as possible. It is about knowing and exhibiting in one’s arguments the difference between certainty, probability, and possibility, and then making decisions accordingly. Also, read history. Know the truths of the matter and not the political hammers fashioned by one side of the other.
How to avoid this fallacy in your heart: Winning a man’s emotional sentiments will only win him for a season, until something with greater emotional pull tugs him away. Hope not for your opponent’s assent but his understanding. Do right by dead and living authors, especially dead, who are not hear to verbally defend themselves.
Arthur American: “Why don’t you plan to vote for Biden this coming election?”
Fred Fallacy: “Stupid liberal news coverage is all into the riots, and the democrats just keeping supporting it all. I’m not about to become one of those lunatics!”
Fallacy committed: Hasty Generalization
Explanation: A hasty generalization is when a conclusion is reached and extended to a group, or each person in the group, without the due support for such an extension. This may also be called a stereotype. It is also known as the fallacy of division: extrapolating the features of the whole onto the features of each individual that is a part of the group or team. Just because the Lakers are the best team in the NBA doesn’t mean their point guard is the best point guard in the league.
How to avoid this fallacy in your head: Distinguish between the particulars of the group and the particulars of each individual in the group. Know what binds the individuals in the group and what may be different about each. Get to know members of that group and what has caused them to be a part of it. Do not assume beyond what is helpful for a sound conclusion, and do not assume if you have the means to learn the truth.
How to avoid this fallacy in your heart: Consider how complex of a person you are. Consider in your own groups and allegiances individuals who do not represent your purpose or reason for being a part of that group, even individuals who do not accurately represent your group. If you do not what someone’s sins cast upon you, simply because you are loosely associated with one another through being a part of the same group, then don’t do that to others. Love your neighbor as yourself.