Mystery of the Missing Mask
Video Articles News Books & DVD Contact Home


by Hans Bluedorn

This week's Logic Loop only contains the letters I have received. The Fallacy in the News feature will be included next time. I decided to split them up this time to keep each email as short as possible.


I. In response to last loop's quiz question:



In a message dated 6/18/01 2:30:34 PM Pacific Daylight Time, The Logic Loop writes:

What is the fallacy in Reason #5? "Universal Beliefs: While some believe it is impossible to know whether there is life after death, belief in immorality is a timeless phenomenon. From the pyramids of the Egyptians to the reincarnation of New Age thinking, people of all times and places in history have believed that the human soul survives death. If there is no consciousness or laughter or regret beyond the grave, then life has fooled almost everyone from the Pharaohs of Egypt to Jesus of Nazareth.

Of the fallacies you list, this falls into two categories: 1) Irrelevant conclusion – it's like saying "we should believe this because so many people have believed it over such a long period of time." This sounds like the "But mom, EVERYONE is doing it" reasoning of many children. It doesn't matter how many people believe it, if it's not true, it's not true.

2) Appeal to Tradition – it's always been done this way, so we should do it this way, too. We shouldn't adhere to some belief just because it is the traditional belief; rather, we should believe it because it is true.

Since all I know about logic is what I've learned on the last few Logic Loops, that's all the input I have at the moment. But I enjoyed this one!

~Lori Andrews



Reason #5 is a fallacy because it appeals to tradition. Just because the Pharaohs believed in "Immortality" or was it supposed to be "immorality..." doesn't make it so. It's been believed in for years so it must be so. My example: My hair is brunette, therefore, it will always be that way. It may grow out gray...if it hasn't already.

If Pharaohs believe in immorality as was typed, then I must argue, this has nothing to do with immortality. Just because you are immoral doesn't mean you are immortal. That would be irrelevant, or just a typing error. I'm not certain of the definition but the second part of this argument is a fallacy. If there is no laughter or regret beyond the grave then the Pharaohs and Jesus were fooled. I could argue that if there is regret in life after death, it must not be life at all. This doesn't make my argument stronger, it just makes it my hopeful opinion. The author seems to imply that life after death always means life in heaven. When the Bible speaks of life after death in Revelation the lake of fire brings to mind a life of horror. If there is life after death, does it always mean it will be better than what we had on earth? C.S. Lewis's "The Great Divorce" comes to mind. What if we do die but remain on earth? If we were living back on earth, wouldn't that be referred to as reincarnation? Mr. Lewis implies that it would hell.

Stephanie Modola


I'm sorry, instead of the quote saying "belief in immorality is a timeless phenomenon," it should have said "belief in immortality is a timeless phenomenon. That was my typo.

Hans Bluedorn


From: Joel Cormode

For the fallacy below the closest one you offer as possibly being correct is the Appeal to Tradition. I would say that it is more like an appeal to Popularity. 'Everyone believes this, it must be true.'


Actually, it is both - but I think, primarily an appeal to tradition.

Hans Bluedorn

II. In response to last loop's fallacy in the news: 

From: "Hudgens, Bryan J"

Like you, I don't intend to be a curmudgeon, but isn't the first example *not* an example of attempting to prove the existence of life after death, but rather a "practical effect" (as the quote calls it), that is, a consequence that affects our day-to-day living? This would seem to be a valid *effect* of a belief in heaven. I understand the concept of the irrelevant conclusion; I'm just not sure the first example is looks more like a valid and reasonable consequence of a belief (arrived at by whatever means) in life after death...

Example #2 is a beauty!

Regards, bjh


You are right. The security that comes from belief in life after death is a good effect. However, that is not a reason to believe in life after death – which is what the article is trying to show you. The only reason to believe in life after death is because you have confidence that it is true – not because it gives you a useful system.

If I said to you that I believed in Santa Claus just because it's nice to think that somebody lives up there at the north pole, that would not be a true "belief" because I would have no confidence that it is true.

Hans Bluedorn

III. Examples of fallacies:

From: CA


I have two fallacies ... The first is from John Wesley's now-famous sermon "Free Grace":

"This is the blasphemy for which (however I love the persons who assert it) I abhor the doctrine of predestination, a doctrine, upon the supposition of which, if one could possibly suppose it for a moment, (call it election, reprobation, or what you please, for all comes to the same thing,) one might say to our adversary, the devil, 'Thou fool, why dost thou roar about any longer? Thy lying in wait for souls is as needless and useless as our preaching. Hearest thou not, that God hath taken thy work out of thy hands; and that he doeth it much more effectually? Thou, with all thy principalities and powers, canst only so assault that we may resist thee; but He can irresistibly destroy both body and soul in hell! Thou canst only entice; but his unchangeable decrees, to leave thousands of souls in death, compels them to continue in sin, till they drop into everlasting burnings. Thou temptest; He forceth us to be damned; for we cannot resist his will. Thou fool, why goest thou about any longer, seeking whom thou mayest devour? Hearest thou not that God is the devouring lion, the destroyer of souls, the murderer of men.' "

This is a clever and subtle fallacy. Wesley says that predestination cannot be true because it makes God do the devil's work for him. But wait a minute! Wesley has quickly pulled the wool over our eyes by presenting a distorted image of God. Since when did God cease to become the ruler of a moral universe who must condemn sin and sinners? Since when did He become a prizefighter, contending with the devil over souls as if God's highest aim was our happiness? It's hard to particularly classify this fallacy, but it might be equivocation or a red herring (Wesley is trying to draw us aside into a defense of the mercy of God in election by downplaying His justice). If all else fails, we could call it a non sequitur.

The next one is from Vocabulary From Classical Roots. In book B, the authors write, "John Calvin thought art and music were too sensual to be allowed in church." This is the inductive fallacy of suppressed evidence. The authors have either overlooked or ignored the background of Calvin's belief. Yes, he rejected art and music in church, but what we're not told is that Calvin held to the Regulative Principle. Considered in this light, the accusation that Calvin saw music and art as "sensual" is nothing more than a lie.


By the way, Nathaniel wanted me to send you this question for possible use on a future loop. It has to do with red herrings vs. irrelevant conclusions. I know what the difference is, but I sometimes find it difficult to label a fallacy that could be either. A red herring changes the subject, and an irrelevant conclusion changes the conclusion, but what can be done to help decide which is being used in any given quote (particularly a complicated one)?

Thanks, Chris



About the John Wesly quote:

Actually, I don't think this fallacy is so subtle – maybe clever though. He is not offering any evidence for his refutation of predestination - at least not in the section you quoted. He is doing a bunch of mental conjuring based on his idea of who God is. When no evidence is used (like scripture verses), only mental reasonings, it is usually an emotional appeal of some kind – maybe an appeal to our human sense of justice. But what is our sense of justice in comparison with God's?

On top of all this it is a straw man. He distorts the predestinarian view.

Quote: "Thou canst only entice; but his unchangeable decrees, to leave thousands of souls in death, compels them to continue in sin, till they drop into everlasting burnings. Thou temptest; He forceth us to be damned; for we cannot resist his will."

Predestinarians do not believe God compels anyone to do sin – that would be a clear violation of scripture ("Nor does He Himself tempt anyone" James 1:13).

About the differences between irrelevant conclusion and red herring:

Actually red herring and irrelevant conclusion are very close, and some people consider them the same. Irrelevant conclusion is an argument that doesn't prove the conclusion the arguer is promoting. It instead proves something irrelevant ("Ford makes a better pickup truck than Chevy because the Ford salesmen are nicer"). Red herring, on the other hand, is a psychological trick where one minute we are arguing about whether one thing is true (such as, which is a better company, Ford or Chevy) and the next minute we are arguing about whether something else is true (which makes a better pickup truck, Ford or Chevy). So, to tell the difference between the two, you have to figure out whether the subject of the argument has been changed (as with a red herring) or whether somebody is using irrelevant material to support his conclusion (as with irrelevant conclusion). This distinction might be totally superfluous because most examples (if not all) mix both red herring and irrelevant conclusion.

I hope that helps out.

Copyright July 18, 2001, all rights reserved. 4351 views

Facebook Comments