Logical fallacies are committed all too often. They can come up in personal conversations, in conversations at work, in news reports, and online in political or cultural discussions. We need to be able to spot these errors in logic. This can help protect us from accepting falsehoods as truths. This is most important in discussions about our faith. When we communicate with others about God and the Bible, we need to be able to recognize faulty reasoning; and conversely, we need to make sure we are not guilty of it.
Here are some suggestions to help you spot logical fallacies.
1. Pray for discernment and to be able to listen patiently and think clearly.
2. Spend time studying various types of fallacies. You can find a list of fallacies with examples here on chapter3min.org. Searching online will yield other lists with more examples to review. The more familiar you become with the different types of fallacies, the easier it will be to spot them.
3. Keep the fallacies you have learned about in mind. Be ready. Stay alert. As you interact with others in real life or online, realize that logical fallacies are bound to come up. It is wise to expect them and look for them.
4. Practice looking for them by listening to debates online or on television. This is a good way to practice because you are not “in” the conversation. You can observe without the emotional investment or the stress that sometimes comes with these types of exchanges. If it is an online video or recorded TV that you can pause and rewind, you can replay the exchange to analyze it carefully.
5. If you do spot a fallacy in a debate you are reviewing, take time to think through it. Work to fully understand what is wrong with the reasoning. This will help you to spot similar errors in the future.
6. If possible, practice with someone one on one. Each of you could choose a different side of a topic and debate it. Alter how reasonable you are in making your points and which fallacies are made.
7. When you are “in” the conversation for real, do not assume that the other person is correct or wrong. Try to listen objectively and calmly.
8. Engage your mind, paying careful attention to what is trying to be communicated or proved.
9. Try to determine how they are trying to make their case. In what way is their argument being supported?
10. Always keep an eye out for red herrings. Have they left the topic or argument all together and switched to something else? If they have, don’t follow. Attempt to circle back.
The goal of spotting fallacies when we are in discussions about our faith is to communicate better and possibly help others come out of error. The goal is not simply to point them out or get an advantage to win an argument. The point is to encourage sound thinking as we lovingly share the word of God and the Christian faith to the glory of God. Remember always, it is God who gives eyes to see.