You’re going to have to learn how to argue on social media.
Now more than ever, we need the church and its leaders to get involved where the conversations are happening. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram. There is a great need for pastoral leadership in those digital spaces right now.
But if you take up the call, it means that you’re going to have to know how to make a case and be respectful at the same time while enduring a little more disagreement in your life than you’re used to. I could blog for days about how to be Christ-like, but Galatians 5:22-23 covers most of that.
So I’ll tackle the thing I’m best at: arguing.
I don’t mean you should go looking for trouble, but when you’re confronting bad ideas and poor logic on the internet, rest assured, trouble will come looking for you. Someone may embarrass us or reveal a weak position we ourselves hold and I think that scares us. I know it scares me.
However, as a pastor, it is our duty to fight off the wolves in sheep’s clothing and protect our flocks from toxic ideas and toxic people. Even if that means that it is one of your own sheep who is toxic.
With the things happening in our country right now concerning racial divides and the over politicization of EVERY. FREAKING. THING, I’ve seen some really bad arguments. They aren’t bad because I disagree with them. They’re bad because they’re….bad.
They are called logical fallacies. A logical fallacy does not represent one side of an argument or another. It is an error in reasoning that undermines the argument.
Being able to recognize logical fallacies will help you as you navigate difficult conversations online because sometimes the most loving thing you can do for someone is poke holes in a terrible idea that has pointed them down a cruel path.
I’ve addressed just 6 logical fallacies (and there are many more) here with examples that are more generalized and some that are being represented right now in the online discussion of race in America. I hope you find this helpful as we navigate an incredibly important conversation long overdue in the church. I’m going to do my best to identify these clearly, but understand that some of them are a little confusing and can seem to overlap examples. Leave a comment if you see something I missed or didn’t explain well (or explained incorrectly).
After all, thinking is hard. If it weren’t, everyone would do it. Here we go…
The False Dilemma Logical Fallacy
Reducing each side of a complex issue to two oversimplified outcomes where one is clearly logical and one is not.
Even if there are other clear options in a debate, the False Dilemma demands you to choose between the logical or illogical choice presented by the offender in order to force you to choose a logical position that agrees with them or one that is illogical and extremely horrifying. This distills down to philosophical bullying.
It can be a quick way to sway an audience, but it doesn’t mean your idea is the best one. In fact, it probably means the opposite.
Forcing people into a False Dilemma is a pretty sleazy move and it reveals that not only is your argument weak, but you think it’s weak-sauce as well. Otherwise, you would simply state your case and it could stand on its own without resorting to such playground tactics.
As soon as you recognize someone trying to put words in your mouth or argue about something you didn’t actually say, it’s probably an attempt to put you in the False Dilemma choke-hold so you have to call it out. Don’t tap out. Reverse armbar that sucker and hit them with a Stunner.
Examples of False Dilemma
If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy. (Only a Sith deals in absolutes, right?)
A vote for a third-party candidate is a vote for _________.
Either we let all the immigrants in or we close the border to everyone.
If you support the BLM, then you’re supporting rioting, terror, and racism against whites.
The Ad Hominem Logical Fallacy
Attacking the person making the argument instead of the argument itself.
These types of arguments are usually based in emotions rather than reason and reveal the offender’s true prejudices. The Ad Hominem is also the most desperate attack and the easiest to recognize. If you ever feel like someone has completely misunderstood you and attacked you in a way that feels a little personal, there’s a good chance it’s this.
The truth is, they don’t have much of a counterpoint for your argument so instead, they’ll just take cheap shots at you or something else you said. I like to think of this one as “misdirection” or “arguing the distraction.”
Typically, what the offender of this fallacy has chosen to focus on has no real bearing on the argument itself such as a misspelled word, your grammar, gender, education, or personal history/experience.
These things may influence your perspective, but they have zero impact on how strong or weak your particular argument is itself. Lot’s and lots of prejudice goes into committing an Ad Hominem logical fallacy.
Examples of Ad Hominem
Since you’re a man, you have no say about abortion.
Dude, learn to spell and maybe you can put together a better argument worth reading.
You’re too young to understand the complexity of these issues/you haven’t lived enough life yet.
You voted for _______? I bet you think (insert terrible thing) too!
The Anecdotal Evidence Logical Fallacy
A hasty generalization to refute an idea based on your own limited experience or knowledge.
This is a demonstration of how powerful testimony can be, even if it’s bad testimony. The person committing this fallacy will appeal to a story or instance that supports their preconceived notions about a topic rather than researching the topic for themselves. See also “Keyboard Warrior.”
It amazes me how self-centered some people can be. The idea that the world is bigger than what one person has experienced should not be such a shocking revelation, but it is. A person with a small or limited view of the world will definitely feel the pull towards this fallacy.
Within the white community, these will be the ones who believe that since “they aren’t racist” or they “don’t know any racists” or “they know some pretty successful black people” that racism is probably not a problem anymore.
Examples of Anecdotal Evidence
Person A: You shouldn’t smoke. It’s bad for you.
Person B: My grandfather smoked for 30 years and it didn’t hurt him.
White Person: Racism isn’t systemic. I know of doctors and lawyers who are black, so really it’s about how hard you work.
The Red Herring Logical Fallacy
Bringing up an unrelated or different example as a distraction to avoid engaging in a conversation about the original idea.
I sometimes call this group the Butwhatabouts. They want to take the issue you’re discussing and try to equate it to another issue that you aren’t discussing. They do this to make the opposing argument look inconsistent and therefore invalidate it.
The problem is that it’s usually a comparison of apples and oranges. What a person who commits this logical fallacy is really saying is “I don’t know how to win the argument we’re in, so I’ll start a new argument about something I think I can win.” It’s a distraction and redirection plain and simple.
Examples of Red Herring
You’re outraged about racism right now, but where was your outrage for those being aborted or for black on black crime?
Person A: Would you go to church with me this weekend?
Person B: Christians are responsible for so much evil in the world, so no.
Person A: You really shouldn’t overcharge for your services.
Person B: If I didn’t charge them for that, someone else would.
The Straw Man Logical Fallacy
Distorting or misrepresenting someone’s argument in order to make it easier to defeat.
The Straw Man jumps to an outrageous conclusion, imagines you said something you didn’t, and then passionately argues with that. A straw man is a scarecrow, something that looks like a man to scare away birds from a cornfield, but isn’t an actual human. In the same way, this argument looks like a response to the original argument but it isn’t an actual response. It’s a response to something you never said.
For example, when someone says that black lives matter, it’s easy to defeat the idea that only black lives matter or that black lives matter the most. But that’s not what is being said. The straw man will respond with “all lives matter” as a misrepresentation of the idea and argue against something that the statement “black lives matter” isn’t trying to say.
This is an internet troll’s favorite club in the bag.
Examples of Straw Man
Person A: The children’s winter concert at the school should include non-Christmas songs too.
Person B: You won’t be happy until Christmas songs are banned from being played on the radio!
Person A: We should create better gun control laws.
Person B: You want to take our guns away!
Person A: We have a right to own guns and defend ourselves.
Person B: So you are ok with school shootings?
If you kneel during the national anthem then you don’t support our military!
The No True Scotsman Logical Fallacy
Separating a bad example from your generalized definition of good examples to demonstrate the purity of your own ideas.
Also very easy to identify, the No True Scotsman fallacy is committed any time someone says that a “real ________ would/wouldn’t _________.” No matter how compelling evidence is, this argument allows the offender to “move the target” of the discussion to suit his/her own definitions to win the argument.
We see this a lot in the Christian world. Whenever a church or faith leader does something crazy or embarrassing, the temptation is always to explain to others that “that’s not what Christians are really like” or that “our church wouldn’t do that.” It’s easier to put them outside the camp to avoid having to either defend them or accept association with them.
In this scenario, it ends up creating confusion about Christianity rather than clarity.
Nerd example: Most of the people in Star Wars didn’t know the difference between Jedi and Sith. They were both crazy fanatics that made their lives hard and could wield space magic and laser swords.
Examples No True Scotsman
Not all cops are bad, there are just a few “bad apples.”
Islam is a religion of peace. Terrorists have hijacked it.
You can’t be a good scientist or philosopher and a religious person too.
If you opened your Bible (like a real Christian) you would/wouldn’t care about the Black Lives Matter Movement.
What do we do now?
If you are a pastor, church leader, or believer of any sort, we have to face the possibility that 1) we may hold beliefs based on a logical fallacy that we should address, and 2) we might have to experience a little negative attention in order to spread the Gospel to others.
Nobody ever said it would be easy.
The best place to start is within your own family and circle of friends. When bad ideas are presented, you cannot sit on the sidelines anymore and let it go by. Sure, choose your battles wisely, but there are some worth fighting.
Racism, false theology, and misrepresenting Jesus to the world are things we are all called to address and they are happening on social media every day.
The Lord is with you. So am I. You’ve got this.
Seth has been in ministry for over 20 years, recently serving as Communications Director at a thriving church in North Dallas. He is also the host of The Seminary of Hard Knocks podcast, blogs at sethmuse.com, and has his Masters of Arts in Media and Communications from Dallas Theological Seminary. Seth specializes in helping church communicators use social media and content marketing to find common ground with their audience to empower them for spiritual growth.