5 logical fallacies that aren’t always fallacious

Steven here…

As skeptics, we strive to be as logical as possible. One of the best ways to do this is to learn what logical fallacies are and avoid using them. This is an excellent thing to do, however there is a problem: Many skeptics have diligently learned what the fallacies are, but end up incorrectly identifying them. These false positives are understandable, but we would all benefit from putting some extra effort into our analysis. Here are a few of the fallacies that I think fall into this trap.

No True Scotsman

What it is:
Someone commits this fallacy by shifting a definition of something in an attempt to side-step a counterexample that doesn’t support their conclusion.
The term derives from an example put out by Anthony Flew in which a Scotsman denies that a rapist could be Scottish because Scotsmen don’t do such things. No True Scotsman is a very tempting fallacy to fall prey to because we want to be the good guys. We want our team to be the one helping people, so it’s only natural to want to exclude people we disapprove of from our group.

What it looks like in the wild:
“The guy killed 70 people in cold blood, he clearly isn’t a True Christian.

When it isn’t a fallacy:
If you are arguing a position that is tightly defined, an example deviating from that is fair to say is not applicable. When I pontificate about the awesomeness of triangles and someone says the worst kind of triangle is a circle, it’s fair to say they have it wrong. If the Christian you are talking to defines “Christian” in a particular way that excludes all murderers, that’s fine if they spell that out. But you are then free to point out that they are using a narrow definition that you haven’t seen before. Or you could ask them to define “Christian” from the outset.
It’s also not a fallacy if you have access to a Scotsman Detector or some kind of Scotsman centrifuge that can sort out the actual Scotsmen.

Ad Hominem

What it is:
An ad hominem attack is when you disparage a person’s character rather than the argument they made and infer from this that the person’s position is false. Suppose you are arguing with a believer in alternative medicine who is claiming that acupuncture cures deadly brain tumors. In a situation like that you should be addressing whether or not their claims match reality rather than their stupid haircut, even when it’s a really stupid haircut.

What it looks like in the wild:
“Don’t listen to Jenny McCarthy when she talks about vaccines. She’s just a dumbass.”

When it isn’t a fallacy:
Disparaging the character of a proponent of pseudoscience who is also a bad person, such as Stanislaw Burzynski, in addition to criticizing their faulty arguments is not a fallacy at all. Ineffectual treatments are one issue to criticize him on, but his lack of morals is another one that also needs to be addressed. A good rule of thumb is to see how the sentence works with “therefore” added to it. “Burzynski is a maggot infested ghoul who bullies teenagers, therefore don’t trust his claims about antineoplastons and cancer” doesn’t work but “All the scientific evidence and the consensus of the medical community goes against Burzynski’s claims, and he’s a shitty person to boot” works just fine.

In some debates the character of the participants is the very heart of the issue. Being patient and charitable with disagreements on values is a useful approach for some circumstances, and with some people, but there are occasions where you will meet people who are not deserving of a hand-holding, charitable walk-through of the issue. If someone is saying a bunch of racist garbage, sometimes the appropriate thing to do is to point out that their behavior is racist. This is a character flaw that they should be fixing. If you call them on it, you will be accused of using an ad hominem attack. But when the question is actually about the morality of that person, it is justified.

Argument from Authority
What it is:
Whenever someone invokes an expert to trump the analysis of their opponent.

What it looks like in the wild:
“My pastor said that evolution is a lie from Satan.”

When it isn’t a fallacy:
The problem with rejecting all arguments from authority is that we run the risk of falling into anti-intellectualism or becoming self-important know-it-alls. The fact is, there are people who know shit that you don’t know. I can read about medicine all damn day, but if an M.D. tells me I got it wrong, it may be reasonable to ask for a second opinion, but it is not reasonable to utterly reject their opinion as an mere argument from authority.
The easiest way that I’ve found to defer to people with expertise while not accepting claims on faulty grounds is three fold:

1. Make sure that the person is an expert on the subject in question. Don’t take an English professor’s word on whether or not the Big Bang was a thing. If that professor has opinions about semi-colons though…

2. Make sure that the field they are an expert in is a real thing. Alleged psychics are “experts” on talking to dead people. Is there a good reason to think that their field of expertise is describing something real though? This is actually a difficult task to do on the fly, but a shortcut could be to see what the experts in related fields think. For example, do the experts in the field of psychology or neurology tend to believe in psychic powers? Their fields would be impacted by such a thing being real. I’d go into more detail on how to determine the validity of a field, but that could easily become another post. Or even a full book.

3. Look at what the plurality of experts in that field think about the subject. You can find two or three geologists who think Noah’s Flood explains the Grand Canyon. Do the majority of other geologists share this view? (Hint:Fucking of course not) You will find that there are circumstances where a genuine field of study does not have a consensus on a subject. When this happens, the wisest thing to do is to remind yourself not to invest too much in any one conclusion. Then make some popcorn and watch the scientific process sort it out. This may take several years, so I would advise making at least two bags of popcorn.

Just remember that your entire life is full of claims that require you to–at least provisionally–accept the conclusion of experts.

Godwin’s Law

What it is:
According to the Mike Godwin, who coined the term, “As the length of an online discussion increases, the probability of a Hitler/Nazi comparison approaches 1.” As an informal fallacy, it is used to show that someone is using extremely hyperbolic comparisons and is in fact a common example of the aforementioned Ad Hominem.

What it looks like in the wild:
Pretty much every sentence about President Obama on World Net Daily and Breitbart.

When it isn’t a fallacy:
If the person in question is 1. Named Adolf, 2. Advocating for genocide, or 3. Currently invading Poland.

The Straw Man

What is it:
Mischaracterizing your opponent’s argument so that it’s easier to argue against.

What it looks like in the wild:
“You atheists are all a bunch of baby-eating communists who want to put Christians like me in prison camps!”

When it isn’t a fallacy:
Sometimes your arguments will suck. And I don’t mean “you” rhetorically, I mean that you, the reader of this sentence, will have terrible arguments. You’re human, that happens. If someone repeats your argument back to you, there can be a tendency to think, “But that’s just a Straw Man, my real opinion is way cooler than that!” If you have that reaction, take a moment to re-examine your position and make sure that the characterization is not valid before dismissing the criticism as a Straw Man. If you’ve ever seen a debate between a believer and an atheist, you’ve seen this fallacy announced inappropriately, probably from both parties at various points. I remember arguing with my best friend after Skepticon 2 about whether or not the Flying Spaghetti Monster or the Invisible Pink Unicorn were Straw Men. The only real difference between those views and real religious views is the tone. If people talked about the Stripper Factory in FSM heaven with the same seriousness of the boring stripper-free Heaven, you’d see that as truth claims they are on equal footing. If you point out that the concepts within a religion are absurd, that isn’t a Straw Man, it’s perspective.

The takeaway from this is that enumerated fallacies are a great heuristic and can show you the flaws in your reasoning as well as the reasoning of others, but they are not a replacement for critical analysis nor are they a set of commandments handed down from Lord Planet-Maker.

I write a lot of jokes. Some of them are in this book.
I also host the podcast of the Skepchick events team, Some Assembly Required, and cohost the WWJTD Podcast.
You can also follow me on Facebook or that bird thing.

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About geekysteven
  • Glodson

    I like the list. I even like the part reminding us that we can all make bad arguments. I know that I’ve made an illustrious commenting career out of doing just that.

    I would point out that if people redefine a group to exclude problematic elements of that group, they could be cherry picking. I would want them to have reasons for eliminating those elements from the group beyond “this is quite troubling for my argument.”

    I would go as far to say that one should try and explain why it is a fallacy and not just name the fallacy.

  • Azkyroth

    A succinct way of expressing the second one:

    Ad hominem is not “an insult.” It’s the use of an insult as a premise.

    • http://twitter.com/johnradke jtradke

      Huge pet peeve. Nine out of the ten times I see someone use the term “ad hominem,” it’s some ignorant clown deploying Latin in order to legitimize their hurt fee-fees over someone not giving them the respect they expected but hadn’t earned.

    • R. Johnston

      Even the use of a seeming insult as a premise can be valid.

      1) Everything James O’Keefe has ever published has been utter horseshit uttered in extreme bad faith and edited with malice aforethought;

      2) James O’Keefe recently claimed that several Planned Parenthood employees attempted to enable child trafficking for the purposes of prostitution and published out of context highly edited videos to “support” his contention;

      3) Therefore O’Keefe’s videos should be ignored and anyone citing them as evidence of anything other than O’Keefe’s being an unmitigated halfwit asshole propagandist should be mocked without mercy.

      Sometimes the truth is harsh and relevant to a conclusion. If everything a person has previously published is utter horseshit it is no ad hominem to use that as a premise for dismissing that person’s altest turds without benefit of the doubt or significant analysis.

      The claim that an author of an argument is a known habitual liar and therefore his argument ought to be dismissed without consideration may be based on a false premise, but it’s not an ad hominem. Insults can be both true and relevant to consideration of a person’s arguments.

      • Azkyroth

        I would say that’s better characterized as a rebuttal of the implicit premise “If James O’Keefe says this, it is likely to be true,” but good point.

    • phantomreader42

      I like “ad hominem is not a fancy Latin word for insult. ‘You’re an idiot, therefore you’re wrong’ would be ad hominem. ‘You’re wrong, therefore you’re an idiot’ is not.”

  • Azkyroth

    As for the third, I note that “make sure they can actually provide support for their position based on the stuff their title or position says they know that you don’t” seems to be missing from the list. Why?

  • Sven

    Thank you for this. I can’t tell you how many times people accuse me of making ad-hominems because, after I have rigorously dissected their claims, I add that they’re gullible fools.

  • Randomfactor

    I occasionally run up against what are claimed to be “ad homonym” arguments online.

    They may SOUND just like an argument, but…

  • Drew

    Note on the FSM and IPU. These are not straw-men these are examples of reductio ad absurdum.

    • https://twitter.com/ThatAtheistGirl StarStuff

      Maybe reductio ad absurdum should be added too. I’ve had lots of people get upset and cry foul when I just repeat their argument in a slightly different way. Yeah, your argument is absurd and it’s not my fault!

      • invivoMark

        Reductio ad absurdum isn’t a fallacy at all, it’s a tool to examine a line of logic. Schrodinger’s cat is a reductio ad absurdum of one interpretation of quantum physics.

        • John Horstman

          You mean reductio ad awesome? :-)

    • Glodson

      The thing is that if you try to use Reductio ad absurdum and aren’t careful, you can end up with a strawman. If used correctly, it is the correct use of Reductio ad absurdum, and if not… then that’s a strawman. So, you are right, the IPU and FSM aren’t strawmen. But a hamfisted attempt to use Reductio as absurdum can end up with a strawman. Creationist, for example, are really bad about this when talking about their misunderstanding of evolution.

  • Silent Service

    So you have discovered my plans to invade Poland. Damn.

  • https://twitter.com/ThatAtheistGirl StarStuff

    This is 100% correct and I <3 it.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    What, no slippery slope?

    • Loqi

      If Steven adds slippery slope, what’s to stop a man from marrying a goat?

      • John Horstman


  • invivoMark

    I don’t have a Scotsman detector, but I do have a gorilla detector: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4QrelL9fOjY

  • Barael

    Something that is closely related and good to keep in mind:


    Fallacy fallacy: arguing that just because something contains a fallacy it must be wrong.

  • Konradius

    I want to clarify the ‘No True Scotsman’ (NTS) fallacy/argument.
    The NTS is a fallacy when someone says ‘All male Scots wear skirts’ – ‘That man is a Scot and doesn’t wear a skirt’ – ‘Oh, but that’s No True Scotsman’
    But what about this?
    ‘That Scot murdered a family with his broadsword; All Scots must want to murder families’ – ‘Oh but that’s No True Scotsman’
    Now the better way to phrase this is ‘But that man is not representative of all Scotsmen’.

    One example of the latter was when Anders Breivik murdered all those people in Norway. He had some extreme right wing views, and among others the dutch politician Wilders was targeted with criticism that his views caused people like Breivik. (I am dutch)
    But Breivik does not represent all people with extreme right wing views like Wilders. And I truly hate to say anything in support of that douchebag. Breivik was not the true right wing extremist. Just like idiot atheists/skeptics or whatever do not necessarily say anything about the group they are part of.
    Now if someone came to say ‘but a true right wing extremist doesn’t murder people’, then the real NTS fallacy is at play. But actually I don’t see that type of argument all too often anymore.

    • Loqi

      You don’t? I see “if he/she did {bad thing}, he/she isn’t a real Christian” pretty regularly.

      • Nate Frein

        But Breivik does not represent all people with extreme right wing views like Wilders.

        I don’t recall that I’ve seen anyone argue that he did. I would very much like to see a cite of someone arguing that. In fact, what I do see often is people pointing to Breivik as proof that Christians are capable of the same acts of terrorism as Muslims, which provokes the No True (Christian) response because, don’tcha know, he can’t possibly be a true Christian because No True Christian is a terrorist!

    • Glodson

      ‘That Scot murdered a family with his broadsword; All Scots must want to murder families’ – ‘Oh but that’s No True Scotsman’

      This is a misrepresentation of the Scotsman. In fact, it is just responding to a fallacious argument with another fallacy. The Scotsman who murdered his family is still a Scotsman. However, if one goes from a specific example to making a statement about all in the group, that’s a problem. It isn’t true. This is the Undistributed Middle. And cherry picking as well, as this person selected one nefarious person out of the group.

      But to disavow the Scotsman as “Not a true Scotsman” is fallacious, unless one is using a very specific and highly useless idea of what a Scotsman is. In fact, that is directly related to the fallacy. The Scotsman tries to deny the actions of people nominally apart of the group by redefining the group to exclude troublesome elements of the group. Basically, if we are talking about a set, and you provide an example in the set which invalidates my argument, I have to either concede the point or provide a reason for why that element is exceptional. The declaration that it isn’t a true element of the set has redefined the set, and moved the goalposts.

      • Konradius

        Well, the point of my comment was to say that was not a NTS fallacy (in line with the OP). So yes, the misrepresentation of the fallacy was the exact point I was trying to make…
        I like your strict definition of the NTS btw! Redefining the set without the offending data point(s) is indeed a good description. And moving the goalposts is indeed the overlapping category.

  • Epinephrine

    I disagree with you about ad hominem; I’ve read many people explaining that insulting a person isn’t an ad hominem, but I think that psychology supports the idea that these insults do detract from people’s perspectives of the target’s arguments. Pharyngula commenters are bad for this, launching into long insult-laden posts and then denying that repeatedly commenting on someone’s ignorance, stupidity, etc. is ad hominem, as they claim that they aren’t saying that the person’s arguments are bad because they are ignorant dumbasses, the arguments are bad AND they are ignroant dumbasses.

    When you start with insults you are generally engaging in ad hominem – even when you think the insults are just sprinkles on the lovely argument you’ve just made – you can thank the halo effect. So while you might think that pointing out their ugly haircut or lack of fashion sense is just an added insult and isn’t an ad hominem, I would say that since the insults can affect how credible the target is without directly implying a lack of credibility, it’s still ad hominem, even if it isn’t your stated intent. Insults are simply not required for argument.

    • Glodson

      That’s garbage. An insult alone isn’t an ad hominem by definition. An insult is just an insult in a vacuum. Whether or not it is effective when making an argument, that’s a different question. You are conflating rhetoric with logic.

      Any statement, insulting or not, that deals with the person making the argument in order to argue against their argument is an ad hominem. That’s what an ad hominem is, a red herring style fallacy in which the person employing it is bringing in an outside point that has nothing to do with the argument itself.

      Insulting a person in addition can shut down debate with said person. It can be employed with the intention of shocking the person. I can get really insulting when discussing certain topics in which I think the person is being a disgusting human being. Again, this is more a question of rhetoric rather than logic.

      • Epinephrine

        Ok – I meant insults when arguing with someone. An ad hominem is literally a comment against the person. Ad hominem is fallacious because it attacks the character rather than the argument. Calling someone an idiot attacks the person. It also makes it more likely that people will be critical of the ideas – fallaciously suggesting that the attack improved the argument. Since pretty much any insult, though irrelevant, will have the effect of altering the perception of the opposing argument, all insults are irrelevant and whether intended or not serve as part of the argument.
        I agree that one can have effects by insulting someone, or shock them, but we shouldn’t operate under the impression that we aren’t undermining argument when we use them.

        • Compuholic

          An ad hominem is literally a comment against the person. Ad hominem is fallacious because it attacks the character rather than the argument.

          Why can’t you do both? It is only a fallacy if you say something like: “This argument from person X is wrong because he/she is an idiot”. But if I say: “This argument is wrong because of Y and you are an idiot for accepting it” it is not.

          Since pretty much any insult, though irrelevant, will have the effect of altering the perception of the opposing argument

          Again you are conflating rhetoric with logic. The truth value of my proposition is only affected by its factual content. You can only commit a logical fallacy if your reasoning itself is flawed. How I present my reasoning, is completely irrelevant to the truth value. And if the other person is able to see the point is a completely different question.

        • Glodson

          Ad hominem is fallacious because it attacks the character rather than the argument.

          It is fallacious because it doesn’t address the argument, but a quality of a person. It doesn’t even need to be an “attack” in the colloquial sense. One could say “Of course you are wrong, you are a Republican.” Republican, normally, isn’t an insult. But dismissing the argument out of hand due to their political party is a quality of the person.

          It also makes it more likely that people will be critical of the ideas – fallaciously suggesting that the attack improved the argument.

          Being critical of the ideas is a feature, not a bug. That’s a good thing. Thinking critically about their ideas is a great thing. Unless the criticism is unwarranted. At which point, if people are introducing other fallacious arguments, it still doesn’t follow that an insulting statement is a fallacy. As pointed out, this a rhetorical point, not a point on the logic.

          I agree that one can have effects by insulting someone, or shock them, but we shouldn’t operate under the impression that we aren’t undermining argument when we use them.

          Why? If I argue the point against a bigot using reason and logic, and I call the bigot a thoughtless asshole, my insult shows disdain for them. It isn’t that they are just wrong, it is that they are actively causing harm with an unfounded bullshit. I’ve already undermined the argument with the bigot by showing flaws in their reasoning and calling them out. The insult has nothing to do with any of that.

          As Compuholic explained, a logical fallacy occurs when the argument is unsound through a formal fallacy with the argument itself, or an informal fallacy by means of employing faulty premises. Mere insults do not fit in this. If one uses an insult to justify their conclusion, it is highly likely that they are committing an ad hominem.

    • Nate Frein

      Insults are simply not required for argument.

      No, but they do very well to express frustration, annoyance, ridicule, disrespect, disdain, or rage.

      Which is the point. Because if a person is using old, debunked arguments to excuse rapists, then I doubt my arguments will sway that person. But perhaps vitriol will at least make clear the emotional impact those arguments have on me.

  • Loqi

    There are times when calm argument is called for, and there are times when ridicule and insults are appropriate. If someone is using a bad argument and gives no sign of dishonesty, I will argue politely. My goal here is to exhange ideas and hopefully educate. If, however, there is patent dishonesty, or if the idea espoused is truly vile, I will ridicule and insult them. My goal here is to make it known that such behavior is not tolerated. I will not debate anyone on whether blacks are less intelligent than whites. I will not debate a rape apologist. If I expend any brain power at all on these people, it will be to think of new and inventive ways of telling them to fuck off.

    • Loqi

      (Intended to be a reply to Glodson above, but I apparently don’t understand how buttons work)

      • Glodson

        Well, I pretty much agree with what you said.

        • Loqi

          I meant it to voice my own agreement. It just so happens that you’re hogging all the good points in this thread!

    • sqlrob


      Frequently, the point of ridicule isn’t to convince the person being ridiculed. It’s for the benefit of the audience.

  • Rain

    What if I said “Those stupid youtube design team, they make our channels look more crappy-ass and more unwieldy memory hog-ish every time they do another one of their carppy-ass design obverhauls.” Ad hominem or not ad hominem.

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ M

      Extremely insulting, not ad hominem. Your argument is “they make our channels look and perform worse and thus are stupid”, not “they are stupid so whatever they do to our channels will make them worse, no matter the objective evidence on the matter”.

      • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ M

        Or, to phrase the ad-hom better, “I won’t use the new update because the Youtube design team is stupid”. When you qualify it with “and they’re stupid because they always make things worse whenever they do an update”, you’ve actually made an argument. Past performance can and often does predict future performance, after all.

        • Rain

          Okay. I guess people sometimes confuse rhetoric with informal fallacies, apparently.

  • Mark

    JT uses a very broad definition of “Christian.” I would really like HIM to define exactly what HE means when using the term. If he means adherence to the teachings of Christ, then it certainly would exclude murder, for example. If he means belief in the Gospel as defined in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, then it does not mean “religion makes a person better.” Unfortunately, it seems that conflation suits him well, as he seems satisfied to define “Christian” as anything that he disagrees with.

    • Loqi

      JT uses a very broad definition of “Christian.”

      Please read the first two words of the post.

    • hotshoe

      Mark, with all due respect, you’re a fool. You’re a fool to enter a discussion on logical fallacies and then make your first statement a lassic fallacy: No True Scotsman, ie No True Christian.

      Did Jesus visit you to give you authority to denounce any of his followers if they happen to fall into sin? No? He didn’t give you personal authority? Then shut your foolish mouth until you understand why you’re wrong about No True Christian.

      Funny that the percentage of identified Christians in maximum security prison is so much higher than it should be if True Christians were incapable of committing heinous crimes while still believing they are going to heaven, being baptized and followers of Jesus ….

      • Loqi

        Not to mention that asking JT (for whatever reason, since Steven wrote the post) for the definition of Christianity is stupid. If Christianity were coherent enough to give as narrow a definition as Mark wants, there wouldn’t be thousands of different sects periodically killing each other over who the True Christians are. We’re not going to pick sides in their little tantrums. If they worship Yahweh and think Jesus is the savior, that’s Christian.

      • Mark


        According to I Corinthians 6:2 the saints will judge the world. To your comment on inmates, most that I have met became Christians after their incarceration.

        • hotshoe

          Mark, you’re still a fool. You think a letter to the Corinthian ex-heathen faction gives you the authority to decide who is a True Christian (criminal or not) and who is No True Christian (criminal or not)? You would follow the word of Paul rather than the word of your own god? Judge not lest ye be judged. Only the Lord God has the authority to determine who are acceptable as christians and you don’t get to find out who until after you’re dead. You know that! Why are you denying your own faith in a weak attempt to win an internet argument?

          Although there is no such thing as True Christian, it’s ironic that one thing true of every Christian I’ve ever met, during a long life in a seriously christian society, is that they’re judgmental and proud of it. Shame, shame, shame on you all.

    • http://smingleigh.wordpress.com Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

      He’s a drive-by troll who throws out the first insult or badly-reasoned argument he thinks of and never returns.

    • Rain

      JT uses a very broad definition of “Christian.” I would really like HIM to define exactly what HE means when using the term.

      My guess would be Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912 Christian. Just a wild guess…

      • Loqi

        DIE, HERETIC!

    • http://anthrozine.com Cubist

      Mark, old buddy old sock old pal, I’m with Loqi. Considering that the number of existing Xtian sects is in the mid-to-high five digits, you Xtians really need to get your own shit together before you have any right to complain about “but you’re getting Xtianity wrong!”.

      • Mark

        A couple of good questions to ask when navigating the Christian sects include:
        1. What is their view on the inerrancy and authority of the Bible?
        2. Who is Jesus?
        3. What must I do to be saved?
        4. How do the above three questions square with what the Bible teaches.

        As I mention to Glodson below, Christianity has been in a position of privileged in the Western world for many centuries, many people, institutions, and organizations have taken the name Christian to reap the benefit of that privilege. Biblical Christianity is not easy to stomach, so it makes sense that these faux groups would downplay aspects which do not meet their financial goals. This dishonesty should not surprise you in the realm of religion. Please use discernment when evaluating these sects.
        By the way, I like the term “Xtian,” because the “X” reminds me of the cross on which Jesus died and took the penalty for my sin.

        • Compuholic

          And as usual you are extremely vague. Would you mind to clarify your 4 points? It would really be a shame if you didn’t do anything to help us poor atheists avoid labelling people as christians who are not really christians.

          1. What is the correct view on the inerrancy and authority of the bible that qualifies someone as a christian?
          2. What does a christian have to believe about jesus?
          3. What are the correct teachings about salvation that qualify you as christian?
          4. What exactly does the Bible teach: Everyone seems to have a different idea?

          And bonus question:
          * Why is your definition of a christian the correct(tm) one?

        • Loqi

          4. How do the above three questions square with what the Bible teaches.

          And here’s where it gets really stupid. Every one of those sects thinks their position is square with what the bible teaches. And they’re all fucking right. They can all quote dozens of verses that support them, while their competitors can quote dozens of verses that contradict them. Which is why we don’t bother getting into the minutia. If they believe in the god of the bible and think Jesus is their savior, I don’t care about their minor theological quibbling.

        • http://anthrozine.com Cubist

          I have two questions for you, Mark.
          One: Which set of answers to your quartet of queries is indicative of being a True Xtian™?
          Two: How do you know that the set(s) of query-answers you happen to favor, genuinely is indicative of being a True Xtian™, as opposed to indicative of being Yet Another Not-a-True Xtian™?

        • David Hart

          For what it’s worth, the ‘X’ is actually a stand-in for the Greek letter chi, which looks much like the Roman letter x, and which is the first letter of ‘Christ’ in Greek. But if the X reminds you of the cross, then you may have some form of pareidolia going on there – as I understand it, most crucifixions were done with a long vertical strut and a short horizontal beam, not two equal diagonals. Maybe you’d be happier if we could use ‘Ttian’ instead ;-)

          But to your general point. The fact that there are so many different sects of Christianity, all disagreeing about what interpretation of their holy texts (or even, in the case of Catholic-vs-Protestant-vs-Mormon disputes, disagreeing about just what writings are even part of the holy books), proves a lack of intellectual honesty on their part.

          Until all the sects of Christianity sit down together and work out a way of deciding between them what exactly their differences are, and what evidence they would accept to settle those diferences, no one else should have to side with any one of them over who counts as a Christian or not.

          For example, Catholics claim that when a priest recites certain magic words, the wafer and wine literally become the body and blood of a 1st Century Jewish carpenter. Protestants think that the wafer and wine are merely symbolic of the body and blood of that same carpenter. Unless the Catholics can state to the Protestants what it would take to convince them that the wafer and wine were merely symbolic, and the Protestants can state to the Catholics what it would take to convince them that the wafer and wine are literally transformed into flesh and blood, and then carry out those tests to see which group is correct, everyone else is entitled to say that
          a) at least one of these groups is just making stuff up, and
          b) the burden is not on us to decide which (even though, in this particular case, it’s pretty obvious).

    • Glodson

      Here’s a pretty useful definition, anyone that claims to be a Christian is probably a Christian. Now, if the person doesn’t know anything at all about Jesus, or the religion, one can make a competent argument that this person isn’t a Christian.

      However, if a person just acts poorly, does something bad, or is of a different denomination than you, disavowing this person is difficult.

      Also, why are you bringing in JT when JT didn’t write this?

      Anyway, if you are going to argue that anyone who does bad things cannot be a Christian, you better show your work. And explain why that idea directly contradicts many people that hold that we are all sinners. But we know you don’t have a good reason for that. You are doing exactly what Steven talked about by using the Scotsman fallaciously. Further, it is the argument of the religious that religion is needed for morality. If the religion makes no material difference, then it isn’t needed for morality. Further, if religion correlates with increased rates of immoral behavior, then religion isn’t needed for morality.

      See that last one? I didn’t fall in the trap of correlation equals causation, even though it would be good for my argument as I don’t know if it would religion itself that causes immoral behavior or if it is a quality shared by people who are more likely to be immoral and religious leaning people.

      • Mark


        While you may find your definition useful, Jesus gave commentary on people who merely claim to be His in Matthew 7:21-23
        “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”

        Does it not make sense that if Christianity is in such a position of privilege, as is often noted on this site, that there would be those who would take on the label Christian to reap the benefits of that privilege?

        As to morality, even though a person’s conduct can be excused under Jesus’ sacrifice, their actions (fruits) are an indicator of whether whether the Holy Spirit is guiding their actions. In Matthew 7:15-19, Jesus says,
        “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.”

        In John 15: 5 & 8 Jesus said “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. . . My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. ”

        Based on these passages, one cannot say, “Oh, murder, they must be a Christian,” or “oh, lying, this must be a follower of Christ.” These actions are antithetical to Christ’s teachings and therefore cast doubt on, not confirm, their standing as “Christian.”

        • Nate Frein

          Based on these passages, one cannot say, “Oh, murder, they must be a Christian,” or “oh, lying, this must be a follower of Christ.”
          I’d love you to cite one situation where someone here said that.

          While you may find your definition useful, Jesus gave commentary [blah blah blah]

          We’re atheists, twinkle-tits. None of us really care whether or not every person calling themselves a christian actually did the secret jesus rimjob properly. What we care is that they have named themselves christian, and have gone on to use that proclaimed christianity to justify harmful actions.

          And if you really think they’re all not true christians, then go the fuck out there and preach to them instead of coming here and acting like your fee-fees are hurt because JT calls any professed christian a christian.

        • Rain

          “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”

          False because someone can lie and you would never know it. Jesus was a lame philosopher.

          • IslandBrewer

            Actually, I get bad fruit from good trees all the time. It’s usually bugs that get inside the flower just when fruiting begins, but it doesn’t affect the tree.

            Also, when trees are heavily damaged, depending on the season, they sometimes fruit like crazy. Nothing at all wrong with the fruit. Moreso with citrus than stone fruits.

            Yeah, Jesus – totally incompetent horticulturist.

        • Rain

          “But he, knowing their thoughts, said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth. If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand?”

          Non sequitur. Assuming Jesus cast out a few devils using Beelzebub sorcery, that doesn’t mean the whole Satan kingdom would fall. Jesus could be tricking people to gain confidence, for example. That divided kingdom “proof” is a kind of proof a confidence artist would use. Jesus: dumbest philosopher ever.

        • Loqi

          Based on these passages, one cannot say, “Oh, murder, they must be a Christian,” or “oh, lying, this must be a follower of Christ.”

          You are correct. One cannot say those things. Man, there would be some egg on our collective face if any of us had actually said them.

        • Glodson

          Does it not make sense that if Christianity is in such a position of privilege, as is often noted on this site, that there would be those who would take on the label Christian to reap the benefits of that privilege?

          Do you understand what privilege even means in this context? No, apparently not.

          If one is in a position of social privilege, one is already reaping the benefit of said privilege. An example of Christian Privilege would be not even thinking about how a local government opening a session in prayer. Not thinking about asserting your religion through law. That’s privilege. Getting to disavow and redefine what Christianity is, those aren’t privileges. Further, in a sub-culture, privileges found in the larger culture can be denied. A Christian in the midst of a large community of atheists would find their privilege flipped when they admit their religion.

          Being allowed to commit logical fallacies to make a point is not an example of Christian privilege, and even if it was, it would still be fallacious.

          Based on these passages, one cannot say, “Oh, murder, they must be a Christian,” or “oh, lying, this must be a follower of Christ.” These actions are antithetical to Christ’s teachings and therefore cast doubt on, not confirm, their standing as “Christian.”

          Editing out all the non sequitur bible quoting, we are left with this. Say hi to Mr Strawman.

          No one says that a murder or a liar must be a Christian. But we do point out people who murder or lie for their religion beliefs. A guy who is a Christian who murders a lover, or a guy who is Christian who lies on his taxes are not interesting. They did so for mundane and normal reasons. One could say that if you see a high number of such people, then religion doesn’t really teach morals too well.

          However, when a man lies about the evidence to support his religion, that’s a problem. When a community tortures children to death because of their religion, that’s a problem. And the problem is with religion.

          Redefining what the religion is to deny these people is dishonest and fallacious.

    • IslandBrewer

      Mark, do you have a photo of yourself online? I want to make a dictionary of specious theist arguments, and I want to put a picture of you in the “No True Scotsman” section.

  • Loqi

    Unfortunately, it seems that conflation suits him well, as he seems satisfied to define “Christian” as anything that he disagrees with.

    Blatant dishonesty here. This is the part where I tell you to fuck off.

  • http://researchtobedone.wordpress.com ResearchToBeDone

    I’ve been meaning to write a post about times when ad hominem attacks are justified. I think it’s not uncommon for people to be accused of an ad hominem fallacy when they are attacking someone on characteristics that are relevant. For example, in The Case for a Creator, Jonathan Wells is interviewed and argues that the Cambrian explosion isn’t sufficiently explained by evolution. There is abundant reason to believe that he is biased, and has, at best, a poor grasp of the biology involved. “This dude is a shitty biologist” may be a personal attack, but given that in the context of the book the reader is being asked to trust his assessment of evolution and the Cambrian explosion as a biologist, it is an entirely relevant one. There seem to be a fair number of people who shout “ad hominem” whenever someone impugns their ability to reason within a particular area of inquiry, even when, under the circumstances, the criticisms may be entirely relevant to the issues at hand.

  • qbsmd

    “An ad hominem attack is when you disparage a person’s character rather than the argument they made”

    The ad hominem fallacy covers more than just character. It also covers race, gender, political affiliation, people or groups one associated with or any other characteristic of a person. For example, conservatives who use the phrase “liberal media” to disregard a story, jurors who assume a police officer is more likely to be honest than a suspect, people who don’t trust anyone of a given nationality, etc.