Avoiding the Real Issues

by Tim Chaffey

     When was the last time you had a really deep conversation or debate with someone whose views were completely different than yours?  It is becoming increasingly difficult for people in our society to have meaningful conversations, especially when attempting to discuss differences.  Perhaps nowhere is this more common than when discussing politics and religion.  That is why so many groups avoid talking about these particular issues.[1]  Since we are an apologetics ministry we will not focus on the political aspect here.[2]

     It seems that we have become masters of distraction.  Whether we realize it or not, our conversations of this nature are often littered with logical fallacies.  The first fallacy is known as ignoratio elenchi (irrelevant conclusion).  This fallacy is extremely common in secular science textbooks.  For example, when discussing the theory of evolution, textbooks will often show numerous examples of “microevolution” (minor changes within a species).  At this point the textbook makes an unjustified leap to the conclusion that this proves “macroevolution.”[3]  This is a logical fallacy because the conclusion really has nothing to do with the evidence even though it may seem to be related. 

     Darwin’s finches are usually cited as evidence for microevolution.  Darwin noticed that these finches from the various Galapagos Islands looked a little bit different than the finches on a neighboring island.  This was a good observation but his conclusion was faulty.  He reasoned that these birds all had a common ancestor – a bird (I would agree) but then went on to say that this proved all life forms evolved from a common ancestor.  This conclusion is not even remotely supported by the evidence yet is portrayed as fact in many textbooks today.

     The second logical fallacy is known as the “red herring.”  It gets its name from the practice of drawing a red herring across a trail to confuse hunting dogs.[4]  This fallacy is extremely common in debates, both political and religious.  Politicians are trained to do this.  During a debate, whenever a tough question is posed, the candidate (from either party) usually avoids the question and attacks his/her opponent or changes the subject completely. 

     I recently discussed the problems with the various compromise views put forth to reconcile the Genesis account of creation with the prevailing scientific opinions of the day.  Rather than addressing the question, the people in the discussion kept trying to change the debate into an argument about the age of the earth.  This was not the point of the debate.  I wanted an old-earth creationist (OEC) Christian to provide biblical support for his/her view.  However, since there is no biblical support the OECs commonly resorted to the red herring fallacy.  They attempted to change the subject because they did not want to admit they were wrong.  Eventually, one OEC surprised me by admitting that he could not find ANY support for an old earth in the Bible using the historical-grammatical hermeneutic.[5] 

    The third logical fallacy may be the most common.  It is known as the ad hominem (to the man) attack.  This occurs when a person launches a personal attack on his/her opponent's character.  This is extremely common during political campaigns and in courtrooms throughout this country.  Oftentimes the defense will attack the credibility of a witness by destroying his/her credibility.  This may be a wise strategy but it has nothing to do with the truth.  A person who lies regularly could actually be telling the truth on the witness stand but not be believed based on his/her lack of credibility. 

     Unfortunately, this happens a great deal in the church.  While all of us have probably been guilty of this at some point, it seems to be a common tactic used by those who are in need of correction.  Rather than discussing the problem the person being corrected gets defensive and goes on the offensive by resorting to name-calling or any other character assassination techniques.  

     Why can’t we discuss real issues?  Why do so many people shy away from debating the subject at hand?  Why is it so hard for people to admit that they are sometimes wrong?  I believe it is a result of our pride.  We cling to our beliefs even though they may be at odds with Scripture because we are too proud to admit that we are wrong.  It is sad to see so many Christians who are afraid to dig deeper into God’s Word because they are afraid of the conviction that is in store for them.  As Christians, we have to realize that we often make mistakes.  We need to stop running away from the discussions that may point these out and instead focus on the real issues.  Only then will we be capable of maturing spiritually and being conformed into the likeness of Christ. 

     No Christian has a perfect grasp of every biblical concept so there is always more we can learn.  In almost every case, there is someone who is more informed than you on a given issue (unless, of course, you are the world's leading expert on a particular subject).  We need to be willing to humbly accept correction when it comes from the Word of God.  If someone attempts to correct you on a highly debatable issue, then be sure you stick to the issue rather than resorting to the logical fallacies mentioned above.  While they may help you win the rhetorical battle, you may end up losing the war over truth.

[1] I recently had a high-level Freemason tell me that they never discuss politics or religion in the Lodge because these issues end up dividing people rather than uniting.  I realize that many Christians (myself included) would say the Freemasonry is a religious organization in some sense so this man’s statement is not entirely true but nonetheless, it illustrates my point.

[2] As far as politics are concerned, one need only watch the cable news networks and their “debate” shows to see that very little substance is ever discussed.  Oftentimes, combatants simply try to shout louder than the person on the other side of the issue.

[3] The terms “microevolution” and “macro-evolution” need to be defined carefully.  The term microevolution refers to the observable changes within a “kind” of creature.  For example, dogs will produce dogs that look a little different than their parents.  Macroevolution has never been observed and has no support from the fossil record but states that one kind of creature through a series of numerous minor changes can evolve into another kind of creature if given enough time.  I hesitate to use the term microevolution because it can give the impression that evolution is observable.  A better term would be adaptation but we will stick with the terms that are commonly used.

[4] Merriam-Webster, Inc. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.  10th ed.  Springfield, MA. 1996.

[5] This is a startling admission since so many OECs claim to get their views from the text itself.  However, it is obvious that their views come from the fallible opinions of men and they are simply trying to reconcile the Bible with what they believe to be proven conclusions of science.


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