Logical Fallacy Series -- Part 3: The Straw Man


This is part 3 of the series I'm doing on logical fallacies. A logical fallacy is a mistake in reasoning. Just as someone can stumble on occasions while walking, so one can stumble on occasions when thinking. Logical fallacies can come in two forms; formal and informal. Formal fallacies, as the name suggests, is when a fallacy is made in the form of an argument. A formal fallacy is committed when the syllogism doesn't follow one of the rules of logic (e.g modus ponens, modus tollens, hypothetical syllogism, etc.) and as a result of not obeying the rules of logic, the conclusion cannot be inferred even if the premises of the syllogism are all true. In part 1 of this series, I gave an example of what a formally fallacious argument looks like. However, we won't be examining any formal fallacies until later. For the few posts in this series, I'll be talking about what informal arguments look like. Informal fallacies, as I explained in part 1, is when the content of argument is fallacious. Even if a syllogism is logically valid (i.e it doesn't break any of the rules of logic) and even if all of the premises are true, you still can't infer the conclusion. This is because of something within content of the argument itself.

Last time, we looked at The Fallacy Of Equivocation. In this blog post, I'll be talking about....

The Straw Man Fallacy

What is The Straw Man Fallacy? This fallacy is committed whenever someone refutes an argument that his opponent did not make, or when he explains a belief that his opponent does not hold. The name of the fallacy comes from an analogy: it's must easier to win a fight against a man made of straw than it is to win a fight against an actual flesh and blood human being. Similarly, it's much easier to refute an argument that your opponent didn't actually make than it is to refute the one he did make.

This fallacy may be THE most common fallacy that people commit. Even I have committed this fallacy on certain occasions. This is because it is the most easy to commit unintentionally. Most people, I think, don't purposefully misrepresent what others believe. Most people, when they attack straw men, simply misunderstood what their detractors said, and they're relaying what they honestly believe they meant. As stated, even I have attacked straw men before, but I have never once done so on purpose. If I'm arguing with someone, and they point out to me that I've misrepresented what they believe or said, I will immediately apologize, listen to them present their argument again, and then try to understand exactly what they're saying.

Examples Of The Straw Man Fallacy

I could write a whole book on examples of straw man fallacies in the realm of Christian Apologetics. There are so many misrepresentations of what Christians believe on the internet, that I have come to believe that the practice of apologetics needs to be more than simply saying WHY we believe that Christianity is true. We also have to explain WHAT believe to the unbeliever as well. We cannot assume that the non-Christian will know what we believe and is simply waiting on reasons to believe it.

One example of a Straw Man launched against Christians is objections against The Trinity. Atheists, Modalists, Jehova's Witnesses, and Mormons will sometimes mock Christians for believing in the Trinity, because they say "It's logically impossible for there to be only 1 God and 3 Gods. There's Either 1 God or there's 3, but it cannot be true that there's only 1 God and that Jesus and The Holy Spirit are Gods too."

This is a huge misrepresentation of the doctrine of The Trinity. We do NOT believe that there is 1 God and 3 Gods. Nor do we believe that God is 1 person and 3 persons. That would clearly be contradictory and therefore logically impossible. Rather, we believe that there is 1 God who eternally exists as 3 distinct persons. We believe that The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit are each individual persons in their own right, but they all share the same divine essence. Saying that "God is 1 being who consists of 3 persons" is no more contradictory than saying that "There's 1 triangle that consists of 3 corners" or "There is 1 clover that consists of 3 leaves". Just as there can be 1 clover that consists of 3 leaves, so there can be 1 God that consists of 3 persons. Each leaf on the clover is distinct from the other 2 leaves, but all 3 share the essence of "cloverness".

Also, each corner on a triangle is a distinct corner. The top corner is not the lower left hand corner, and the lower left hand corner is not the lower right hand corner, and the lower right hand corner is not the top corner. But all 3 corners are the same triangle. Indeed, there couldn't be a triangle in the absence of the corners. Similarly, The Father is not The Son, and The Son is not The Holy Spirit, and The Holy Spirit is not The Father. But, all 3 persons are the same God.

For more material on the doctrine of The Trinity, check out my blog posts "Does The Bible Teach That God Is A Trinity?" and "Is Believing In The Trinity Irrational?" and several other related posts listed in "The Deity Of Jesus Library". 

Another straw man made by unbelievers is the claim that Christians don't believe that dinosaurs ever existed. Actually, this is only a straw man depending on who they talk to. Sadly, I have discovered that there actually are some Christians who believe that dinosaurs never existed and that Satan planted the various fossils of dinosaurs and other extinct animals into the ground in order to make evolution seem plausible and to test our faith. Thankfully, these nutty people are in a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny minority, but they're out there nonetheless. It's a straw man though when atheists portray this insane belief as the prevailing view of dinosaurs among Christians. It's a straw man when atheists talk about it as though the vast majority of Christians believe this nonsense. That is not so. Most Christians do acknowledge that dinosaurs existed be they Young Earth Creationists, Old Earth Creationists, or Theistic Evolutionists. Young Earth Creationists believe dinosaurs lived alongside of man before going extinct some time before Jesus Christ was born while Old Earth Creationists (like myself) and Theistic Evolutionists agree with the secularists that dinosaurs lived and died long before human beings ever came into being. 

When atheists say things like "Christians are so anti-science! They even deny that dinosaurs existed! How stupid can they get?!" It's a straw man because they're taking what an extremely tiny minority believes and puts it forth as if the majority believes it. The informed atheist will realized that the vast majority of Christians affirm that dinosaurs once existed. 

Another example of a straw man argument: "Christians believe that sex is evil even though God created sex! Yeah, that totally makes sense. NOT!" 

We can all agree that it's illogical to believe that God created sex and yet sex is evil, and in fact, this is not what Christians believe at all. We do not believe that sex is evil. We believe that any sexual activity that isn't between a man and a woman within the confines of marriage is sinful, but so long as a man is having sex with a woman whom he married, then they are not sinning at all. We believe pre-marital sex, sex between 2 people of the same gender, masturbation, orgies, and other sexual activities are sinful. The only time sex is not sinful is when it's between a man and a woman within the confines of marriage. The Bible says "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral." (Hebrews 13:4). 

If you'd like to go into more depth on the Christian view of sex, check out Richard Bushey's article "An Atheist E-Mailed Me To Ask About The Christian View of Sex – Here Is My Response"

Another example: "Protestants believe that you don't have to do good works. You only have to believe in God. We Catholics, on the other hand, believe good works are important." 

The Catholic in this example is attacking a straw man. He's misrepresenting the doctrine of Sola Fide. Protestants do not think that good works aren't important. We just don't think we're saved by them. We believe salvation comes by faith alone. 

“For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith -- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so that no one can boast.”  Ephesians 2:8-9 is clear cut; we are saved by God’s grace. God’s grace regenerated us or made us born again (John 3:3, 2 Corinthians 5:17) when we placed our faith in Him. Once we placed our faith in Jesus, God’s grace regenerated us, and God forgave us and adopted us as His children (John 1:12). Ephesians says that we weren’t saved because we did any good works. The passage implies that if we could be saved by good works, we’d have something to boast about. We could go on and on in the afterlife about how much better we were than other saints that were there. “Yeah, you did some nice things Bob. But you should take a look at my spiritual resume. I dare say that I might have out good deeded every member of the Red Cross and Salvation Army combined!” But since we’re not saved by how many good deeds we do, we have nothing to boast about. I am no better for attaining my salvation than any other saved person, and I’m certainly not better than those who aren’t saved. Ephesians 2:8-9 is clear that our salvation was granted to us upon placing our faith in Christ. In fact, even our faith would be impossible without grace. In John 6:44 and John 6:65, Jesus says that no one can come to the Father unless the Father draws them. According to John 6:44 and John 6:65, grace is needed in order for us to be able to repent. Even faith would be impossible unless God gave us the ability to choose to exercise it. 

And lest the Catholic point out that "We don't deny that we're saved by grace. We believe that we're saved by grace and works." one needs to notice that the way Paul words his sentence, one cannot hold to the grace + works model, since he explicitly says "not by works". What does Paul mean by "not by works"? He means that works don't play a role in our salvation at all. Or at least that's the plain reading of the text. One would have to do hermenutical back flips in order to get this passage alone (never mind the numerous other anti-works based doctrine passages) to be compatible with the notion that good works play a role in actualizing one's salvation.

We believe that good works are important. After all, Jesus said "Jesus said “If you love me, you will obey my commandments” (John 14:2) and He said “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.” (John 14:23) and the apostle John said in his first epistle “In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome,” (1 John 5:3) John said in his second epistle “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” (2 John 1:6). And James 2 is another scripture that talks about the importance of good works.

We believe that good works are important. We just don't believe they play a role in our salvation. We do good works because we're saved. We don't do good works in order to get saved.

That does it for this week's article. Come back next week for part 4 of The Logical Fallacy Series. It's important that we, as Christians, learn about logical fallacies so that when atheists and other unbelievers attempt to discredit our faith, we can avoid being fooled by their bad reasoning. If you can spot the fallacy, you can avoid the conclusion!