Using Logic in Theology:
The Fallacy of False Alternatives
By Steve Lemke, Provost and Professor of Theology and Ethics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
As a philosophically-trained theologian, it causes me considerable chagrin to see some of the most basic errors in logic committed over and over again in theological discourse. This fuzzy thinking arises in every area of doctrinal from time to time, but (perhaps because of my interest in this area) I note it particularly in regard to soteriological discussions relating to Calvinism vs. Arminianism. Over the next few posts, I want to identify several common logical errors which lead to ill-formed arguments, fallacious logic, and unsound conclusions. I apologize in advance that this discussion gets a bit technical at points, though I have attempted to convey it for a non-specialist audience. I beg for patience from those for whom it seems overly technical.
The Fallacy of False Alternatives (also known as the False Dichotomy Fallacy, False Dilemma Fallacy, All or Nothing Fallacy, or Black or White Fallacy) results when we simplify everything into an “either-or” choice, and thereby fail to take into consideration other viable alternatives. One of the common mistakes made by “shade tree” theologians is to oversimplify theology into Calvinism or Arminianism, as though those were the only choices regarding any given theological issue. They are not.
In logic, an “either/or” statement can be described as a disjunctive syllogism (“either A or B is true”). The logic goes pretty easily from there – if not A, then B; or if not B, then A. But many possible disjunctive syllogisms fall into the fallacy of false alternatives. The syllogism works only if there are just two possible alternatives. So, for example, the following argument might be proposed: “Either a Yankees fan or a Red Sox fan.” (Hence, if Yankee fan, then not Red Sox fan; or if Red Sox fan, then not Yankee fan). These teams are fierce rivals, of course, and to be a fan of one almost guarantees not being a fan of the other (a Yankees fan will not be a Red Sox fan, and a Red Sox fan will not be a Yankees fan) – but these are not the only alternatives. I happen to be a Rangers fan, so I could not properly be said to be either a Yankees or a Red Sox fan. At times I might cheer for either the Yankees or the Red Sox, but I would do so not because I am their fan, but because either of them winning or losing might afford some advantage to the Rangers (such as home field advantage in the playoffs). So the argument that you must be either a Yankees fan or a Red Sox fan commits the fallacy of false alternatives.
Thursday is for Theological Terminology:
The Study of Specialized Words relating to Theology
by Ron F. Hale, Minister of Missions, West Jackson Baptist Church, Jackson, TN
Total Depravity or Total Inability
Bernd Brandes was a person with a passion for pain.
This bizarre mania caused him to respond to an internet ad placed by another German man by the name of Armin Meiwes. This spine-chilling internet ad declared that Meiwes was seeking “a young, well built man who wants to be eaten.”
Brandes responded and became the menu of Meiwes. This modern day cannibal was later sentenced to serve eight years and six months in prison. How would you like being the sleepy-eyed cell mate of Meiwes?
This story reveals the ever-present wickedness of mankind, that we are not deprived but depraved sinners. Forever and a day each of us will always fall short of the glory of God due to this sin nature.
Under the statement on Man, the following sentences taken from the Baptist Faith and Message, 2000 enlighten us on our depravity:
By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race. Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.
Throughout God’s Word, we see man’s devious and depraved nature has an explicit bias toward evil resulting in our certainty to sin; therefore, it cannot be escaped since our human nature has been corrupted by sin.
By Tim Rogers, Pastor, Ebeneezer Baptist Church, Indian Trail, NC
In a recent “SBC Discussion” article for Baptist Press Trevin Wax discussed how Southern Baptists were needed by evangelicals in order to overcome splintering within the evangelical community. I have many concerns about this approach, but the main concern is a denominational employee suggesting Southern Baptists move into areas many are not willing to go. Lest we forget, Wax is employed with Lifeway, which is an entity charged with producing educational material.
In Wax’s article, Being Southern Baptist among & for Evangelicals, he relied on some phantoms as he presented his facts. It is the phantoms and facts that I want to address in an effort to offer an objective critique of the article.
1. “Many Southern Baptists looked outside the SBC for energy and support in the “battle for the Bible
While I would agree with respect to “energy,” I would argue that “support” is his phantom. Certainly there were evangelical scholars, such as the ones Wax named, that were very articulate in debating inerrancy, and many of these were in print at the time. However, the support for this battle did not come from outside of the SBC; it came from within. Grass roots Southern Baptist pastors and laymen were the catalysts. Men like Bob Tenery, who was willing to jeopardize his own ministry and who invested his own money to begin the SBC Advocate, gave the underlying support needed. The SBC Advocate was a periodical that informed pastors and laymen about the issues. Pastors of churches large and small realized if they did not make a move, it was just a matter of time before we were going to have neo-orthodoxy filtering from pulpits to the people in the pew. In some cases, such was already happening. This “support” came from many pastors whose churches could not afford to send them to conventions, yet they came on their own nickel and voted.
By Dr. Ted Traylor, Pastor, Olive Baptist Church, Pensacola, FL
Dr. Ted Traylor, Pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida and member of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, shared his perspective about GCR on the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary campus recently in a GCR Pastor’s Conference, an event sponsored by the Leavell Center for Evangelism and Church Health of NOBTS. Traylor made his presentations in 3 one-hour settings, each of which is different in content. Dr. Traylor’s remarks probably address questions or concerns you might have had about GCR.
Traylor, whose church hosts an NOBTS extension center, also preached an excellent sermon at the NOBTS Missions Commissioning service, as has become a tradition for the last few years.
Some have asked for these videos, and they have been provided by the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry, with Dr. Traylor’s permission. You can see these three presentations and Dr. Traylor’s Missions Commissioning service sermon by clicking the links below. These are rather large m4 video files, so please be patient while they download. It may take a minute or more, depending on your connection speed.
Here are the links to the three videos:
The Missions sermon — http://media.nobts.edu/chapel/2011/2011.05.05.message.m4v
GCR Presentation #1 — http://media.nobts.edu/GCR/GCR-1.m4v
GCR Presentation #2 — http://media.nobts.edu/GCR/GCR-2.m4v
GCR Presentation #3 — http://media.nobts.edu/GCR/GCR-3.m4v
By Nelson Price, former Pastor Emeritus, Roswell Street Baptist Church, Marietta, GA
Our President has advised Israel and the Palestinians to go back to the 1967 borders between the territories where Jews and Arabs dwelt. Don’t plan on it!
What is in those territories now is not what was there before 1967. An example of this is the Golan Heights in Northeast Israel. Before 1967 it was a vast undeveloped area other than as a military buffer. When I went to Israel first in 1969 at night the lights of one small settlement could be seen at night from Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee. Now the entire range is aglow with villages.
The vast expanse of the Heights was basically a mine field left over from Syrian occupation. Sitting in those fields were rusty burned out Syrian vehicles all facing toward Damascus to which they were retreating when destroyed. Today they are lush orchards, vineyards, and highly productive agricultural land. Recently developed Israeli villages dot the area.
Before 1967 Jerusalem was a divided city. An idea of how developed the two sections were is illustrated by traffic lights. The Arab section was so lacking in modernization they had no traffic lights. When the border went down young Arab boys would stand on the street corner in the Jewish section and applaud the traffic lights when they would change. Last week while there I marveled that a rapid commuter rail line was being tested along much of the route of the former border.