The following was originally printed in the March/April 2015 edition of Mormonism Researched. To request a free subscription, please visit here.
By Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson
When discussing with those who have different views, it is important to utilize sound reasoning skills. Sometimes, though, people resort to unfair tactics, which we call logical fallacies. These are errors in thinking that do not lead to the proper conclusion. Listed below are several common fallacies we encounter in our ministry (and which can be found in the appendix of our book Mormonism 101 (Baker, 2015):
Ad hominem: Criticizing a person making the argument rather than the argument itself. Ex: “Because John is a former Mormon, an apostate from the LDS Church, his argument against the Book of Abraham cannot be considered valid.”
Analysis: Labeling someone (“apostate”) is meant to introduce a negative bias and should be avoided.
Appeal to pity: Attempting to sway the audience by using emotional tactics to gain sympathy. Ex: “Since Mormons have been persecuted throughout the years, this faith must be true or otherwise these people wouldn’t have been attacked.”
Analysis: It is true that some Mormons have been persecuted over the past two centuries. However, even if it’s true that Mormons have been unduly persecuted, this does not validate Mormonism’s truth claims. If so, would the Mormon consider biblical Christianity to be true merely because Christians around the world are persecuted on a daily basis for their faith?
Appeal to the people: Insisting that your position is true because other people agree with it. Ex: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has millions of members. Do you really think that many people can be wrong?”
Analysis: Just because a lot of people share the same view does not guarantee that the view they share is correct.
Bandwagon: Believing a view is correct because of its popularity. Ex: “Since Mormonism is one of the fastest growing religions, there must be some truth to it.”
Analysis: Even if it were true that Mormonism is “one of the fastest growing religions,” this does not necessarily mean it’s true. Spiritual truth is not determined by popularity or growth in numbers.
“Either or” fallacy/false dilemma: Claiming that “either” proposition A or B is true when a third option is possible. Ex: “If the Mormon Church isn’t true, nothing is.”
Analysis: This statement is sometimes made by faithful Latter-day Saints but ignores the possibility of other options. If Mormonism isn’t true, something else must be (and even if there is no God at all, that means atheism is true).
Faulty appeal to authority: Basing an argument on the opinion of a person or group. Ex: “I know for a fact that the Bible cannot be trusted. My bishop is a doctor and he said so.”
Analysis: This person’s bishop may be knowledgeable in his particular field of expertise, but it does not necessarily mean he is an expert when it comes to the accuracy of the Bible.
Genetic fallacy: Rejecting an idea based on its origin rather than on its merit. Ex: “I found this video critical of Mormonism on a website that is not sponsored by the church, so it must be wrong.”
Analysis: Rather than disparaging the source of the information, the argument itself should be the focal point of the disagreement.
Special pleading: Having standards that apply to others, but not oneself, without applying justification for the exemption. Ex: “Yes, Doctrine and Covenants 1:31 does say the Lord will not look upon sin with the least degree of allowance, but Heavenly Father loves me, so I’m sure I will be eligible for exaltation.”
Analysis: Even though LDS scripture insists that no sin will be acceptable to God, those using this argument feel that they are somehow exempt from any penalty for their sin.
Personal incredulity: Because something is difficult to understand, it must be untrue. Ex: “The doctrine of the Trinity is complicated and can’t be comprehended. This proves it can’t be true.”
Analysis: Trying to harmonize all the verses in the Bible that speak about God certainly involves in-depth study. But just because an explanation of something is not always simple does not make the premise false. There are many mysteries in Mormonism that also can’t be understood, including determining the reality of an infinite regression of the gods (determining just who the first God is).
Red herring: Diverting the topic at hand by introducing another topic. Ex: After having a Christian share about salvation by grace through faith outside the grounds of Temple Square, a Mormon responds, “Do you share your faith at Muslim mosques or Buddhist temples? If not, why don’t you go to those places instead of targeting Latter-day Saints?”
Analysis: Getting of topic is a diversionary tactic meant to sideline the conversation. A possible reply is, “I’d be more than happy to talk about that issue, but could we first finish our conversation on salvation by grace through faith?”
Straw man: Making a particular position look weak by misrepresenting the argument. Ex: According to History of the Church 6:476, Joseph Smith said the following: “Many men say there is one God; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are only one God! I say that is a strange God anyhow—three in one, and one in three! It is a curious organization. . . . All are to be crammed into one God, according to sectarianism. It would make the biggest God in all the world. He would be a wonderfully big God—he would be a giant or a monster.”
Analysis: Smith gives an inaccurate analysis of what the Trinity teaches, making it easy to dismiss a God as described here. This version is certainly not an argument anyone would want to believe or defend.
Tu quoque: An attempt to ignore a criticism by pointing out an inconsistency or hypocrisy on the part of the critic. Ex: “Yes, it is true that several of our past leaders made remarks that certainly sound racist. But have you never exhibited behavior that might make you appear to be prejudiced or bigoted? Besides, many people during that time period had similar views.”
Analysis: From the Latin, tu quoque means “you too.” It has sometimes been called the “two wrongs don’t make a right” fallacy. Instead of explaining the racist comments made by past LDS leaders, it avoids the criticism by pointing out the possible hypocrisy of the one asking the question.
Mormonism 101 can be purchased here.