Since I wrote my article about Franklin Graham’s response to Mark Galli’s Christianity Today article, which called for the president to be removed from office, the response from the evangelical community has skyrocketed. Sunday, over 200 evangelical leaders signed an open letter condemning Galli’s article and sent it to Timothy Dalrymple, the president of Christianity Today. And this, it turns out, provides yet another perfect opportunity for identifying and addressing logical fallacies.
To see them, it will be useful to look at what one of the signatories, conservative radio host Eric Metaxas, tweeted before signing the letter.
“What makes the @CTmagazine editorial odd (if not preposterous) is that it implies those like Biden or Pelosi, who use the power of their offices to promote the murder of the unborn & the demonization of a biblical sexual ethic, less “morally troubling” than Trump & his tweets.”
The main mistake here is a strawman fallacy; Metaxas is recasting Galli’s argument, suggesting it says something it doesn’t say, to make it easier to attack. How so?
First, Galli doesn’t imply anything about the democratic candidates; he doesn’t mention them at all and says nothing about their moral standing. He’s just saying that, given his impeachable offenses and “grossly immoral character,” evangelicals shouldn’t support Trump anymore. Notice that, if Trump was removed from office now, Mike Pence would replace him as president and evangelicals could support him in 2020 instead. In a way, Metaxes strawmans Galli by presenting another fallacy: a false dichotomy (saying there are only two options when there are more). “It’s either Trump or the Democrats.” Clearly there are other options.
The second way Metaxas strawmans Galli’s argument is by minimalizing Galli’s concerns about Trump and exaggerating (what he sees as) the moral offenses of democrats. Thinking that abortion should be legal is not equivalent to “promot[ing[ the murder of the unborn.” Whether abortion is murder is a matter of philosophic debate (which cannot be settled scientifically) and many religious groups advocate against choosing abortion while still maintaining that it should be legal. (Some even argue that keeping it legal is part of the most effective way to reduce its frequency.)
Something similar could be said about the democrats’ position on homosexual marriage; it is not demonizing “biblical sexual ethics.” (Note that most biblical marriages do not involve just one man and one woman.)
But Metaxes also commits a version of the confusingly named “tu quoque” fallacy. The phrase essentially translates as “you also” or “you too.” In class, I call it the “two wrongs don’t make a right” fallacy. Usually people use it to excuse away their own failings by pointing to some failing of their accuser. For example, if your doctor says you need to quit smoking, then you probably do—even if your doctor smokes himself. The fact that you need to quit smoking is determined by facts about your health, not someone else’s habits. Your doctor might be a hypocrite, but that doesn’t change the fact that you need to stop smoking. So if you say “I don’t need to quit smoking because you smoke too,” you commit the “you too” fallacy.
Read the rest here.
Of course it doesn’t really matter if you are illogical as long as you are able to play to the fears of people with this false logic and convince them to act upon your rhetoric. Both Trump and the court evangelicals have been very good at this. When it comes to defending Trump, fighting the culture war, and fear-mongering, the basic rules of clear thinking do not apply. How do the court evangelicals reconcile such poor thinking with our call to worship God with our minds?