The Psalmist prays, “Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way.” (Ps 119:104) As we seek understanding through God’s precepts, we’re encouraged to learn to identify false ways of thinking and to reject them.
A false way is an irrational thought pattern, an invalid type of reasoning that’s only convincing when we want it to be; it’s biased, intellectually dishonest; it’s faulty logic, logical fallacy.
For example, last week, a well-meaning friend sent me an email outlining nine distinct points opposing a position I hold called One Law: We’re all responsible to obey all of God’s Law, the Law of Moses, or Torah, that we’re able to obey. I believe God has only one set of laws defining holiness and sin (1Jn 3:4); I think it’s generally applicable for every people group and culture for all time. I’ve written many articles supporting this viewpoint, and I continually invite anyone to challenge me on it, which is what my friend was doing.
As I considered each of the nine points, it was not difficult for me to see that each was invalid, based on false reasoning. The first, “ (One Law) is anti-Jewish because it opposes any continuing distinction between Jews and Gentiles,” is false by counter-example; Jews observe many traditions which distinguish them as a people which are not required in order to obey Torah (Mk 7:3-4), and Torah-obedient Gentiles are not required to become Jewish, but are encouraged to maintain their ethnic identity. (1Co 7:18)
The second was similarly false: “ (One Law) is supersessionist because it considers Israel as redefined and now composed of one law believers rather than the Jewish people.” Gentiles starting to try to obey Torah cannot redefine Israel since Israel has never been defined as “the people group that obeys Torah.” Israel has, for the most part and just like all other people groups, always been ungodly (Ro 11:26); they don’t obey Torah today, and they never have consistently obeyed it. (Ac 7:51)
The third point, “(One Law) is anti-Christian because it claims that the Church is pagan, apostate and sinning by not keeping distinctively Jewish commandments,” was a case of circular reasoning, assuming what we’re trying to prove, that most of God’s commandments in Torah are only for Jews.
The rest of the points were either redundant with the first error above, or ad hominem arguments: claims that One Law is invalid because some people who hold it are bad. For example: “(One Law) promotes arrogance and a critical spirit towards Synagogue and Church authority and tradition.” This is an attempt to discredit One Law through personal attack. Though many proponents of One Law may be arrogant or have a critical spirit, there’s nothing inherent in the position that actually requires or implies such a disposition.
Ad Hominem is a particularly common type of logical error because it’s emotionally charged, so it’s generally quite effective in convincing careless, biased people; yet it’s easily exposed as illogical since it’s context specific: we’d never apply this type of reasoning to dismiss something we want to believe, like the fact that Earth is spherical. Many wicked people believe the earth is round, but this is irrelevant; it doesn’t prove the earth is flat … because it has nothing to do with the claim.
It’s very easy to to commit logical fallacy and to be deceived by invalid reasoning; if we’re not carefully pursuing truth, hating vain thoughts, we’ll be blinded by our bias, unable to detect false ways of thinking. The wicked lay them out for us like snares (Ps 119:110); we must remain humble and vigilant. (1Pe 5:8) Whenever Christians commit logical fallacies, the world goes out of its way to notice and bring dishonor to the name of Christ.
The safest way I’ve found to avoid the false way is to ask others to challenge me with their strongest arguments. Humbly and carefully considering opposing view points in their strongest possible form, and prayerfully comparing these with God’s Word, is the only way I know. (Ps 119:59)