Ever heard of a logical fallacy?
In a nutshell, it’s what happens when someone’s argument for or against something actually in no way serves as evidence. For example,
“My client couldn’t have killed this man because he’s a really good guy.”
I’d like to talk about two logical fallacies that plague the church today: anecdote and bandwagon. Both are exactly what they sound like. When someone commits an anecdotal fallacy, they base their evidence on personal experience (or fact from their point of view) instead of on explicitly stated and agreed upon fact. For example, if someone says God answers our prayers when we say them standing on our heads and recite the Lord’s Prayer six times afterward because something happened for him/her once after doing that.
Bandwagon means “it must be valid if everyone is doing it” or “it must be valid if it’s always been done that way.” An extreme example would be if a church started selling indulgences to cover sin because it was done in the Middle Ages.
Obviously, these are extreme examples, but people take this kind of circumstantial evidence as fact in the church.
In fact, most of what Jesus corrected the Pharisees on was based on these fallacies.
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.”
Matthew 23:13-36 ESV
So that was long, but I’m not sorry.
Most of what Jesus was condemning had long been made tradition in the temple. It was also wrong. Everyone did it, but that didn’t make it right. Bandwagon fallacy.
In response to my opinions on digital music (see The Talent-Burying Music Industry), many would say “That’s just how everyone’s doing it now.” I’m sure there are valid arguments against me, but considering my arguments against digital music are based in fact, that’s not one of them.
That’s not really a big issue. However, the big issue comes from churches that act as these Pharisees acted. Churches that praise themselves more than the God who put them there through their sermons. Churches that sell tickets for ministry events not marketed as fundraisers. Churches that hold onto practices that just aren’t biblical because it’s “what the church does.”
Christian individuals are guilty of the same. They say “old habits die hard.” We hold onto family traditions, national traditions, traditions of our professions, even if they aren’t godly, because everyone’s doing it, or because they’ve always done it. But ask yourself: is it right? Is it biblical?
I’ve heard a lot of sermons and read a lot of books that display instances of anecdotal fallacy.
I know what you may be thinking: Wasn’t the spread of early Christianity based on anecdotal evidence? And no it wasn’t; not alone anyway.
I’ll spare you from quoting the whole thing and just paste a link, but in Acts Chapter 7, Stephen combines the stories about Jesus (which everyone he’s talking to still knows, as many of them were either around when Jesus was alive or heard about him from their religious elite mentors) with the scriptures from the Old Testament.
Personal experiences are fine, but only, and I mean ONLY when they can be supported by scripture. The human experience isn’t infallible like scripture is. The fact is people see things wrong, people hear things wrong and people believe things wrong (not to mention the effect expectation has on your senses).
The Bible, however, is infallible fact. Infinitely better than our personal experience, however real we may think it is, is the word of God.
Not that personal experience can never teach us anything. Or that everyone doing it automatically means it’s wrong. In fact, there’s another fallacy called the fallacy fallacy: just because what is called a fallacy was made in an argument, that doesn’t necessarily mean the argument is invalid.
We can learn a lot from personal experience. We can learn a lot from what other people do. But if what we learn from those things doesn’t line up with what we learn from Scripture, we must discount them. Just something to think about.