We all want to know how one’s sexual identity should best be understood. To find the answer to this question we must first understand and commit to the ground rules of healthy conversations that lead to truth. Being committed to reason and logic is the fifth and final ground rule I began discussing last week. This week, I’ll share five more ways we can go wrong in our reasoning about this important question.
The Ad Hominem fallacy is literally “against the man.” It is attacking the person, rather than the position he or she is defending. It is actually a type of bullying.
Those questioning the LGBTQ+ lifestyle are guilty of this when using pejorative and offensive names to refer to LGBTQ+ men and women. Such personal attacks are substitutes for an argument, and don’t help advance the conversation.
A recent example of the ad hominem fallacy used by those promoting the LGBTQ+ lifestyle occurred recently around the United Methodist’s vote concerning sexual ethics. Most delegates from the U.S. were in favor of a motion to change the church’s view and affirm same-sex marriage and the ordination of gay clergy. Yet the motion failed due to the votes of those from the global south and east, led by African voices. Afterwards, a number of U.S. delegates argued that African United Methodists are uninformed, uneducated, and unenlightened in their thinking. This was a clear example of the ad hominem fallacy: attacking the person, rather than the logic of their position.
As I wrote in an earlier post describing the Straw Man fallacy,
It occurs when a person inaccurately describes another person’s view or position. His description sounds right at first hearing, and you believe you now have a good idea of the issue in question.
He then goes on to show why that position is wrong. He points out its weaknesses, and concludes the view should be rejected. You agree with him and, therefore, conclude the idea in question is wrong, false, and not what you should believe.
But what if he ... left out key information? What if he painted the view in an unfair light? What if he slyly built a weakness into the position? If he did, he is guilty of making a “straw man” of the view.
The straw man fallacy is afoot when language is changed to paint the alternative view in a negative light. For instance, this happens when those promoting the LGBTQ+ lifestyle define opposition to their position as “intolerant.” Doing so changes the meaning “tolerance,” and in so doing makes a straw man of the alternative position. (Historically “tolerance” meant "I disagree, but affirm your right to hold your view.” Tolerance was only applicable to views one disagreed with, very different than the new meaning --“You must accept my view is true or you are intolerant.")
Those opposing the LGBTQ+ lifestyle are guilty of this fallacy when arguing proponents are using this issue as a “Trojan horse” to open the door to all other types of sexual arrangements, including pedophilia and bestiality. This is not the agenda of many in the LGBTQ+ community. They simply believe that in order to flourish they must be allowed to express their sexual identity. Associating this view with pedophilia and bestiality fails to honestly describe the alternative view, and so is guilty of the straw man fallacy.
The Bandwagon fallacy is the assumption that just because everyone believes or does something, it is there for true or right. In other words, we hop on the “bandwagon” and join everyone else. Of course, what everyone believes or does is not directly related to what is true or right. Hence this fallacy of logic.
Those opposing the LGBTQ+ lifestyle are guilty of this fallacy when saying something like, “Everyone I know thinks that lifestyle is wrong, so it must be so!” This is not a good reason to adopt any view. The majority can always be wrong. In fact, often the majority has been wrong. For instance, for a long time the majority thought the earth was flat!
Those endorsing the LGBTQ+ lifestyle are equally guilty when saying, “In recent polls, the majority of Americans are in favor of gay rights.” The implied conclusion is that this validates the view. It does not—the majority can still be wrong – as was the case when over 50% of the population was in favor of racial segregation.
Committing to listen to experts on the issues in question, and not just others who may agree with our point of view, is the way we can avoid the bandwagon fallacy. We naturally do this in many other areas, because we intuitively know that not everyone’s opinion is equally valid. If I need my car fixed, I look for someone with expertise in auto mechanics. If I am sick, I go to a doctor.
Furthermore, because they are knowledgeable on these matters we do not get mad at them or shut down conversation because they disagree with us and say what we don’t want to hear. Rather we thank them for being honest, regardless of the implications for me (such as a hefty repair bill or surgery).
Of course, I am free to reject their advice and find those who tell me what I want to hear (I find a bandwagon to jump on). But I am only deceiving myself (and others) if I think this is a way to find and live in light of truth. And it will not lead to my or my car’s proper functioning. Sometimes listening to those who have the relevant knowledge and getting off the bandwagon is the only way to solve the problem.
Begging the Question
Finally, we must be careful of Begging the Question. In this fallacy we assume what we are trying to prove in one or more of our premises, and voila, we come to the conclusion we want! This may be the hardest fallacy to spot, and for that reason it is perhaps the most dangerous to our finding truth.
An example of question begging is when someone, in questioning the LGBTQ+ lifestyle, quotes the Bible in public discussions of this issue. While I believe the Bible is accurate in all it teaches (see my series here for my reasons), it is not accepted as authoritative in the broader “public square.” Others see this as simply begging the question in favor of the traditional position on human sexuality.
Conversely, those of the LGBTQ+ community are guilt of begging the question when they equate gay rights with civil rights. The civil rights movement of the 1960s, leading to equal rights of ethnic minorities in our country, was based on the true premise that embracing and expressing one’s ethnic identity led to one’s flourishing.
However, this is still the issue in question here: whether one flourishes by embracing and practicing the LGBTQ+ lifestyle. “Rights” language already assumes such activities are healthy. Some choices are not. For instance, this is why polygamists do not have rights, and we don’t “celebrate” this type of “diversity”—regardless of what they think, it does not lead to their flourishing or the common good. And this is just the question underlying the LGBTQ+ conversation. (See here for a well-written article raising this question.)
If these simple ground rules are followed, much can be gained in the LGBTQ+ conversation. In this series (as in my other writings), I will do my best to follow these ground rules.
I invite those reading this series (or anything else I write) to post a reply in the comments below calling me out on violations of these principles. My desire is to write something helpful to move this conversation forward, and this can only be accomplished if I play by these rules (as I expect others to play by these rules as well).
By following these ground rules in the LGBTQ+ conversation I believe we can find common ground. Next week I’ll offer where I believe this common ground exists.
Until then, grace and peace.