Yesterday, I pulled out a blog post from the archives about the logical fallacy of ad hominem which attacks the person making the argument rather than engaging the argument itself. We see this happening all the time, whether it’s from non-believers engaging believers, believers engaging non-believers, or within the church community itself.
Let’s take some time to look at some others over the next few days (weeks?). Today, let’s look at the fallacy of the appeal to force (Latin: argumentum ad baculum—literally, appeal to the stick), which is saying that if you do not accept my conclusion or proposition, something unfortunate will happen to you. The syllogism is as follows:
- We have seen this in the Muslim countries recently when it comes to Christians or other religions: “If you do not convert, we will kill you.”
- We see it at school with the bully: “Do what I say, or you’ll get beaten up.”
- We see it in the workplace with the employee saying, “I don’t think we should be using company funds like this.” The employer responds, “If you say anything, you’ll be terminated.”
The above are consequences that are fallacious, but there are consequences that are not so.
- If you break the speed limit, you are subject to a citation. You do not want a citation, therefore, do not break the speed limit.
- If you turn in an assignment late, you will be marked down. You want good grades. Therefore, turn in your assignment on time.
When doing a Google search on this subject, you will come across other search terms such as conforming or bullying. With these, we see that everyone will be subject to the appeal to force at some point or another, even from the religious community and its leaders.”
Recently, a woman asked me about a sermon I preached on the Lord’s Supper back on July 29. Her question specifically dealt with the passage in 1 Corinthians 11:29-30:
27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
So in the context of our fallacy under discussion, we see this:
- If you partake of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner, you will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord—which may be the reason why some are sick, and others have died.
- You do not want to have that punishment.
- So examine yourself to make sure you’re not guilty of unworthily partaking.
Is Paul appealing to force? I would submit that he is in a non-fallacious way (should you accept the biblical worldview). In a significant way, it’s much like the citation given with the speeding ticket or turning in an assignment that’s late. The authorities have set an ethical standard that is beneficial to the community in the other regards (speed limits, assignment deadlines) and the same is being done by the Authority of our Creator.
The apostle Paul says,
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2, ESV).
We all will conform to something. We do so because of the benefit we see in that to which we are conforming. We also do so because we believe of some harm or non-help that will happen if we do not conform. Here, we see we will either be conformed to some system in this world—or we will be rescued through the transforming work of Christ who renews our minds and gives us the ability to discern God’s will in the midst of this world’s varying systems.
Tomorrow, we will look at the appeal to pity. Until then, God’s blessings on you in Christ.
For a basic run-down of the various fallacies, go to Matt Slick’s site called CARM, which has been of enormous help to me over the years.