Professing Themselves to be Wise, They Became Fools Part 1

Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.
– G.K. Chesterton

We often encounter examples of bad thinking and erroneous arguments in the news media, social media, talk radio, and in private conversations. The common thread is that they tend to rely on emotional punch instead of sound reason. Over the next few posts I will be writing about common examples of bad thinking, also known as informal fallacies.

Let’s start with an appeal to force. An appeal to force is exactly what it sounds like: it is an attempt to persuade by force or threat of force. It is a popular tactic among schoolyard bullies, drill instructors, and governments.

The problem is that forcing someone to adopt an opinion does cannot change the truth. It also does not guarantee a true change of heart or mind.

A Man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.
– Benjamin Franklin

In the past, Christians sometimes tried to impose their religion on non-Christians. A few Christians even gave unbelievers the ultimatum to convert or die. In parts of Europe differing factions of Christians even fought one another over doctrinal differences, and religious and political power. However, this had no impact on whether Christianity was true or not .

It should be noted that this never became normative Christian practice and was often done in spite of the protest of the Church. In fact, it ran counter to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. Rather than spreading the Christian faith by the sword, they argued persuasively for their convictions.

Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.
– Paul, 2 Corinthians 5:11

Even if I forced people at gunpoint to repent and believe the gospel, it would not make Christianity true (or false). If Christians banded together, took over the government, and outlawed all non-Christian beliefs it would not change the nature of reality. It would not be logical and it would even run counter to classical Christian teaching.

In the next post, I will write about the appeal to pity fallacy.

Ecclesiastes 7:19 ESV

Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.


2 thoughts on “Professing Themselves to be Wise, They Became Fools Part 1

  1. “In the past, Christians sometimes tried to impose their religion on non-Christians. Impenitent rebels and heretics were even executed.”
    Not sure this is entirely accurate, the church almost universally condemned forced conversions my understanding is that this was prohibited by Canon law. This can be seen from the work of Thomas Aquinas, writing in the 13th century at the same time as the Inquistion and crusades, where he cites from Gratain’s decretum as prohibiting forced conversion of Jews.
    The issue of heresy was not an attempt to force non believers to convert, it was action against people who had professed to be Christians and were teaching subversive doctrines as Christian. Obviously, it was wrong to suppress heresy in this way but it was never understood to involve forcing unbelievers to convert.
    There were sporadic cases where political leaders engaged in forced conversions, but these were not the policy and were often done over protest by the church.

    1. Certainly forced “conversions” were against orthodox teaching and were not the norm, but there were some cases of it and I refer to those. Certainly you’ve looked into it deeper than I. I look forward to reading your new book with Paul Cop an when it comes out, and I enjoyed your recent appearance on Unbelievable.

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