Appeals to selective evidence are numerous. By definition, we engage in this logical fallacy anytime we only refer to authorities or passages that agree with us on a given issue while failing to account for countervailing evidence or authorities. A specific example comes from the “name it and claim it” theology. In circles that embrace this sort of thinking, it is common to cite Scripture passages that promise answers to prayer for “whatever you ask.” For example, in John 14:13–14 Jesus says: “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” At other times, Scripture stresses the need for faith on the part of the one who prays (Heb. 11:6; James 1:6). However, people can sustain the name-it-and-claim-it approach only by selective use of evidence while ignoring other passages that put certain constraints on the kinds of prayers God will answer: prayers of disciples who take up their cross and follow Jesus, prayers asking for resources to carry out God’s mission in the world, and so on. Such proponents also tend to ignore the mystery of suffering (see, for example, Jesus’ comments in Luke 13:1–6), fail to explain why God answers certain prayers but not others (such as for the salvation of loved ones), and neglect to point out that there is no scriptural guarantee that God will answer all prayers for healing.
Unwarranted associative jumps, likewise, are treacherous and lurk at every turn. D.A. Carson, in his excellent book Exegetical Fallacies, cites the classic example of Paul’s statement in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” All things? As Carson rightly points out, Paul’s statement cannot be legitimately extended to such things as jumping over the moon, integrating complex mathematical equations in one’s head, or turning sand into gold.
Certain constraints are brought to bear by the context of Paul’s statement in his letter to the Philippians, most importantly the importance of contentment and of being able to deal with both poverty and wealth. Another common example of an associative jump is taking 2 Chronicles 7:14 (“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves . . . ”) as directly applying to modern-day democracies when the original point of reference was to Israel as a theocracy.
Improperly handled syllogisms are very common as well. An example of a two-step argument for women serving authoritatively in the church based on the application of the term co-worker (Greek synergos) to both Timothy (Rom. 16:21) and women such as Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2–3) might look as follows:
Syllogism No. 1:
- Timothy is a co-worker of Paul.
- Timothy functioned authoritatively in the church.
- Therefore, all co-workers of Paul functioned authoritatively in the church.
Syllogism No. 2:
- Euodia and Syntyche are co-workers of Paul.
- All co-workers of Paul functioned authoritatively in the church (the conclusion of the first syllogism).
- Therefore, Euodia and Syntyche functioned authoritatively in the church.
However, there are several problems with this kind of reasoning. Most importantly, the first syllogism is invalid: the conclusion does not properly follow from the premises. That is, if one were to say (1) some A is B and (2) all B is C, then one cannot from these premises categorically conclude that (3) all A is C.
At best, one could seek to work inductively and contend that there is a strong likelihood that all co-workers of Paul functioned (or could function) authoritatively in the church. However, this would be a difficult case to prove, because contextual study of the relevant passages suggests that co-worker in the New Testament is a more flexible term that may indicate various forms of partnership, whether joint ministry, financial support, or other ways of collaboration. In any case, our point here is that arguments based on syllogisms, while common and often having surface appeal, may turn out at closer scrutiny to be fallacious and unsustainable.
False statements are also quite common, though perhaps this category would better be labeled “the use of faulty premises.” This fallacy may also be related to the just-mentioned faulty use of syllogisms. Remember, even if a syllogism is formally valid, as we have seen, the conclusion may still be false if one or both of the premises are faulty. An example of this is the common manner of citing Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no vision, the people perish,” with vision being used to indicate a leader’s or group’s forward-looking plans, desires, and expectations instead of the prophetic revelation that seems to be in view here. This is wisely brought out by the ESV translation of the verse: “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint” (emphasis added).