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Two Logical Fallacies for Protestants

When you recognize these, it's easier to dismiss what might look like a persuasive argument.

No True Scotsman is a type of logical fallacy that involves making exceptions when a claim is contradicted in order to prevent the claim from being falsified. It’s called the No True Scotsman fallacy because it follows a pattern of reasoning along these lines:

Person A: No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.

Person B: But my friend Donald is a Scotsman, and he puts sugar on his porridge.

Person A: Ah, yes, but no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.

We can imagine this scenario with other things in our life. Say that you meet a person from Chicago who says, “A Chicagoan would never put ketchup on a hot dog,” and you say, “Well, my cousin is from Chicago, and he puts ketchup on his hot dogs.” The person might reply with “Well, a real Chicagoan would never put ketchup on his hot dog.” This person is committing a No True Scotsman fallacy.

Protestants fall into this line of thinking with some of their theology. First, let’s look at the prosperity gospel, or, as some call it, the “health and wealth” gospel. This teaching suggests that despite Jesus telling his apostles that there would be struggles in this life (John 16:33), a “true believer,” who is “truly giving money to the church,” will never have such problems. Because of the extremely ambiguous statement of “true believer” and the insistence that true believers (whoever they are) will be healthy and wealthy, proponents of the prosperity gospel can’t help but commit the No True Scotsman fallacy. It goes like this:

Person A: A Christian won’t have health or wealth problems.

Person B: I am a Christian, and I have health and wealth problems.

Person A: You must not be praying enough or giving enough.

See the pattern here? Not only do prosperity gospel preachers preach a false gospel when they teach this, but they are committing a logical fallacy that would be easily spotted and called out in a formal debate.

This isn’t the only example of Protestants resorting to No True Scotsman. The most famous instance comes from those who believe in eternal security, or “once saved, always saved.” This doctrine suggests that a true Christian would never actually fall away from the faith and that someone who falls away was never truly saved to begin with.

There are a couple of logical problems with this. First, if your present Christianity is dependent on whether or not you fall away in the future, then no one could actually call himself a Christian, since it’s impossible to tell whether or not you will fall away, even if you don’t believe that you will.

In any case, here is the fallacy again, formatted a different way:

Person A: A Christian would not leave the faith.

Person B: I was a Christian, and I left the faith.

Person A: You were never a true Christian.

This brings me to my second logical problem: if someone went to church every week growing up, went to Sunday school and Bible study, but fell away from the faith because of sin afterward, was that person faking it the whole time? It would be hard to say that. However, the eternal security view requires illogical conclusions like that. Instead of coming to the more logical conclusion that eternal security is false, some will conclude that someone who went to church and Bible study willingly for twenty years was just faking it the entire time. I’m not sure about you, but I definitely would not be able to fake something for that long.

Advocates of this belief will point to Scripture to show this idea of a false believer. This idea comes from John’s first letter: “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us” (2:19).

Eternal security proponents will conclude that John is saying that if someone ever leaves the Faith, then he was simply never saved to begin with.

Of course, no one denies that fake believers exist. But the problem comes in when we try to insist that all of those who fall away are fake.

This is another logical fallacy: the hasty generalization fallacy. This fallacy suggests that because one thing is a certain way, everyone in the group is that way. It is similar to the No True Scotsman fallacy, except the opposite way. An example would go something like this: “I went to a restaurant last night, and the service was extremely slow. The staff seemed completely incompetent. Restaurants in this city have terrible service.” This person makes a generalized statement because of one specific instance.

Advocates of eternal security make this logical fallacy when they conclude that because John knew of fake believers, or because fake believers exist, all who fall away are false believers.

In conclusion, Protestants who believe in eternal security make two logical fallacies when giving their arguments: first, that a true Christian would never leave the faith (No True Scotsman), and second, if someone does leave the faith, then he was faking it the whole time, since John talks about fake believers in his letter (hasty generalization).

I would encourage Catholics to be aware of these types of fallacies when engaging in discussions with Protestants. And for the Protestants, be aware of these arguments, and try to make better ones.

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