The Dangers of Straw Men and Slippery Slopes
Evangelist Dave Young
Did you know that straw men and slippery slope arguments are logical fallacies? They appeal to emotions rather than to truth and logic. They side-step and misrepresent positions rather than discuss the position rationally. They broad brush issues and make assumptions that often have nothing to do with the discussion at hand. They can even undermine the very position the user is attempting to promote!
Let me define them:
A straw man argument is one that substitutes a person’s actual position or argument with a distorted, exaggerated, or misrepresented version of the position of the argument. Example: “Pastor Smith takes a weak stand on the KJV. Can you believe that he doesn’t believe in the doctrine of preservation?” While the first statement may be true, the implication of the second may not be at all.
A slippery slope argument is one that argues that a relatively small first step will lead to a chain of related events culminating in some significant (usually negative) effect. Example: “If we allow our singers to hold microphones, the next thing you know we will have disco balls in the auditorium.” These arguments occur continually in the political issues regarding abortion, gay rights, and many more polarizing matters of our day. They also occur continually in discussions regarding any number of our own issues in the church.
Let me illustrate:
Consider the issue of music in the church. When one pastor or believer thinks another’s music is wrong, he will often resort to the “slippery slope” argument. “Well, it is certainly a slippery slope, you know?” says one man of another. “Embracing that music (which can be anything from Majesty Music to Southern Gospel to whatever) will lead to (fill in the blank).” It may sound reasonable and it may appear to win the debate. The problem is that many who embrace that music never make it to the (fill in the blank) and some who reject that music actually are the ones who wind up at the (fill in the blank). I have a friend who uses music that I wouldn’t use. He is far more to the left than I believe he should be. He was told by another friend of ours that introducing that music to his church was an open door to adultery because of its sensual nature. My pastor friend replied with a startling question: “Do you know (and he mentioned a very conservative and prominent IFB leader who is out of the ministry because of his infidelity)?” “If your point is true,” he suggested, “perhaps the opposite is true. Perhaps his music is the slippery slope to adultery!” When we use logical fallacies, the result is often inconsistencies, illogical arguments, and diversions from logical and gracious Biblical evaluations and discussions. We may even gain followers because of our emotion but it will not be because of the truth. When that happens, we will eventually lose those followers to whoever presents the next emotional appeal.
Let me challenge you:
As believers we should refrain from straw men and slippery slope fallacies. Instead we should approach issues in a more Biblical way. I suggest these four ways as a starting point.
- We should speak respectfully of those who take different positions.
None of us have fully arrived. All of us have ample room to grow and mature and should be doing just that. A man may be right-wing King James Only and be a genuine believer in every way. A man who is comfortable with another translation may be a genuine Christian in every way as well. Wouldn’t most of us, for instance, love and respect Adrian Rogers? Romans 14:1 begins by reminding us to “receive one another” and Paul reminded Timothy to “be gentle unto all men” (2 Tim. 2:24). I suppose that would apply to all those with whom I disagree. No matter what position I take, I usually find that some are to the left of me and some are to the right. I can disagree with either and still respect them. I can have a meal with them and discuss our differences and why we differ. Doing so may actually help a brother to become more Biblical (or maybe he will just become more like me) and I have often even grow in an area myself!
- We should give great priority to Biblical statements.
Good men frequently offer varying positions on any number of Biblical doctrines and issues. It is likely because God’s Word gives us basics (fundamentals) and we add our background, upbringing, and training to those basics. Shouldn’t we rely heavily on the simple and clear statements of God’s Word? Sometimes we discuss the textual issue and learn more about the positions of Peter Ruckmann, BJU, or PCC than we do about the Bible’s. Only one of those is infallible. The other three are not. We do the same with music. Rock musicians can certainly be quoted as can Ron Hamilton, Frank Garlock, or Robert Bakss and we can learn from all of them. Only the Bible is infallible though. John 17:17 says it very simply: “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” I loved the fact that my late father-in-law began every discussion and answered every question with these simple words: “Well, the Bible says . . . .” I want to be more like that myself.
- We should withdraw from fleshly arguments and accusations.
When tempers flare and accusations are hurled, it is wise to withdraw. When good men are evil spoken of, withdraw. When straw men are the norm, stop the discussion. A man may wear “polka dot” shirts or even pink ones and be straight. A man may have a “higher” pitched voice and be a very Godly man who is being greatly used of God. To claim that he is ungodly because of the voice God gave to him or because he wears a shirt you don’t like, is unwise at best and likely wicked at worse! Paul told Timothy to “shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness” (I Timothy 2:16). In my opinion, we are seeing a lot of that kind of ungodliness in our day.
- We should be willing to listen and cautious when we speak.
James says that we should be “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19). All of us should be wary of speaking hastily and of allowing our emotions to rule our conversations. I have learned that when I apply this truth around men with whom I may disagree on one point or another, I gain a friend who not only helps me to understand his views but also to further develop mine. I recommend the same to you!
What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts.
Thanks for reading,
Your sincere friend,