by Zachary Wright


In the last article, I took some time to describe some of the basics of logic, and how to form good arguments.  However, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that not all arguments are created equal.  For example, when it comes to deductive reasoning, the premises need to support the conclusions in order to be valid.  When they don’t, the argument is called “fallacious”, that is, it’s based on poor reasoning.  While there is some variety in how someone defines the term “fallacy,” and a massive history behind its usage (1), it’s generally understood that fallacious arguments are simply bad arguments due to either a faulty premise or a lack of important information (2).  We’ll get into how that is in a moment, but it almost goes without saying that critical thinkers need the ability to discern the difference between valid and fallacious reasoning.  Without being able to parse through the validity of good and bad arguments, critical thinkers are unable to arrive at appropriate conclusions. Consequently, they’re unable to analyze information accurately, and thus cannot maximize their problem-solving efforts.  There’s not a ton of background information I need to provide that I haven’t already provided in my previous article, so we’re going to do things a little differently today.  For this article, I’m going to list common fallacies and give examples of them in relation to historical and theological topics relating to Latter-day Saints.  Let’s get into it.

Logical Fallacies:  Thou Shalt Nots

Logical fallacies are best understood as “thou shalt not” commandments of logical thinking.  They severely cripple your capacity to make key points and arrive at correct conclusions.  Those who have studied Jewish law would know that there are about 613 commandments found within the Law of Moses, with some more famous ones that are given more attention than others (3).  While there are not 613 logical fallacies (that I know of), there are many MANY fallacies that have been identified and studied that we don’t have time to go over today.  However, we do have time to go over a few more popular/notable ones that inhibit logical reasoning.  While I do so, I encourage you to ponder on some similarities that each of these fallacies share.  With that brief introduction, let’s begin listing them off.

Ad hominem is an excellent place to start, seeing as it’s both easy to explain, and common to encounter.  This fallacy is characterized by the arguer attacking their opponent, rather than attacking the arguments their opponent presents (4).  For example, just this last week, I was engaging in classic Facebook debates, when I was called “Hitler” because I wouldn’t allow spam to be posted.  This kind of personal attack tries to discredit me by associating me with one of the most evil people ever recorded in history.  However, as you can imagine, this doesn’t at all discredit my argument that spam posts contribute little to the actual discussion. This fallacy is unfortunately common in the realms of both political and religious discussion and is done by both members and non-members of the church, so be careful!

In a similar vein to the previous one is the fallacy of faulty motives, or “Argument from motives.”  This fallacy seeks to discredit an argument based on the motives of the person making the argument (5).  An example of this is when people attack how Joseph Smith presented polygamy.  Joseph Smith claimed that the command to practice polygamy came from God (6), but some critics of the church claim that Joseph was looking explicitly to satisfy his own sexual desires (7).  Even when we ignore the (many) quotes that come from those involved in Polygamy that tell a different story when taken holistically (8), attacking Joseph’s motives here does nothing to actually address whether or not the command to practice polygamy actually came from God.  It also, of course, presumes the ability to read people’s minds, which to my knowledge isn’t possible yet.

An ad-populum fallacy, more commonly known as the “bandwagon fallacy,” is where the arguer assumes that because many people have believed something, it must be true (9).  If you’ve heard someone say something like “Everyone’s doing it, so you should too!” or “How could it be possible for so many people to be wrong?” then they’ve committed a bandwagon fallacy.  For example, even if thousands of General Christians believe that the concept of biblical inerrancy is true, that doesn’t necessarily make it true.  This fallacy should also be avoided when it comes to scholarship.  While a consensus of scholars may provide a lot of confidence, the consensus of scholars alone does not automatically entail that something is true.

Circular reasoning, also known as “begging the question,” is a fallacy that is characterized by assumptions of the conclusion’s truthfulness being found in the premises of the argument (10).  That may sound confusing, and to be fair, it’s not just characterized that way, but it’s easier to show than it is to tell.  Consider this discussion (based on an actual argument I’ve read):

Question:  Why is the Bible inspired scripture?

Answer:  Because the Bible is inspired, and it follows the patterns of scripture outlined in the Bible.

You see the problem here?  The conclusion states that “The Bible is the word of God because the Bible says that it’s the word of God.”  The problem here is that deductive reasoning necessitates that the premises support the conclusion, not the other way around.  The conclusion can’t be used to prove the conclusion…that’s why arguments like this “beg the question” of why the conclusion is true.

The Post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, also known as the “false cause” or “Texas marksman” fallacy, is a bit tricky to explain, but it’s committed when the arguer tries to make connections where a connection does not exist (11).  It gets its name from the idea that if a gunslinger shoots a wall 100 times without looking, there are bound to be a few clusters of bullet holes closer together.  The gunslinger could then paint the wall, putting the cluster in the bullseye, and declare himself to be the greatest shot in the west, despite the fact that he wasn’t aiming there.  With so many data points out there (bullet holes), it’s natural to find some similarities, but those similarities don’t necessarily mean that there is a connection.  For example, many people have made connections between The Book of Mormon and other books like View of the Hebrews or The Late War, due to certain similarities that can be drawn.  However, this doesn’t prove that Joseph Smith used these texts to fabricate the Book of Mormon; and in fact, certain textual evidence found within the Book of Mormon helps to challenge the assumption that The Book of Mormon is a 19th-century pseudo-archaic text (12).  While this shouldn’t dissuade you from making observations and connections, critical thinkers need to keep an eye out for the possibility that some things just happen by chance.

The “No True Scotsman” fallacy is an appeal to purity: that is, it’s an appeal to a specific definition of a term as being authoritative over all others (13).  The name comes from the example given by Anthony Flew where he says  “No true Scotsman puts brown sugar in porridge.”  In other words, the true members of X group don’t do/believe Y; appealing to a strict, limited definition of X.  Most members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are familiar with this argument in terms of the debate of “Are church members Christians?”  I remember being told several times on my mission that real Christians “believe the trinity” or “test modern revelation (Like the Book of Mormon) by prior revelation (The Bible)” (14).  However, this kind of shifting of definitions does little to prove anyone’s point, and the arguer would need to demonstrate how their definition of “Christians” is superior to that of the church’s definition.

Another important fallacy to cover is that of the “Either/or” fallacy, also referred to as a “False Dichotomy/Dilemma” or “Black and White” fallacy (15).  This is committed when the arguer sets up a false binary in a discussion, reducing the outcome to only two options.  An example of this in relation to LDS theology would be someone being told to either denounce The Family: A Proclamation to the World or admit that they hate gay people.  However, critical thinkers would be able to state that there are a plethora of ways to support the proclamation without hating people who have same-sex attraction.  The arguer would need to prove first that those are the only two options before they can support the conclusion that those are the only two options.

The argument to moderation fallacy, also known as the “false compromise” fallacy, is kind of the opposite of the previous one (16).  This happens when one asserts that a position is correct or is an ideal answer simply because it’s a compromise between two extremes.  An example of this would be someone saying something like “Lots of people think Joseph Smith was a prophet, or he was a fraud, but the truth is that he was just a man that was sincere, but wrong.”  However, just because this is a middle position doesn’t prove that the conclusion was true…such conclusions would need to be supported by other premises.

A hasty generalization fallacy is characterized by drawing conclusions about a group of people due to the actions of a few people in that group (17).  This would be like someone saying “I found a few missionaries that were rude or ignorant about a given topic, therefore, all missionaries are rude and ignorant”.  However, this is making an assumption that would need to be shown about every missionary in order to be accepted as true.  After all, the fact that some missionaries don’t know something doesn’t mean that all of them don’t (in fact, quite a few of them know quite a lot!!!).  There are a lot more variables at play when it comes to anyone’s education, and hasty generalizations are characterized by their lack of accounting for all of those variables.

The Genetic fallacy, also known as “poisoning the well,” is similar to the ad-hominem fallacy in a way.  The genetic fallacy states that an argument is untrustworthy because of the background, education, or goals of the source.  A considerable example – pertinent to everyone reading – has to do with FAIR.  If I had a nickel for the number of times I’ve heard people discredit an argument because it came from FAIR, I’d have a substantial number of nickels.  However, as we learned in the previous article, conclusions are arrived at based on the premises…not the place where the premises came from.  Anyone is capable of making good arguments, and dismissing arguments and conclusions because of who they came from is the epitome of bias, and the antithesis of critical thinking.

The Tu Quoque fallacy is one that many people are guilty of, including members of the church.  The Tu Quoque fallacy is committed when someone tries to justify the shortcomings of their arguments by pointing out the weaknesses of their opponent’s arguments (19).  An example of this would be when someone asks about biblical (or BoM) archaeological evidence, and the other person points out the fact that the Bible (or BoM) has incomplete archaeological records as well.  However, those kinds of observations neither support nor protect anyone’s arguments/premises.  While we should be open to asking questions, clarifying the positions of others, and evaluating hypocrisy when possible, it’s important to not mistake that as defending our own arguments.

The Slippery Slope fallacy states that one decision will lead to one outcome, then another, and then finally arrive at a conclusion that is preposterous and/or terrible (20).  An example of this found in LDS theology is found in the idea of personal revelation.  A critic might claim that because we accept the idea of personal revelation, we may be inspired to break our covenants and break the law of chastity, therefore, the idea of personal revelation is bad because it leads to breaking the law of chastity.  Putting aside the fact that the spirit would not tell us to break covenants (21), this is a logical fallacy in the sense that personal revelation does not necessitate the idea that we’ll break our covenants.  Generally, it’s good practice to avoid large improbabilities and hypotheticals like that in a conversation…critical thinkers should focus on specific behaviors and ideas, and act accordingly.

 Special Pleading is a fallacy that refers to instances when an arguer would ask for an exception to the rule to be made in regard to a premise (22).  In other words, they “specially plead” that someone or something is an exception to a rule of some kind.  An example of this is found in LDS theology, where people state that there were no prophets after Jesus.  We’ll then cite that the term “prophets” is used repeatedly to refer to messengers for God in the New Testament and that those prophets are understood to be authoritative and foundational like apostles were (23), to which the critic would reply “that doesn’t count” (24).  Asking to change the rules when a premise is shown to be faulty does not make the premise any stronger, and thus does not support the conclusion.

Equivocation fallacies are characterized by using the same term in different ways, that is, changing the meaning of a term partway through the argument (25).  An example of this found in LDS theological discussion is when people are talking about “faith.”

P1: The Bible teaches we’re saved by Grace through faith (26)

P2: The LDS church teaches we’re saved by Grace through Faith and Works (27)

Conclusion: The LDS believe differently than the Bible

Now, at first glance, this may seem like a home run for the critics of the church in terms of proving that we disbelieve the Bible.  However, what they don’t know is that the definition of “faith” is very different in both of those premises.  The term “faith” in P1, according to scholars, is likely to be understood as an allegiance to God (28).  However, the term as used in P2 (and by most people in the 19th century) means something more like “belief” (29).  When you put both of those terms in their proper context, you come to find out that they’re not saying anything all that much differently.  This is a tricky one to spot though, so slow down and keep an eye out for it.

Red Herrings are characterized by bringing up something unrelated, or mostly unrelated, to your point in an attempt to distract from the real issue (30).  This fallacy can be characterized in the following conversation:

Critic:  Mormons believe that you’re saved “after all you can do” (31), it’s an impossible gospel!  Have you done everything you can do?

Member: Well hold on a moment…research shows that the term “After all we can do” really means something more like “In spite of all we do”.  Lots of non-members during Joseph’s time used the phrase “After all we can do” to mean “In spite of what we do” (32). 

Critic:  Well, that doesn’t change the fact that your Book of Mormon affirms the Trinity

As you can see, the topic shifted under the burden of additional scrutiny.  The discussion as to whether or not the Book of Mormon teaches Modalistic Trinitarianism is a completely different discussion from the discussion to be had about 2 Nephi 25:23.  This attempt to distract from the original topic does nothing to protect or maintain the strength of the original claim.

An erroneous appeal to authority is an equally inappropriate fallacy, and is the flip side of the “poisoning the well fallacy” we talked about earlier.  It’s characterized by inappropriately appealing to what something (or more specifically someone) says as being the be-all, end-all thing that proves something is true (33).  An example of this fallacy would be a Christian saying that because the Bible outlines a world shaped like a dome (34), we should believe it too because they’re authorities.  Unfortunately, similar to the well-poisoning fallacy, just because the argument came from a specific source, even an authoritative one, doesn’t mean that source is right.  While we should be willing to note the extensive time and effort that professors, researchers, historians, and other authorities have put into their fields of study, we need to remember that arguments are good or bad based on their premises and information…not based on who made them.

A loaded question is one that has no correct answer: that is, no matter what the answer to the question is, there is an unjustified or controversial assumption baked into the question (35).  An example of this is found in a hypothetical question that a critic of the church asked, “Have you always been a brainwashed member of that cult?”  No matter how you answer that question, it’s already making the assumption that first, you’re brainwashed, and second, that the church is a “cult” (36).  Both of those would need to be demonstrated in order for the argument to be valid.  Sometimes loaded questions can be methods of disguising ad-hominem attacks too, so keep an eye out for that.

The Gish Gallop fallacy gets its name from a skilled young earth creationist debater named Duane Gish.  His style of debate included long lists of points, and thus the fallacy named after him is characterized by attempting to bury the arguer’s opponents in many different (and mostly not very good) claims, sources, and arguments (37).  The assumption here is that it takes far less time to make a claim than it does to disprove a claim.  One of the devious things about this fallacy is that even if they make 100 arguments, and you’re able to successfully refute 99 of them, the critic can point to the one you weren’t able to refute, and “claim victory” (it’s difficult to refute every argument, regardless of strength, during a formalized time-delineated debate).  A very popular example of this right now in LDS culture is the CES letter, written by Jeremy Runnells.  Despite the fact that the claims made in the letter have been addressed (and debunked) over and over again (38), the CES letter’s tactic of presenting dozens and dozens of arguments makes it difficult for the inexperienced reader to parse through all the information.  The Gish Gallop is fallacious in nature because the strength of the tactic isn’t based on the premises itself: instead, it’s based on the fact that the arguer is manipulating the circumstances around the debate and discussion, rather than focusing on the specific arguments/premises itself.

The perfectionist fallacy describes an instance where a solution to a problem is rejected because it doesn’t solve the problem perfectly (39).  As those who are familiar with LDS history and theology know, this is a common fallacy used against prophets.  In LDS theology, prophets are used to fill the role or “solve the problem” of testifying of Jesus Christ, and have authority from God to teach us about him (40).  However, as per our theology, they’re not perfect (41).  However, just because they’re not perfect doesn’t mean that they don’t accomplish their job, or consistently testify of Jesus Christ’s divinity.  Pointing out the fact that prophets aren’t perfect doesn’t change the fact that prophets help solve the problem of bridging the gap that exists between God and us.

Shifting goalposts” is a fallacy that’s similar to “Special pleading.”  It’s characterized by changing the complaint in such a way as to narrow the question so it can’t be answered, or so that an original answer is no longer included (42).  An example of this found in LDS apologetics refers to archaeological evidence about the Book of Mormon.  Consider the following conversation:

Critic:  There is no archaeological evidence that supports the Book of Mormon

Member:  That’s not really true.  Putting aside the fact that lots of things that were considered problematic in the Book of Mormon have now been verified by modern science (such as the use of metal plates used to keep records in the Middle East), there’s also discussion about places like NHM region, which matches the description of Nahom in the Book of Mormon.  Does that not count?

Critic:  Well that doesn’t account for the fact that there’s no archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon found in the New World.  For example, do you know where Zarahemla is?

You can see how the complaint shifted from “all archaeological evidence” to “New world archaeological evidence for BoM cities.”  Such attempts are used to evade the fact that the points were defeated and do nothing to protect the premises found in the original criticism, change the kind of answer that needs to be given, and are consequently found to be fallacious.

An Appeal to Nature fallacy is a type of “erroneous appeal to authority” fallacy, in which nature is set as the ultimate standard of right and wrong.  In other words, an appeal to nature states that because a behavior/observation is found in nature, it must consequently be a good thing (43).  An example of this is often found in LGBTQ+ discussions.  Many proponents of LGBTQ+ relationships will point to instances where different species of animals engage in homosexual activity in order to show that homosexual activity is morally acceptable (44).  However, this point presupposes that Nature is the highest moral authority, which would need to be demonstrated.

An Appeal to ignorance, simply put, is a claim that because there is no evidence to the contrary, something must be true, or because something has never been proven true, it must be false.  An example of this given by the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy is “Nobody has ever proved to me there’s a God, so I know there is no God.” (45).  This is also found in reference to exclusively LDS theology when it comes to things like Book of Mormon archaeology or DNA in the Book of Mormon.  Just because we don’t know where the city of Zarahemla is doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist (46).  While we should always be willing to look for new information and use critical thinking skills to evaluate the possible validity of claims, we should be wary of saying that because we don’t know something, it therefore definitively exists or does not exist.

One fallacy that I find to be particularly devious is gaslighting.  Based on the 1944 film Gaslight, this fallacy is characterized by attempting to call into question the sanity of the arguer’s opponent by challenging their experience, or by distorting established facts (47).  For example, I remember being in a discussion with someone and me explaining to them that Joseph taught about the concept of a council of gods, and citing the sources where he made that claim (48).  The person I was debating with promptly replied, “No, he didn’t talk about it there!”  Admittedly, I was thrown for a loop; going over my sources again, double-checking each of my points – based on the fear that I was missing something.  I later found that Joseph Smith did, in fact, affirm that there was a council of gods, as per my cited source, but it was already too late…the tactic had succeeded in derailing my conversation.  I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but in reality, gaslighting can be either purposeful or unintentional (49).  Gaslighting doesn’t actually disprove anyone’s premises, making it as fallacious as it is manipulative.

An unfalsifiable claim is somewhat tricky to deal with and employ, due to its limited context.  Unfalsifiable claims are fallacies found in scientific discussions where claims that cannot be verified are made (50).  This is most commonly used in discussions about God, where for instance, one person may say that something happened because God made it happen.  This is unfalsifiable because we have no way to objectively prove that God did or didn’t do something, at least using scientific methods.  I’ve found a lot of discussions about this to be somewhat futile for just this reason.  It’s equally unfalsifiable to say that “X thing happened because of God” as it is to say that “God can’t exist, because the universe doesn’t need God to function.”  We can’t prove either of those things objectively as it stands, so we must find other ways to talk about God’s existence or non-existence.

Finally, we have the fallacy fallacy, the great equalizer of all the different fallacies.  This fallacy states that even if fallacious reasoning is used, the proposed conclusion may still be true (51).  For example, and in the spirit of the previous fallacy about unfalsifiability, even if we concede that a belief in God is unfalsifiable, the mere fact that a fallacy is used doesn’t make it impossible that a God exists.  This is why Critical thinking is so important:  We have to be willing to understand what our assumptions are, and limit the amount of fallacies we employ, but realize that sometimes, fallacies exist in our thinking and in ideological discussion that just can’t be understood or traversed right now.


In conclusion, that was a lot of material to cover, and there are far more fallacies that have been unmentioned here that deserve serious attention.  However, the fallacies we’ve discussed today are common enough that mentioning them to LDS Critical thinkers is useful.  While there is a limit to how fallacies can help you, they can serve as guidelines for evaluating information.  Review these often, and see if you can practice identifying them in both religious and non-religious contexts. As you do so, I promise that you’ll be able to figure out how to parse through information more effectively, and more often avoid conclusions that are inaccurate.  Then, you can keep solving problems, becoming a more informed and decisive critical thinker.  As long as we act with charity, and the pure love of Christ (52), we can all become the kind of thinkers, and believers, God wants us to be.


  6. D&C 132
  8. Ulrich, L. T. (2017). A house full of females: plural marriage and women’s rights in early Mormonism, 1835-1870. First Edition. New York, Alfred A. Knopf. for a more detailed, historical analysis of this issue
  12. Is the Book of Mormon a Pseudo-Archaic Text? | The Interpreter Foundation, see also Spackman, Ben (2006) “Negative Questions in the Book of Mormon,” Insights: The Newsletter of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship: Vol. 26: No. 4, Article 3. Available at: 
  14. If you’d like to explore this more, see Are “Mormons” Christian? Gospel Topics Essay; see also Peterson, Daniel C. and Ricks, Stephen D., “Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-Day Saints” (1992). Maxwell Institute Publications. 57. 
  21. This requires a bit of explanation.  We are to understand that the Holy Ghost is the Holy Spirit of Promise (D&C 88:3), and we know that the the Holy Spirit of Promise must seal upon us our covenants in order for them to be valid (D&C 132:7).  It goes almost goes without saying that breaking the covenants would cause them to be invalid, and would be against the will of God/the Spirit, seeing as one of the purposes of the Holy Ghost is to support/seal those ordinances and covenants.  This is the basis of my assertion that the spirit will not ask us to break our covenants.  This is my understanding of D&C 132:26, and this analysis is seemingly supported by the Preach My Gospel manual when it says “Breaking covenants may remove the sealing [of the Holy Spirit].”
  23.  Acts 13:1, 15:32, Ephesians 2:20, 3:5, etc.
  24. To show how this argument is incorrect, I’ll cite the commentary from the NET Bible found online about Ephesians 2:20 reads the following way 

“Because the prophets appear after the mention of the apostles and because they are linked together in 3:5 as recipients of revelation about the church, they are to be regarded not as Old Testament prophets, but as New Testament prophets.”

I’ll also refer to the work of Jeff Lindsay, which you can access here.  While Mr. Lindsay is not a theologian by trade (not that his profession would disqualify him from making a good argument), it’s worth noting that his work here has been endorsed by theologians such as Robert Boylan, who cites Lindsay’s article here.)

  2. Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 9:30-33
  3.  Heber C. Kimball: Salvation By Works (Journal of Discourses), read this in the context of my broader argument. 
  7. 2 Nephi 25:23
  12. While it’s worth noting that the term “cult” here is used in a derogatory sense, I’m of the opinion that all religions are cults.  Where there is a veneration of a being or object, that is “cult” behavior but that’s another article.  However, most of the time when the term “cult” is used, especially against members of the church, it’s often used in a derogatory, harmful, loaded sense, hence why I use it in my example
  14. For the most up-to-date rebuttal done by FAIR, see Sarah Allen’s CES Response Posts, see also Jim Bennett’s A CES Letter Reply: Faithful Answers For Those Who Doubt
  16. Amos 3:7, Acts 10:43, D&C 1:37-38
  17. Come, Join with Us by Dieter F Uchtdorf; “Lord, I Believe” by Jeffrey R. Holland;  God Is at the Helm by M. Russell Ballard
  20.  It’s worth noting that LDS often fall into the same trap when refuting this fallacy:  That because the majority of species have heterosexual relationships, it’s only “natural” and therefore “good” that heterosexual relationships are of God.  However, this too appeals to this fallacy, and should be avoided when possible.  Just stay away from animal parallels…that’s a good rule of thumb.
  22. For DNA and the Book of Mormon, one of the best treatments on this Ugo A. Perego’s The Book of Mormon and the Origin of Native Americans from a Maternally Inherited DNA Standpoint – FAIR, as well as the Church’s essay here; as for Book of Mormon Archaeology, consider Matthew Roper’s Time Vindicates the Prophet – FAIR 
  24.; see also Abraham 3 and Abraham 4
  28. Moroni 7:47

Further Study:

Zachary Wright was born in American Fork, UT.  He served his mission speaking Spanish in North Carolina and the Dominican Republic.  He currently attends BYU studying psychology, but loves writing, and studying LDS theology and history.  His biggest desire is to help other people bring them closer to each other, and ultimately bring people closer to God.

The post By Study and Faith – Episode 4: Logical Fallacies appeared first on FAIR.

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