The No True Scotsman Fallacy Fallacy Fallacy


Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Press and Journal and seeing an article about how the "Brighton Sex Maniac Strikes Again". Hamish is shocked and declares that "No Scotsman would do such a thing". The next day he sits down to read his Press and Journal again and this time finds an article about an Aberdeen man whose brutal actions make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. This fact shows that Hamish was wrong in his opinion but is he going to admit this? Not likely. This time he says, "No true Scotsman would do such a thing". -- Anthony Flew (Thinking about Thinking - or do I sincerely want to be right? 1975)


Introduction

There is a fallacy coined by Christians that they call the No True Scotsman Fallacy Fallacy. I found the name pretty amusing and decided to make a rebuttal by coining my own fallacy - the No True Scotsman Fallacy Fallacy Fallacy.

The No True Scotsman Fallacy was coined by Anthony Flew in his book Thinking about Thinking - or do I sincerely want to be right? (Flew, 1975) and is really a combination of two fallacies - an Ad Hoc change made to support an assertion, and a shift of the meaning of words used in the original assertion. Christians often commit this fallacy in debates by claiming that a Christian who does bad things is not a True Christian™. Now, some Christians have come up with the No True Scotsman Fallacy Fallacy to defend their usage of the term "true Christian". Their arguments for doing so will be countered in this article.

The No True Scotsman Fallacy

On Internet debates between Christians and atheists, many times the crimes of Christianity come into debate. The Christian may claim that all atheists are evil and refer to people like Joseph Stalin or Benito Mussolini. Since they were atheists, the Christian says, atheists are evil. The atheist may then reply by naming a few Christians who were not so nice either to show that there are bad Christians as well.

I will not go into the discussion of motives, but I will briefly counter some mistakes being made here by the Christian. I can hardly see that atheism per se was the motive for the crimes against humanity committed by Stalin and Mussolini, because atheism is not an ideology. There are good atheists and there are bad atheists, just as there are good and bad Christians. Though atheism was not the motive for the evildoings by Stalin and Mussolini, one can certainly say that many of the motives for the evildoings by Christians (e.g. the Inquisition) was a direct result of their interpretation of the bible. Bolshevism and Fascism are ideologies, so the reasons for the actions of Stalin and Mussolini should be sought in these ideologies - and many bosheviks and fascists were Christians, by the way.

To return to the subject, when Christians are countered with the evildoings of other Christians, they may reject them as not being "true Christians™". The atheist may then recall that he read about a fallacy called the "No True Scotsman Fallacy" and point out that the Christian is committing the same fallacy by switching the meaning of words and making an Ad Hoc explanation for why these people are not truly Christians.

The fallacy is usually described by the following scenario

"Suppose I assert that no Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge. You counter this by pointing out that your friend Angus likes sugar with his porridge. I then say "Ah, yes, but no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge."

The No True Scotsman Fallacy Fallacy

Some Christians have made an attempt to defend their usage of the term "true Christian™" by coining their own fallacy, The No True Scotsman Fallacy Fallacy. According to these Christians, the term "true Christian" can not be compared to the term "true scotsman" in Flew's fallacy. Some arguments in favor of this position are

  • I've been using this term all the time, so I'm not shifting the meaning of terms.
  • A Christian is a follower of Christ and no follower of Christ would do these things.
  • Atheists are redefining the term Christian to mean "anyone who claims to be a Christian", when there is a definite definition of the word in the dictionary.

The No True Scotsman Fallacy Fallacy Fallacy

The No True Scotsman Fallacy Fallacy is a fallacy because it claims that the No True Scotsman Fallacy is a fallacy regarding Christians when it isn't. There is no difference between the original fallacy coined by Flew and the fallacy committed by the Christian apart from the substitution of "Scotsman" with "Christian".

It is a straw man to say that atheists regard anyone a Christian who claims to be a Christian. I have yet to see an atheist who holds that position. The dictionary definition of Christian is used. According to my dictionary, The Webster Concise Dictionary, a Christian is "professing or following the religion of Christ". I've searched in vain for a definition of "true Christian". Who is a true Christian if not the person who reads and interprets the bible and tries his best to live his life accordingly?

What the Christian who claims this fallacy is really saying is that anyone who interprets the bible differently from himself is not a true Christian, but if so, there can be no true Christians. According to the Catholics a Lutheran would not be a true Christian; according to the Lutherans a Calvinist would not be true Christian; according to the Calvinists a Mormon would not be a true Christian and almost no other congregations regard Jehovah's Witnesses as Christians.

Additionally, it is impossible to live your life completely according to the bible. The bible contradicts itself in moral issues, for example in (Matt 5:22) Jesus is quoted to say that anyone who calls someone else a fool is in danger of hell fire, while according to (Matt 23:17, Luke 11:40) he calls people fools himself. One may ask if following the example of Christ is to call people fools or not. Christians disagree among themselves in many moral issues such as death penalty, abortion, etc.

Even the bible itself says that human beings are imperfect, hypocrites and sinners and thus need salvation. In other words, all people, even Christians who try to the best of their capabilities, will make moral mistakes if one is to take the bible to be literally true. If all these people are disqualified from being true Christians, then there can be no true Christian, perhaps with the exception of Jesus himself.

Obviously, a follower of Christ is capable of doing these things. If the bible is interpreted as saying that witches should not be allowed to live, then it naturally follows for a Christian that it is a moral obligation to burn witches. Saying that such a professor and follower of the religion of Christ is not a true Christian is switching the meaning of terms.

It doesn't help to claim that you've always used the term true Christian™ this way. The word Christian does have a definition and to say that some Christians are not true Christians is to commit exactly the same fallacy that Hamish McDonald is doing in Flew's example.

Summary

The usage of the term true Christian™ is an obvious example of the No True Scotsman Fallacy. To claim that anyone who pleads the fallacy is committing a fallacy is in itself a fallacy. I call this fallacy The No True Scotsman Fallacy Fallacy Fallacy. I wonder if this is the final word on the issue or if we will see a The No True Scotsman Fallacy Fallacy Fallacy Fallacy. I guess at least Monthy Python would be impressed.

And by the way, no true atheists would be guilty of committing a fallacy, would they? ;-)

References:

  1. Anthony Flew (Thinking about Thinking - or do I sincerely want to be right? 1975)
  2. The No True Scotsman Fallacy (Wikipedia)
  3. The No True Scotsman Fallacy (about.atheism.com)
  4. The No True Scotsman Fallacy (Internet Infidels)
  5. The No True Scotsman Fallacy Fallacy by Derek Potter
  6. The No True Scotsman Fallacy Fallacy by Patrick Narkinsky

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