Thursday, October 9, 2014

Attacks against the Church: Fallacies of Composition


One of the attacks against the Church, or on Christianity in general, is to point to someone behaving badly is to point at somebody behaving badly who is a believer and arguing from that fact that the whole of the Church (or Christianity) behaves badly, or that the Church is the cause of the bad behavior.


In logic, we call this the Fallacy of Composition, and it works like this:

  1. Individual A is a part of group B
  2. Individual A has trait X
  3. Therefore, group B has trait X.

We can show this is false by filling in A, B and X as follows:

  1. Fluffy is a Cat
  2. Fluffy is orange
  3. Therefore Cats are Orange

Obviously untrue, because while individual members of the group “cat” can have the color trait of “orange,” the color is not a trait belonging to all cats.


The fallacy basically assumes that the individual possesses a trait because of the group it belongs to, when it is possible for an individual member has a trait independent of the group. It also assumes, in cases of human persons that the individual cannot differ from the group. If one member is bad, they must all be bad.


Humanity, however, has free will. An individual is free to behave in such a way that the group has nothing to do with, or even deplores. Moreover, individual behavior is not limited to one group. A moral trait, good or bad, can exist in individuals belonging to ideologically opposed groups, or different ethnic groups. 


But even though there is no basis for such an accusation, this fallacy is still used against the Catholic Church.For example, how many times have you seen this in the media or on the internet?

  1. Bishop X is part of the Catholic Church.
  2. Bishop X covered up for an abusive priest.
  3. Therefore, the Catholic Church covers up for abusive priests.

This is the same error as assuming that all cats are orange because Fluffy is orange. If Bishop X is being disobedient, not doing what the Church obliges him to do, his behavior is in spite of, not because of his membership in the Church.


Or, another common attack is to link the Westboro Baptist Church with Christianity in order to accuse Christianity of homophobia. Again, the assumption is because A is a part of B, and A has the trait of X, they must have acquired this trait from B. When the majority of Christianity looks at their antics with disgust, it’s a sate bet that their behavior isn’t caused by their being Christian.

Recognizing this logical fallacy will prevent the person of good will from being misled by muddled thinking or deliberate distortion used in attacking the Church, or Christianity in general. 


In both cases, what we have here is an presumption of cause and effect, when the association must be investigated. When the individual has a bad trait, we first have to ask about the origin of that bad trait. Does the group mandate this behavior? For example, if the Church mandates chastity according to one’s marital state, then those members of the church who are unchaste are acting in spite of, not because of the teaching of the Church.


The only way you can show that the behavior of the individual reflects the teaching of the Church is to show the individual is acting in accordance to the Church teaching . . . directly. None of this “Well you say this is wrong, and this person wouldn’t attack people who do this if you didn’t say this is a sin.” One who believes homosexual acts are wrong (for example) is no more prone to violence against the practitioners of those acts than the person who supports animal rights is prone to violence against people who disagree—some people might use their beliefs in a violent way,but that is an individual choice.

For example, the Catholic Church teaches in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:


2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. (2333)


2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.


2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. (2347) [emphasis added]

So we can see that even though the Church teaches that homosexual acts are wrong, she also teaches that seeking to harm people with this tendency is also wrong. One cannot support homosexual acts and be a good Catholic and one cannot support the mistreatment of people with this condition. So to use the fallacy of composition, and accuse the Church teaching for whatever crimes are committed against individuals should never be accepted as an argument.

No comments:

Post a Comment