Cherry-picking is rampant in the religious population. For example, in my conversations with christians, I have run across religious people using this logical fallacy in 15 out of 19 entries.
This is Part 8 in a series about Logical Fallacies. We are going through one fallacy at a time. There are many types of fallacious arguments. I'm going to try to explain them with examples then find ways to help you refute those arguments when they occur. Please comment or email if there's a particular fallacy you want me to tackle, or if you have success with refuting an argument using a good technique you can share.
When christians speak of the bible, they invariably cherry-pick the parts that support whatever they are trying to get across. Homosexuality is a prime example (leviticus mentions it twice). Of course they don't mind eating shellfish or wearing a poly-cotton blend shirt, which is expressly forbidden in subsequent chapters. We've all dealt with the hypocrisy of the old testament, especially the homosexuality issue. Instead I'm going to share a bit of the new testament, which most people use to show how kind and loving jesus was. I'll stick to the gospels for this exercise, to make my point:
Here are a few examples of nice things that are in the bible.
- Matthew 7:3-5: jesus says to avoid hypocrisy. Consider your own faults rather than criticizing others. Don't tell your brother he's got a mote in his eye when you have a beam in your own eye. (not an original idea, really, but it's a good lesson)
- Matthew 19:18-19: jesus talks about the commandments (notice he mentions 6 instead of 10, and the last one is not in the old testament. Also these are all secular commandments, not religious) Don't murder, don't cheat on your spouse, don't steal, don't lie, honor your parents, love your neighbor as yourself. (these are basically good rules, also not original)
- Luke 6:31: The Golden Rule. As you would have others treat you, treat them likewise. (not an original idea, either, but a good way to live)
- Matthew 10:34-36: jesus came to set family against each other, for daughters to hate mothers, etc. If you love your family more than jesus, you're not worthy of him. (that's rather hateful, especially since we've never even met the guy. Why would the loving son of god need us to hate our families so much?)
- Matthew 18:8-9: Mutilate yourself to try to avoid everlasting hellfire. Cut off your hand or foot if it offends you. Same with your eye. (why would a loving god's son talk this way? This is horrible)
- Matthew 25:41: If jesus doesn't like you, you'll burn in everlasting fire. (why would a loving god punish someone for eternity? How can a person do something so horrible that they need to burn in fire forever and ever? That's not justice. That's evil)
- Mark 4:11-12: jesus explains that he talks in parables to confuse people so that they will not be converted and not have their sins forgiven, so they'll burn in hell. (nice guy, jesus! NOT!)
- Luke 12:5: jesus warns us to fear god because he can roast us in hell for eternity. (not really the loving god a lot of christians want us to believe in)
- Luke 14:26: jesus says you can't follow him unless you hate your whole family and yourself. (how loving, how godly! NOT)
- John 5:14: jesus tells a man he has healed to sin no more, or a worse thing will happen to him. (jesus believed that sin caused disease and illness. Wouldn't the son of god know that disease was caused by parasites, viruses and bacteria? If he did, then he lied to the man he healed. If he didn't was he really the son of god?)
I have yet to come across anyone skilled in verbal logic who teaches how to refute fallacies, which I find completely frustrating. My tactic is to first bring attention to the fallacy that has been used. In this case, I tell the person they are cherry-picking. Then I usually explain the term to them. Of course, in my experience, they don't care and vehemently deny that they would ever do such a thing.
My next step is to simply counter each of their cherry-picked statements with one that they have overlooked, either intentionally or in ignorance. It really helps to be as well informed as possible. Know who you're dealing with, what they might be cherry-picking, and know what they are skipping over so that you can easily find or quote the information they are avoiding.
I am always looking for new ways to refute fallacies. If you have any suggestions or resources, please share with everyone!
For this lesson I'm using these sources: