Logical Fallacy 8: Cherry-Picking

Cherry-Picking is when you count the hits and ignore the misses. It is used when only certain quotes, data, studies or research are used to support an argument while ignoring other valid and credible quotes, data, studies and research.

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)
Of course, most christians ignore the more hateful things and skip over them, or apologetically dismiss them using other logical fallacies. Here are just a few:
  • 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?)
How To Refute Cherry-Picking:

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:


  1. Neece, you probably didn't know what a big deal this sentence was when you were writing this, so it bears repeating. Jesus believed that sin caused disease and illness. etc.

    This is the crux of the justification for faith healing, right here. And all the nonsense deliverance and exorcisms too. Thanks. You just totally helped me something.

  2. I think calling out the logical fallacy and then presenting a contradictory quote to the one they're using is a good plan. Unless they are trolls, and in that case, it's best to not feed them.

  3. Dear Steve,

    I'm curious--Since obviously the "traditional" God concept doesn't work for you, where do you find inner strength to cope with life's difficulties? Do you pursue any particular spiritual path that you find helpful?

    An inquiring christian, Julie

  4. My Mom gave me the tools I needed growing up to cope with life’s difficulties, and there have been a few of those. I have an awesome supportive network of friends, a loving family and a truly kick ass wife who is always there for me. Life can suck sometimes, but mostly it's pretty awesome.

    I don't pursue any spiritual paths either.

    If I were to pick a path, though, it would be truth; I don't want to believe things that are wrong. So I work very hard at overcoming Morton's Demon and try not to fall into the trap of cognitive dissonance.

    I think it basically boils down to the fact that the universe runs the way we expect it to without needing a supernatural explanation, and knowing that I am ultimately responsible for my own well being is remarkably comforting.

  5. Umm... religion isn't inner strength...

  6. Hi Angie, I'm glad to help. Yes, Jesus believed sin caused illness. He also believed the flood happened. And he never wrote anything down so IF he existed he was most likely illiterate.

  7. Thanks Steve. Yes, it does mean that we need to know the bible better than christians. Yes, trolls are not worth feeding. If you see one, let me know, sometimes I can't spot them right away!

  8. Julie, atheists don't need to rely on an invisible daddy figure in the sky to get through their day. GMNightmare is right, religion isn't inner strength, it's weakness. Turning to an imaginary friend says one is too weak to stand on their own two feet and take responsibility for their life and their actions.
    Steve sums it up rather nicely below. We don't need superstitions or spirituality. We accept the universe as the natural, awe-inspiring world that it is. I derive strength from my own past experiences and perceptions. I find strength in real friends and family who are there for me when I need them, and vice versa.
    Religious people are no different. You have friends and family and a support group of real people in your life. You rely on your past experiences and perceptions to help you make decisions and choose how you act in the present. You just feel the need to add something that doesn't exist to the equation to make you feel better. But that doesn't mean it's there.

  9. Well said, Steve, I agree!
    I'd never heard of Morton's Demon before. Thanks for sharing that.

    Yes, the universe is awesome and amazing. And yet, the more we study it, the more we understand that, as you say, it runs as we expect it to. Nothing supernatural at all.

    Who was the comedian who aptly said that if the supernatural was real it would then be natural, just by its existence? He said it much better than that, of course. I keep thinking it was Tim Minchin.

    I agree, I am responsible for myself. I don't have to worry about being a puppet for some angry jealous god or demon. It does make life simple and straightforward, when you think about it, huh?

  10. Yeah, none of those other things were the foundational principle on which I was raised. Faith healing, and illness being the sick person's fault, is pivotal.

    Man, even Jesus was a prick. You wanna give the guy credit because he's so liberal next to Jehovah, but he's still a tight ass.

  11. Inner strength - from within one's own self. I get my inner strength from the same place you do - from my own abilities to calm and comfort myself, to think things through and solve problems, etc. I used to pray when I was facing a challenge; that meant quiet rumination, and extended time focused on a problem and actively seeking a solution. Knowing what I do now about the aweseomeness of the human brain, it makes sense that in those conditions I would find both peace and answers - I gave them to myself, once I was calm and focused on a solution.

    You can do it too. The next time you feel stressed out, try to calm yourself. Tell yourself that you have the ability to slow your own heart rate and steady your breathing, and figure out a plan to deal with whatever is stressing you. God never answered my prayers, but I answered a few myself. I recommend you do the same.

  12. I'm glad you liked that bit about Morton's Demon, although in truth I should have written confirmation bias instead, which is what is hard for most people to overcome. Morton's Demon applies to YEC's. Oh well.

    Yeah. I thought it was George Carlin who said joked about the supernatural, actually. I don't know- could be the crack I smoke to get through the day. ;)

    I wasn't thinking about being a puppet, I was just thinking about how some theists like to give props to god when they accomplish something grand, and blame themselves (or others, or Satan) for their failures.

    I'll take the credit for my successes and the responsibility for my failures myself. It's amazing how empowering that feels.

  13. Ironically, most of the atheists I know do know the bible better than most of the Christians I know. See, I like the bible. It's got sex and violence and lot's of hyperbole in it- like all fiction does.

    As far as trolls go... Heh. They're fun to bait at first, but after a while, when their fingers go in their ears and they start to say, "lalalala I can't hear your arguments because you believe what the strawman I'm about to pull out of my butt does because you're an... atheist," it's a troll. :)

  14. You're right, he really was a prick. A lot of people have suffered because of him.

  15. Well, I differ with you on one point. I don't like the bible. But otherwise, yes, I think I know the bible, like most atheists I know, better than most christians.

    Trolls, thanks for the tip. They are so tedious.

  16. Yes, confirmation bias is a pretty big trap that is easy to fall into.

    Now that you mention George Carlin, you might be right. It might also be one of those lines that several comedians do their own way. It's such a great thing to say because it really snaps reality into place.

    I see your point. Yes, that is very annoying when theists praise god then make excuses when something bad happens, or blame the devil.

  17. Exactly, Angie! How eloquent! :D

  18. Sorry- I know it's hard to get sarcasm across in a comment, but that was supposed to be snarky. ;)

    Actually, there are some nice poems in there, and some interesting stories, but yeah, the torture porn, jealousy, misogyny and genocide cancels that out.

  19. LOL! I thought you were serious! HAHAHA! Thanks for clarifying, Steve. ;)

  20. I'm always amazed at the Cherry Pickers and the plethora of excuses they have at the ready to justify the way they ignore 80% of the Bible while demanding you adhere to whatever they throw at you. We're under the New Covenant now so all that stuff about shellfish and blended fabrics is no longer applicable, but you perverted homos are still going to burn in hell because God's Law is eternal! Jesus came not to abolish the Law but to Fulfill it! Anyway it says right in Romans yadda yadda yadda....

    I swear, their brains have to be pretzels for their "logic" to make sense.

  21. I know, Buffy, it drives me crazy, but I guess that's obvious from my article. LOL! :D

    Oh! side thought... I was listening to Reasonable Doubts and they talked about one lone story in the bible, that if interpreted just so, actually talks almost favorably about homosexuality. I think the one guy still dies though. So it's not a happy story. If you want I'll listen to the podcast again and get more information about it.

    Also, you might be interested in a study I just wrote about: http://www.heavingdeadcats.com/2009/09/02/justifying-our-false-beliefs/

    It explains the different ways people justify their false beliefs.

  22. Dear Steve and heaving cats community,

    Thank you so much for your honest helpful response to my query. I must say, I envy your positive outlook. A happy, healthy life filled with friends and purpose probably does more to advance your philosophy than 20 pages of bible critiques. I was wondering, though, throughout my life I've faced great, overwhelming difficulties, and have found that the belief in an eternal benevolent diety has given me great comfort when I have been shocked and saddened by my loved ones death. I find that even the best human support network I've developed cannot really help me when waiting for my grandmother to die. We all have to face death alone. Or do we?

    Perhaps I only believe God exists because I want him to. Although I have had many "religious" experiences which have significantly helped me function on this earth, I realize many of them could be duplicated in a sophisticated psych lab. I'm not trying to use my experience to prove my God exists. But, still, when I look up at the stars and look down at a microscope, the universe seems so amazing and complicated, it's hard to believe that there isn't any strange force holding it all together. Am I, perhaps, overstating your position? Julie

    P.S. Please don't judge all christians by some of the more assinine "christian" comments on this blog.

  23. That would be Jonathan and David. Jonathan luuuuuuuuurves David.

  24. This was a good post and discussion. It made me rethink about prayer all over again. (An unfortunate side effect of writing an autobiography is having to remember all the crappy stuff, lol)

  25. Death is a big, sad, scary thing. I'm more afraid of losing a loved one, than dying myself (since I don't believe in immortality, after life or reincarnation), but I do worry about not doing all the great things I want to do in the time I have. But I find it's a motivating factor - I feel compelled to live life fully. Now, I'll freely admit I had a similar compunction when I was a believer, because I thought the world was going to end before I was 30, so I went through a mid-life crisis in my teens. That pressure was fearful and anxiety producing; the pressure I feel from my own eventual mortality is more inspirational and positive, I find.

    I went through a process of re-mourning some lost loved ones after I became an atheist. In part that involved watching the BTVS episode "The Body" (where the main character's mother dies) and listening to the commentary by the atheist writer Joss Whedon (who can express the human condition as well as any writer I've ever come across). When my godmom first died, I was so angry at God. I still believed, and I was furious - how could earth be better without her? How would her four children and, now three, grandchildren be better off without her? In my re-mourning for her, I recognized that life is finite, and that no malevolent or benevolent deity had snatched her out of my life. Her body was tired of fighting cancer, and she died. I can celebrate her life, tell everyone how wonderful and kind and generous and funny she was, and I can love her kids and grandkids. If anything, for me, not having a god in the picture made it easier to address the emotional reality of my loss. She was and is gone. I didn't lose my faith because of her death, but believing in a personal God did make the experience harder and more painful. Not only did I lose the woman who in many ways was my mother, God hadn't offered a decent explanation. Her death didn't fit with my view of a loving God who wanted people to come to him. She was a devout Catholic, adopted two kids and had twins, worked as a nurse practitioner for Easter Seals helping low-income mothers work with and love their disfigured and disabled children. Instead of giving god credit for her character or blame for her death, I can be glad I knew her while she was still here, and I can honor her memory.

    I applaud your sense of wonder in the world around us. The world is extremely cool - much cooler, I think, than any religion's god. The more I've learned about science, the less likely/necessary/credible the idea of ANY god seems to me. However, I'm an agnostic atheist. If there is a god, and evidence for that god - proof of that god's existence is established - I'll no longer be a nonbeliever. I'll believe. I might not worship, but that's a different topic entirely.

    p.s. Sure, no two Christians are the same. Which is why I sort of think it's funny you all get to use the same title :p

    Neece - Sorry my comment turned into a book/eulogy.

  26. Dear Angie,

    Thank you for your post. It is very helpful for me to hear from ex-christians (I hope this term doesn't offend you, please let me know if I should use a different one.) who go through similar experiences of loss and grief, and, yet, come out with different outcomes. Grief can sometimes be more complicated and painful for christians because in addition to loss, we struggle with the painful question of how a good and powerful God lets such chaos and destruction rip through our lives and this planet. I still don't know the answers, Angie, but, somehow, when my friends and family died, in pain, I found God's unchangeable presence soothing, not torturing. I respect that you didn't, and find more peace in life w/o the complication of God. I am so glad that despite the differences in our beliefs we can still find wonder in this world and admire our incredible matriarchs. Julie

  27. Dear Neece,

    I am new to the internet community and posting, and I don't seem to be very brief. Is this a problem? Is it ok to post paragraphs instead of comments? Julie

  28. Hi Julie, you don't have to be brief with your comments. One thing that's nice is when you have a lot to say, break it up into small paragraphs with a blank line between them. It's easier for people to read. :)

    I've seen your comments recently, and plan to reply to them later today. Unfortunately I have to be domestic and clean first. :P

  29. Hi Julie. I don't mind the term at all, I'm an ex-christian atheist. I do think that the additional weight of confusion that people of all religious persuasions feel in times of struggle is one of the harms of religion. I think that relying on God's presence during the painful stages of my life delayed me getting secular, earthly, human help for my very real secular, earthly, human problems.

    I would infer that you are a moderate, tolerant Christian, and probably somewhat liberal on social conservative issues. But I do think that the large masses of people who share the name "Christian" and claim to have some kind of majority, are being disingenuous when they don't also claim responsibility for or association with fringe Christian groups which engage in terrible practices like blood atonement, faith healing, demon exorcism, and underage polygamy.

    All the things I just listed happen today in the US in Christian communities. But it seems that moderate Christians try not to be associated with the taint of those sins, and yet do little public outcry against such groups. They don't act as their brothers keepers, and kids suffer in the meantime.

    The word matriarch in your last reply confused me for a moment. I spent my early year in a Christian fundamentalist cult with a female leader. I realize you meant my godmother; I tend to think of her as someone who supported and nurtured others, rather than someone who sought to gain power or rule by force. But I realize I have an exceptionally loaded definition of the word :)

  30. To hell with all that! Cleaning is for squares. (Or moms. Or people who don't like moving every time the apartment gets infested.)

    Never mind - I see your point. Go be domestic.

  31. The reason why belief in god makes it easier to suffer through losses is that in the end you don't really consider it a loss. I would say it's denial, certainly you wouldn't, but it's very much aligned. "They didn't really die, just a long goodbye till I see them when I die!"

    In fact, most confliction during periods of losses for most religious, is over why god did it or whatever like that... not over the loss itself. Anger, questioning why, and so forth as given by Angie... at least with the inexperienced in loss with the religious. The experienced ones, will hardly affect them at all, just like goodbye for now see you next Tuesday.

    Yeah, I'm simplifying a little bit, a little exaggeration as well... but for an atheist, we must accept that it really is goodbye. You have to learn to let go, things are out of your control, not only your control but anybodies control. Death is just a part of life, and without it, life would be quite meaningless.

    Avoiding that and conjuring up a place where you live forever... is but a temporary shortsighted view of life. Living forever is torture in itself... just think of how many can't even handle this completely irrelevant time period of life relative to infinity. In that regard, it makes no since, that your short life here guarantees and infinity of pleasure or torture... Think about it, you live your short life, some reason go to hell... you live 500 trillion years repenting and begging for forgiveness and screaming in pain and you'll never be forgiven. In the face of infinity, that 500 trillion years, might as well be a second. For that matter, heaven, you really want to live 500 trillion years upon trillions of years upon trillion of years? That's enough time to be bored of absolutely everything, especially when you get all the answers in the end, no more puzzles or mysteries or lingering questions.

    If you were interested in my story, I am indeed an ex-Christian I guess (I was born into it, but left at a relatively young age... kind of). I didn't leave because somebody died, or I was put into any suffering and anger at god or any of that...

  32. I think that people have different responses to death.

    I agree with Angie, I'm more afraid of losing my family than I am of dying. I don't want to die anytime soon- My wife loves me. I have an awesome two year old son who I want to share everything with. Over the next ten years the Disney theme parks are going to be adding a bunch of new, state of the art attractions that I must see. :) (Sorry Neece!) There are also a lot of movies I'm looking forward to, a bunch of distant places I have to visit and my own personal film I have to finish.

    I'm not afraid of dying, I just don't want to.

    That said, when my best friend (an atheist) died two years ago I had two interesting reactions. The first was a deep mourning for his loss. Since I don't believe there's an afterlife, Keith was truly gone. I wrote in his eulogy that after we die, we live on in the memories of the people that loved us and that's what immortality really is, but from experience, over time those memories do fade.

    The second was unexpected anger at some of his religious friends. He had a very aggressive form of cancer; The doctors knew he was going to die and it was only a matter of when. And that when was was getting closer and closer. I was with him almost every day during the last four weeks, holding his hand, talking about this and that, existing solely in the now. Those religious friends would say that it was a miracle every time he appeared to get better (usually from a transfusion or a higher dosage of pain medication), and they were praying god would keep him alive.

    I felt that rather than pray for a miraculous recovery they should be acknowledging his death and using the time left to spend it with him. What I forgot was that everyone grieves in a different way, and their praying was simply a response to that grief. It didn't change how I felt at the time.

    When I look up at the stars the universe seems so amazing and complicated, I feel awe and excitement just to be alive at this moment in time. My being here is so unlikely given the incredible number of random factors that had to happen in order for me to even exist... My sense of wonder never seems to go away. Billions of years passed by before I was born. Billions more will pass by after I die. But for now, I'm here. And that is pretty cool.

    I share your awe. But I think the forces that hold it all together aren't strange, they're well understood. We don't have all the answers, and we might never have them all. The more we learn about science the gaps that a supernatural creator can fit into get smaller and smaller.

  33. Hi Neece, Angie, Steve, and heaving cats comm.,

    Thanks for all your great posts.

    Sorry about the comment of matriarch. I was actually just fumbling for a word that could do for grandmothers and godmothers--i should have just repeated the word rather than use another meaning. Yes, sometimes these religious "matriarchs" are terrifying! I'm glad we both got to know older women who showed us powerful lives by examples rather than manipulation and power plays.

    In regards to being my brother's keeper, good point. Most christians I know just try to focus on what is working for them in their faith rather than condeming the various whack jobs who, accompanied by endless partial proof texts, manage to miss the major points of new testament teaching...hm...I can feel my soapbox forming beneath my feet. Why don't we christians challenge these guys more? I don't know. Perhaps we have so much personal experience in the pernicous persistance of religious pride that we don't have any faith that dialogue and intervention will do anything.

    However, my own pessimistic feelings aside, your're right--certainly there is a need for christian groups to strongly, publically condemn the violence and abuse suffered within and at times without their own communities. Sadly, the "circle the wagons" response is what I see most. Julie

  34. LOL... yeah, I chose to clean and be square. :)
    Now the company is gone, the family festivities are over and I can get back to being a happy hermit. :)

  35. This conversation is very interesting. Let's make it into a post, instead of being lost in the comments.

  36. I'm an atheist and I like your articles. Just wanted to point out that when Jesus talks about cutting off bodies parts, it isn't meant to be taken literally. Jesus frequently spoke in parables and the point he was making here was that sinning is a big deal. "it is better to lived maimed then go to hell". Or that was just the BS answer I was given at Bible college. ;)

  37. The fact that you're an atheist has no bearing on what you say whatsoever. That you said it actually makes me instantly question you, regardless of the truthfulness of such.

    "it isn't meant to be taken literally"

    By whose authority? Heathen talk comes from you, because many claim with absolute conviction that every aspect of the bible is meant to be taken absolutely literally. Completely subjective to decide what is literal and what isn't... which is cherry-picking.

    Coincidentally, the only reason why such a statement would be claimed to not be literal is because the followers don't like the implications of it. Don't want to stab out their eye, after all, but often these same people have no problem condemning others with similar passages that don't apply to themselves.

    But if not taken literally, it kills the intent of the bible. The bible is supposed to be the infallible word of god, and if its meaning can be subjectively interpreted by us lesser mortals, then it cannot be infallible.

    Of course if taken literally, then it's sinful not to right? But no problem, Jesus covers sins for believers. Which is basically how every follower works, they tend to do be much more "sinful" than any nonbeliever, simply because they think they get a free out of hell card. The really hypocritical thing about it is that nobody follows it even if not taken literally.

    Just as you said, “it is better to lived maimed then go to hell”, how is that not literal? Sounds obvious to me, eternal life blissful life vs eternal damnation for a silly limited eye?

  38. I agree with GMN, the fact that you had to mention that you're an atheist makes me doubt it. And your classic apologetic response that Jesus spoke in parables also makes me doubt your veracity.

    Yes, Jesus spoke in parables. But how do you decide when he was speaking in parables and when he wasn't? You know the mind of Jesus? Interesting. We call that cherry-picking and apologetics. Whatever softens the blow for how much of a jerk Jesus was if you take him literally.

    For instance, he said in Mark 4:11-12 (New American Standard Bible)

    And He was saying to them, "To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven."

    So yes, he spoke in parables to turn people away so they would burn in hell for eternity. What a great guy!