Vol.XVII No.VI Pg.4
August 1980

The False Dilemma

Robert F. Turner

The dilemma is one of the oldest known rhetorical forms. As a method of refutation, it consists in reducing an issue to an alternative, then showing that both members (or, "horns of the dilemma") are untenable. Essential to such an argument, the "horns" presented must include all possibilities in the case. A different form of the dilemma, the "either-or" argument, likewise has this requirement: when we offer an "either-or" choice, there must be no third choice available.

But false dilemmas are often offered to pressure one into accepting an obviously false position, or the one advocated by the argument maker. "You must either use our product or the inferior "Brand X." No, there are brands Y., Z., etc., to consider. And even when the choice is apparently all-inclusive, the fallacy may lie in the definition given the attractive place. Warfield's "Plan of Salvation" offers us either the Naturalistic or the Super-naturalistic view. Before you grab the latter, note that his definitions erase free will with that one stroke. While you thought you were saying God must save man, he set you on the track for particular election through unconditional and direct operation of the Holy Spirit.

Grace and Works are offered as an either-or proposition, based on passages like Rom. 11:6. "If by grace... no more of works" and the reverse for emphasis. With each term given its contextual definition this is a genuine "either-or" proposition; but if we define "works" as "doing something" or "obedience," we create a fallacy. "Works" in context refers to meriting the pronounce -ment "free of guilt" or "justified," on the basis of our doing-- and that means perfect doing. The passage is really saying, "grace (mercy, forgiveness) and works (that merit justification) are mutually exclusive." There is nothing here that negates works of faith, or excludes the extension of mercy at the point of some manifestation of faith.

Many brethren have been forced (?) to accept unscriptural practices by use of false dilemmas. We either must "cooperate" (defined a s collective action of churches) or we are "anti-cooperation" (against all types of working together). Of course these are by no means the only alternatives available. This is a false dilemma! One either rejects all Bible classes or he believes in "church adjuncts" in the form of "S.S. organizations." Not true! There are other alternatives. The "either-or" proposition is so grossly misused one would do well to check for other choices any time he is offered such limitations.

Even the clear-cut "either-or" offered by the Lord (Matt. 12:30) has been twisted to serve sectarianism. "He that is not for (the way we teach the Lord) is against the Lord." The grand statements o f the Lord are dragged through church fusses like slogans at a political rally.

We are not suggesting that every one must study logic or rules of argumentation. It will be enough if we can encourage more independent thinking; with scripture searching as our background, and genuine desire to serve the Lord as our motive.