The False Premise

Time for an SFL lesson in logic!

Of all the logical fallacies that plague fundamentalist reasoning, perhaps none is so common as the syllogistic fallacy of the false premise. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, consider this common argument against “worldly music”:

Major Premise: God hates worldliness
Minor Premise: All music with a beat is worldly
Conclusion: God hates music with a beat.

This seems like an airtight case until you realize that the middle statement in this construction is demonstrably impossible to prove from Scripture. I mean it’s not even one of those things that’s rationally debatable like Calvinism or Infant Baptism or whether those chicks in Genesis got freaky with the angelic host. Moral judgments on music beats is just not there. At all.

And don’t get hung up on the fact that this example uses music; almost every standard of behavior that is deemed “worldly” or “sensuous” or “immodest” or “Communist” uses the same basic false minor premise. But whatever it is, fundamentalists basically just assume that the middle statement is bound to be true because they’ve heard it repeated loudly and often enough that they’ve lost the capability to be truly critical of it. The sun rises in the east. Gravity makes stuff heavy. And music with a beat is of the devil. It’s as certain as death and tithing.

Given that you’ll never be able to convince a fundamentalist that their minor premise is anything less than gospel truth, arguing about it is almost pointless. If (as in the original example) you ask a fundy to prove that music with a beat is worldly, they’ll triumphantly produce reams of verses that contain the word “worldly” (but never actually demonstrate that they relate to a specific style of music) and claim the authority of Scripture. They may also produce secondary proof such as sermon notes from a popular fundy music pastor, quotes from some ancient rock star, and a few pseudo-scientific audio studies performed by unnamed Uzbekistan scientists in 1958. Or perhaps that a garage band band named “Unnamed Uzbekistan Scientists” in 1993? Either way, it doesn’t end there…

If random verses and other supporting “evidence” is not enough to prove their point the fundamentalist will then simply resort ad hominem, saying that if you don’t agree with them it shows a hardened neck, a stiff and uncircumcised heart, and an understanding that is darkened by rebellion and blinded by your participation in the Harry Cullen Role Playing Internet Blog Chat Forums. They may also decide to suddenly insult your sister. Even if you don’t have one.

It is a frightening thing to watch a person create a god in their own image who embodies their own personal opinions and preferences and then defend that god with a passion that only the One True God deserves.

335 thoughts on “The False Premise”

  1. This faulty logic seemed quite prevalent in the IFB churches I knew of.

    Major Premise: My church is holy.
    Minor Premise: Your church is different from my church.
    Conclusion: Your church must not be holy.

    Major Premise: The KJV is the Word of God.
    Minor Premise: Your version is not the KJV.
    Conclusion: Your version is not the Word of God.

    Major Premise: You can chat with old friends on facebook.
    Minor Premise: Your chat could lead to adultery.
    Conclusion: Facebook is evil.

    They think they’re being rational, but they’re not!!!

  2. Man, I used to be able to spout off all this anti- CCM nonsense and I am sorry for all the folks that I unnecessarily offended as a minister of music by not approving of the music they wanted to present in my IFB church . Now that I am free from this bondage, I don’t how I ever defended it. One of the arguments against too much emphasis on the beat that I heard as a teenage went something like this: “If there is no beat to the music, it’s dead, but if the emphasis is on the beat, it’s like being able to see the blood pulsating through your body, it’s a dangerous situation.” Also I heard this: “The melody appeals to the spirit, the harmony appeals to the mind and the rhythm appeals to the body.” And we all know how evil the body is! I have heard Frank Garlock say that Robert Shaw (the great conductor) referred to CCM as being perverse. Of course that has nothing to do with the fact that he was a white man born in 1916!

    1. Glad you’re free from that bondage! I was there too as a minister of music in a fundy-lite church, but eventually realized the standards were indefensible from just about every standpoint: biblical, musicolological, cultural, historical.

      Freedom and grace are great, aren’t they? πŸ˜€ Lessee, where’s my electric guitar…:cool:

      1. Would harps be allowed in a Fundy church? I play the harp (not very well) and would like to play in my own (non-fundy) church. After all harps are played in Heaven, arn’t they? Or can Heaven learn something from Fundy Churches?

  3. Ken, Because of my fundy background, I have to leave the guitar playing to others and occasionally need help on the funky rhythms, but I’m catching on! (Now, these rhythms even make sense when I’m conducting choir and or orchestra.) All this talk about music reminds me of the episode on the Andy Griffith show when Helen Crump puts on the Mayberry High School play and the principal walks in on the rehearsal and is deeply disturb by the wild display he sees on the stage. “It represents everything that’s wrong with our society today” (or young people, I forget which he said). Helen eventually says that the kids are saying, “I want to speak in my language.” What a novel idea! Boy, I wish I could relive the musical aspects of the 70s, sacred and secular. I’m not saying it was the best era, but I think I missed out on some good times. Hey, I’ll even put on bell bottoms or a leisure suit and grow my hair out!

  4. Sorry to go crazy on this point, but I have thinking about these matters a lot. I think one reason to cut the leadership of the previous generous a little slack is that they came from the clean cut generation. Look at TV from the 1950s and most of the 1960s. There is not much variety in styles of dress or hair, especially for men (and almost all the men are clean shaven). When the 70s came along (and I know all this did start in the 60s, but didn’t reach TV until the 70s for the most part) all the expectations of dress and hair went out the window, except in many churches (not just IFB churches). It must have looked to them like America was going to hell in a hand basket (whatever that means)! Of course, I believe this holds true with the music, too.

    Styles come and go and hopefully, we will not be inclined to having knee jerk reaction to changes in the future.

    If I were to dress like George Washington someone might question my orientation (whig, ruffled shirt, short britches and stockings). If I look like some of the presidents in the 1800s, I might look a little rough. But, I would look just right to IFBers if I dressed like the presidents of the 1900s and the two in the 21st century.

    I guess I’ve said enough for one day.

    1. Great insight! The Apostle Paul urged believers to sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. What did those sound like when he wrote that? And if we could duplicate that form today, would any fundy church accept it, or would it sound too bizarre? Not sure, but I have my ‘spicions….

    2. Most of the things fundies choose to “noble-ize” almost all just happen to coincidentally fall right before the Civil Rights movement went main stream.

      Have had this conversation with my mother a few times who is convinced the early 60s (her childhood) was filled with most Americans reading their Bibles and going to churches, and wanting to serve God. Has no impact on her whatsoever that many of those churches (especially in the IFB circles) were teaching that Bob Jones separation of the races filth.

      Fundies love proxies.

      1. I was watching the PBS show about the freedom riders, and it was weird seeing women in pretty dresses and men in suits and ties facing mob violence. It was so strange seeing the mob be dressed so formally (khakis, collared shirts) and have such conservative haircuts. Frankly, in my opinion, the way the establishment treated those who non-violently stood up for freedom was so wrong that they DESERVED losing their traditional hold on the country. I grew up hearing older folks decry the informality and looser dress standards of our modern day, but they had their day, AND THEY TREATED PEOPLE DESPICABLY. They don’t deserve to have their culture perpetuated.

        1. Here here! (or is it hear hear)? Either way I love PBS, and dealing with reality & facts. There were plenty of good things going on in the past, but idolizing styles, etc is idiotic and very very frustrating.

  5. Also, the syllogism commits the Fallacy of the Undistributed Middle, making the syllogism invalid.

    Real logic is such a nice tool to demolish fundy “logic”.

    They can’t get Aristotlian logic correct; they would be swamped with modern logic.

  6. Quoting this the FIFTH (i think) time now…

    “It is a frightening thing to watch a person create a god in their own image who embodies their own personal opinions and preferences and then defend that god with a passion that only the One True God deserves.”

    Can anyone say “There is no God but the one, true God and Bill Gothard is his Prophet?” πŸ˜›

    1. It’s such a good statement that it’s well worth repeating! And God protect me from rabid Gothardites!

  7. The music thing cracks me up and while I will agree some music is obvious to whom it was dedicated to both good and evil by words and deeds I never bought the idea of style dictates holiness. I was talking to a music minister who was all about “the right way to worship” and I asked if he had ever been outside the country? His response was no. I suggested he might take some time to visit a place like Africa or New Guinea and considering expressing his views there and see how they would fly in light of their style. He of course abruptly walked away with out comment. Bottom line music is cultural and a preference if dedicated in word and deed to the Lord Jesus Christ…

  8. I’ve talked to fundies who say that it’s ok for other cultures to have Christian music that reflects their culture, but who deny Americans the same privelege. My quote about music is that “All music was CCM at some time.” Even Isaac Watts was condemned for his hymns during his life time. I think that the fundies have MUCH bigger issues to worry about.

  9. Indeed; as my dad has pointed out, many “grand old hymns” were originally just new lyrics placed on old barroom tunes. At least Lord I Lift Your Name on High, as far as I can tell, didn’t plagiarize off of alcoholics.
    Most of the fundy arguments I’ve heard, though, have been from personal experience, arguing that they could “feel” the presence of demons at CCM concerts. Well. You can’t really argue with that, especially when people you know, love, and trust have dealt with legitimate cases of demonic oppression (the belief in which probably makes me sound pretty fundy myself, I know). To say you believe one person and not another when you weren’t there in either case sounds pretty hypocritical, but nevertheless, somehow I’m just less inclined to believe the boy who cried Beelzebub.

      1. Particularly in cases of MKs. I know people who have witnessed possession, exorcisms, etc. I know that the fact that they tend to (but don’t always) happen in third-world countries leads many to believe it is, rather, a case of mental illness misunderstood by the natives; but given certain details of the accounts and the people telling them (not some televangelist or fire-and-brimstone preacher, but friends and even family who avoid creating sensationalism where possible) I personally believe them. Which, again, probably makes me seem very fundy, and I don’t expect anyone else to believe them based on an anonymous internet user. It’s just that, while I believe in their existence, I think a lot of people are so (disturbingly, I might add) determined to see them that they assume they’re there when they’re not. It’s sort of like how most rumors you hear of serial killers are complete and utter crap, but no one will deny that they exist.

    1. Do some research on what “bar” tunes really means – doesn’t mean anything like what your dad is saying. It’s the style of music and how it’s written – not where it’s sung.

    2. Have to agree with Loren on this one… as one who has studied music history *extensively* “bar tunes” refer to the way the stanzas and musical phrases are set up. They do not refer to where these songs were sung or written. The only reason they were differentiated from other music in medieval times was to establish a difference in songs written in that style and songs written in chant form, which rarely had repetition and no meter.

      1. Correct.

        However, it is also correct that in the past, folk music was folk music. You might have the same folk tune sung with bawdy lyrics in a bar, and serving as a national anthem or battalion war-song…back when music was by real people who thought music was to be shared rather than performed, but that is a whole other issue…

    3. :quote: Indeed; as my dad has pointed out, many β€œgrand old hymns” were originally just new lyrics placed on old barroom tunes. :quote:

      AFAICT, this is a 19th-century urban legend, with no hymn tune directly attributable to a former drinking song. There are Lutheran tunes which are closely related in form and melody to German popular songs – the closest one I can find is “From Heav’n Above,” the beginning of which is said to be a reuse of “From a Distant Land I Come to You,” a love song, not a Biersingen. Confusion may come from the fact that a common form of hymns (A-B-A-1/2A) is called “bar form,” probably done to ease the playing of an hymn by a semi-trained organist. Bar forms have nothing to do with alcohol. 😎 They relate to the “metric lines” old hymnals have over most music.

  10. The whole discussion still seems to boil down to a persons’ willingness or desire to be able to categorically and dogmatically reduce all music to a formula.

    That most often leads to affirmations such as the following:

    “Musical styles A,B and C are inspired by and pleasing to Gaaawd! All else is Of, By, and For the Devil!!” πŸ™„

    This position tends to be rather challenging to defend and usually deteriorates to a species of name-calling, i.e.:
    “God revealed to me that this is UNholy music. Fast and Pray earnestly, my friend, and maybe you too may become spiritual enough to discern this vital truth!” 😯

  11. When I was growing up in a fundie church, this ridiculous pseudo-musicology was most likely the first thing that began to open my eyes, and tipped me off that not everything I was hearing there was handed-straight-down-from-God truth. It infuriated me, much as listening to any fundie friends today discussing politics infuriates me.

    Ultimately, though, I think this is what is at the heart of “taking the Lord’s name in vain”: Expressing a personal opinion, or taste, and adding “thus saith the Lord.”

  12. I was once in a fundy Sunday School class where the teacher explained that the only appropriate music to listen to while exercising is stuff with good trumpets, like “Onward Christian Soldiers.” Yeah…he didn’t have any Bible verses to back it up either.

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