Testing 4 Truth, chapter 2 – the Affective Fallacy

Make sure you check out other postings in this series!
Chapter 1

Welcome to Post #2 in our series on “Logic.” We are uncovering wrong ways of thinking, that is, fallacious logic. A fallacy is: You try to show that X is true; what you are trying to prove may or may not be true; the problem, is that your method of getting there (that is, your “argument”) falls apart upon closer inspection. It is “fallacious.”

This one is from our friend Tod Hannigan. He shares our concerns about a very prevalent logical fallacy: The Affective Fallacy. Walk us through it, Tod!

This particular fallacy is very common, and we all fall prey to its subtle charms. When we elevate our “feelings” above evidence, we are destined to believe things that are false, lies, or even downright dangerous! It is the error of claiming that “I feel it, so it must be true.” When we use “feelings” as the final arbiter of determining truth, we will always end up in error and delusion.

Definition: The Affective Fallacy is the error of claiming that “I feel it, so it must be true.” The problem is that, when we use “feelings” as the final arbiter of determining truth, we run a great risk of error and delusion. This fallacy is very common!

Example: The Mormons are often accused of using the Affective Fallacy as a means of establishing truth. This is a revelation supposedly given by Joseph Smith:

Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong… (Doctrine and Covenants 9:7–9, emphasis added).

Analysis: Notice that “truth” is not justified with sound reasoning or valid argument. Instead, the veracity of the claim is determined by a subjective feeling, that is, the “burning in the bosom.” Alternatively, false beliefs are claimed to produce “a stupor of thought,” which is perhaps ironically a fair description of someone who followed such flawed epistemology (epistemology: the philosophy of, “how we know what we know”)![1]

Christian examples (and we are going to have a long list!):

Women were originally intended to give birth from their sides. – Benny Hinn (1990, Orlando Christian Center, Audio Tape# A031190-5, side 2)

How can someone make such a wild claim as this? It sounds ludicrous! When I first heard Hinn say this, I almost fell over with laughter! Unfortunately, in my experience, there does not seem to be an upper limit.

The root cause of Benny Hinn’s fallacious declaration is the method he used in discerning truth from error. This error in reasoning is known as the “Affective Fallacy.”

Affective reasoning has deeply affected much of our society, including Christianity, where it seems to enjoy a highly favored status. And if that statement sounds harsh, I think we can prove it with evidence.

There is a pervasive belief in some corners of the Christian Church that when you become part of the body of Christ, you are suddenly gifted with “spiritual discernment” by the Holy Spirit. Let’s look at a commonly held explanation of this, as put forth on the popular televangelist Ken Copeland’s website:

So, What Exactly is Discernment?…Discernment is a “knowing” that can sometimes feel similar to a gut instinct – but it does not originate with us.

Did you catch it? According to this, “discernment” is a “knowing” that “feels similar to a gut instinct.” To rephrase for clarity, it is essentially “knowing by feeling.”

This belief is the absolute beating heart of the beast known as the “affective fallacy”! But it has been cloaked in spiritual verbiage (since the source is supposedly “God”), allowing it to ravage Christian thought and practice with impunity. What should be a point of shame and embarrassment, is instead elevated within certain circles to a badge of honor!

Let’s take a look at some of the claims and doctrines from Christian leaders who have used this “magical ability” from “God.”[2]

Heaven has a north and a south and an east and a west. Consequently, it must be a planet.” (Ken Copeland)

(Earth) is a copy of the mother planet, where God lives, he made a little one just like His and put us on it” (Ken Copeland)

(Jesus was rich) that’s the reason I drive a Rolls Royce, I’m following Jesus’ steps!” (Frederick Price)

God is much like you and me. A being that stands around 6’-2” to 6’-3,” that weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of a couple of hundred pounds” (Copeland)

God the son is a person, God the Holy Ghost is a person, God the son is a person. But each one of them is a triune being by himself. If I can shock you – and maybe I should – there’s nine of them!” (Benny Hinn)

“…take advantage (= send money now) of the hundredfold return…to receive… PROSPERITY MIRACLES!…and to stop Satan in his hate to bring you down…these prosperity miracles are within fingertip reach of your faith! (“fingertips” in the sense of, as long as your fingertips send him money) (Oral Roberts)

I found out I don’t have to have (sickness, disease and sorrow) down here, in this world that I’m living in, praise God. Sickness and disease cannot come into my world!” (Jerry Saville)

“…you’re not looking at Morris Cerullo; you’re looking at God. You’re looking at Jesus!” (Morris Cerullo)

“Now when God begins to speak to you, you get up and go to the phone, because God is telling you to [send me] $818…” (Paula White)

Televangelist Pat Robertson says God killed baby to stop the next Hitler” (Robertson’s response to a grieving mother as reported on “HuffPost” on 06/09/2015 05:37 pm ET, including video clip)

God gives fewer miracles to educated Americans who learn science” (Pat Robertson, April 1st, 2013 700 Club broadcast when asked why so many people were “raised from the dead” in Africa)

Christianity claims to have the Holy Spirit, also referred to in John 16:13 as the “Spirit of Truth,” as well as a unique relationship with the ultimate source of truth, God. Yet, if looked at objectively, I am not convinced the evidence supports the claim.

But let’s end on a positive note: What is “discernment”? From the standpoint of Scripture, there is absolutely nothing in the Greek or English that would indicate this is a “magical ability” that works by “feeling,” or “faith.” Hebrews 5:14 states “But solid food is for mature people, whose minds are trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.” So, far from a mere feeling, discernment is the act of judging between truth and error, right from wrong, and good from evil. Furthermore, the expectation is that a “mature” Christian will have their minds well trained in this process!

Conclusion

We need to train our minds to determine which claims are “true,” and which are “false.” We also need to develop a healthy skepticism, that prevents us from blindly accepting claims as true without sufficient evidence. As we said previously, “truth is that which corresponds to reality.” So, IF a claim is indeed “true,” there will be evidence of that claim in reality!

 Another important point is that the burden of proving something to be true lies with the one making the “truth claim.” It is never the responsibility of others to prove the claim false!

Another way of looking at this is a philosophical point known as Hitchen’s Razor, which states “that which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”

Our ultimate goal should be to believe as many true things as possible, and as few false things. The only way we can do this is through the process of discernment!


[1] To be fair – and we always want to give both sides of an issue! – the Mormons have tried to improve this doctrine, to make it say that the burning in the bosom is essential, but not the only necessary experience. Tod and Gary both find their new and improved explanation unconvincing. See https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Holy_Ghost/Burning_in_the_bosom#Question:_Is_a_.22burning_in_the_bosom.22_simply_a_subjective.2C_emotion-based.2C_unreliable_way_to_practice_self-deception.3F

[2] Note: Unless specified otherwise, these quotes are from the audio book version of Christianity in Crisis, by Hank Hanegraaff, Harvest House, 1997. This includes full audio clips of the source material. Detailed sources are contained in the voluminous notes of the print version, but are not included here in order to improve readability.

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