The Fallacy of the Beard
When does a man actually have a beard? Think about that for a second. Can you say he has one at a 5 pm shadow? What about a week old? How about when he can grab a fistful from his chin? It is hard to draw the line on when a man actually has a beard. But that doesn't mean we can never draw the line. That is the crux of the matter. We commit the Fallacy of the Beard when we assert that there is no real difference between the extremes on the continuum. This is just the opposite of the false dichotomy fallacy. The fallacy of the beard gets stuck somewhere in the middle and denies there is any difference between the two extremes.
Lets look at some examples:
- We would all agree that Stalin was evil but Mother Teresa was good. But what if someone said, "all saints have problems and all sinners have virtues." At face value we would agree with the last statement. But we couldn't apply it to our Stalin/Mother Teresa example. For even if we grant their contention it doesn't mean we can deny that Stalin and Mother Teresa are on two different ends of the spectrum.
- If we all said that someone was "strong" we would have to admit that strength is a matter of degrees, it is relative. For I might be strong in a teenagers eyes but I would be weak according to a professional weight lifter. Even though strength is relative we all still understand there is a difference between an Olympic lifter and a child when it comes to strength. We would be wrong to deny this difference and we all know this intuitively.
- Wouldn't you agree that someone who denies Jesus' deity is a false preacher? I hope so! Wouldn't you also agree that nobody, including yourself, has always taught 100% truth in regards to the Bible? Of course! We have all grown in our knowledge. But does this make us all false preachers in the sense of my first question? Of course NOT!!! We can't get stuck in the middle (that we all have some things wrong) and deny the two extremes; (1) Denying Jesus deity, (2) Taking a wrong view on church government.
Now lets take a look at a more personal Biblical Example.
I think the Fallacy of the Beard is one of my favorites because it helped me put the final nail in the coffin of a false teaching that I struggled with for some time; Perfectionism. If you have never run across this teaching it can be very persuasive especially to those who have a heart to be holy. Basically it teaches we can really become morally perfect as Christians. That is, we can discipline ourselves, with the help of the Holy Spirit of course, to the extent that we no longer sin. God does command us to be holy, right?!?!
There were many things which made me reject this eventually but the Fallacy of the beard was one of them. Those who taught this doctrine would ask, "Can you go without sinning for 1 minute?". Most of us would answer yes. Then they would ask, "What about 5 minutes? 10? An hour? a Day?" and so forth. Well, they said, if you can go without sinning for one minute just put a bunch of minutes together and before you know it you haven't sinned in 10 years. *Insert face palm now*
What was the problem with their reasoning? Maybe I can illustrate it by using their logic in another line of questioning. We could ask them, "Can you hold your breath underwater for 1 second?" Sure! Then I could proceed, "What about 2? 30? A minute? 5 minutes? An hour?" You see the problem with it!!! They got lost in the middle ground and denies any real difference between overcoming sin for a short period of time and for a lifetime. This is illustrated by showing how our swimmer got lost in the middle between holding his breath for a second and an hour. The perfectionists commit the Fallacy of the Beard and end up creating a doctrine which either demoralizes a Christian for continuing to struggle with their flesh (Romans 7 anyone?) or produces an air of arrogance in them for thinking they have achieved perfection.
My solution? Let's leave the beards out of our logic and just stick to growing them (except the ladies). The Robertson family has been known for their outspoken Christian faith and we are thankful for them. I don't think they would be thankful of us misusing beards. Beards have their place and it isn't in theology!!!
Have you seen this fallacy in other doctrines?