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The Bandwagon Argument


We are currently living in an age of very rapid cultural change and upheaval. Values and beliefs once taken for granted are now being challenged. In this changing cultural landscape, it is understandable that many people now find themselves socially alienated over beliefs and values that were once considered unquestionably true. With the cultural landscape changing with great momentum, you will almost certainly find that your values and beliefs are now in the minority.


Young people, in particular, tend to value what's new. That is, there is a certain kind of value attached to ideas that challenge the perceived norm. The pejorative phrase, "Okay Boomer" illustrates this because of its dismissal of the perspective of someone who, because of his or her age, is not in keeping with the times. Consider, for instance, some examples of beliefs once taken for granted:

  • Our bodies tell us something about who we are and how we are to act in the world.

  • Male and female are two distinct biological categories, and men and women are not the same because of this.

  • People should be treated equally according to their shared humanity and should not be viewed in light of the color of their skin.

  • Sexual expression between one man and one woman, united in marriage, is normative.

  • Marriage is defined as a lifelong union between one man and one woman.

Beliefs such as these have not been shown to be wrong. Instead, to mention them is a faux pas in a cultural environment in which such views are simply dismissed. Because of this, there is a tremendous pressure to conform to new socio-cultural values and beliefs on this basis. When this pressure is stated in the form of an argument, this is a fallacy called the bandwagon argument.


There is a general class of informal logical fallacies that take this form: you ought to hold this belief because of such-and-such, where "such-and-such" is irrelevant to the truth of the belief being advanced. In this case, the bandwagon argument (also called argumentum ad populum) attempts to convince you to hold a belief because the majority of people believe it. Consider this sample discussion between a Christian and a non-Christian:


Non-Christian: Wait, you believe that Jesus is the Son of God?

Christian: Yes I do.

Non-Christian: And that He is the only way to get to heaven?

Christian: That's what Jesus teaches. He teaches that He is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one comes to the Father but through Him. So there is no other way to God than through Christ.

Non-Christian: How can you believe that? Who believes that these days?

Christian: What do you mean?

Non-Christian: You're telling me that you don't know anyone who believes something else religiously and is still a good person? Hardly anyone believes that there is only one way to heaven anymore. Other than fundamentalists.

Christian: What's your point?

Non-Christian: I'm just saying that no one believes that. Everyone these days believes that you can get to heaven in more than one way.


This sample discussion is helpful because it is illustrative of the type of discussions you'll have with non-Christians and how important it is to be able to discern what kind of argument the person is trying to make, even if it isn't stated clearly. How is this sample discussion an example of the bandwagon argument? Notice what the non-Christian emphasizes in his rejection of Christian particularism (i.e., the view that Jesus is the only way to God and heaven). He doesn't put forward any objection to the view. He simply states that the majority of people today don't believe it. By saying this, he is also implicitly stating the majority of people affirm religious pluralism (i.e., that there is more than one valid way to God and heaven, and that the specific content of what one believes religiously is relatively unimportant).


That claim, that the majority of people reject Christian particularism today, is probably true. But this is where Christians often get tripped up in the discussion. They notice that the claim is likely true, and now they feel the need to account for it. What we often fail to recognize is that, even though the claim is likely true, it is irrelevant to the truth of Christian particularism. Likewise, that the majority of people affirm religious pluralism is irrelevant to the truth of religious pluralism. That is why this sample discussion is an example of the bandwagon argument. It attempts to undermine the Christian's convictions because it is unpopular. Because the non-Christian's argument is fallacious, here is how the Christian ought to respond:


Christian: I agree that most people don't believe that Jesus is the only way to God. You're right; most people believe that there is more than one way to get to heaven. But that point is irrelevant as to whether these views are true. In order to decide whether my claim is true, we need to focus on objective reasons for believing it, rather than irrelevant factors like popularity.


By shifting the focus back to arguments and evidence for or against Christian particularism, rather than irrelevant factors such as popularity, the Christian gets back on track and doesn't allow the discussion to be derailed by irrelevancies. This response also places the ball back in the non-Christian's court, since he must now attempt to undermine Christian particularism on its own merits as a claim, rather than putting forward fallacious arguments.


So we see one major benefit of understanding what logical fallacies are and how to spot them for the Christian apologist. As apologists, we want to put forward the dual claim that the Christian worldview is both true and desirable. Fallacies, especially of this form, distract from the truth of a claim because of some irrelevant consideration. Therefore, being trained with discernment to spot and respond to fallacies will help us to keep the discussion focused on truth, rather than something else. By learning this material, we are better able to navigate these discussions with ease.


That's it for this post! These posts are intended to very short and easy to read. I want them to a helpful resource for reference and an introductory resource for people who haven't been exposed to these concepts. I hope that the content will be edifying to you. If you have questions or would like to reach out to me to discuss these things, feel free to comment here or to send me an email or message on Facebook. If this blog has been helpful and interesting for you, feel free to subscribe to be notified of any new posts. Finally, if this post would benefit anyone else, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks for reading!


Source


For the sake of full disclosure, this is the main resource that I will be using for this series. This is an excellent textbook and worth checking into if you want more information on the subject:


Hurley, Patrick J. A Concise Introduction to Logic. Twelfth Edition. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning, 2015.

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