This is a quote from a church website. Is there a particular logical fallacy being employed in the last paragraph (last two sentences)? The first paragraph is provided for context:

Next, as a reminder of the importance of keeping His commandments, God gives the carnal Israelites a physical symbol to remember His commandments—the wearing of tassels. The Expositor’s Commentary says: “The story of the execution of the high-handed offender is designed to bring fear to all people that they, too, might be led to the breaking of the demands of the Lord in his Law. Hence, a most practical device is given, the wearing of tassels on one's garment as a perpetual reminder of the demands of God in his Torah or Law. Again, this is a mark of grace--as is all of the Torah. The reason for the tassels is given in this paragraph. As one would walk along, the tassels would swirl about at the edge of his garment. These would be excellent memory prods to keep faith with the Torah, to obey the commands of God. Each step of the believer was to be encircled by tassels that symbolized the restraints and freedoms of knowing Yahweh. The tassels were on the fringes of the garment, with special cords on the corners made of blue (or violet) color. This passage is the legislation that establishes the wearing of the tallis (or tallith), the traditional prayer shawl of Israel (and which is the pattern for the flag of the state of Israel today).

We do not need to use tassels today as memory devices to remember all of God's laws. Instead, God's Spirit writes His laws on our hearts and minds (Hebrews 8:10), helping us to remember all of His commands (John 14:26).

I'd really appreciate if you can identify the fallacy in that last statement, because I commonly see the same sort of casuistry being used by many religious writers, but I don't know how I could call them on it specifically. This example seems fallacious, but I don't know why.


I take the pattern to be what I suggested in the title.

  1. Moral authority states Q is necessary
  2. We claim the intent behind Q is X
  3. Therefore, it is not Q ipse that is necessary but rather something that leads to X.
  4. Thus, if A fulfills motive X, then it can be done instead of Q.

Sometimes, this is fallacious, but I'm not convinced it always is. If we were to name it, I would go with "heart of the law fallacy". It's informal which means just because the pattern exists doesn't mean the argument it exists in is wrong. It's really going to hinge greatly on whether claim 1 does involve intent or not, and when we're dealing with religious texts, there's probably going to be (a) an interpretive history and (b) a lot of disagreement about how literal something should be.

It's been a long time, but I seem to remember there being a sort of reasonableness standard in jurisprudence and sometimes questions of intent in evaluating constitutional questions in the USA.

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  • I don't follow your formalisation. What are the X and Y / Q and X, concretely? – user2953 Aug 14 '15 at 9:35
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    I may have misread the question, but I'm taking Q = command to wear tassels of the torah. X = to keep Scripture in our hearts. Ergo, Q itself is unimportant and anything meets goal X will suffice. And this makes it okay to do Y instead. / IF that's not what the OP is saying is a fallacy, then I'm a little lost. – virmaior Aug 14 '15 at 9:38
  • Ah yes, that makes perfect sense. I was trying to solve with Q = something claimed by the church website. – user2953 Aug 14 '15 at 9:40
  • I don't think this is ever fallacious. It is a method used in math a lot, actually, to back down from an easily checked premise to an apparently weaker but less usable premise that happens to have a more accessible model, so you can work within that model to get a proof and consider the case with the stronger premise proved. A lot of named lemmas are some form of this. But in a legal context you would need for 'A' to be detectable and clear and have absolute proof of the claims, which you can virtually never get. – user9166 Aug 17 '15 at 17:12
  • I can imagine circumstances where it is fallacious, but what makes it fallacious is a reasoning mistake at step 2. For instance, I claim to intuit the reason behind your prohibition on murder is a dislike for hearing people scream. I then kill someone but take pains to make sure they die silently. But it turns out your dislike for having people get murdered is based on a different value. – virmaior Aug 17 '15 at 23:21

These two sentences simply state a (possible) interpretation of the two verses Hebrews 8:10 and John 4:26.

Hebrews 8:10, NIV
This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

John 14:26, NIV
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

While Hebrews is a letter from Paul, verse 8:10 is a quote from something God has presumably said (8:8: "But God found fault with the people and said: ..."). The next few verses are quoted from Jeremiah 31:31-34. The verse from John is said by Jesus.

In the time after Jesus' death there was a debate among the first Christians (and their communities) as to whether they were still required to follow the law of the Torah, for example concerning different prayer attributes. Paul explains based on Jeremiah this is not needed.

The church website you're quoting says the same, based on Paul and John 14.

You could formalise the argument as follows:

One memory aid is enough to remember something.
The Holy Spirit will remind you of everything Jesus has said to us. (John 14:26)
∴ We do not need tassels or other memory devices to remember God's laws.

One element from X is enough to accomplish G.
We have one element from X.
∴ We don't need other elements from X as far as G is concerned.

And that seems pretty solid.

Also consider that in the Christian tradition Jesus is considered an authority (e.g. Mark 1:22). So, if Jesus says the old commands don't have to be followed anymore for some (irrelevant) reason - and this is precisely one possible interpretation of John 14:26 -, then that's that, end of story, and it should be considered a fact (that is, if you follow that tradition).

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Perhaps you're perceiving this as an example of a larger pattern in which some religious laws are presented as ironclad and exceptionless, and others are not. Depending on how the such distinctions are made, it could be a case of "special pleading" where one of several things that are otherwise alike is treated differently without adequate reasons and/or "cherry-picking", where a blanket rule is based preferentially on examples that support the rule (where counterexamples are ignored).

This is a particular issue for Christianity, which inherits both from the legalistic, rule-governed morality of the early Old Testament Jewish tradition, and from the profoundly anti-legalistic ministry of Jesus. Many believers do disagree on which (if any) Old Testament commandments still care binding force, and which have been properly superseded.

Nevertheless, you are yourself committing a fallacy if you think that the fact that some such arguments are fallacious means that all of them are illegitimate. In this case, you might disagree with this argument's premises or conclusions, but there's nothing wrong with the structure, and it cites an accepted religious authority, so it's not special pleading, and it can't be cherry picking by itself (outside of a larger context). In general, it seems like an apt example of the general Christian claim that the "external" elements of Jewish belief have been translated into internal elements within the Christian tradition.

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fallacies#Informal_fallacies
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I can't see there being any fallacy here; there has been a long tradition of clothing being used to designate members of a community; and their position within it;perhaps its clearer if we go to the secular world and examine some instances of things similar:

The military being a good example where clothing is used to set them apart from the civilians; and also used to designate rank; in the civilian world, suits perform a similar function; and of course, uniforms for school-children.

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