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Posted by on Aug 24, 2008 in Jesus - "Mad bad or God?" | 2 comments

Jesus – “Mad, bad or God?”

Following on from preceding post, the “Mad, Bad or God” challenge so often put by Christians (first put by C.S. Lewis) is really an example of the fallacy of false dilemma (as Kyle P. points out in comment on preceding post). In the Philosophy Gym, I call it the salesperson’s fallacy, because it is commonly used by salespeople.

The “Mad, Bad or God” challenge is being used to “sell” Christianity by presenting us with just three options, which then seem to force us to choose “God” as most probable answer. It works by airbrushing out other, far more likely, answers (see preceding post).

Here’s the entry:

False dilemma (the salesperson’s favourite)

It is common to argue like this:

Either A or B
Not A
Therefore B

This is often a perfectly acceptable form of argument, as in this case:

Either John has a driving license or else John is not permitted to drive.
John has not got a driving license.
Therefore, John is not permitted to drive.

This argument, on the other hand, is not acceptable:

Either 1 + 1 = 5 or 2 + 2 = 5
It is not true that 1 + 1 = 5
Therefore, 2 + 2 = 5

Why not? Because, unlike in the first argument, the alternatives presented in the either/or premise could both be false. People often construct such arguments without registering that both alternatives might be false, as in this example:

Either we cut welfare or the government goes into the red
We cannot allow the government to go into the red
Therefore we must cut welfare

In this case, there are other options not mentioned, such as raise taxes. Customers are often railroaded into making bad decisions by a salesperson’s use of false dilemma:

Either you give a substantial donation to the Blue Meanie Cult or you will have an unhappy life.
You don’t want an unhappy life, do you?
So make that donation!

Either you buy the Kawazuki K1000 for great home sound entertainment, or else you make do with second rate rubbish.
Are you really prepared to accept second rate rubbish? I thought not.
So you have no choice, do you? You have to buy the Kawazuki K1000!


  1. While CS Lewis’s statement is often misused, CS Lewis’s usage was far more modest. He was addressing those Christians who accepted that Jesus was a great moral teacher but not that he was God. Lewis said that, ASSUMING that the words attributed to Jesus are true, then you can’t consider him only as a great moral teacher. Someone walking around claiming that they were God must be a liar, lunatic or God. This is a rhetorical device rather than logical argument. Lewis never offers a logical argument to prove that the “God” option was correct, other than to give his opinion based on the words attributable to Jesus.So, it isn’t really a false dilemma, as Lewis has given a premise (that the Bible accurately portrays Jesus’s words) to frame his rhetoric. Of course, given that his premise is wrong, the rest doesn’t flow. But still, it isn’t a false dilemma.

  2. You have got all of it wrong.Your theory only works if you havent considered all of the possible answers.For Example, if you included all the possible answers, it WOULD work:either 1+1=5,2+2=5,1+2=5,3+3=5,2+3=5,1+0=5…etc1+1 dosn’t work, 2+2 dosn’t work, 1+2 dosn’t work …etcEverything dosn’t work except 2+3Therefore, 2+3=5 Jesus- Mad, Bad or God DOES consider everything, and then catergorises it into the three groups.The reason it points to Jesus is the son of God, is because it IS the logicall answer.I RULE!

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