Pete Enns' List of Logical Fallacies

I have enjoyed this list of logical fallacies that Pete Enns posted a few years ago. It primarily focuses on book reviews, but really applies to all sorts of my own blind spots and weaknesses that block me from reasonably assessing any scientific or theological question–especially those that threaten my security.

I’d like to hear what you think.

How Not to Review a Book (or, Here We Go Again) (


I remember reading Spark’s God Word in Human Words and he mentioned something to the effect of how conservative exegetes almost rarely ever steel man or properly represent a view of critical scholarship that they are critiquing. I see this over and over again and have witnessed it here several times.

A common claim is: “Those scholars have anti-supernatural bias!” Uh yeah, all sober historians employ methodological
naturalism. That is how academic history works. But guess what, even Christian scholars who accept miracles believe x y and a as promoted by critical scholarship because that is what the evidence showed.

The other is accusing of critical scholars of having different standards for the Bible.” They accept other things with less evidence but question the Bible.” When you call someone out on it and ask for an example they can’t provide one.

I also see 5 and 9-11 a lot. But in all fairness, I think a lot of us approach many of these questions from different directions with different assumptions, different levels of education, different access to scholarly works, and different background beliefs. Makes meaningful dialogue difficult.

As for Enns, I’m actually reading How the Bible Actually Works now. About a hundred pages in and I enjoyed it very much and so far.


Great! Maybe you can bring up a review on that book too, some day. I would look forward to it.

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What a good list. I think I have been guilty of all of them, plus a few more. Especially the first one, rationalizing that I am trying to find common ground before discussing the differences. Which is a good thing, given pure motivations, but if used as a passive aggressive set up for attack is not so much.


Yeah, these are all interesting to think about, and I know I’ve done several of them myself. Probably the one I’m most guilty of is #2, in trying see my own view as “balanced” compared to the author’s – and he’s right that, more likely, it’s simply a different point of view that arises from a different starting point. In my mind, this hearkens back to he common apologetic idea of “presuppositions,” which imply that as long as your presupposition is the “correct,” “biblical” one (however you determine that), you can do no wrong, and if your presuppositions differ in any way from that, you can do no right.


A nice list that seems to be true. Looking in the mirror, I can recognize that I have also done these mistakes.

What is perhaps not told clearly is that often both sides are using some of these strategies, making the debate doomed from the beginning. The point is not what rhetorical strategy you use, the point is whether you are willing to listen and honestly think also interpretations that deviate from your current interpretations.

The key word behind these rhetorical strategies is ‘defensive’. Anything that threatens my worldview, my house built on selected interpretations, needs to be shot down or at least driven away.


The first one surprised me because it is actually taught in writing classes as a proper way for critiquing other people’s writing, the idea being that if you just start off with negatives the other side will tune you out immediately but if you point out something positive they’ll be more likely to listen.

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I have learned (and instructed others about) the hamburger model - first you say positive things about the presentation, then you criticize in a constructive way (the beef) and finally you say positive things.

There is nothing wrong in this rhetorical strategy. What is crucial is what kind of beef is between the bun. It is important to give constructive criticism. The intention should not be to totally smash what the other said, the intention should be to help the presenter to improve the weak points in the thinking or writing. If you think the idea is totally wrong, then the aim of the criticism should be to help the person (politely) towards the correct track.

I understood that the bad in the strategy was that the intention was simply to smash the opinions of the other person. The nice part just acted as a play before the execution.


Several of the points Pete Enns characterizes as rhetorical strategies strike me as entirely legitimate discussions. Once you publish, you do not get to set the perimeter of debate.


I think that is true, but maybe we are looking at different ways on discussing the logic. Can you give a for instance? Thanks.

I find his arguments a bit more nuanced here so it’s hard to summarize. But this is probably my favorite part so far. I had heard the plagues during the Exodus had ties to Egyptian Gods but this was cool:

The exodus story is one of the better known in the entire Bible: Moses leads the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt after Pharaoh and the Egyptians suffer through ten plagues.

These plagues aren’t random displays of Yahweh’s might, but a dramatic face-off between the story’s two central characters. In this corner we have Yahweh, the God of Israel, local god, god over slaves, newcomer on the world stage, making grandiose claims yet largely untested, and represented by his servant Moses. And in the other corner we have the reigning and undisputed perennial world champions, the tag team of Egyptian gods represented by the priests and above all by their Pharaoh.

At stake was whether Yahweh or Pharaoh would claim Israel as his own. And in case you somehow missed The Ten Commandments on TV for the past sixty years, Yahweh wins. Easily. Like, no contest.

Yahweh’s opening move in the first plague is to turn the Nile to blood. Impressive, yes, but also brimming with religious significance. The Nile was the reason Egypt existed at all—its yearly flooding of the banks allowed for life in an otherwise barren land. The Nile deity Hapi was to be thanked personally and profusely for making this happen like clockwork, thus keeping the Egyptians from dying. Yahweh’s first plague shows his superiority over a key Egyptian deity.

In the second plague, Yahweh multiplies frogs all over Egypt. Okay. Whatever. Why not something more threatening, like puppies? Why frogs? Because the Egyptian goddess of fertility and childbirth, Heqet, is depicted with the head of a (wait for it) frog. An out-of-control mass of frogs was a religious statement: Heqet is unable to do her job of governing fertility when confronted by the more powerful Yahweh.

If you want to be an awesome god in Egypt or anywhere in the ancient world, you definitely want to control water and fertility, the forces of life. The first two plagues depict a God of slaves marching into Egyptian territory and smacking around two of their vital deities.

To mention just two more, in the ninth plague (darkness), Yahweh neuters the sun god Ra, the high Egyptian god and Pharaoh’s patron god, by blotting out the sun for three days. Then in the tenth plague, Yahweh brings death to the firstborn of Egypt, thus pinning to the mat the god of death, Osiris (or Anubis). The whole cosmic battle is summed up nicely in Exodus 12:12, where Yahweh tells Moses, On all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments. You can say that again, Yahweh. You can say that again.

Yahweh frees the Israelite slaves by beating the Egyptian gods into submission.

For this story to have any punch (pun intended), we need to see that, to the ancient Israelites, the gods of Egypt were actually real and Yahweh actually did kick their actual (figurative) butts. We might not think that Egyptian gods ever existed (mark me down for that), but how we imagine God is 110 percent irrelevant at the moment. How we see things is exactly what we need to get over if we want to understand stories like this one. The Israelites did believe Yahweh conquered the Egyptian gods—and if we bury that lede, we miss the point of this ancient story.

Israel’s “founding narrative”—the departure from Egypt and ascent to nationhood—is an odd and ancient story of rumbling deities where Yahweh easily comes out on top.

While I would not argue that some form of an Exodus or some form of liberation from bondage did not occur, this tells me 100% I am not reading history when I look at the Exodus narrative. It’s hard to deal with something like the parting of the sea probably being fiction but not having to believe God murdered all the firstborn of Egypt is a plus. I don’t understand how so many Bible believers read that story without batting an eye.

I really want to know what Egyptian gods the other plagues were meant to show God’s superiority over. Maybe I should crack open my Jewish Study Bible.

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Plague 5 was probably aimed at Hathor, and plague 7 against Nut, but I don’t know about the rest.

Well, as others have mentioned, starting from the top

This book is interesting, and I even agree with the author now and then. Unfortunately, he’s completely wrong in anything that actually matters.

It is hardly rhetoric that there are books where the author is completely wrong in anything that matters.

A book review tells us about the book, but also something of the reviewer. Reviews can be more literary than the target. I often found Ebert’s movie reviews more engaging than the show.

How many books are marketed as challenging and provocative? Well, some may take the challenge, and/or be provoked. With the glory may be expected push back. If the work is sound, it will prevail on its merit.


I think that’s a good point. I tend to agree with you; though I also guess the nuance is that saying something is “interesting” in general can give the appearance of fairness–but that’s a subset. In general, I guess he’s saying if we dont’ agree with him, just up and say he’s a nice guy and well intended, but I think he’s all wrong.
Here’s what he comments

by giving the appearance of seeking to be even-handed, it lends greater credibility to damning criticism the reviewer wishes to raise later. “The reviewer was so fair and sympathetic earlier, so I’m sure these criticisms are just as fair.”

Thanks. This is a good discussion. a chart with that in it in the book The Manifold Beauty of Genesis One, but I am away from home and do not have access to it. If I remember, will post later.

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Thanks. I found a source online but it would be nice to compare.

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That is the one I found but I cant find an author and it doesn’t cite anything. There is some overlap with what Enns wrote and he is credentialed. I would like to see a known scholarly source though for the rest

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They weren’t singing, or not singing loudly enough. :grin:
Autofill and autocorrect are my worst enemas.


Jewish Study Bible has no mention of Egyptian deities as far as I can tell:

7.14–10.29: The first nine plagues. There are ten plagues in all. Source analysis indicates that the narrative is drawn from the J, E, and P sources, which differed in the number of plagues and their details; none of these delineate all ten plagues, which is why the number ten is never stated—the redactor or compiler tended not to add information to the preexisting material. Indications of multiple sources include inconsistencies regarding whether Aaron or Moses is to bring about the first plague and the nature of the gesture that will initiate it (7.17, 19), whether the first two plagues will involve the Nile only or all the waters of Egypt (7.17, 19, 21, 28; 8.1), and the different terms used for Pharaoh’s obstinacy, “stiffening his heart” (7.22; 8.15; 9.12, 35; 10.20, 27; 11.10) and “stubbornness [lit. heaviness] of heart” (8.11, 28; 9.7, 34; rendered “harden” in 10.1). The passages from P see the plagues as demonstrations of God’s power; those from J and E conceive of them as punishment. By fusing the sources, the redactor adds to the narrative a sense of the multi-valence of events. In addition, he has skillfully woven the sources into three triads, each with a consistent pattern, followed by a capstone tenth plague. In introducing the first plague of each triad, God tells Moses the main lesson that triad will teach (7.17; 8.18; 9.14). The first two plagues of each triad are preceded by warnings to Pharaoh, while the third is not. Before the first plague in each group God sends Moses to Pharaoh in the morning, saying “station yourself before [Pharaoh],” and before the second he says “Go to Pharaoh” without specifying the time of day. All the plagues in the first triad are brought on by an action of Aaron; in the second triad, the first two are brought about directly by God and the third by Moses; in the third triad, all are brought on by an action of Moses. These nine plagues resemble calamities that occur in nature (many are attested in ancient Near Eastern literature), but their patterns, their timing and rapid succession, and their announcement and removal by Moses show that they are not a random succession of natural events but the purposeful workings of divine power. The tenth plague stands by itself: Moses, still in Pharaoh’s presence following the ninth plague, receives word from God and warns Pharaoh immediately of the final plague, one that will be manifestly supernatural, unlike anything known in human experience.