The fallacies of Composition and Division are funny things. Just when you think you have them figured out, they sneak up on you again, and you find you’re committing one of them.
Composition is the fallacy of assuming that what is true of the parts must be true of the whole. James Nance, author of Introductory Logic (Canon Press), cites a great example for composition: “if chlorine is a poison, and it is, and sodium is a poison, and it is, then if we combine them (NaCl), the result should be twice as poisonous, right? Wrong. We are talking about table salt.” What is true about the parts is not true about the whole.
Division, on the other hand, is the opposite of composition. This fallacy assumes that what is true of the whole must then be true of the individual parts. For example, this glass of soda is red, therefore all the atoms that make up this soda must also be red.
It is frustrating to be a member of a group and have someone peg each individual in that group a certain way, when they are by definition diverse, and should always be. For example, usually around the time of a heated political campaign, someone from a women’s organization will speak up on behalf of all women. I happen to be a member of that people group, and I object to being represented collectively by someone with whom I have a large idealogical difference.
The argument about whether to de-fund Planned Parenthood has become the favorite object of women’s groups, who have begun to shrilly cry that anyone who votes to take away that organization’s funding is against women, and specifically against women’s health.
Please, stop saying you represent me. You don’t represent the entire group of people who are female. You actually represent a small subset of that group; you do not speak for me. Stop implying that you do. I have never used, needed, nor wanted Planned Parenthood. I drive by one most days, and I shudder to know that within those walls young women are duped into believing that for a little inconvenience and a sum of money, they can wash their pregnancy down the drain, troubles all gone. Planned Parenthood is not about women’s health; it is about abortions.
When one or two women step up to the microphone and say they represent all women, they assume that because we are women we all think and feel the same way they do. Not so, and I wish you would stop trying. You do not represent me, my wishes, my priorities, my morals.
I see a similar fallacy arising in the modern Christian church, and I’m trying to figure out whether it is composition or division. Maybe you can help me.
It should be true (and I can show you where in the Bible!) that all Christians believe the Word of God, the Bible, to be infallible, inerrant, and the source of absolute truth.
It should also be true that all Christians (and I can show you where in the Bible!) believe in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that his work on the cross paid the penalty for sin, for those who will believe and profess him to be their Lord and Savior.
It should be true that all Christians carry those beliefs. Now, however, you can find all sorts of people who call themselves Christians who will pick and choose which of those they want to believe. And they still call themselves Christians!
For some, for example, the Bible is not completely inerrant. In other words, some folks will tell you they believe the Bible is the Word of God, but that Genesis is only a fable. If you can choose for yourself what parts of the Bible are true, haven’t you made yourself the authority instead of God?
For another example, the Emergent Church movement has begun to work at eroding the very foundation of the Christian church–and still calls itself Christian. By questioning the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross, or by questioning whether there really is an eternal hell, or by completely eliminating the topic of sin from its messages, it preaches a brand new kind of religion under the guise of Christianity.
So while I read my Bible, the source of truth for the Christian church, I should be able to believe that what is true of the whole Christian church should be true of its individual members. Instead, we see that wolves in sheep’s clothing have entered the fold and have begun to redefine Christianity right under our noses, changing what has been true about the fundamentals of this faith for centuries.
Are we talking about a whole new fallacy now? Or do we just call this heresy?