You probably know what a logical fallacy is, don’t you? It’s when someone declares something false to be true. Wait… that’s not it? You say it’s the use of faulty reasoning in an argument? Oh, then we had better clear up our definition of “fallacy.” Can’t have a proper discussion unless we’re all on the same page, after all. And that’s exactly what equivocation is all about.
This is one of my favorite fallacies to talk about. It’s one of the most common, yet least acknowledged. It pops up absolutely everywhere and rarely gets the attention it deserves. It most often leads to quarrels over innocuous things, but can sometimes trick entire generations into believing lies.
This fallacy occurs when a word is used with an ambiguous or double meaning, usually to swap out the definition when the word is used later in the argument. For instance, someone might say that critical thinking is a bad skill to learn because we already have enough critical people in the world. They’ve just used two completely different meanings for the word “critical.” In the first instance, they are referring to the skill of critical thinking in which a person carefully considers something by questioning it with sound reasoning. In the second, they are referring to people who think negatively of those around them and sling insults around. These are entirely different things.
Here’s a less obvious example. I ask my wife for my green jacket. She hands me my jacket with a green hood. But this isn’t the one I wanted. I was thinking of the jacket with a green liner. My wife isn’t ignoring me. She just interpreted “green” to mean the most visible part of the jacket. My definition of “green” was different. I shouldn’t blame my wife for handing me the wrong jacket. I should be more specific and clarify what I meant.
This is how misunderstandings can turn into fights. It’s common for people who are already at odds to use this fallacy against each other, pointing fingers and escalating small disagreements into rifts that tear the entire relationship apart.
“The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool.”Proverbs 10:18 (ESV)
Remember this fallacy. You need to see it coming so you can stop it in its tracks and disarm bad-faith arguments from friends, news articles, and governments alike. It’s also helpful to be aware of it when you’re the one who’s speaking. You want to be properly understood by those who listen to you.
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”1 Peter 4:8 (ESV)
Stopping Useless Quarrels
Next time you find yourself on the edge of a conflict, ask yourself how sure you are of the other person’s definitions. If in doubt, ask them. The simple phrase, “What do you mean by that?” can go a long way! Seriously, try it. It can work wonders to deflate tension and bring reason back into the conversation.
It’s no use trying to have a discussion if you can’t agree on what your words mean. You’ll end up talking past each other. I can’t begin to count how many disagreements I’ve experienced or witnessed that could have been resolved right at the beginning if someone had only taken a few moments to clarify the terms.
You may not like the terms someone else uses, but that’s not the point. Your goal is to communicate. Sometimes you have to use their terms and sometimes they have to accept yours. It’s a game of give and take, but the real goal is to understand one another, removing as much ambiguity as possible.
“I urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”Ephesians 4:1-3 (CSB)
Explaining Yourself Effectively
One of the best feelings in the world is being understood. It’s an art form to speak in such a way that the contents of your heart are transported into the mind of another person. It takes practice to learn this skill, but one easy trick you can use is to keep a sharp eye on the definitions of your words.
It’s a common mistake to use equivocation on accident, especially when talking “off the cuff.” When you speak, keep tabs on what significant words you’re using as the cornerstones of your argument. These are the most important words to clarify and stay consistent with.
Let’s say you’re persuading an audience to make a savings account for emergencies only. You might talk about how this money comes in handy for unexpected bills and home repairs. But you also want to emphasize that it can’t save you from emergencies. After all, it’s just money. It won’t prevent bad things from happening to you. We have to trust God at the end of the day.
Your audience is now confused. You said this fund was for “emergencies,” but now you’ve just told them that it’s no use for some “emergencies.” You have to clarify what you mean. The fund is meant for bad situations that can be solved with money, but it won’t save you from a heart attack, it won’t keep you from being arrested if you break the law, and it won’t save your soul from sin. These are different from financial emergencies and it’s important to point that out. Just because you understand your point doesn’t mean others will.
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”Ephesians 4:29 (ESV)
COVID-19 and Lying with Definitions
Misunderstandings and quarrels are one thing, but lies from a business, news organization, or government are another beast entirely. You had better be ready when communication experts purposefully try to brainwash and manipulate you or you won’t stand a chance.
Do you know the definition of “vaccine?” Here it is, according to Merriam-Webster:
“Vaccine – noun: a preparation of killed microorganisms, living attenuated organisms, or living fully virulent organisms that is administered to produce or artificially increase immunity to a particular disease.”
At least, that’s what it was until January 2021. Then they changed the definition. Why? Because the new shot developed for COVID-19 didn’t provide immunity. But you see, “protein spike shot” just doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as nicely. The government and big pharma wanted everyone to get this shot. They knew people would trust it more if they called it a vaccine, so they did. They lied. They knowingly advertised the shot as a vaccine even though it wasn’t.
To cover their tracks, dictionaries like Merriam-Webster and other “authoritative” sources changed the definition of a vaccine overnight. Today, it takes up your entire screen and very carefully says that vaccines “stimulate the body’s immune response.” This is different from providing immunity.
This is a clear case of equivocation. The government called the shot a “vaccine” with a new definition knowing the public would accept it based on the previous definition. When they were called out, they claimed this new definition was “more accurate.” Excuse me, but how so? Definitions are based on the use of a word in the culture at large and should never depend solely on the whims of a few ruling elite. This kind of transparent manipulation is becoming more outlandish by the day. They only do it because we fall for it. Stop taking the bait and think for yourself.
“For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.”Romans 16:18 (ESV)
What is Racism?
A similar thing is happening to the definition of “racism.” It was once understood by everyone to be “prejudice or discrimination based on race,” but today you’ll hear a different story from university professors and self-important TV personalities.
Racism is now defined by some as the systematic oppression of people of color by white people. It’s being framed as an amorphous force of evil exclusive to one race (ironically enough). How convenient! This new definition absolves you of the responsibility to provide evidence that a particular person is prejudiced. You can just blame “the system” of racism and claim the same experiences as those who have actually suffered. Isn’t it great to be a victim?
“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”Proverbs 18:2 (ESV)
Gender and Sex
When I was growing up, gender and sex were interchangeable. My sex is male. My gender is male. I am a man. They all mean the same things. Today, you’ll be taught that gender is a social construct. Sex is biological and determined by reproductive organs, but gender is your self-expression and can be changed at any time. This new definition allows men to declare themselves to be women and intrude on women’s bathrooms or sports competitions, which were designed with the original (biological) definition of gender in mind.
Modern gender theory is quite recent. It was formed in the 90s by Judith Butler and others, but they refer back to an experiment in the 60s by psychologist John Money. He took twin brothers and raised one of them as a girl, forcing them into sex positions (to reinforce gender roles) and abusing them in other ways. This study was declared to be a success and stands as the foundation for much of modern gender theory.
What they don’t tell you is that the boy was miserable living as a girl and decided as a teenager to go back to living as a boy. He later killed himself with a shotgun and his brother overdosed on antidepressants. The history of modern gender theory is stained with innocent blood.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”Proverbs 18:21 (CSB)
Equivocation is dangerous. It can ruin marriages and it can brainwash a country. We must be vigilant in defining what our words mean and speaking the truth in love. We must keep a lookout for anyone trying to manipulate us. Be shrewd as a serpent and innocent as a dove (Matt 10:16).
“Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!”Psalm 141:3 (ESV)
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Enter your email to keep in touch with me. Thanks for reading. Godspeed.