Contextomy:

Definition Example
When there is a selective snipping of words from their original linguistic context in a way that distorts the intended meaning. I know he actually said “You are pretty cruel”. But I’m content just to know he said “You are pretty”.
Also known as: quoting out of context / taking out of context
  Notes
Various believers in various religious texts often accuse each other of contextomy. This is often more a function of the vagueness of the context which allows for multiple interpretations.

Case Study One

The commander of British forces in Afghanistan, Mark Carleton-Smith said the following.

“We’re not going to win this war. It’s about reducing it to a manageable level of insurgency that’s not a strategic threat and can be managed by the Afghan army.”

Only the first line was quoted by some media outlets, distorting the true intention of the commander.


Case Study Two

The following is a quote by Charles Darwin.

”Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely-graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and serious objection which can be urged against the theory. “

Taken out of context, this quote is easily perceived to be Darwin doubting his own theory. However, Darwin continued…

”The explanation lies, as I believe, in the extreme imperfection of the geological record. In the first place, it should always be borne in mind what sort of intermediate forms must, on the theory, have formerly existed… ”


Case Study Three

Consider this bible verse.

Hosea 11:1 “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.”

Now note how the writer of the Gospel of Matthew later unequivocally denotes this verse in Hosea as a messianic prophecy. He is refering to Jesus’ time in Egypt when he writes…

Matthew 2:15 “And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.’”

But now let’s return to the very next verse in Hosea.

Hosea 11:2 “But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images.”

Unless one is willing to suggest that Jesus sacrificed to the Baals, it must be said that Matthew excised this verse out of its original context.


Case Study Four

The following is a quote by Charles Darwin that is often abbreviated by those opposing the theory of evolution that is often abbreviated in a way that makes Darwin appear to believe something he doesn’t.

To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree. [Often cut here.] Yet reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real.

This quote is often cut by creationists to include only the section before “Yet, reason tells me…“.


Keep in mind that a fallacious argument does not entail an erroneous position.


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