False Dilemmas

One way

I’ve been thinking about thinking.

Yes, I do need to get out more, duly noted. 🙂

Specifically, I’ve been thinking about binary thinking, or put another way, the logical fallacy of false dilemma.  Say, what?


In logic, a false dilemma[1] is a thinking error of oversimplification that offers a limited number of options (usually two) when in reality more options are available.[2]  Why would this be a problem?  Don’t we have to narrow things down and choose between them?

The problem is that the system is rigged to generate particular outcomes when the premise is determined to be solved by ONLY two options.


Let’s start with a simplified example.

A man goes to a store to buy paint.  The store tells him they have only red paint or blue paint.  The man accepts this premise, and feels that his choice is between red or blue and does not consider any other options.  In reality, he has many more options. I’ll list a few. First, he could go to a different store.  Second, even if he stays at that store, he could create purple by mixing red and blue, and in actuality, there are a wide variety of purples that he could create depending on the amounts he used of each color.

Forgive the political example here, but it is election season and this year has been extremely taxing for me emotionally and logically.  I’ll be honest, I’ve been all over the map trying to figure out how to be true to the things that I believe.  Up until this very week, I thought I knew what I was going to do on election day.

Today, I changed my mind.

I had resigned myself to casting a vote based on platforms, not personalities.  That’s not to say I was exceptionally thrilled with even the platforms, but I was squinting really hard and trying to focus on a few key items and ignore the rest of what I could see in my peripheral view.

Here’s the problem.  This is the adversary’s favorite trick, and I’m not talking about this one election cycle in one country in this vast world, and I’m tired of falling for it.


The first record that we have of Lucifer in the premortal existence[3] was one in which he set up a false dilemma, and did his best to persuade others to follow.  He presented the idea that there were only two choices, either he would “help” everyone to return to Heavenly Father by removing their agency, or they would be lost.  But that wasn’t Heavenly Father’s plan at all.  His plan was to have agency as the linchpin of the entire plan, agency and Jesus Christ to act as a Savior and redeem us both from the Fall and from our own bad choices.  So Heavenly Father found a way, not to remove choices and consequences entirely, but to recognize the times we would fall short and provide a way for us to grasp hold of our own agency and yet still learn to rely on our Savior as our only way home.  He knew that some would choose differently than He wished they would, but His plan was really the only way things could work.  He found a different way.




So, we came to earth to learn about choice and accountability.


Every. Single. Day.



Heroes don’t become heroes by choosing the lesser of two evils, but by choosing an alternative to evil.  These kinds of choices aren’t made based on an assurance that all will be well and everyone will “win” in the end.  They are made because the hero understands that it is the choice that matters, because it’s the choice that s/he can control, not the outcome.

Luckily for us, the outcome turns out surprisingly well sometimes too.  Importantly though, the result usually cannot be seen from the vantage point of the actor at the time.

Consider these scriptural examples.

Daniel could choose to either obey the unrighteous king and not pray, or be eaten by lions.  No, he rejected this binary thinking and instead prayed to his Heavenly Father who shut the lions’ mouths.

Nephi could either perish in the wilderness at the edge of the sea, or he and his family could return to their homes.  No, he could pray for help to a loving Heavenly Father, who answered by teaching him how to build a boat.

And let’s talk about Esther for a minute.  Esther could either stay quiet and safe and happy as the wife of a king while her people were killed, or she could reveal herself and be killed as well.

Except that isn’t what happened.

Instead, Esther prepared herself.  She asked for help and a special fast.  She readied herself and stood before the king, probably on pretty shaky legs, taking counsel from her cousin Mordecai’s when he said:

“For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”[4]


As an attorney, when I am trying to reach a settlement on a case, I will sometimes try to come up with two alternatives about a given issue, both of which are acceptable to my client, that we then propose to the other side and let them choose what they like best.  Many of us this do this with our kids as well, by saying something like, “Do you want to unload the dishwasher or sweep the floor?”  When we do this, it’s because we have recognized that it doesn’t really matter to us which option they choose, because either way, we are getting something that we want from them.

The problem is that Satan knows this as well.  I often tell my kids and the youth that I work with at church, that the adversary doesn’t really care whether we go off the path to the right or to the left side, so long as we are off the path.  That is his goal.  When we focus on whether we should step to the right or step to the left, we are buying into the false dilemma that he has created, and entirely missing the path that leads us back to Heavenly Father.


How does this relate back to our present day election example?  I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of placing myself in the role of the victim of this election cycle, choosing between two evils.  By doing so, I’m accepting a premise of limited options and failing to accept my accountability for the choice that I must make.  That’s not why Christ came and sacrificed for me, and I’m being emotionally and spiritually lazy if I allow myself to think otherwise.

“And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.”[5]

If Mother Teresa or Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, or even Joseph Smith, an actual former candidate for the presidency were running today, would I still feel comfortable with myself by saying I was “choosing between the lesser of two evils?”

So how does rejecting a false dilemma work in this real life example?

The fact is, there are a lot of different options for this election.  Here’s a few: I could vote for Hillary Clinton, for Donald Trump, for Evan McMullin, for Gary Johnson, for Jill Stein, Darrell Lane Castle, Rocky De La Fuente, or Gloria Estela La Riva.  These are the candidates that are on at least 15% of the ballots.  Or, I could vote for any of the other 1888 candidates that have filed a statement of candidacy with the federal election commission.  Or, I could write in the name of anyone that I want, even if a particular person is not on the ballot.  I could even abstain from voting at all, if that is what my conscious dictates.

I could choose to vote for any one (or none) of these people, and so long as I am making a thoughtful and well-considered choice and I have reasons for my choice, I am doing my part.  I could use tools such as the I Side With (just one example) to help me know what each candidate actually thinks and how my beliefs fit into their governing philosophies.   What I am suggesting that I should NOT do, however, is decide that I really don’t have a choice, that I really have to decide between the “lesser of two evils” and that my choice must be entirely outcome-driven.  I am not a victim.  I am free to act for myself and I am responsible for my choices.


Standing for something doesn’t require winning to be successful.  In fact, many people that have stood for their beliefs were not on the winning side or everyone would do it because it takes no courage.  Standing for something often means that you make the choice REGARDLESS of the outcome, because it’s the way you are facing that matters more than the distance you have to travel.

We weren’t sent here to choose the lesser of two evils, in any aspect of our lives.

We were sent here to choose an alternative to evil. 

Our lives have purpose and a plan.  We have the heavenly-ordained responsibility to make courageous and thoughtful choices to stay on the path every single day, and to reject the notions that are ability to choose has been removed from us by circumstances.

We can do this, because we were reserved at this time on this earth, perhaps . . . for just such a time as this.  


[1] These errors are also sometimes referred to as “false dichotomies” or “binary thinking.”

[2] http://grammar.about.com/od/fh/g/falsedilterm.htm

[3] https://www.lds.org/new-era/2015/02/what-we-know-about-premortal-life?lang=eng

[4] Esther 4:14.

[5] 2 Nephi 2:26.

2 thoughts on “False Dilemmas

  1. What if everyone had the courage to vote with what their heart wants, not what the world says we should do. I believe this is a way our nation could see some healing.

    My mom Lora Dawn sent me your blog post. Thank you for your thoughts and inspiration. I feel like I do have a choice and I am choosing one from your other list and I hope people will take the First Presidencies letter seriously and take it to the Lord, then make their decision

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this post, and the reminder that we are never victims and should never see ourselves as such. I also love the thought that it is the way we are facing that matters, not whether we necessarily win or not. Thanks, Natalie, for such a great post. You put my thoughts into words–super good ones, I must say–and I just love it.


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