THE TAKE AWAY
Fallacy and Logic Part 1
Straw Men, False Causes, and Bandwagons
By Kersley Fitzgerald
Can you argue someone into a saving relationship with Christ? Maybe. William Lane Craig thinks so. But there's arguing with passion, and then there's arguing with logic. Logic is hard to come by. In this series, we'll discuss some methods of argument that people use (Christian and non-Christian alike) that don't actually make sense.
In a straw man argument, the person arguing against (the "con") misrepresents the original position of the person arguing for (the "pro").* The con then goes on to successfully refute an argument that had nothing to do with the topic at hand. The straw man is traditionally used if the con is intentionally distracting the crowd and resorting to emotionalism to wind up the crowd to his side, but it's also common if the con is confused about what the pro is talking about. The "straw man" itself can be an over-simplification or a generalization of the pro's position, or it can be a representation of a position that the pro held in the past but has since updated.
Misinformed or over-emotional creationists often use a straw man, either intentionally or unintentionally through carelessness. Answers in Genesis has an excellent example in their "Arguments Christians Shouldn't Use" series. The creationist (the "con") argues that men couldn't have evolved from apes because there are still apes around. What the con is either ignorant of or ignoring is that evolutionists do not claim that humans evolved from modern-day apes, but that both humans and apes evolved from the same long-ago ancestor. So, while it is true that modern apes are not evolving into humans, it really doesn't do any good to point this out, since that wasn't the issue to begin with.
A better way: Know the facts. Know what it is your opponent is actually arguing. In this case, it may lead you to discover some interesting things about Neanderthals. You can at least find some better arguments.
In the false cause, the con claims that a relationship or correlation between two things implies one is the cause of another. It rejects the idea that there may be a third issue that influences both, or that the correlation could be entirely random. The big example of this lately is with vaccinations and autism. Signs of autism show up in early childhood — the same time frame as vaccinations. It doesn't mean one causes the other.
Many Christians use a kind of reverse-false cause when it comes to global warming. The pro position is that the trend is that global temperatures have been rising since records began in the 1880s. The con may say, "It was a particularly cold yesterday, therefore global warming isn't true." That argument doesn't take into account normal weather fluctuations. Maybe global warming is true and maybe it isn't, but you can't tell from one day.
A better way: When it comes to arguments based on false causes, the cure is common sense and a little bit of humility. False cause arguments usually come about because someone was passionate about their position and jumped the gun when it came to scientific support. Step back and figure out why this seems to be a hill to die on — I've never understood why some Christians are so violently opposed to the concept of global warming. It's not a bad thing to care about the environment by getting fuel-efficient cars. Why do people so vehemently argue against something that is neither proven nor disproven but would naturally result in cleaner air? But if you do feel this is an important argument, research the temperature patterns over the last 130 years and how they correlate to pollution emissions so your argument is valid.
A bandwagon argument isn't based on facts or data or even logic. It's based on statistics. It says that because a position is popular, it must be right. Here in Colorado, one might say that the Broncos are the most wonderful team in the whole of football. But just because the Broncos are popular, it obviously doesn't mean they're the greatest. That would be the Seahawks, as proven by cold hard facts.
The bandwagon is very commonly used in an argument that drives me nuts. "Gay marriage should be outlawed because God designed marriage for the procreation of children." Think what you will about gay marriage, this is a horrible argument. It is true that, traditionally, children were birthed within the context of heterosexual marriages. It's even true that being born within a family with married, heterosexual parents is, in general, the healthiest situation to be in. But you can't say "gay marriage is wrong because there is no way to naturally have children in such a relationship" because taking the argument to its logical conclusion (reduction ad absurdum) means you'd have to nullify marriages where one or more members are infertile, to include those with a woman past menopause. The argument is horribly disrespectful, and I wish Christians would stop using it.
A better way: First of all, don't be a Broncos fan. Second of all, interpret your facts with logic, and don't make an absolute deduction off of a sample, even if that sample is in the majority. It is true that God told Adam and Eve to reproduce, but God never prohibited marriage between two people who could not have children. The Bible did/does prohibit sex between two people of the same gender. Gay marriage directly implies sex between two people of the same gender. Therefore, the Bible does not condone gay marriage.
This series is inspired by a poster that is available at Your Logical Fallacy Is. Next time: more fallacious arguments and how to avoid them.
Part 1: Straw Men, False Causes, and Bandwagons
Part 2: Genetic Origins, No True Scotsman, and the Texas Sharpshooter
Part 3: Appeal to Authority, Personal Incredulity, and the Slippery Slope
* Realize that "con" and "pro" are terms that describe the different sides of the debate, the pro arguing for something and the con arguing against. The use of the term "con" does not refer to a confidence man — someone trying to deceive another. To think so is to use an ambiguity fallacy.
Image Credit: Robin Ellis; Straw Men; Creative Commons
Tags: Biblical-Truth | Political-Issues | Witnessing-Evangelism
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