Fallacy Friday!

Today's Logical Fallacy is...Straw Man!

(The Straw Person) This fallacy takes the opponents argument and restructures it, creating an extreme version that no one could possib...

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Why you can't compare apples and oranges: False Analogy

False analogies are logical fallacies, and they occur when two things are incorrectly compared so as to draw a false conclusion. No two scenarios or ideas are exactly the same, nor do they so different that there is nothing similar about them. Therefore, no analogy is perfect, so we have to take care to avoid focusing on superficial similarities while ignoring fundamental dissimilarities. This is a very common fallacy because our language functions partly through comparisons; we use them to teach and to explain situations; we use comparisons in deciding how to handle new experiences; and we use them to make unfamiliar situations and ideas more familiar, thus helping us avoid acting out of fear. However, it is unwise to rely on analogies in making arguments because they will undoubtedly fail in key aspects.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Common Creationist Complaint: How did the DNA code originate?

Common Complaint: How did the DNA code originate? The code is a sophisticated language system with letters and words where the meaning of the words is unrelated to the chemical properties of the letters—just as the information on this page is not a product of the chemical properties of the ink (or pixels on a screen). What other coding system has existed without intelligent design? How did the DNA coding system arise without it being created? [1]

Friday, April 4, 2014

Truth is not dependent upon consequences: Appeal to Consequences

This is the appeal to consequence, and it's a logical fallacy that occurs when someone argues that something cannot be true because the consequences are unacceptable (or is true because the consequences are desirable). This is a fallacy for several reasons: 1) desirability is a subjective concept; 2) it seeks to convince through an emotional appeal as the consequences often evoke fear or desire; and 3) it is teleological in nature (reverses cause in effect) by asserting that something is caused by its own effect. The consequences of something are irrelevant to whether or not it actually exists; children may behave well if they believe in Santa, but that does not mean that Santa must exist. Consequences can be taken into consideration when the argument is whether or not something is desirable, just not whether it is true. In trying to determine a plan of action, it is very reasonable to consider consequences (prescribing drugs, for example). However, that doesn’t mean that something must be false because it doesn’t work out how we want it to. (Other names include argument from consequence, argumentum ad consequentiam, and appeal to consequences of a belief). 

Don't dismiss because you can't imagine: Argument from Incredulity

The argument from incredulity, or personal incredulity fallacy, occurs when someone dismisses something because they personally don’t understand it or can’t imagine how it would work. Just because the concepts might be difficult to understand doesn’t make it impossible. Otherwise, most scientific advances that we take for granted today wouldn’t exist. The basic level of knowledge or understanding by any one person or even a majority does not dictate what is or is not false. To avoid this fallacy, when you find yourself having difficulty understanding something, don’t dismiss it until you have gained enough information in order to understand it. This is a common tactic of those who dislike change. If you would rather live in the past and avoid change, then you should avoid taking the time to understand new and complex ideas. This fallacy is related to the argument from ignorance, the difference being that ignorance comes from a lack of knowledge whereas incredulity comes from a lack of understanding or imagination.

Don't distort someone's argument to dismiss it: The Straw Man

The straw man fallacy takes the opponents argument and restructures as an extreme version of itself that no one could possibly agree with and then dismisses it because it is absurd. It is a fallacy because you are not actually confronting the opponent’s argument; you are claiming that it is something it isn’t and then dismissing it. By turning the opponent’s argument into a weaker, “straw man,” version of itself, you are being dishonest, and fabricating, misrepresenting, or exaggerating someone else’s argument just to make yours look better will actually result in the opposite – they will wonder what is so weak about your argument that you have to result to poor logic to defend it. Straw man arguments often include the phrases, “seem to think,” “probably believe,” or otherwise imply a position that the opponent doesn’t actually suggest (i.e. “Evolutionists seem to think that humans just crawled out of the goo" or "Conservatives want children to suffer.")

Why everything is debatable: Dogmatism

The dogmatism fallacy occurs when one doctrine is pushed, often intensely, as the only acceptable conclusion and that that belief is beyond question. Dogmatists are unwilling to even consider an opposing argument and ignore any contradictory evidence; some even believe that thinking about questioning the position is wrong. They frequently tell others both what to think and how to think. Anyone who disagrees with the position is branded as either stupid, evil, or biased while they alone are intelligent, morally superior, and objective. This is a fallacy because it blocks all future discussion (it also shifts the burden of proof) and is common with religious zealots, cults, and political extremists. If someone refuses to debate a topic while claiming that their position is the only possible solution, then they are committing a dogmatism fallacy.

Don't claim without evidence: Shifting the Burden of Proof

Shifting the burden of proof fallacies occur when the burden of proof is placed on the wrong side of an argument. In a logical argument, the “burden of proof” lies with the individual making the claim; in other words, if you claim something, you need to provide the evidence for that claim. When you “shift the burden of proof,” instead of providing evidence to support their claim, you challenge your opponent to disprove it, and just because your claim can’t be disproven does not mean that it is then credible (it is also fallacious to require absolute proof of something as well as there are no absolutes). What we don’t know cannot be used as evidence for or against anything. Absence of knowledge is not knowledge. In the American legal system, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution, and the accused is “innocent until proven guilty.” If you claim that Bigfoot exists, psychic powers are real, or telekinesis is possible, then you have the burden of proof and must provide the evidence to support it.

Why credentials matter: Appeal to Authority

A type of ad hominem, the appeal to authority fallacy occurs when one believes what an authority figure says just because they are an authority figure regardless of their expertise in the field, the established consensus, or any biases. To avoid falling for this fallacy, you should examine the credentials of the authority figure making the claim and then compare the claim to what others in that field are saying. This fallacy is very common in advertisements who use “false authorities” to convince us to purchase their product (supermodels selling personal hygiene products, for example), as well as conspiracy theorists (the Kennedy assassination, Big Foot, and the faked Apollo Moon landing).

Gather more evidence before you draw conclusions: The Correlation Equals Causation Fallacy

The correlation equals causation fallacy is very common both in everyday usage and in formal arguments, and it occurs when someone confuses “correlation” (when things occur at the same time or immediately after one another) with “causation” (when one thing causes another). It is a mistake to assume that the order of events means that one event caused the other. There are many other variables that could contribute to the pattern we see including pure coincidence or, most frequently, a common “third” cause of both events. Statistics play an important role in this fallacy. Many will see a figure and automatically draw a conclusion without thinking of what may have been left out. This is why it is important to examine the test conditions for an experiment and all other available data. However, if one dismisses valid statistical conclusions based on this fallacy, they are committing another fallacy: “denial of causation.”(Other names of this fallacy include the false cause, post hoc, faulty causality, correlation vs. causation, and post hoc ergo propter hoc).

Why "I don't know" is often the best answer: The Appeal to Ignorance

The appeal to ignorance fallacy occurs when individuals take the lack of information about a certain subject as proof of either its existence or nonexistence. Essentially, it’s the belief that something is true because we don’t know it isn’t true, or, conversely, the disbelief in something because we don’t know that it is true. It is often used to justify a position that lacks a certain amount of evidence: ESP, UFOs, etc. When we don’t have an adequate explanation, it is rational to say that we just don’t know – not to jump to a conclusion one way or another. Our knowledge about the world continues to grow, and just because we currently lack an explanation doesn’t mean that there is none or that the explanation is supernatural, paranormal, or otherwise “unnatural.” This fallacy is committed if, when someone “pleads the fifth” or has no alibi for a crime, we assume they are guilty. (Other names include argument from silence, ad ignoratiam, and appeal to ignorance).

Not all ideas are created equal: The Balance Fallacy

The opposite of the false dichotomy, the balance fallacy occurs when someone asserts that the extremes are always wrong and the middle ground, therefore, must be right. It also occurs when we give equal weight and credence to both sides of an argument regardless of the evidence supporting the sides. This fallacy is not the same thing as pointing out flaws in both sides of an argument while remaining, or appearing to remain, undecided. It is a very “Western” fallacy as we are often accustomed to resolving problems through compromise in order to be “fair” and “balanced.” However, in trying to appear balanced, we may be ignoring the fact that one side may actually be right. Presenting information this way may also result in skewing public opinion; they may think that just because they have been presented with both sides equally that they are then equally probable or equally acceptable. (Other names include the false balance, argument to moderation, argumentum ad temperatium, golden mean fallacy, false compromise, and the gray fallacy.)

Look for the shades of gray: The False Dichotomy

The false dichotomy fallacy occurs when only choices are artificially reduced to only two options, ignoring all other alternatives, either intentionally or unintentionally. It implies that there really is only a choice between two extremes with no room for compromise, and usually it is worded in such a way to favor one answer over the other. It makes two big assumptions: that the two options are mutually exclusive (cannot be both) and exhaustive (no other options available). Therefore, if you do not accept one, then you must accept the other. (Other names include the false dilemma, black/white fallacy, either-or reasoning, fallacy of false choice, fallacy of exhaustive hypotheses, fallacy of false alternative, and the fallacy of the excluded middle).

Why stories are not evidence: Anecdotal Fallacy

The anecdotal fallacy is committed when someone rejects or discounts extensive evidence in favor of an isolated or personal experience. If the audience wants to believe in something, they will often cling to anecdotes as evidence even if there is no other evidence or documentation for the phenomenon (consider Urban Legends). This fallacy is partly due to the availability heuristic which causes people to overestimate how common something is based on how easily they can think of an example. People are more prone to remembering exceptional events, and thus, by definition, anecdotes are more often the exception and not the rule. In addition, most people don’t take into consideration the vast numbers of “unexceptional” stories that are more in line with reality because they rarely hear about them or, if they do, they don’t remember them because they are so typical. (Other names include the "I know a person who" fallacy.)

Don't play with emotions: Appeal to Emotion

The appeal to emotion fallacy occurs when someone attempts to invoke an emotional response (pity, fear, anger, etc.) instead of using a valid or compelling argument. Almost all humans are affected by emotion, and that makes these appeals exceptionally common and effective (think “scare tactics”). However, they are flawed and dishonest because they don't actually address the issue. Appeals to emotion are often the basis for censorship and bigotry. (Other names include argumentum ad misericordiam, playing to emotions, appeal to pity, "E" for effort, noble effort, sob story)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Common Creationist Complaint: How Did Life Originate?

Common Complaint: How did life originate? Evolutionist Professor Paul Davies admitted, “Nobody knows how a mixture of lifeless chemicals spontaneously organized themselves into the first living cell.” Andrew Knoll, professor of biology, Harvard, said, “we don’t really know how life originated on this planet.” A minimal cell needs several hundred proteins. Even if every atom in the universe were an experiment with all the correct amino acids present for every possible molecular vibration in the supposed evolutionary age of the universe, not even one average-sized functional protein would form. So how did life with hundreds of proteins originate just by chemistry without intelligent design? [1]

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