Debating Logical Arguments

logical argumentsI find that living in the “Bible” belt means I frequently have arguments to defend my lifestyle, or beliefs.  I know I really should move, I just love it a lot here.  It’s too bad that folks can’t be more open minded.  Most of the defenses I tend to have to wade through are due to problems with the lines of thinking taught around here.  Most college professors would define these as Logical Fallacies.

   We use logical fallacies in casual conversation all the time. Using analogy comes naturally to most people. Poor analogies are as common as mud. Really solid analogies are few and far between. Someone using a fallacy isn’t necessarily using it maliciously or purposefully. Sometimes people mistake bad arguments for good arguments, and while it’s certainly proper to correct them, please don’t jump to the conclusion that they’re deliberately trying to mislead people, whether they’re an atheist or a theist.

The Straw Man:
A Straw Man is the misrepresentation or over-simplification of a position, making it easier to attack as opposed to dealing with the real argument. By knocking down the straw man (get it, straw men are much easier to knock down than real men?), they appear to have “won” the argument, when they’ve actually argued against a misrepresentation.


“People who believe in God are just brainwashed and delusional.”
“Atheists are so skeptical that they won’t believe anything at all, no matter how much evidence there is.”

Loaded Question:
A loaded question or “trick question” is a question that presupposes something not in evidence. The most famous example is, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” because it’s quite clear that whether you answer “yes” or “no” you’ve implied that you have been beating your wife in the past.

Argument from Ignorance
An argument from ignorance argues that a claim is true because it has not or cannot be disproved. Russell’s Teapot provides an example of this argument.

Begging the Question
Begging the Questionis similar to a loaded question, in that the argument is already supposing its conclusion. I’m stealing my examples from Wikipedia, because they’re quite simple and also kind of hilarious:

“Why am I the boss? It’s because I call the shots around here.”
“Of course I had a reason, or I wouldn’t have done it.”
“I didn’t steal it. I’m no thief!”

False Dilemma/Trilemma/etc.
A false dilemma is a case where two alternative courses/answers are presented as if they are the onlytwo answers possible, when in fact, there are other possible explanations. C.S. Lewis’ famous “Liar, Lunatic or Lord” argument is a very famous false trilemma, presenting only three possibilities for Jesus’ behavior, when there are plenty of other possibilities. Pascal’s Wager also commits this fallacy, presenting atheism and Christianity as the only two belief systems to choose from.

Slippery Slope
A slippery slope fallacy claims that some event or decision would inevitably lead to a far-fetched or extreme end, when there is no logical chain implying that an extreme end would follow. It’s important to note that there are cases where a “slippery slope” actually exists – the difference between the fallacy and the real thing is whether or not there’s a logical chain of events that would lead down the “slope.” A much-used example is the claim that legalizing gay marriage will eventually lead to people gaining the rights to marry their pet fish, or their sofas.

False Analogy
A false analogyis a case where two things are compared that actually have important differences between them, but those differences are ignored and a conclusion is drawn based on the similarities. A good example paraphrased from Wikipedia: “The Sun is yellow. Bananas are yellow. Thus, the sun and bananas have the same mass.” It’s important to note that an analogy might work, to a certain point, but if taken too far, fall into being a false analogy.

No True Scotsman
This fallacy is committed when someone redefines terms based on whether certain undesirable traits might be connected to them. This is probably a poor summary, but I think the original example (from Antony Flew) should serve to illustrate better:

Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the “Brighton Sex Maniac Strikes Again.” Hamish is shocked and declares that “No Scotsman would do such a thing.” The next day he sits down to read his Glasgow Morning Herald again and this time finds an article about an Aberdeen man whose brutal actions make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. This fact shows that Hamish was wrong in his opinion but is he going to admit this? Not likely. This time he says, “No true Scotsman would do such a thing.”

Some other fallacies you might want to look up include:
The Texas Sharpshooter
Accident and Converse Accident
Appeals to Consequences
Special Pleading
Appeals to Emotion
Argumentum ad populum

If you enjoy reading this and have an open mind check out The Friendly Atheist.


About JayCooper

Puzzled WebWizard from Mount Juliet Tennessee. Married for 25+ years to a wonderful wife with three grown sons.

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