Grump tank for disgruntled atheists.


We the Contributors, in order to avoid repeating ourselves, have created a section devoted to explicating the Fallacies of Logic into which all arguers fall from time to time.

The Declaration against Ignorance

When in the Course of human thought it becomes necessary for one group to deny any facts which could connect them to truth and to assume among the fantasies of religiosity, the separate and lesser cognition to which Religious Dogma and Claims of a God drive them, disrespect for the knowledge attained by mankind requires that they should deny the evidence which impels them to prevaricate.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all humans make errors, that they are endowed by evolution with certain unalienable propensities, that among these are Lies, Taking Liberties with Facts, and the creation of Mythologies.

...... with apologies to the Founding Fathers and to that sensible Englishman whose political philosophy they appropriated.

A Fallacy of Logic, or "FOL-ly", is, very generally, an error in reasoning. There are several very good websites that deal with fallacies.

The following fallacies, amongst many others, are commonly encountered in intelligent [sick] design theory and other peeve-topics on this website:
ɷ ad hominem
ɷ Argument from Ignorance
ɷ Argumentum ad antiquitatem
ɷ Argumentum ad nauseam
ɷ Argumentum ad numeram
ɷ Appeals to Emotion
ɷ Appeal to False Authority
ɷ Argumentum ad novitatem
ɷ Circular argument
ɷ Fallacy of Composition
ɷ Denial
ɷ Doublespeak
ɷ Fallacies of Association
ɷ Fallacy Fallacy
ɷ False Dichotomy
ɷ God of the Gaps
ɷ Irrelevance : ignoratio elenchi
ɷ Misleading Quotes
ɷ Red Herring
ɷ Shifting the Burden of Proof
ɷ Shifting Etymons
ɷ Slippery slope
ɷ Straw Man Fallacy
ɷ Sweeping generalization

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Argumentum ad hominem

"Against" the man, To the man, Argumentum ad hominem
This is probably the commonest fallacious argument of all in debates about emotion-laden issues – attacking the messenger.

Addressing the qualities or qualifications of "the man" might not be fallacious if "the man" clearly displays prejudices in his/her opinion. Pointing out the clear biases of a hate propagandist such as Dr. Paul Cameron (of FRI) is legimate when, for example, he distorts statistics in an attempt to disguise a hate message as being a fact-supported argument.

In the face of dubious statistics, suspicious "facts", or claims that an unlikely position is supported by empirical research, it is worth looking into the qualifications and possible biases of the individual making the claim.

The possibility always remains that the conclusion drawn by a highly biased debater may be the correct conclusion. However, arguments that display prejudices are automatically suspect.

Equally, the conclusions of an arguer who is not an expert in the area under discussion may be correct, but such an arguer would need to make the premises and logic of his/her argument quite clear in order to compensate for the possibility that his/her argument is not authoritative. Nevertheless, to question the messenger's expertise is not necessarily an ad hominem fallacy, though it is an ad hominem - a legitimate ad hominem.

On the other hand, to call the opposing debater 'an ignorant idiot' might feel justified in view of one's frustration with his or her obdurate denial of one's own version of reality, or more likely of expert knowledge. However, it is not a good argument against his or her premises, argument, or conclusion. He or she might be correct, or you might both be mistaken. However, such an assessment ought to be based on the merits of his or her, or your argument.

Fallacious ad hominems employ a variety of attacks: directly abusive, circumstantial, and accusations of "poisoning the well".

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Argument from Ignorance

Argument from Ignorance, or argumentum ad ignorantiam:

Fallacious arguments from ignorance erroneously claim either that lack of proof must render a claim false, or that lack of disproof must render a claim true.

Despite its name this fallacy does not refer to being ignorant of the facts per se, rather it refers to an ignorance of alternatives and of what constitutes proof. This fallacy muddles the true-false dichotomy with the question of proof or disproof, and as such is a form of false dilemma where only two options are presented when several options exist. The ignored possibilities include false claim-not disproven, and true claim-not proven, while the implied dichotomy confines options to false claim-disproven or true claim-proven. If only the world of thought were truly so simple.

An example of this fallacious argument within intelligent [sick] design theory is embodied in the “irreducible complexity” claim that if evolutionary biologists cannot provide the demanded explanation for “specified complexity”, then evolutionary theory fails, further fallaciously implying or stating that biological evolution is not a fact, and still further fallaciously implying or stating that God (aka the ‘intelligent designer’) must be responsible for whatever biological mechanism is under debate. Such a concatenation of fallacies could fool only those who insist upon belief in a creator.

The more careful claim of a ‘intelligent [sick] design’ debater is that ‘intelligent [sick] design theory’ ought to be taught alongside science in the classroom. This is not a substantiable claim because nothing about ‘intelligent [sick] design theory’ qualifies it to be regarded as science. Merely disputing the content of science does not qualify as being science. While many ‘intelligent [sick] design’ proponents appear not to understand the true nature of science, pretentiously-named Fellows of the so-called Discovery Institute are mostly well enough educated that they ought to understand the advantages and limitations of scientific investigation.

Many creationists and ‘intelligent [sick] design theory’ debaters who display the argumentam ad ignorantiam logical fallacy do not make their reasoning explicit, such that the conclusion of truth or falsehood is merely implied, or the actual argument is buried in the wordiness typical of ‘intelligent [sick] design’ authors. Because ‘intelligent [sick] design theory’ authors write for a readership that is typically not well versed in science, writings on ‘intelligent [sick] design theory’ necessarily contain very lengthy explanations. However, wordiness can also be a technique of verbal obfuscation wherein an argument – and its inherent deficiencies of logic – are obscured by rhetoric.

When the reader is not well versed with the topic under discussion, he or she will have more difficulty in determining whether or not the writer has provided an accurate, authoritative, and complete account of the topic. When the conclusions drawn by the writer fit with the reader's preconceived notions or feelings about the topic, then the reader is at risk of being misled. Knowledge of the fallacies of logic can provide a short-cut to determining the difficulties with an argument. A single fallacy of logic does not necessarily render the conclusions suspect. However, a plethora of fallacies do indicate that the argument, and hence the conclusions drawn, are fatally flawed.

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Argumentum ad antiquitatem

(modified) section from The Rising of the Sun by Francois Boucher.Argument to tradition, argument from antiquity

Fallacious arguments to tradition assert that a belief is correct solely because the belief is ancient or is supported by tradition. This fallacy is the reverse of an equally fallacious argumentum ad novitatem (argument for novelty).

It is certainly true that some reasonable beliefs have persisted through time, yet old beliefs must be assessed on their merits not on their longevity alone. There may be extenuating circumstances that explain the persistence of an unfounded ancient belief. Such a belief may persist because it has emotional appeal or because it is a key element in a system of belief that has both emotional appeal and organizational support.

The Greeks believed that the sun was pulled across the sky by a horse-drawn chariot, yet a person insisting upon such an idea today would be widely regarded as certifiable. The old Greek idea was abandoned long ago partly because scientific awareness intervened, but also because other religious belief systems supplanted Greek mythology.

Because Christian belief has persisted to this day for historical reasons, Christians fail to see that they commit this fallacy whenever they argue that long-standing belief that Christ was the son of God ensures that Christ was indeed the son of God. In fact, some would also erroneously argue that the fact that the Son of God story has persisted, while the Sun Chariot myth disappeared, indicates that Christ was indeed the son of God. Such an argument is a false dichotomy because it ignores more likely explanations for the persistence of the Son of God myth. (The false dichotomy, in the mind of many Christians runs, "either you acknowledge that Jesus was the son of God or you are incorrect.")

The Greek myth held that the sun was the god Helius (later Apollo) who was a son of the Titans Hyperion and Theia. Helius was the brother of the goddesses Selene (the moon) and Eos (the dawn). In early versions, bulls drew Helius' chariot, whereas the horses Pyrois, Aeos, Aethon, and Phlegon drew the chariot in later mythology. (Perhaps the bulls quit because they got tired of all the bull****!).

(The image is a modified section of this painting.)

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Argumentum ad nauseam

Argumentum ad nauseam arguments bore and/or induce nausea.Arguing to the point of nausea, argument by repetition

This fallacious argument is founded in the same principle as commercial advertising – the hope that people will be convinced by an argument if they hear it over, and over, and over . . . and over again until they are truly sick of it.

Fallacious argumentum ad nauseam puts people to sleep because such arguments boringly lack substance. Those who repeat well-founded cogent arguments are not committing this fallacy, whereas those who repeat weak, illogical, innacurate opinions can only hope to persuade through boring repetition.

Websites promoting special prejudices are presumbably founded for this reason – not to mention collecting donations from the credulous, the already-emotionally-convinced, or Aginners. Usenet groups abound with individuals who, whether purely for troll purposes or out of genuine dedication to nonsense, stubbornly bang on and on about ill-conceived opinions.

Giorgio Dubaya Borgia and his administration used ad nauseam emotional appeals (fear of WMDs and terrorism, Saddam Hussein has murdered Iraqi civilians) to attempt to justify an invasion of extremely dubious merit. Facts ultimatlely dispel fallacious ad nauseam claims because most people are not so foolish as to remain conned forever, and Borgia's approval ratings have plummeted.

We all make mistakes–or maybe it's just me–but only some of us are big enough to admit to our errors and to modify our belief system to better represent reality. Those who commit the ad nauseam fallacy seem to be unable to step back from their beliefs, to reassess their convictions, to learn, or to grow. The "Decider' has repeatedly demonstrated that he is too stupid to learn from his many mistakes.

“All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes.” ~ Winston Churchill

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” ~ Albert Einstein.

“A man's errors are his portals of discovery.” ~ James Joyce

“Experience is the name every one gives to their mistakes.” ~ Oscar Wilde

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Argumentum ad numeram

Appealing to the Gallery, Appealing to Numbers

Argumentum ad numeram and argumentum ad populam are closely related fallacies of logic. Fallacious ad numeram arguments take the position that the veracity of an argument can be determined by the number of people who support or believe the proposition. Fallacious ad populam arguments attempt to win acceptance of an argument by making an emotional appeal to as large an audience as possible.

Giorgio Dubaya Borgia and his administration used ad nauseam emotional appeals (fear of terrorism, Saddam Hussein has murdered Iraqi civilians) to attempt to justify an invasion of extremely dubious merit. Most people are not so foolish as to remain conned forever, and Borgia's approval ratings have plummeted.

However, politicians succeed because large numbers of people are conned by propagandistic appeals to emotion, realizing their errors only too late. (This is the chief problem with democracies – the populace is far too easily duped into voting for candidates who later prove, as did Bush, to have absolutely no merit.) As a result of the gullibility of USians who voted for Bush, al Queda is now operating in Iraq when it did not operate under Hussein. Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been needlessly killed or maimed, and Iraq faces years of civil war before yet another strong man dictator takes over. The only upside of all this stupidity is that the share value of Haliburton has probably increased, and that is not an upside except to greedy Americans.

Religious dogmatists argue that because most people in the US believe that God was their personal creator, then God must exist and must be their creator. This, of course, demonstrates only that most people have been told, from an early age, that there is a God who is their creator and they have believed the tale in the absence of any confirmatory evidence. Unlike the case for Bush's lamentable record, only death could confirm or deny the existence of this purported creator, and the dead cannot inform the still-living that they were duped. If the dead could speak, then I am quite confident that God's approval rating would plummet almost to zero.

Fallacious argumentam ad numeram or argumentam ad populam is particularly damaging in the hands of dishonest politicians, but it is also a general problem amongst those who refuse to believe in the valid, empirical-based knowledge of credible authorities.

Because it is easy and cheap to form and hold an opinion, no matter how ill-informed or illogical that opinion, people with virtually no knowledge of a field will dogmatically insist upon ridiculous notions that run counter to received wisdom from those who are authorities in their fact-based field.

Thus, people who know nothing of meteorology or atmospherics will decide incorrectly that global warming is a myth simply because they do not wish to believe that they must alter their behaviour. People who know nothing of medicine, biomedical sciences, or epidemiology will erroneously decide, for example, that smoking is not harmful, or that vaccination causes autism.
Such errors would merely result in the holding of unfounded opinions by peope not sufficiently informed to host any opinion, but because politicians pander to public opinion, public ignorance becomes translated into harmful political action or inaction.

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Appeals to Emotion

Emotional appeal, subtype of red herring argument

Unless an argument is solely about motivation or emotionality, an emotional appeal is never a legitimate strategy in an argument. Such arguments are fallacious because they focus on emotion rather than providing verifiable or evaluative support.

An appeal to false authority is a subtype of emotional appeal, as is the more obviously fallacious appeal to celebrity. The Bible is fallaciously cited, in the argumentum ad biblium fallacy, as an authority in many an emotional argument emanating from a religious dogmatist.

Irrelevant negative emotions evoked within arguments can include:
Envy (fallacious appeal to envy, argumentum ad invidiam)
Fear (fallacious appeal to fear, scare tactics, appeal to force, argumentum ad metum)
Force (argumentum ad baculum)
Hatred, Spite, Prejudice (fallacious appeal to hatred, stereotypes, against scapegoats, argumentum ad odium)
Pity, Altruism (fallacious appeal to pity, sob story, argumentum ad misericordiam)
Pride or Vanity (fallacious appeal to pride, apple polishing, argumentum ad superbiam)

Irrelevant positive emotions evoked:
Loyalty (fallacious appeal to loyalty, to conformity, bandwagon, peer pressure, argumentum ad populum)

Traditionally, many religious arguments have appealed to fear (eternal damnation) or to positive emotions (love of the Father, salvation, eternal life, heaven, forgiveness). To argue that an army should be mobilized because enemy forces are massed at the border is a much more valid argument than any religious argument founded in supernatural positives or negatives.

“A vast sector of modern advertising... does not appeal to reason but to emotion; like any other kind of hypnoid suggestion, it tries to impress its objects emotionally and then make them submit intellectually.” ~ Eric Fromm

“No form of art goes beyond ordinary consciousness as film does, straight to our emotions, deep into the twilight of the soul.” ~ Ingrid Bergman

"Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons." ~ Bertrand Russell (1872 - 1970)

"Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it." ~ George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950)

"Patriotism is often an arbitrary veneration of real estate above principles." ~ George Jean Nathan (1882 - 1958)

"Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." ~ Samuel Johnson (1709 - 1784), quoted in Boswell's Life of Johnson

Patriotism seems a sadly appropriate footnote in a post about fallacious emotional appeals–those who have died or been maimed in the Iraqi war were told that they were helping "the war against terror". However, it much, much, much more likely that America's invasion of Iraq has merely heightened world-wide anti-American sentiment and certainly that it has given Al Queda a foothold in Iraq, neither of which are anti-terror victories. Tragically, those young men and women did not die or suffer to benefit America, rather they were sacrificed to Giorgio Dubaya Borgia's political ambitions and the economic interests of big American corporations.

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Appeal to False Authority

Fallacious Appeal to Authority, Misuse of Authority, Irrelevant Authority, Questionable Authority, Inappropriate Authority, Ad Verecundiam

Credible experts possess the following attributes:
1. sufficient expertise in the subject matter in question.
2. claims made are within area(s) of expertise
3. adequate degree of agreement among the other experts in the subject in question
4. not significantly biased by subjective motivations or prejudices
5. expertise within a legitimate area or discipline (related to the subject matter)
6. the authority must be identified

Proponents of intelligent [sick] design theory and other creationists employ fallacious appeals to authority:

1. Individual scientists, most of who are not credible experts in molecular genetics, have signed a document declaring that they do not believe that misrepresented Darwinian explanations explain biological evolution. Even those signatories who are qualified in molecular genetics render their own opinions suspect according to point 4 of the qualifications of acceptable authority below.

2. Well-known scientists who are convenient to creationist deceits in other ways. These include:
a) [alleged] atheists who have made statements amenable to creationist arguments (e.g. Fred Hoyle)
b) atheists duped, by virtue of their failing mental faculties, into agreeing to statements that serve creationist purposes (e.g. Anthony Flew).

(Similarly, religionists fallaciously appeal to the fact that some scientists are religious believers. I think that we should dub this fallacy Fallacious Appeal to Conversion. The implication is: this scientist looked at the scientific evidence and became a believer, so God must exist. Religious apolologists often cite Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, who became a believer after witnessing human suffering, and not because of his study of biology. Interestingly, they typically avoid mention of biologist Kenneth Miller.)

The theories of peer-reviewed scientists are dismissed, amongst other criticisms, as being biased in favor of an atheistic position, or as ambitious self-promotion, or as propaganda, or as being suspect because examples of scientific fraud have been uncovered in the past. Obviously, such attacks on the credibility of accredited experts qualify as ad hominem fallacies.

Possession of higher academic qualifications alone does not qualify engineers or geologists, for example, to claim authority concerning biological evolution, which is outside their area of expertise (1, 2, 5).

This is not to say that those with qualifications in engineering or geology could not have attained considerable knowledge concerning biology, molecular genetics, or biological evolution. However, it is reasonable to expect that such knowledge expressed by engineers or biologists would reflect agreement with, rather than run completely counter to, the opinions of experts in these areas (3).

When the opinion of supposed authorities – particularly those whose academic qualifications lie outside the area under discussion(here, biology) – run directly counter to those of experts in the field, then the supposed authority is rightly suspected of prejudice (4) or ignorance of the particular area (1).

By the argument above, it matters not whether 100, or over 500 doctoral scientists, or any number of persons with a Ph.D. have signed a document expressing doubts concerning evolution. The signed statement reads: "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged."

This statement misrepresents modern understanding of the mechanisms of biological evolution in that modern geneticists and evolutionary biologists do not claim that random mutation and natural selection alone account for the complexity of life. Darwin lived, wrote, and died before the discoveries of genetics, so Darwinian theory has already been examined by scientists and passed over in favour of the modern synthesis of evolutionary theory. However, Darwin's mechanism of natural selection is one of the recognized mechanisms affecting the frequency of alternative genes (alleles). The doctoral signatories have misrepresented the current understanding of the mechanisms of evolution.

It might be reasonable to say that a full exposition of molecular genetics and population are genetics are beyond the high school science curriculum, but it is not reasonable to conclude that students not yet capable of comprehending these concepts should be further confused by teaching intelligent [sick] design theory (religion) alongside their simplified introduction to the fact of biological evolution. Religious teachings are readily available at the Church of each student's choice, and many websites are devoted to '‘intelligent [sick] design theory’', to creationism (c), and to debate of creationism vs evolution (Y).

The "Discovery Institute" and the "Center for Science & Culture" first published its Scientific Dissent From Darwinism list in 2001, purportedly "to challenge "false statements" about Darwinian evolution made in promoting PBS's "Evolution" series."

"Darwinist efforts to use the courts, the media and academic tenure committees to suppress dissent and stifle discussion are in fact fueling even more dissent and inspiring more scientists to ask to be added to the list."[s]

Considering the promises made in The Wedge Document, this statement is glaring example of a tu quoque fallacy – a "you too!" fallacy.

The fact remains that as an argument for insertion of intelligent [sick] design theory alongside evolution in science classrooms, the Scientific Dissent From Darwinism list remains an example of fallacious appeal to authority.

The image could be dubbed a fallacious appeal to Hitler, I suppose. However, the point that I wished to make by using a readily identifiable icon for evil is that people are duped by authority figures who, at first, appear to be promoting a message that might benefit the audience.

John G. West, associate director of Discovery Institute's Center for Science & Culture.

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Argumentum ad novitatem

Argument for novelty

Argumentum ad novitatem is the fallacy of asserting that something is better simply because it is newer than something else. This fallacy is the reverse is the opposite of the argumentum ad antiquitatem fallacy.

This fallacy is typically applied to new technologies, where new innovations might indeed be an improvement on the old. The folding bike in the foreground, for example, would be an improvement on the classical frame if the only consideration were transportability in a car's trunk. If the aim were merely to move somewhat faster than walking pace, then roller blades would fit more easily into a car's trunk. (Besides, roller blades a cheaper than the $500 that the bike would cost.) However, if you wanted to cycle more quickly along a road, then the classic configuration would clearly prove a better choice.

While it is easy to visualize the relative merit of bicycle technologies, other claims are not so easily assessed. The novely fallacy can provide appeal for rehashed ideas that have been formulated as though they are new 'revelations' – intelligent [sick] design theory is merely eighteeth-century theologian Paley's old blind watchmaker argument. Paley's argument for design by a creator has been gussied up to appeal to those of strong religious convictions and inadequate understanding of science.

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Circular argument

Circulus in demonstrando, circular argument, begging the question

Circularity involves an argument chasing its own tail. In circular arguments, the arguer assumes as a premise the conclusion that the arguer intends to draw.: claim that A → B, B, so A.

Trimming the fat off many Christian arguments for God's existence:
The Bible is the Word of God (because the Bible says so)
Therefore, the Bible proves that God exists.

The Bible is the Word of God
The Bible tells us that God created man in His own image,
Man exists,
Therefore, God must have created man.
Therefore, God must exist.

(Descartes' ontological argument is frillier, but equally circular.)

A typical circular YEC argument might run:
Scriptures tell us that God created the world in six days and also state (by Bishop Usher's calculation) that the Earth is a maximum of six thousand years old
(We deny scientific dates and claim that) the Earth is very young
Therefore, God created the world

(Even if the Earth really were very young (it isn't) it would not necessarily follow that God created the Earth because some other cause might have operated. In addition to being circular, the argument above also creates a false dichotomy.)

Of course, debaters embed their faulty reasoning within layers of padding, so it may be difficult to discern the conclusion that is passing itself off as a premise. Be wary, and look more carefully at an argument whenever you suspect that the argument has not adequately explained how its conclusion could be justified by the facts provided.

Because their arguments are very weak, and because their claims are not supported by empirical evidence, creationists resort to desperate measures when engaging in debate. A common creationist ploy is to accuse an opponent of circularity when he or she has provided a scientific explanation. An explanation cannot commit the fallacy of circularity because an explanation is not an argument. In fact, explanations ought to be internally consistent and none of the components of an explanation is a premise or a conclusion.

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Fallacy of Composition

Composition, Fallacy of composition

Arguments employing a fallacy of composition hinge upon an artificial and inappropriate extrapolation from members of group to the whole group, or parts of an object to the whole object.

Attempts to discredit modern theory by citing past theories discredited by modern science fail on the grounds that they are fallacies of composition. The fact that some earlier scientific theories have been discarded does not mean that current theories ought necessarily to be discarded. Equally, the fact that some scientists have made fraudulent claims, or that some evidence has been faked does not mean that all scientists make fraudulent claims or that all evidence has been faked.

The history of science suggests that some current hypotheses and theories will be supplanted by better explanations, just as some earlier hypotheses have been revised. This practice is part of the beauty of science in that such revisions are within the nature of science and will be based upon new empirical or experimental evidence* and not upon the unfounded criticisms of creationists unless and until creationist or intelligent [sick] design theorists’ present new evidence or valid experimental results.

Creationists, intelligent [sick] design proponents, and the pretentiously titled 'Fellows' of the Discovery Institute do not yet have a falsifiable hypothesis for ‘intelligent [sick] design theory’, have not yet conducted scientific experiments on ‘intelligent [sick] design theory’, and have not yet** published any peer-reviewed scientific papers on ‘intelligent [sick] design theory’, so it is extremely unlikely that any revisions of scientific hypotheses or theories will ever result from creationists' fallacies of composition.

*Recently discovered exceptions to the central dogma of genetics are an example of this revision – the concepts within the "dogma" have been repeatedly verified, but experimentally discovered exceptions have led to an expansion of understanding to include the newly discovered mechanisms of genetic expression.
** as of May, '07

The point illustrated by the image is that we cannot begin to accurately guess the function of the whole if we do not know the function of the parts.

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Argue ad nauseam, hear no evidence, see no sense.
Denial is an a la Freud defense mechanism – something that we sometimes do when confronted with an emotionally unwelcome fact. Denying a fact of reality does not alter or eliminate that fact, it merely affords us emotional comfort.

Denial is the most unfounded – hence the weakest – of any argument made against evidence. Professional creationists such as the pretentiously named Fellows of the so-called Discovery Institute (those who earn a living through their assertions on behalf of creationism), typically do not make this blunder, rather they resort to fancier argumentum ad nauseam, fallacies of logic.

Denial is, however, a common last resort for proponents of intelligent [sick] design theory, and is often the first verbal argument of biblical literalists. Both groups may phrase denial more reasonably as, "I don't believe in evolution". Disbelief is a more reasonable position since we have the personal prerogative of picking and choosing our beliefs, though incredulity remains a fatally weak argument against scientific facts. However, personal disbelief alone is not a good argument against that which is disputed.

Those who hold dogmatic religious beliefs, despite the complete lack of incontrovertible supporting evidence for any religious belief, may be so emotionally convinced that their beliefs represent "Truth" as to be unaware of their fallacious reasoning. In fact, having chosen to cling to the dogmatic content of religious inculcation, these individuals have chosen emotionality over logic and facts. This is a personal prerogative, but it does not make for cogent argumentation.

Refusal to accept the facts along with those legitimate theories that logically follow from evidence does not constitute refutation. This point is missed by creationists when they deny the evidence that led to modern evolutionary theories, or when they fail to understand that there is not one single theory that seeks to explain the fact of biological evolution, or when they mistake acknowledgement of incomplete explanation for a complete failure of explanation.

There are undoubtedly numerous explanations for the cognitive errors and illogic of collective creationist positions. Most obvious is the impact of poor science education in those areas of the U.S. in which fundamentalism is deeply entrenched.

Individuals who have been raised with insistent belief in special creation experience dissonance when faced with scientific facts, so they are likely to close their minds to those facts. The handful of scientists who make their living through the advocation of anti-science promotion of ID theory cannot be accused of lack of science education per se, so their motivation in promoting creationism must stem from cognitive bias founded in inculcated religious convictions.

The problem of dissonance is, of course, compounded for most creationists by anti-science policies adopted by those in charge of education in Bible Belt states. Such policies lower the standards of science education to deplorable levels for a supposedly advanced nation [NSTA, NSES, 8th grade, PISA]. For example, US students ranked between 20th and 27th of 4o nations in a 2003 comparison of scores on science testing (Source: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD PISA (Program for Student Assessment) 2003 database.)

The low level of science education of many creationist debaters is compounded by their repetition of information found in books and on websites with pro-creationist/anti-science bias. With little apparent comprehension of the scientific principles under discussion, and without apparent awareness that the information that they parrot is incomplete, biased, or inaccurate, creationist debaters are ill-equipped to refute the logic of science. They remain blissfully, if irritatingly ignorant of the theories that they attack, and most show no signs of willingness to acquaint themselves with those facts or to subject their own beliefs to scrutiny.

One glaring example of creationist ignorance of evolutionary science is illustrated by an insistence upon treating all evolutionary theory as beginning and ending with Darwinism coupled with an apparent lack of awareness of any form of mutation other than the point-mutation. They alone know whether they adopt this position of anti-science ignorance out of lack of acquaintance with scientific principles and/or with insistence upon the safety of attacking straw men. However, considering the anti-science education position espoused by the intelligent [sick] design theory platform, coupled with poor standards of science education and evident antipathy to science and to intellectualism, it seems probable that most of the cognitive errors and illogic displayed by most creationist debaters stem from obdurate ignorance of science (at the very least).

Another example of ignorance in creationist debaters relates to their failure to distinguish between abiogenesis – the theory that life arose in primordial chemicals – and biological evolution, those events that altered the frequency of alleles down through successive generations of live organisms. Although biological evolution acted upon the products of biopoiesis (abiogenesis), the two are no more the same than rusting is equivalent to automobile manufacture.

Young Earth Creationists, with a position rejected even by mainstream creationists, carry literalism to ridiculous extremes when they deny the scientifically established age of the earth.

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Equivocation, Doublespeak, (subtype of Ambiguity), Fallacy of four terms

When one term is used with more than one meaning, the fallacy of equivocation has been committed. Such ambiguities may be deliberate, or they may result from ignorance of more specific meanings of the term.

Examples of fallacious equivocation include, "science is dogma" and "evolution is just a theory, so intelligent [sick] design theory is science and is equally valid", and "science is just a matter of faith". (These are also tu quoques because evolutionists correctly point out that religious beliefs are expressed as dogma, that intelligent [sick] design is not a scientific theory, and religion truly is expected to be a matter of Faith.)

"Science is dogma" is a deliberate or ignorant misrepresentation of the nature of science. It could reasonably be argued that some scientific theories are so central and so well established that they have become part of the foundation of understanding of particular scientific principles. The central dogma of genetics is an example of inappropriate use of the term 'dogma'. This important concept has been confirmed almost without exception, yet a few important exceptions to the rule have been found by scientists.

"Evolution is just a theory, so ‘intelligent [sick] design theory’ is science and is equally valid". Such a statement misrepresents evolution, theory, ‘intelligent [sick] design theory’, and science.

Biological evolution (change in the genome between parental and descendent generations) is an observable fact. Evolutionary processes have been demonstrated to be operating in our own species, in bacteria, and in cichlid fish, to name but three examples. Evolution (biological) is not a theory, it is a fact. Evolutionary theories do not claim to be facts, they are formulations that seek to explain, on the basis of empirical observation and experimental testing, mechanisms that have generated the fact of biological evolution.

In vernacular usage, the term 'theory' refers to everyday notions and to cognitive formulations that have not been subjected to any experimental testing. Scientific theories, on the other hand, are the descendents of scientific hypotheses that have withstood falsification testing. A scientific theory is much, much better established than a vernacular-terminology theory.

Despite the claims in books written about ‘intelligent [sick] design theory’ it is a religiously motivated philosophy that has not been subjected to any scientific testing, and, as such idism is not science. The content of idism consists only of numbers games and attacks on science (more to follow).

In the vernacular, faith can be defined as 'aceptance of ideals and beliefs that are not necessarily demonstrable through experimentation or reason'. Within Christianity, Faith (uppercase deliberate) is a very important principle in which the Believer is expected to accept God into his or her heart expressly without any direct, irrefutable, tangible evidence for the existence or actions of God. Modern philosophers of religion acknowledge that philosophical attempts to prove the existence of God have failed, and philosophy of religion has fallen back on fideism. Since the benefit of belief in religion comes through the emotional components of belief, the principle of basing belief solely on Faith has considerable merit.

Science, on the other hand is not a matter of faith because acceptance of scientific principles is based upon empirical and experimental evidence that has been independently examined or replicated experimentally and thus has survived the scrutiny of accredited experts in the field.

Credible experts possess the following attributes:
1. sufficient expertise in the subject matter in question.
2. claims made are within area(s) of expertise.
3. adequate degree of agreement among the other experts in the subject in question.
4. not significantly biased by subjective motivations or prejudices.
5. expertise within a legitimate area or discipline (related to the subject matter).
6. the authority must be identified.

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Fallacies of Association

The presence of a single lion does not indicate that sheep are carnivorous, while the sheep do not render the lion herbivorous.Guilt by association fallacy, honour by association fallacy, association fallacies

Association fallacies rely upon the negative implications of "guilt by association" or the positive implications of "honor by association."

These fallacies are based upon the implication that a claim is false or true based upon beliefs held by, or attributed to, the people or organizations that hold the belief. Obviously, the arguments of those with a mission of denying rights to others or of those with anti-expert opinions should be assessed carefully on the basis of their content. Equally, the opinions of experts should be assessed on their merit.

Creationists, in line with the emotional basis for their claims, all too often resort to association fallacies. One example of the "honor by association" fallacy is to point out that scientists and Nobel Prize winners have signed a document against Darwinian theories, as though this lends credence to intelligent [sick] design pseudoscience. Such arguments are also fallacious appeals to authority.

Conversely, it is not an association fallacy to state that biologists consider that the scientific evidence is so voluminous as to render biological evolution a fact. It is appropriate to refer to the opinions of credible experts in a field.

Godwin's Law and Desperate Attacks on Darwinism provides an example of unfounded accusations that Darwin's ideas inevitably led to Nazi atrocities, as though this would demote evolution from fact (argumentum ad nazium, reductio ad Hitlerum).

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False Dichotomy

False dichotomy, false dilemma, black and white thinking, fallacy of the excluded middle, the missing middle, either-or fallacy

In this common fallacy, the arguer reasons as though only two alternatives exist, when, in fact, additional reasonable alternatives are being ignored.

The false dichotomy can take one of two forms:

Simple Constructive Dilemma:
Either a or b.
If a then c.
If b then c.
Therefore, c.

Which could be true for the trivial examples such as the following:
Either pink or green.
If pink then color.
If green then color.
Therefore, color.

Which would not be true for the following:
Either God or evolution.
If God then God.
If evolution then God.
Therefore, God.

Disjunctive syllogisms revolve around "not":
Either d or e.
Therefore, e.

A fallacious disjunctive syllogism is found in the typical creationist fallacy:
Either God or Darwinian-evolution.
Therefore, God

A logical error occurs when contrary propositions (at most one will be true, but both may be false) are confused with contradictory propositions (exactly one will be true).

Let's assume that the color in question is red.

Contrary propositions: either black or white
Contradictory propositions: either black or not-black

Only the contradictory proposition (red is not-black) is true.

A disjunction with contradictory disjuncts (black, not not-black) is logically true (not-black is not black) and follows the law of the excluded middle. By contrast, a disjunction is only logically contingent when its disjuncts are contraries (black or white). That is the disjunction is true only when the the alternatives truly are either black or white, or expressed differently the truth of the disjunction is contingent upon one of the alternatives' actually happening to be true.

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Fallacy Fallacy

Argumentum ad Logicam : Fallacist's Fallacy : Fallacy Fallacy : "Fallacio" :

This fallacy is akin to the two wrongs don't make a right adage. A fallacious argument lacks a convincingly strong logical connection between acceptable premises and relevant conclusion. However, a true conclusion could be tacked onto a fallacious argument (ignoratio elenchi). So, the fact of unacceptable premises and/or an illogical argument says nothing about the truth-value of the conclusion itself. Accordingly, one is not necessarily justified in concluding that a proposition is false simply because a fallacious argument has been presented for the proposition. (The professional proponents of intelligent [sick] design theory implicitly fall back on this escape clause.)

In commenting on the fallacies of logic inherent in creationist arguments, I realize that recognizing fallacies alone does not render creationist conclusions incorrect. Demonstration of the falsity of creationists' claims does require scientific exposition, but that voluminous topic is not the primary purpose of this site. The fact that I, along with experts in the relevant scientific fields, am convinced by the scientific evidence has, however, made me certain that creationists' conclusions are false, and this prompted me to examine the fallacies that must be present in arguments for false conclusions. I can think of no other huge body of fallacious arguments within an area where conclusions are subject to empirical scrutiny. So, religious dogma and creationist nonsense provides ideal fodder for critical thinking. The problem with creationist and intelligent [sick] design arguments–beyond their manifest ignorance of science–lies in the fact that they are fraught with fallacies.

It is theoretically possible, on grounds of logic, that creationists' and intelligent [sick] design proponents' criticisms of science could be well founded. In so far as scientists usually admit that their hypothesis or theory will be subject to subsequent revision, creationists and intelligent [sick] design proponents are correct that gaps do exist in scientific knowledge. Scientists regularly admit that science has unanswered questions. This is one of the features that makes the study of science interesting. The nature of scientific investigation is to incrementally refine the body of understanding. Rarely do scientific discoveries completely overturn previous paradigms. However, unlike the case for religious dogma, nor does science lay claim to having a complete answer.

In this regard, though, it is an argument from ignorance–ignorance of possibilities–to believe that disproving scientific explanations is even possible by intelligent [sick] design propositions, let alone that it could prove the existence of God. Just as a single exposure of a fallacious argument does not overturn creationist arguments, gaps in scientific knowledge do not discredit the broad subject of scientific understanding. To argue so is a fallacy of composition – extrapolating from a part to the whole. In thinking that attacking elements of science could disprove biological evolution, creationists and intelligent [sick] design proponents are creating a false dichotomy, ignoring the actual explanation of incomplete-but-accurate knowledge.

Creationist and intelligent [sick] design arguments, though often implied rather than being spelled out fully, do not constitute a body of argument remotely as strong as empirical scientific evidence, scientific hypotheses, or scientific theories. So, exposure of all or many of the fallacies in the arguments of creationists and intelligent [sick] design proponents is not to commit the fallacist's fallacy: "It is reasonable to, at least provisionally, reject an improbable proposition for which no adequate evidence has been presented. So, if you can show that all of the common arguments for a certain proposition are fallacious, and the burden of proof is on the proposition's proponents, then you do not commit this fallacy by rejecting that proposition. Rather, the fallacy is committed when you jump to the conclusion that just because one argument for it is fallacious, no cogent argument for it can exist." Fallacy Fallacy

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God of the Gaps

Argument from incredulity, God of the Gaps, subtype of argument from ignorance

The argument, "I don't believe that ..." is particularly common amongst creationists and proponents of intelligent [sick] design theory.

This is a form of argument from ignorance in which the incredulous debater refuses to believe in a particular line of evidence (denial), or an interpretation of evidence that supports an alternate conclusion to that which the debater favors. The argument from incredulity essentially takes the position that personal reluctance to believe that something is true (or false) is a good reason for unfounded insistence that it is not true (or false). The fallacy lies in the segue from opinion to attempts at justification. The fact remains that while incredulity may be justified in that disbelief may have good grounds, it also may not be justified. The problem is simply that incredulity alone is not sufficient argument for or against a fact or interpretation.

In the history of human attempts to understand their universe, supernatural explanations–Gods of the Gaps–provided a framework for explanation in the absence of scientific comprehension. Humans invented deities to fill gaps in their understanding. Modern science offers the opportunity for comprehension, but many with an emotional need to believe literally in dogma are patently not interested in attaining true understanding.

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Mouthing a red herring – fallaciously distracting argument by inserting irrelevances.Irrelevance crops up in many arguments:

When the argument itself seems logical, yet the conclusion is not relevant to or supported by the line of argument, then the fallacy is ignoratio elenchi (ignorance of the issue). Such problems may occur when the arguer is not responding to the actual question posed.

When the line of argument is off-target for the topic under discussion and distracts from the real topic, then the arguer has tossed a red herring into debate in order to create a smokescreen or to pound away at a favourite platform. This is a common tactic when the arguer lacks a strong response to the question and wishes to control the debate by sticking to prepared responses.

Politicians are fond of answering questions that were not asked – Stevie Blunder resorted to this evasion during the televised pre-election debates even thought the candidates had been provided with the topics some time prior. The tactic relies on the fact that an audience may forget the actual wording of the posed question or is not aware of what would have been relevant to the question. The tactic ought not to work so well with the printed word because an alert reader has the opportunity to check the wording of the question.

Irrelevant attacks on the arguer or cited authority are ad hominem fallacies. However, if the "authority" cited fails as a reasonable authority on one or more grounds, then disputing the expertise or credibility of that person/reference is not a legitimate ad hominem and not a fallacy.

Logic and emotion are often at odds. When irrelevant appeals to emotion are incorporated into arguments, then the conclusions drawn by that argument become suspect if the emotion is not specifically related to the topic. To argue that a person will probably enjoy eating chocolate is not necessarily unfounded, though it would not be relevant to a discussion about the merits of chicken pot pie.

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Misleading Quotes

Quoting out of context, abstraction, accent – subtypes of ambiguity

Quoting out of context is a typical creationist ploy on websites and Usenet groups. Short fallacious quotes that change their meaning when shortened and quoted out of context are used within straw man fallacies and fallacious appeals to authority.

To illustrate this point – what might the color-altered, out-of-context image at left be? Click on the letter that you think indicates the correct choice:

a. an aerial view of Zabriskie Point in California's Death Valley

b. a close-up of the skin of an elephant

c. an aerial view of Twenty Mule Team Canyon in Death Valley

d. a satellite image of a field of sand dunes.

e. none of the above.

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Red Herring

Red Herring, Smoke Screen, Wild Goose Chase

Christian apologists often resort to red herrings.The red herring is a diversionary tactic that distracts the opponent away from the real point under discussion. Red herring topics are irrelevant to the point under discussion, and serve to take the heat off an already weak argument.

Creation versus evolution discussion groups provide many examples of creationists tossing red herrings into debate. The smoke screens are very often other fallacies of logic that serve to distract the evolutionist. For this reason, creationists consistently provide abundant examples of illogic for those who wish to practice spotting fallacious debate.

Whatever the red herring, debaters are best advised not to take the bait.

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Shifting the Burden of Proof

Creationists fallaciously attempt to shift the entire burden – camel plus straw – onto a separate camel. The validity of evolutionary theory does not rest upon scientific explanation for deviously contrived creationist questions.Shifting the burden of proof

The burden of proof is always on the arguer, creationist or evolutionist, who is making an assertion. The difficulty for creationists lies in making logical arguments against evidence, and for evolutionists in sifting through voluminous evidence for a pertinent example to illustrate their point. [searching for "biological evolution" on PubMed produced 117942 hits on 5/1/07]

The construction of a cogent deductive/inductive argument begins with acceptable premises (supported by evidence) and proceeds according to the laws of deductive/inductive reasoning to a conclusion supported by the premises.

Shifting the burden of proof is a subtype of the argument from ignorance fallacy that shifts the burden of proof onto the person whose argument is attacked. This is the "prove it, or I am correct!" challenge that underlies many creationist taunts.

The source of the fallacy in arguments from ignorance is the assumption that something is true unless proven otherwise. The implied conclusion of creationist demands is that unless the evolutionist can provide an adequate explanation for specifically selected creationist questions, then evolutionary theory is false, biological evolution is no longer a fact, and the existence of God is proven (at another level of implication).

The argument runs like this:
creationist challenge: demonstrate exactly how the bacterial flagellum evolved!
premise: the bacterial flagellum is a functional multi-component system
premise: if scientists cannot demonstrate exactly how the bacterial flagellum evolved, then (implied or stated fallacious conclusions)
conclusion E: Biological complexity cannot have evolved
conclusion T: evolutionary theory fails
conclusion G: God must have designed the flagellum
conclusion X: God exists
conclusion M: We are the products of special creation, are not related to apes, and must possess innate moral absolutes

The argument above demonstrates the fallacious argumentum ad ignorantiam because the conclusions, in employing a false dichotomy, are not supported by the premise. That is, even if scientists could never demonstrate exactly how the bacterial flagellum evolved, it would not necessarily follow that evolutionary processes were not responsible for the structure. Further,
even if this structure arose by some mechanism other than evolution, this mechanism need not by necessity have been designed by some mythical supernatural intelligence.

In fact, on the basis of the fallacious, not to mention devious, reasoning behind creationist demands for specific scientific explanations, "irreducible complexity" demands fail because the claims of scientific merit regarding questions of divine design behooves the creationists to demonstrated exactly how God designed the apparatus. If creationists wish to make the claim that God designed the bacterial flagellum, then the claimers must provide experimental or empirical verification for the hypothesis of divine design. This is particularly so when creationist are demanding inclusion of these speculations within the science curriculum.

Creationists' earlier demands for an explanation of the evolution of the eye have been abandoned because much more research has been devoted to the evolution of vision, and evolutionary scientists can provided an account for the reducible complexity of the eye. That ploy did not work, so creationist demands have moved to the microscopic bacterial flagellum because much less funding has been devoted to microbiology.

If one follows 'creation vs evolution' debates, one will quickly observe that creationists do claim to prove the existence of God, while evolutionists do not attempt to disprove the existence of God. Evolutionists merely defend the experimental support for evolutionary theory. Creationists mistakenly assume that because modern science provides much more probable explanations for natural phenomena than does the God of the Gaps then the aim of science is to disprove the existence of God. Mainstream science does not concern itself with questions concerning the existence or nonexistence of purported supernatural phenomena.

On the other hand, scientists investigate the physical world and defend, to other scientists, their conclusions based upon experimental results. Scientific reports follow a format of introduction to ideas based upon past research, the question to be addressed, experimental methods, experimental results, and conclusions based upon both current scientific understanding and experimental results. Science proceeds by incremental gains in understanding. It is the very nature of science that conclusions are acknowledged not to be the final word upon explanation, and that, once a scientific theory is widely accepted, research will move on to yet unanswered questions. Scientists also recognize something of which creationists appear to be unaware – that inductive reasoning cannot, by the rules of logic, yield proof. This impossibility applies to scientific inductive reasoning and to theological induction from any misinterpreted facts.

Creationists utilize, in their religiously-motivated attacks on science, one of the chief virtues of science – the reluctance of the community of scientists to accept any hypothesis or theory until burden of 'proof' (probability) moves to the level of general acceptance.

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. . . launched (sans champagne, alas) 10/22/06