All posts by Christopher Harris

Informal Logic 101: How to Think and Argue Better, Part 10

We get three lessons today, boys and girls, as we head into the home stretch for this series (sort of)!

Straw Man

StrawmanEveryone has heard of this one. You don’t have to be involved in debates and discussions on controversial topics for long before someone accuses someone else of the “straw man fallacy”. It refers to the rhetorical act of intentionally misrepresenting the position of one’s opponent or interlocutor (or, at least, particular aspects of their argument), whether with a caricature or by oversimplifying it, so that it is easier to defeat. Like setting up a man made of straw, it is easier to knock down than the real thing. Of course, this is not fair, and any points scored against an inaccurate representation is irrelevant to the soundness & validity of the actual view. Many times, the straw man is accompanied by other fallacies (e.g., ad hominem, hasty generalization, suppressed evidence).

One example of this is…

Read the rest: Informal Logic 101: How to Think and Argue Better, Part 10

Informal Logic 101: How to Think and Argue Better, Part 9

“When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser.”  — Socrates

Only two fallacies on the docket today, but they are biggies!

apple and orange - cartoonCategory mistake/error

I’m sure you have heard the term, “It’s apples and oranges.” Maybe you have used it, yourself. When Person A says this to Person B, it might be the case that Person B has made an explicit comparison between two things, in which case Person A believes that the things in question are not sufficiently alike to warrant Person B’s comparison in support of his case. A timely example of this might go as follows:

“Person A: How can you be against same-sex marriage? It’s like being against mixed-race marriages, which everyone knows was bigoted and unconstitutional. Miscegenation laws were repealed and so should bans on same-sex marriage.

Person B: That reasoning doesn’t fly. It’s apples and oranges.

Person A: Why do you say that?

Read the rest: Informal Logic 101: How to Think and Argue Better, Part 9

Informal Logic 101: How to Think and Argue Better, Part 8

“Most of the arguments to which I am party fall somewhat short of being impressive, owing to the fact that neither I nor my opponent knows what we are talking about.”  — Robert Benchley, American columnist & actor

Hey, folks! Ready for another lesson in logic? Of course, you are!!

In A World of Difference, Prof. Kenneth Samples warns that these first three fallacies are often resorted to when people are arguing for a particular worldview (i.e., a belief system). Unfortunately, they betray weaknesses in their argument. You’ll see what he’s talking about in a moment. Let’s get the Latin stuff out of the way first, shall we?

Vader: lack of logic disturbingArgumentum ad vericundiam (“an appeal to an untrustworthy authority”)

Appealing to an authority is a great way to lend support to one’s case, though it probably doesn’t “prove” it by itself. When a true authority speaks on something within their area of expertise, we should give what they say due consideration. However, not everyone cited as an authority on something is an actual authority on that subject. It is also possible that, while having relevant credentials, the person or group appealed to is not always to be trusted.

Regarding the first instance, Richard Dawkins comes to mind….

Read the rest: Informal Logic 101: How to Think and Argue Better, Part 8

Informal Logic 101: How to Think and Argue Better, Part 7

“Correlation does not equal causation.”  — many people, including me (‘cuz it makes me sound smart)

We’re baaaaaaack, and we have a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get started!

Cause-and-EffectClear thinking & reasoning require at least a basic understanding of causal relationships. Unfortunately, it’s also easy to make logical mistakes in this area. As you may have gathered from the header, our current group of fallacies primarily deals with causes (and effects), while the last one is about making comparisons to give rhetorical (if not logical) force to an argument. And, yes, we have a healthy dose of Latin to make it all sound properly intellectual. We will start with the three main types of “false cause” fallacy, the first being…

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc

This phrase translates to “after this, therefore because of this”. It refers to when one too quickly assumes that ‘A’ is the cause of ‘B’ just because ‘A’ occurred before ‘B’. Or, as Anthony Weston puts it in A Rulebook for Arguments, “assuming causation too readily on the basis of mere succession in time.” Yeah, that’s what I said.

Obviously, succession in time is, on its own, insufficient proof of cause & effect….

Read the rest: Informal Logic 101: How to Think and Argue Better, Part 7

The Reasonableness of Historic Christian Faith

Cover to *A World of Difference*Everyday, it seems I hear & read statements from people that assert or imply that Christianity is “unreasonable”, “irrational”, “illogical”, etc. These words, while related, all have different shades of meaning and can vary depending on who’s talking, but the gist is the same. It’s true that many Christians act unreasonably, irrationally, or illogically — either on occasion or on a regular basis, unfortunately. But, so what? The same can be said for many non-Christians. I maintain that Christianity itself, as a carefully thought out, theistic worldview, is wholly reasonable, rational, and logical. So, I want to draw attention to one response to this general claim of unreasonableness that may help your understanding on this issue, as it did me.

I was thumbing through the book A World of Difference by philosopher/theologian Kenneth R. Samples, which has a section in one chapter entitled “A Christian View of Knowledge”. After a brief look at the ancient Hebrew and Greek words for “knowledge” and their connotations, Samples points out that knowledge in Scripture is sometimes “personal and experiential” and sometimes “propositional”. He continues:

“Though no one strict approach to the question of knowledge finds complete agreement within Christianity, several universally accepted points represent a consensus among Christians.”

He proceeds then to list and discuss six “universally accepted points”, but it is the final one that I would like to reproduce for your consideration:…

Read the rest: The Reasonableness of Historic Christian Faith

Why Christian Apologetics?

I came across this the other day and decided to share it….

Readers of this blog will recognize that some of what I write about in the science & religion areas can be characterized as “Christian apologetics” (from the Greek word apologia, which loosely means ‘giving a defense’). Not every Christian recognizes the need for this sort of thing, but I think that’s because they don’t realize its value of the Biblical support for such a thing. In the following, Frank Turek (author, speaker, corporate trainer) responds to a challenge by giving several reasons in brief for why he believes that the endeavor of Christian apologetics is not only legitimate but mandated.

Frank TurekAn Apologetic against Christian Apologetics?
— by Frank Turek

Last week I was taking questions during an “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” seminar on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University. One question challenged the legitimacy of Christian Apologetics. It was half question, half critique and it went something like, “Why are you trying to prove Christianity? We just need to love one another!” It sounds like something from the emergent church” people. Here is my response:

Read the rest: Why Christian Apologetics?

Informal Logic 101: How to Think and Argue Better, Part 6

“A presumption becomes a self-refuting assertion.”   — R. Alan Woods

Following hot on the heels of “Part 5: Facts Over Feelings”, today’s logical fallacies involve inappropriate presumptions that confuse and invalidate one’s argument. (Of course, I would never do this! … OK, OK, maybe.) Sometimes when making a case or defending a position, it’s easy to get trapped within our own perspective, so to speak. We might take "I Want to Believe" aliensomething for granted in our reasoning — a premise, for example, that asserts something as true when, in fact, it also should be verified. (If you recognize this, you may acknowledge that it needs to be examined further but agree, or ask the other party, to provisionally accept it for the sake of discussion.) Regardless of the form this takes, it ends up destroying the argument, because nothing is actually proven.

Professor Samples gives three types of this class of fallacy, as follows:

Wishful thinking

Just because someone accuses you of wishful thinking does not necessarily mean that’s what you are actually doing. It depends on your rationale,…

Read the rest: Informal Logic 101: How to Think and Argue Better, Part 6| A View from the Right

Informal Logic 101: How to Think and Argue Better, Part 5

“Feelings should never supersede rational thought… so, if you feel that you’ve got the answer, you should think some more.”  — Julie Ann Elliott-Morton

exhausted student with laptopUp to this point in the series, we have dealt with the basics. We learned about the fundamental laws of logic, categorical propositions and logical relationships. We were introduced to the mnemonic “TRACK” — Truth, Relevance, Adequacy, Clarity, Knowledge — in order to help make sure our arguments are supported by their premises and to avoid, among other things, committing logical suicide. Then, we examined the three types of reasoning — deductive, inductive, and abductive. This is all groundwork towards thinking critically and for recognizing and building good arguments to make a case or defend a position on a (theological? philosophical? political?) issue.

Now, I want to spend several posts looking at logical fallacies — i.e., the various and sundry ways in which we all, eventually, to one degree or another, violate everything we just learned. We’ll laugh. We’ll cry. We’ll shake our fists at the sky….

Read the rest: Informal Logic 101: How to Think and Argue Better, Part 5 | A View from the Right

Informal Logic 101: How to Think and Argue Better, Part 4 | A View from the Right

Meanwhile, at the clinic…
Client (Michael Palin): “Aha! If you’re arguing, I must have paid.”
Mr. Barnard (John Cleese): “Not necessarily. I could be arguing in my spare time….”

Sherlock Holmes - Basil RathboneOK, if you aren’t a Monty Python fan (and I am only marginally) and you don’t understand the above quote, you are forgiven. But, I urge you to look up the Monty Python skit “Argument Clinic” (or similar title) on YouTube. Go ahead. We’ll wait…. And, I assure you, those aren’t the kinds of arguments we’ll examine here. (Yes, it is! No, it isn’t!) By the way, notice that Palin’s character had it right. He said, “An argument is a collective series of statements to establish a definite proposition.” A fair definition, yet mostly what he got for his money was unsupported contradictions.

There are three types of logical argument, or ways of reasoning, if you will — deductive, inductive, and abductive. Most people have heard of the first two but are unaware of the third. (I know I wasn’t familiar with it until several years back.) Each has its strengths and proper area of usage….

Read the rest: Informal Logic 101: How to Think and Argue Better, Part 4 | A View from the Right