Logical fallacies are often hard to recognize, and even easier to commit in one’s own argument, while they are probably easier to recognize in an opponent’s argument. This is probably due to the fact we all tend to be more emotionally attached to our own arguments while being more objective with those we may disagree with.
Some reasons why we may tend to be less objective with our arguments than we would with that of our opponent’s is possibly due to a cognitive bias. When we are committed even to the idea that god exists we may be more willing to argue for the existence of god by any means necessary, even if it means abandoning logic and reason, albeit in subtle fashion. By studying logic, and being aware of the various fallacies, one can be more objective even with their own arguments as well as those of which they disagree.
There are two types of fallacies. The first pertains to the form of the argument, which will not be discussed here, while the others pertain to the type of argument we use which is a fallacy of relevance not structure or form.
For instance, a logically sound argument may take the form:
P1. The argument was made by Mickey Mouse.
P2. Mickey Mouse is a cartoon character and cartoon characters know nothing.
C. Therefore, the argument is false.
This argument may take a valid form, it may be valid and it may even be sound, but it does not deal with any truth content, or lack of, in Mickey’s argument. Not all informal fallacies are this easy to spot, but when we make them and our opponent notices them it looks like we may be using deception on our part, which will discredit anything we may have to say.
Aristotle called these fallacies of relevance, which means these fallacies argue against something that has nothing to do with the content of the argument. There is no correlation between Mickey Mouse and the argument he is attempting to make. Hopefully as we become more aware of these, we can avoid this type of reasoning ourselves and can be more objective with our own arguments.
APPEAL TO AUTHORITY
This one is often easy to make. Too often we confuse the Ph.d’s that we can stack up in favour of our argument with truth. While citing reliable sources is good scholarship, given scholars to the left disagree with scholars to the right, this is not a good way to reason.
This is a difficult fallacy, because it is not always a fallacy. An appeal to an irrelevant authority may be what is of concern here. Not all appeals to a qualified person are fallacious,
While other attempts at appealing to authority could be appealing to a person highly qualified in a field in regards to a matter they are not qualified to speak in. We should recognize that experts speaking in a field in which they are not qualified are laypersons as much as the rest of us.
APPEAL TO CONSENSUS
Does an idea gain truth because it is widely attested, or because multiple minds have come to accept it? Or is an idea true simply because it is true? We often see this in both the transgender debate and politics. Just because a certain amount of people have come to accept an idea, does not mean it is true anymore than an idea not being believed by anyone is false. It may reason like this,
P1. The majority of the world’s population believes the earth is flat. (Or it did at one point)
P2. Who are you to disagree with what so many people believe?
C. Therefor, the earth must be flat.
GENETIC FALLACY / POISONING THE WELL
Similar to the previous, which seeks to venerate the argument because of its source, the genetic fallacy attacks the argument based on its source. It may take the following form:
P1. Evolution is wrong because it is propagated by those who hate god.
P2. Many scientists hold to the theory of evolution.
C. Many scientists are wrong.
While it may, or may not be true that evolution is false, or that many scientists happen to hate the idea of god, none of this is relevant to the merits or demerits of evolution. Even if evolution is totally false, this line of reasoning does not get us there.
On the flip side, often atheists may come to discredit Christianity on account of it, such as how it originated.
This segues into the next argument,
This argument attacks the man, not the argument itself.
P1. Colin argues that the earth is flat, and that GMO’s are unhealthy.
P2. Colin also has no formal training in science, and he also drives really fast on the freeway. His driving probably says a lot about his character.
C. Therefore, Colin is wrong about the earth being flat and GMO’s.
While it is true I have no formal science training, and it may be true that I do 5kph over on the freeway, none of this has to do with the truth content of what I argue for. Someone can smell really bad, have bad taste in music, and can even live a really immoral lifestyle, yet still be right about many things, just as one can have good taste in clothes, drive safely and have advanced degrees, and can still be wrong about many other things as well. Often we see politicians using this type of reasoning, which was popularized in the Conservative attack ads on Justin Trudeau and his nice hair. We are trying to establish true ideas, not argue for our interests at all costs, including arguing against the individual.
Everyone tends to do this and their are measures one may take to avoid this. This argument is when we oversimplify, or mischaracterize the nature of our opponent’s argument in order to refute it. What we have done is we have set up a false, or weaker, representation of their argument in order to more easily refute it.
There are two possible ways in which this can take place, from both a theistic and non-theist view.
One may argue against naturalism thus:
P1. Naturalism teaches we are blobs of goo that came from a pond.
P2. Naturalism results in moral nihilism, which is what the Nazi’s were.
C. Therefore, naturalism is false.
P1. Everything that has a beginning has a cause.
P2. The universe had a beginning.
C. Therefore the universe was created by fairies, or some other magical entity.
In both cases, neither interlocutor has presented an absurd form of their opponent’s argument, making all objections they raise absolutely irrelevant, neither arguer is committed to the absurd view which their opponent is representing. One way to avoid this fallacy is to restate your opponent’s position to them to ensure you understand it, and to attempt to empathize with why they might hold to such a view. What I find impressive is when one can not only accurately represent a view they disagree with, but when they can strengthen it for their opponent, in order to ensure we are refuting the very best argument available.
This fallacy happens when one is arbitrarily dismissive of evidence in opposition to their view while being arbitrarily accepting of evidence in favour of their view. When all things are equal, all evidence should equally be considered. This may also be known as cherry picking evidence.
An example of this is often when Christians argue against the Quran because it teaches violence, but when we are unable to defend the violent Old Testament passages in our own Scriptures, but think the Bible somehow gets a free pass.
Another example of this is how some may misrepresent the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Often we present it as God is the only entity which can exist uncaused, and all other entities, including the universe, need a cause. This is not the claim of the KCA, but if an opponent points this out, it is either they or us who are making a straw man of the argument.
Essentially, we must realize that what is good for the goose is good for the gander and often swords cut both ways and we cannot play chess and change the rules in the middle of the game when our opponent is winning