The wonderful thing about logic is that it is not a nicety, it is a necessity. It does not merely describe how we happen to think, but how we ought to think and reason. Christian philosopher, Norman Geisler, says in many of his works on logic that just as nature is bound by laws which govern it, so to our minds are captive to reason and the rules of logic. Which is why it is paramount we are aware of the rules of argumentation and the fallacies we all tend to make in our reasoning, so that we may avoid them.
Logical fallacies are often hard to recognize, and even easier to commit in one’s own argument, while 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. If we do not understand the fallacies in reasoning which can be made, it is possible we may be deceived by others when they employ the same fallacies, such as in argumentation, advertising or in the media.
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, where we are more data selective in our approach. 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. Hence why one may be more susceptible to a fallacious argument if they are already committed to the conclusion.
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, where we may say Mickey Mouse has attempted to argue that Walt Disney is running an unethical practice at Disneyland, to which Walt may reply:
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, which pertains to how it is laid out—and it may even be sound, which pertains to the truth value of its premises, but it does not deal with any truth content, or lack of, in Mickey’s argument, which he may be attempting to make. 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, which is important as apologists. We need to find another line of reasoning to refute Mickey’s claim.
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, someone other than Mickey could just as easily have been the one arguing for whatever Mickey was arguing for. 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 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. (Still being debated)
P2. Who are you to disagree with what so many people believe?
C. Therefore, the earth must be flat.
Counting noses makes for a lousy metric for determining truth. It comes in a more subtle form, such as the question, “Do you think you’re smarter than al those people who believe the world is flat?”
With regards to responses to the Moral Argument, it may take this form:
P1. Morality is determined by sociological values, or how the majority happens to think.
P2. The majority happens to think that murder is wrong. (lucky us)
C. Therefore, murder is objectively wrong.
GENETIC FALLACY / POISONING THE WELL
Like other fallacious arguments which seek 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, many scientists also are more interested in disproving God.
C. Many scientists are wrong and we cannot trust them because of their ulterior motives.
* Those who believe in God do so because they are afraid of death.
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, such as pointing to how Christianity originated with the early disciples who were Christians.
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, or lack of, in what I may 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.
Or in politics:
Oh, you are voting for Hillary Clinton? You must support abortion!
Oh, you are voting for Trump? You must support ripping children from the arms of their parents.
Both of these misrepresent why one may vote one way or another, while one may have entirely separate reasons for voting either party.
APPEAL TO FALSE 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 type of reasoning tends to be very data selective.
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,
When we make this fallacy we may appeal to a pastor or a specific teacher/scholar who may be highly qualified to speak on a matter, but without examining why they hold to a specific view, or not. This reasoning can lead to cherry picking our authorities on a matter, just as other fallacies lead to cherry picking the data. Either way we may be being data selective in our approach. It is almost a reverse ad hominem, which seeks to dismiss an argument based on its advocates, while this argument seeks reasons to prop up an argument based on its advocates.
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.
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.
Bill: What are your views on God?
Ted: I don’t believe in any God.
Bill: So you believe we are just products of evolving pond scum and live in a self creating universe?
Ted: I didn’t say that.
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 is a blatantly data selective fallacy which 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.” As seen below, it is also a self defeating fallacy, as it cannot live up to standards which it imposes on others.
It can take the following form:
Mother: I believe all drunk drivers are blatant criminals who should go to prison.
(While in the next breath the same individual may say:
Mother: Have mercy on my son, your honour. He is a good boy who only made a mistake.
Another 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. Questions to be asked in these instances are, “Are all things equal?” “Are these two events of the same kind, or are they in leagues of their own?”
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.