Ok, I know I said I’d write about TCP/IP ports and how to enable remote access over the Internet, but I lied. I’ve had to read a few posts today by ignorant, conservative fundamentalist loons and just had to take a few minutes to write about a few of my favorite logical fallacies.
A logical fallacy is a pattern of thought which is demonstrably wrong; it doesn’t matter what you actually talk about, but rather what matters is how you talk about it. All logical fallacies are known as non sequitors, which is Latin for “it does not follow”.
By far my favorite is the good old argumentum ad hominem. An ad hominem is where you simply attack a person, belief, or something else that is of no substance to the argument at hand. Prime example: I say evolution is true because of fossil evidence, biochemistry, archaeology, etc. You then counter saying that evolution is false because I’m an atheist, and as an atheist I can’t believe in the power of creation. See what happened there? No response to the evidence for evolution, just an attackabout the lack of belief in religion of the speaker. It’s an ad hominem and doesn’t matter. I could be a Bhuddist, Hindu, or worshipper of the FSM; it doesn’t change the evidence, thus is irrelevant.
There is an inverse to the argumentum ad hominem known as argumentum ad verecundiam; this is where you attack a person’s credentials or past mistakes within the area of debate. For instance, if I debate a person who has a degree in Theology about computers (a field in which I will soon have a PhD), I could use an argumentum ad verecundiam to say that the Theologian does not have the understanding of computers necessary to counter me. I’m not a fan of this, however, as really it is just an appeal to authority. A Theologian could very well be qualified to discuss computers, if they can demonstrate appreciable knowledge in the field.
Appeals to authority are by and large the biggest logical fallacy I see; well, so and so said it was true, so it must be true! Enter the dumb fuck Jenny McCarthy. Old Jenny is setting herself up as an authority as to what does and does not cause autism. People from all over listen to this hag because she’s a celebrity, instead of listening to the evidence. Jenny isn’t an authority on autism and has demonstrated no knowledge of the subject, thus we have an appeal to authority. The causes of autism are determined by evidence, not the ramblings of a former centerfold.
Strawman! This one is great, really. A strawman is where you create a new issue for the purposes of attacking it; it means that you couldn’t answer the original statement and instead you need to divert attention to something you feel more comfortable wailing on. For example, let’s talk about gay marriage. I say gay marriage is just fine because I have no right to infringe on the rights of others. You then say that if we allow gay marriage that it opens the door to all sorts of immoral behavior such as polygamy and bestiality. See what happened? You didn’t refute my statement about infringing on others’ rights, you simply created a new issue about morality, loosly aligned it with gay marriage, and then attacked it.
Oh, and that brings me to another fallacy, argumentum ad consequentiam , or agument from consequences. Let’s look at gay marriage again and ignore the strawman argument about the immoral behavior associated with it. This is an argument from consequences whereby you you effectively say that if we allow gay marriage (which you’ve not refuted), then the consequences would be severe. So, you argue that since the precedent (immorality) is not desirable, that gay marriage (the antecedent) is wrong. This specific form is also called modus tollens, which is where you try to assert that a condition is wrong because the outcome is wrong. And the entire time, you’ve not refuted gay marriage, you’ve only made an appeal to emotion about the destruction of the moral fabric!
Another example of modus tollens is again with evolution. Some morons believe that if evolution were true, it would lead to an immoral, Nihilistic society. Unfortunately, even if that were true, it would not have any impact on the truth of evolution, so you’ve made a logical fallacy, or non sequitor if you will. I always say that atomic theory is not wrong just because it gave us an atomic bomb and gravitational theory is not wrong just because your grandma fell down the stairs.
Poisoning the well: this is a good one! This is where you try and set up a negative view of a speaker before they ever get a chance to talk. A good example would be if someone introduced me as an atheist to a group of Christians right before I was to speak about the impact of computers on society and ethics. My being an atheist has no impact on this, but the purpose was to make me look bad before I could ever discuss what I was there to discuss.
Moving goal posts is a favoriate of the evolution denying fundamentalist Christians/Muslims. This is where you set a goal to serve as requirement of proof, then when the goal is met you simply change it again. The purpose is to simply hold on to preconceived notions while trying to maintain some impression of legitimate interest. You’re not interested in the goals, you just want to look as if the goals are impossible and you, by default, are correct. For instance, we were told that evolution is wrong because we had never seen speciation. Well, we have seen it. Now we’re told it’s wrong because, well, the speciation was just a small change, we want a bigger change! No change will suffice for these people.
False dilemma, or false dichotomy, is where you present two possible solutions to an issue as the only two, where in truth there may be many possible answers. For instance, either the universe was created out of nothing, or it was made by god (of choice). Well, what about the universe has always existed? Which universe, what if there are more than we can see? Or how about this one: you either believe in god or you don’t. This leaves out agnostics completely, the guys who are on the fence.
And last, let’s talk about argumentum ad populum, or argument by popularity. This is where you insist that something is true or false based upon the number of people who agree with you. There must be a god because so many people believe in one. Nope, that’s not an argument. As the saying goes, if a million people believe a silly thing, it is still a silly thing (I believe that’s Thomas Paine).