Logic Miniseries: Part 4 – Informal Logic and Fallacies of Presumption

Congratulations!  If you’ve been reading the logic miniseries from the beginning, we’re half way there.  If this is the first part your reading – you cheater!  Kidding.  However, it might make more sense if you start from Part 1 and work your way through.  Anyway, on the to the fallacies of presumption.

In my last post I promised to use examples from social media comments, which by andpuzzle-1152794_640 large contain some of the most humorous, and fallacious presumptions I have come across.  I have made good on the promise (although it took quite some time to gather).  Some take the cake, so to speak.  These are the ones I will be using to make clear how fallacies of presumption are committed.

Before we begin, a definition is in order.  Fallacies of presumption are committed when one fails to provide an adequate reason for his belief(s).  In other words, they are unwarranted assumptions.1  There are a bunch:  sweeping generalization, hasty generalization, bifurcation, begging the question, question-begging epithet, complex question, “no true Scotsman,” special pleading, false analogy, false cause, and slippery slope.  Yes, I will be addressing each one.  They are vital in an effective apologetic.  Here is our first example from Kerry:

“Your imaginary god is not relevant to the real world and your filthy old book of campfire tales handed down from illiterate bronze age goat herders who routinely massacred each other over which of
-their- imaginary gods had the biggest [expletive], is not useful.
Unless, that is, one happens to run out of toilet paper…”

Here, Kerry commits the fallacy of question-begging epithet.  This fallacy occurs when someone uses biased (and often emotional) verbiage to support a logically unproven conclusion.2  Kerry throws out a lot of emotionally charged language, but in no way logically argues his/her conclusion that there is no God or that He’s not relevant to the real world.

confused-147732_640Kerry’s comment goes on to state:

“There is no such thing as ‘sin’. It is a completely arbitrary, illusory, artificial, capricious and irrational concept that varies according to which delusional belief system is attempting to define it…”

This is another example of the fallacy of question-begging epithet.  Kerry assumes there is no such thing as sin, and follows his/her assumption with emotionally saturated language which does nothing to argue for his/her conclusion – “there is no such thing as sin.”

Our next fallacy (one of my favorites to point out because it’s so easy) of presumption – special pleading – comes from Courtney:

Religion has no place in public discourse.  You my friend are free to practice your own beliefs, but leave those beliefs at your church and your doorstep.”

When a standard is applied to one’s opponent, but not themselves (in other words a double standard), the fallacy of special pleading is committed.  In Courtney’s comment, she arbitrarily asserts that Christians should leave their beliefs at church.  This is nonsense, as we could also tell her to leave her beliefs (or lack of belief in God) on her doorstep, as it has no place in public discourse.  I personally see and hear this one quite often, as I’m sure you have, too.

Here’s an example from Stephen Hawking:balloon-912805_640

“Religion believes in miracles, but these aren’t compatible with science.” 3

In other words, you either believe in miracles or you believe in science.  Stephen Hawking has committed the fallacy of bifurcation (also called false-dilemma and either-or fallacy).  This fallacy is committed when two propositions are presented as if they are the only options, when in fact there could be a third.  Christians believe in miracles and science.  God occasionally suspends natural law to seemingly do the impossible, resulting in a miracle.

How many times have you heard, “Evolution is true because it is fact,” or, “The idea of God cannot be true because it is impossible,” or, “Christianity is a mental disorder because it’s not part of reality”?  These propositions are examples of begging the question.  Otherwise known as circular reasoning, the fallacy of begging the question happens when the conclusion is incorporated into one of the premises, or when the premise depends on the conclusion.  The person merely assumes what they are trying to prove.

A fallacy of false-cause is committed when someone mistakenly attempts to establish a causal connection.  Justin commits such a fallacy in his comment:

“If they could step outside of their brainwashed minds for a few minutes they might be able to make sense of this. They would also realize how religion has inhibited the advancement of humanity for thousands of years.”

board-413157_640My first question would be, “Inhibited the advancement of humanity in what respect?”  Anyway, Justin merely assumes that religion has caused the inhibition of humanity’s advancement (effect) without any further explanation or evidence.  His comment is nonsense and offers nothing to justify such an assertion.

Let’s move on to Roger:

“Well, let’s start with the fact that several “Christian ministers” have OPENLY called for killing [people].”

When someone draws a conclusion based on too small of population or experience, like Roger, he has have committed the fallacy of hasty generalization.  “Several Christian ministers” is not evidence enough for a strong argument.  Moreover, this is untrue, as it is unbiblical.  God’s word in no way calls for openly killing (murdering) anyone (Ex 20:13).

A sweeping generalization occurs when an application of a generalization is used where it does not apply.  For example, “The United States is a Christian nation.  Therefore, everyone you meet in America is Christian.”  However awesome that would be, it is untrue.  Just because America is deemed a Christian nation, does not mean that everyone believes in and follows the biblical God.

For these last few fallacies, I’ll continue to give my own examples as they were difficult to find on other sites.  I could probably find them eventually.  However, for time’s sake, I’ll make it simple.  How many of you have had a conversation like this: “No Christians actually believe in Creationism” – “I’m a Christian and I believe in Creationism” – “Yeah, but no true Christian believes in Creationism.”  When biased language is used to protect a claim from a counter-argument, the No True Scotsman fallacy is committed.  “No true Christian believes in creationism” is simply a restatement of the first claim (which begs the question), yet using an arbitrary method to define a real Christian.  Here’s another example: “No scientists actually believe in God” – “Dr. John Barrow is a cosmologist and believes in God.” – “Yeah, but no true scientist believes in God.”

Stay with me, we only have three more left!  Here we go – our next fallacy is the complex question.  This happens when someone asks a question with a built-in assumption.  For example, “You’re a Christian, eh?  So, when did you stop believing in science?”  This commits the fallacy of a complex question because it presupposes the person believed in science before becoming Christian and stopped believing in science afterwards.  It should really be split up into two separate questions: (1) Did you stop believing in science when you became Christian? (2) If so, why?question-738809_640

“You sick, twisted Christians!  If we start teaching there is (or even could be) a ‘God’ as a part of our origins (or anything else for that matter), we’ll be sent back to the dark ages.  All science will cease to exist and everything will fall apart.”  This argument is not only absurd, but commits the fallacy of slippery slope.  It claims an action will set off a chain of reactions, leading to an undesired conclusion without evaluating preventative measures to counter such reaction.  In other words (using our example), science has proven to be a very useful God-given tool in many different areas of our lives.  Thus, by no means will it ‘cease to exist’ if God is used as an alternative (or challenge) to traditional Darwinian evolutionary theory, Hawking’s Singularity, etc., to explain our origins.

Finally, one more!  “Wanting me to pray to God is like asking me to talk to my imaginary friend from when I was five years old.  Both are complete nonsense.”  An imaginary friend is by definition, not real.  God shows us that He is indeed very real through nature and other means!  Therefore, the quoted claim commits the fallacy of false analogy.  It consists of assuming that because two things are alike in one or more respects, they are necessarily alike in some other respect.4  So, because we cannot see God, touch God, etc., the quote claims it to be no different than an imaginary friend.  Yet, just because they are the same in some respects, they are definitely not in others.

Phew!  We’re done.  Proceed with your happy dance!  Actually, we’re done for now.  The next post will be the last on informal logic; addressing fallacies of relevance.  After that I’m going to take a bit of a break before posting the last of the miniseries – formal logic (eek!).  Until next time….

1  Kemerling, G. (2011).  Fallacies of Presumption. Retrieved from http://www.philosophypages.com/lg/e06b.htm

2  Lisle, J. (2009). The Ultimate Proof of Creation: Resolving the Origins Debate. Master Books: Green Forest, AR.

3  Matyszczyk, C.  (2014). Stephen Hawking Makes it Clear: There is no God. Retrieved from http://www.cnet.com/news/stephen-hawking-makes-it-clear-there-is-no-god/

4  Hanks, C. (2016).  Faulty Analogy. Retrieved from http://www.txstate.edu/philosophy/resources/fallacy-definitions/Faulty-Analogy.html



Author:  Brian Kurkjian, Ed.D

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