Logical fallacies hijack debate and discussion[1]

By Spencer D Gear

Image result for logical fallacies public domain

(courtesy Google public domain)

It is so easy for people to be engaged in a topic in person, in a lecture, or online and use illogical reasoning. I encountered this in two locations recently, one was in an online newspaper and the other was in a Christian forum. Before examining how this happened, I need to define the nature of logical fallacies.

A. Definition of logical fallacies

What is a logical fallacy? 20WL Online Writing Lab (Purdue University) provides this definition:

Fallacies are common errors in reasoning that will undermine the logic of your argument. Fallacies can be either illegitimate arguments or irrelevant points, and are often identified because they lack evidence that supports their claim. Avoid these common fallacies in your own arguments and watch for them in the arguments of others (‘Logical Fallacies‘).

This Purdue University link gives examples of these logical fallacies, naming of them and how they are used.

B. Examples of fallacies

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(By Openclipart)

One of the most helpful lists and explanations of fallacies I’ve found has been The Nizkor Project Fallacies. One of the most common fallacies I hear or read Christians and others use is the red herring fallacy. This is explained:

A Red Herring is a fallacy in which an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue. The basic idea is to “win” an argument by leading attention away from the argument and to another topic. This sort of “reasoning” has the following form:

1. Topic A is under discussion.

2. Topic B is introduced under the guise of being relevant to topic A (when topic B is actually not relevant to topic A).

3. Topic A is abandoned.

This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious [i.e. deceptive] because merely changing the topic of discussion hardly counts as an argument against a claim (The Nizkor Project – Red Herring).

This is an example of how I have heard Christians use this deceptive reasoning (it happened to me recently at a meeting for a Member of Parliament who is an evangelical Christian).

1. Topic A: That Christian MP supports traditional marriage and not homosexual marriage; he’s convinced God invented marriage and heterosexual marriage is God’s order for humanity.
2. Topic B: That makes him a lousy Christian with such intolerance.
3. Topic A was abandoned.

C. An example from an online newspaper

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(courtesy Click2Houston)

There was an article in the Brisbane Times,[2] 13 September 2015, ‘Campaign to legalise nude beaches in Queensland’.[3] In the ‘Comments’ section at the end of this article, I responded as Dougie:[4]

 

In this story, one person from Poona stated: ‘You would think that perverts and blokes like that would probably come along as well and we don’t want them in Poona that’s for sure’. That’s exactly what happened at Maslin Beach SA.

On 15 February 1975, Maslin Beach, 40km from Adelaide’s CBD, became Australia’s first legal nudist beach.[1] In 2004, a 36-year-old male paedophile abducted three boys, aged 8, 9 and 10 at an Adelaide park, and took them for a naked swim at Maslin Beach. The boys were not found until the next day. The paedophile “pleaded guilty to abducting the boys and was found guilty of causing them to expose their bodies for his prurient interest” and was jailed for three years.[2]

One nudist went public in Qld., stating that “legal nude beaches have been a part of life in several Australian states and territories for many years without any problems.” [3] The Maslin Beach conviction refutes that idea. We can discover many other problems worldwide associated with nudist beaches.

Notes

[1] CNN Travel, 21 Nov 2011, ‘Naked, wet, free: 15 sexy skinny dips’. Available at: http://travel.cnn.com/explorations/escape/worlds-15-greatest-places-skinny-dip-520132 (Accessed 13 September 2015).
[2] ABC News, 8 July 2005, ‘Man jailed for three years for triple abduction’. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2005-07-08/man-jailed-for-three-years-for-triple-abduction/2054254 (Accessed 13 September 2015).
[3] Paul McCarragher, ABC News Wide-Bay, 21 December 2005, ‘Clothing-optional beaches: A nudist’s perspective’. Available at: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/rec.nude/DWhiDufMnMg (Accessed 13 September 2015).

Commenter Dougie, Location Brisbane, Date and time: September 13, 2015, 6:30AM

What kinds of further responses do you think my comment would elicit? Here are four samples of how those with comments about my post avoided dealing with my content by their use of logical fallacies (you can read several other comments to see further examples):

1. One response:

So on the basis that 30 years after a nudist beach was approved a pervert- who abducted 3 boys somewhere else took them there. we should ban nudist beaches. so. by your logic (and I use the word loosely) if he had taken them to a park we should close all parks – good job he didn’t take them to coles and woollies.[5]

2. Another: Go nude south of the border

Just want to mention that for Brisbane / Gold Coast residents that there is a perfectly legal nudist beach south of the border. It’s called Tyagarah Nature Reserve . As this is a National Park an entry fee of $7 applies.. There is (sic) eco toilets available there as well.[6]

3. Clothes-free everywhere in Europe

Seriously, what is all the fuss about. Clothes free beaches are everywhere in Europe and there doesn’t seem to be any moral decline there. The notion of these areas attracting the wrong type of people is ridiculous. If anything, these beaches should be closer to major centres where the Police can react if required rather than choosing a remote beach that is difficult to access and is unpatrolled by lifesavers. We are supposed to be all about jobs, jobs, jobs and increasing our tourist numbers. Perhaps this could actually help.[7]

These are classic examples of a red herring fallacy. They deal with the content of my post, but present a different view to divert attention from the information I presented. It’s a misleading response and is used to avoid the specifics of the issues I raised. There are also aspects of an appeal to mockery fallacy in bluebird’s response as mockery/ridicule is used as a substitute for evidence to deal with what I had presented as an example for not supporting nudist beaches.

I did respond to Andrew and the claim about free beaches in Europe and no moral decline. I wrote:

So you think, ‘Seriously, what is all the fuss about. Clothes free beaches are everywhere in Europe and there doesn’t seem to be any moral decline there. The notion of these areas attracting the wrong type of people is ridiculous’. There is other evidence.

Are there any reports from Europe of the negative consequences associated with nudist beaches? Let’s check 2 examples:

a. At an ‘open beach’ at Huk, Oslo, Norway, nudists ‘are being increasingly harassed by photographers, flashers and vulgar requests and police have had to respond several times’ in the summer of 2005. ‘I don’t go to Huk any more,’ according to a 52-year-old woman who wanted to remain anonymous. Why? She asked the police to intervene ‘after feeling threatened by a man on the beach’. [1]

b. So, Andrew, is there any other evidence of moral decline? Nudists want more than just nudist beaches for sun baking and swimming. In Holland, a beach for public sex is wanted: ‘The Dutch Naturists Federation (NFN) has called on the government to set aside certain beaches for people who like to have sex in public. Naturists feel that displays of public sex do not belong on regular nudist beaches, a spokesperson for the NFN said in a radio interview…. Public sex involving couples and orgies in the open air are also said to [be] a growing phenomenon.’ [2]

And you want to convince readers and me of no moral decline? Could you have a blind spot or is your reading selective?

Notes

[1] ‘Flashers pester nudists’, Aftenposten: News from Norway (Online), 12 August 2005. Available at: http://vikings.invisionzone.com/index.php?showtopic=537 (Accessed 14 September 2015).

[2] Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 10 August 2005, ‘Not under our boardwalk, we’re naturists’ (Dutch naturists want beach for sex in public). Available at: http://www.expatica.com/nl/news/country-news/Not-under-our-boardwalk-were-naturists_131516.html (Accessed 14 September 2015).[8]

4. How do you think another would respond to my comments about what is happening in Europe and the moral decline?

This person stated:

Dougie the nudists in Holland are merely saying they want people who want to have sex on a beach to go elsewhere. Get their own beach. Because Nudists don’t want that on our beaches.[9]

This person again:

So how many paedophiles have there been in churches? Perhaps we should consider closing churches since they obviously attract perverts. The perverts are textiles not nudists. That paedophile in South Australia also bought the boy smokes and alcohol so perhaps we should ban any shop selling cigaretts or any pub in Australia as well?[10]

My reply to this person was, ‘Marskete, your response, like many others in this thread, is a red herring logical fallacy. It does not address the details that I addressed in my post of 14 Sept.’[11] When posters are off and running with their own agendas and not dealing with the specific content of my posts, they have committed red herring fallacies. Logical discussion is, therefore, hijacked in this situation.

D. An example from a Christian forum

I started a discussion on Christianity Board (CyB) about this same issue of logical fallacies being used by posters. I started a thread, ‘Logical fallacies hijack discussion’:[12] In the thread, ‘The doctrine of OSAS‘, a couple of us have been discussing the serious repercussions of Christians using logical fallacies in discussions on CyB. We have noticed some Christians violating the laws of logic in that particular thread.

I provided some of the above information in the CyB thread. Here are some of the responses that demonstrate that people either don’t know what they are doing or deliberately hijack the discussion.

1. One hijacker: Man’s reason instead of Holy Spirit

This fellow wrote:

Whatever happened to the Holy Spirit, or is He just a figment of mans (sic) imagination?

Oh but we have the bible. books, cds, dvds colleges who need Him any more, lust just trust mans reasoning (sic).

oh_14:26  But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

Oh how it would be that man could just trust God.[13]

My reply was as follows: ‘Here you are giving us a red herring logical fallacy. You have demonstrated my very point. Don’t you understand what you have done with your kind of response as a red herring? I’m not sure you know what a logical fallacy is when you violate the logical rules of discussion like you have done with this post’.[14]

This fellow continued with a clanger:

never seeing a red heering (sic)…what do they looklike (sic), do they taste nice.

Logical reasoning, trying to fit God into teh (sic) image of man… bible speaks of that somewhere.

There is no logic to God, His ways are not our ways His thoughts not ours.. No matter how big a box you create you will not fit Him in it.

In all His Love[15]

designRed-small The howler is, ‘There is no logic to God’. I couldn’t let him get away with that one. Here is my retort:[16]

You seem to be living in another world where you claim that there is no logic to God. Come on, mate! What kind of a Bible do you read? Is it a Bible with words, grammar, sentences, paragraphs (semantics)? If it is, these are examples of God demonstrating his logical results in the universe.

The mere fact that you are attempting to converse on this forum with a logical discussion demonstrates that God has given you the ability to attempt to be logical.

However, you have built a straw man fallacy here with your view that ‘there is no logic to God’. That is an irrational, straw man fallacy. God has built logic into his universe, but because of the fall of human beings into sin, we botch up logic like you have done with your response to me.

We cannot have a logical conversation when you want to deny the very logic that God has built into the universe to be able to communicate on this forum.

I call you to be a reasonable man who learns the nature of logical fallacies and quits using them.

designRed-small His comeback was:

Remember Saul, Pharisee of Pharisses (sic),

considered all his learning as dung compared to knowing the risen Lord…after his eyes where (sic) opened and when He became Paul.

God is spirit, and the time is when we must worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.

In all His Love.[17]

This super spiritual perspective needed a rejoinder. I wrote:[18]

You have given another demonstration of what the OP shows. You have responded with a red herring logical fallacy.

Why is your response here a red herring fallacy? It is because you have presented an irrelevant topic when the topic of the thread is ‘Logical fallacies hijack discussion’. You have tried to divert attention from this topic to try to convince others and me that, like Saul the Pharisee, learning is as dung when compared with knowing the risen Lord. It is deceptive (fallacious) reasoning for these reasons:

(1) The topic under discussion is logical fallacies and how they hijack discussion.

(2)  You have introduced a totally different topic – like Saul, the Pharisee, learning is as dung.

(3) Therefore, you have abandoned the topic of this thread. This exposes your diversionary tactic (the red herring fallacy).

Your kind of reasoning sounds spiritual but it really promotes falsehood because your changing the topic of discussion to what you want to talk about does not engage with the arguments presented in the OP (original post), ‘Logical fallacies hijack discussion’. It’s an example of a dishonest approach to the topic. Your dishonesty is in hijacking the discussion. You have given a perfect example of the topic of the OP.

I urge you to get back to the promotion of truth by dealing with the topic of the OP and not intruding with your own self-generated topic of diversion.

2. Another response

clip_image004(Socrates, Wikipedia)

These are four points from another’s reply:

I don’t want to debate the use of this system or philosophy or rules of engagement (for lack of a better term), but I do want to bring up a few questions.

(1) What would this system do with one who uses the Socratic Method of reasoning? That is, one who asks a series of questions in order to find a better and concrete conclusion.

(2) What of Ecc 12:13 which tells us to hear the conclusion of the whole matter?
I ask these first two questions because it seems to me that one could dismiss an arguement (sic) too early. In other words, someone can make a statement which to you may not be relevant when if you’d hold your peace, the relevance will appear.

(3) What shall we do with the apostles, servants and even Jesus himself who appear (at least on the surface) to violate such rules?
I have 4 examples in mind, but let me expound on one: In Matthew 12 we find the Pharisees criticizing Jesus and his disciples for picking corn and preparing it on the Sabbath. Jesus starts his reply by talking about David eating the shewbread. Now, he (Jesus) quickly offers a second point and then a third to make his entire response valid. But initially, he was talking about David and the shewbread while the Pharisees were talking about working on the Sabbath. That alone seems tp (sic) be a red herring argument (sic). Like I said, Jesus quickly brought it into relevance, but my point is that Jesus did point to sonething (sic) else outside the initial complaint. Which of course, brings us back to tge (sic) importance of hearing the conclusion.

(4) Is it possible that this system could self destruct? Again, lack of a better term. But I have seen questions posted which are baiting in nature. That is, the question is so carefully asked that theree (sic) is only one answer which is logical, yet the question itself is flawed? All objections to the question can be dismissed by waving the red herring flag or any other of these fallacy flags. No, I don’t have an example to present, but I’m sure that veterans of this board have seen it before.[19]

My answer to him was:[20]

I want to acknowledge that you have some excellent points here that must be considered in any discussion on this topic. However, the OP deals with mistakes in reasoning, which many Christians seem to be ignorant of or deliberately use to divert attention away from a certain topic.

I briefly answer your 4 questions:

(1)  There would be no problem with my engagement with someone using the Socratic method of reasoning with a series of questions. The problem of logical fallacies would arise with, say, a red herring fallacy if those questions were not directed to the topic being discussed.

(2)  I do not disagree with your understanding of Eccl. 12:13 (the KJV gives the better understanding, ‘Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter’, which seems to be a more accurate understanding than the ESV: ‘The end of the matter; all has been heard’. I’m not a KJV-only). Logical fallacies deal with errors of reasoning and not with failure to reach conclusions. It is not rejecting the conclusion or rejecting the notion of waiting until all is heard. They are fallacies of engagement in discussion or debate – in reaching that conclusion.

(3)  I’m not opposed to hearing the conclusion. It is the kind of reasoning that is included. If I were to jump in and say something like, ‘That is not dealing with the topic I raised so it sounds like a red herring to me’, Jesus would legitimately respond: ‘I’m getting to a conclusion that is directly related to your topic and so is this example I’m giving’.

(4)  Could the system self destruct? Possibly, but we are talking about errors of logic/reasoning. Those errors could be challenged to be truthful instead of errors, but evidence would need to be presented for me to understand better what is being claimed. Since God has built logic into the universe, logical errors are subject to being influenced by sinful human beings. Of course there is the possibility that errors regarding logical fallacies could be made.

I don’t regard logical fallacies as a philosophy but as exposing flaws of reasoning. Could someone hide behind exposing logical fallacies? Perhaps. However, it is more likely (as seen in CyB) that people hide behind their use of logical fallacies in derailing a thread and highjacking (or hijacking) a topic.

3. That hijacker again

designRed-small Another usurper gave his two bits on the Christian forum:

I ask God so I can get a better understanding of the bible. He isnt (sic) dead you know,

God is teh (sic) God of the living not the dead.

I would rather know God and Jesus than teh (sic) bible. Knowing the bible cant (sic) save you.

Php_3:8  Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,

And he was a very learned man, Pharisee of pharisees he called himself.[21]

What has he done here? This is how I replied: You have erected the straw man logical fallacy.

So you would rather know Jesus than the Bible?? You can’t know Jesus apart from the revelation of Jesus IN the Bible. That’s the false view you have created with your straw man fallacy.[22]

E. Logical fallacies trip up Christians

clip_image005How do you think Christians could use the following logical fallacies? Let’s use the topic of this article as an example.

6pointColored-small Ad hominem;

‘Only stupid people like you would dare to blaspheme the Holy Spirit by forcing us to examine logical fallacies. What idiotic stuff!’

6pointColored-small Begging the question (circular reasoning);

‘Logical fallacies are corrections of logical errors. Of course I believe in them, including ad hominem, hasty generalisation, red herring and straw man’.

6pointColored-small Genetic fallacy;

‘You only believe in these stupid fallacies because they were taught to you by that philosopher of logic in Uni. If it weren’t for him, you wouldn’t believe this unspiritual stuff’.

6pointColored-small Poisoning the well;

‘You shouldn’t take any notice of this fellow’s teaching about logical fallacies because he’s an Open Theist who doesn’t believe that God is absolutely sovereign in the universe. Don’t believe a word he says about logical fallacies. He’s a Open Theist bad egg’.

6pointColored-small Straw man.

‘John exposes logical fallacies, has a position at University X in the theology department, and teaches that God is absolutely sovereign in the universe. But Bill, one of his fellow faculty members, presents Open Theism in that department and claims that John is really an advocate for modified Open Theism. Therefore, it is false to claim that John supports God’s absolute sovereignty’.

F. Be specific when identifying fallacies

In identifying logical fallacies that a person uses, it is important to state the exact fallacy that is being used. Why should that be?

Firstly, it labels the specifics so that any person with a knowledge of logical fallacies can check the accuracy of the nature of the logical fallacy used so that the person can be challenged. Secondly, it demonstrates that the accuser also has an exact knowledge of the content of the fallacy about which he/she is accusing the presenter.

Logical fallacies are serious impediments to logical discussions in any sphere of debate or conversation. I missed one of these recently at a small political gathering. I was engaged in a discussion with three other people where a former councillor at a local council was part of the conversation. I talked about a former leading politician whom I labelled as arrogant. The councillor chimed in, ‘But he was such a friendly person. Whenever he came to a group, he would be moving among people and greeting them, shaking hands and speaking openly with them’. I realised later that I should have said, ‘That’s a red herring’. How come? My topic was talking about the politician’s cockiness. I was not dealing with his friendliness. I should have said nicely, but firmly, ‘That’s a red herring’. If the councillor objected, I’d say, ‘I was discussing how the politician presented himself on the media as an egotistical individual. I was not talking about his sociability. Now, let’s talk about his narcissistic bent’. However, I missed out on that conversation. I was wise after the fact.

G. Conclusion: What to do about fallacies

It is a common contemporary trend in both the secular and Christian worlds to highjack debates and discussions through the use of logical fallacies. These fallacies need to be exposed in gentle and specific ways. It doesn’t matter whether it is in private conversation or in a public meeting or debate. Know the major logical fallacies that people use and call them out when they use them.

Do not simply accuse a person of using a logical fallacy. Name the fallacy and be capable of explaining its nature.

Notes


[1] Some of this material is based on a thread I started as OzSpen at Christianity Board, ‘Logical fallacies hijack discussion’, 19 September 2015. Available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/topic/21931-logical-fallacies-hijack-discussion/ (Accessed 19 September 2015).

[2] I live in Brisbane, Qld., Australia.

[3] Available at: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/campaign-to-legalise-nude-beaches-in-queensland-20150912-gjl98l.html (Accessed 13 September 2015).

[4] Part of my statement is a grab from my article of 2011, Nudist beaches not smart idea for the Smart State.

[5] Ibid., Brisbane Times, bluebird of Brisbane, September 13, 2015, 3:40PM.

[6] Ibid., dodgeymech, Wellington Point, September 14, 2015, 9:13AM.

[7] Ibid., Andrew, South Brisbane, September 13, 2015, 10:45AM.

[8] Ibid., Dougie, Brisbane, September 14, 2015, 12:34PM.

[9] Ibid., Marsketa, Coolum Beach, September 17, 2015, 6:28PM.

[10] Ibid., Marsketa, Coolum, September 14, 2015, 10:33PM.

[11] Ibid., Dougie, Brisbane, September 16, 2015, 5:45PM

[12] OzSpen#1, 19 September 2015, available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/topic/21931-logical-fallacies-hijack-discussion/ (Accessed 20 September 2015).

[13] Ibid., mjrhealth#5.

[14] Ibid., OzSpen#7.

[15] Ibid., mjrhealth#9.

[16] Ibid., OzSpen#12.

[17] Ibid., mjrhealth#13.

[18] Ibid., OzSpen#17.

[19] Ibid., FHill#15.

[20] Ibid., OzSpen#34.

[21] Ibid., mjrhealth#39.

[22] Ibid., OzSpen#40.

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 November 2015.