An Exercise in Logic

When talking to evolutionists (or others holding to a rigid dogma without justification, like atheists), it’s quite common to receive clichéd thinking and logical errors, in place of meaningful discussion. For example, consider the following comment left on an article we had explaining an error in analyzing probability:

If rounding is how we’re going to do it, then the statistical probability of god existing … and the existence of two places designed specifically to harbor human souls, are also zero. If you’re going to argue against basically every scientist on Earth, your alternative explanation for everything should not be “A magic man done it.”

How many logical errors can you find? Don’t cheat, think about it before continuing.

Red Herring

If rounding is how we’re going to do it, then the statistical probability of god existing … also zero.

Perhaps the most common logical error is the Red Herring. It’s simply avoiding the question (which presumably could not be answered) and substituting some other issue. It’s a deliberate attempt to avoid the topic, similar to a child putting his fingers in his ears while saying “la la la I can’t hear you”.

It’s pure avoidance. In this case, what does god have to do with the probability of evolution? Nothing.

Assume Facts not in Evidence

… someone who is three days dead rising from the grave, and the existence of two places designed specifically to harbor human souls.

Assuming facts not in evidence comes from the legal arena. It’s an attempt to insert ideas which have not been proven or shown to be true. Most people make this assumption every day in conversation, and most of the time it’s because the two parties stipulate and agree to the truth (usually without even knowing it). For example, if during a conversation someone spoke of the round earth, it’s reasonable to assume it’s truth, even though technically it’s a logical error to make the claim without proof.

Courts must force every comment to be proved, but the principle would stall normal conversation.

Nevertheless, be careful, as some people will attempt to insert unproven ideas into a discussion, like the existence of god which can be hotly debated on it’s own, and most certainly not agreed on by everyone.

Argument from Authority

If you’re going to argue against basically every scientist on Earth

The next two logical errors involve the herd mentality. The argument from authority assumes because someone has a PhD or some other official title, their arguments automatically carry more weight (and truth) than someone else.

Of course, this makes no sense, as it should be the argument itself, not the person, which persuades.

In this case, just because someone calls themselves a scientist does not make their opinion any more valid, as scientists have been duped before. Remember Piltdown man? Many evolutionists bought the idea, until the hoax was revealed.

Argument from Majority

If you’re going to argue against basically every scientist on Earth

Similar to the argument from authority, the argument from majority assumes popularity equals truth. “Everyone believes it” isn’t a very compelling justification, is it?

Truth and fact are not found via majority rule.

The Straw Man

your alternative explanation for everything should not be “A magic man done it.”

The straw man error commonly appears as a person distorts what their opponent said, then discredits (or ridicules) it, hoping people connect the false idea with what the person actually said.

In this case, notice the article doesn’t mention alternative explanations at all, and definitely doesn’t make any sort of statement a “magic man” did it.

Appeal to Ridicule

your alternative explanation for everything should not be “A magic man done it.”

An entire group of logical errors known as ad hominem, or some form of personal attack. In this case, re-stating an argument incorrectly and attributing it to the person.

Conclusions

To be fair, you can nit-pick just about any argument over logical errors and halt all reasonable discussion (you shouldn’t really do that if you want to actually engage in discussion). Nevertheless, major errors must be pointed out if two people are to engage in meaningful debate; in this case the big two are:

  1. Red Herring (attempting to change the subject to avoid the real issue). You can’t really have a discussion if someone wants to change the subject to something else.
  2. Argument from Authority and/or Majority (“Scholars” or other group have more credibility, or because “everyone” believes it). Shouldn’t it be the argument, not the person or group which persuades? It doesn’t really matter if Relativity was proposed by Einstein or a pre-school dropout. If the theory is correct, it’s correct.

The other logical errors this commenter made could either be simply ignored, or a generic response requesting the person to stay on topic instead of wandering off.

Learn to spot logical errors and ask the person to stay on topic and use critical thinking and logic, instead of group-think and clichés. Unfortunately, some people simply can’t provide a reasoned response, thus you’ll see attempts to divert from the actual subject, or appeal to authority or the majority, instead of tackling the issue head-on.

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