Critical Thinking: Fallacies from Relevance IX
- By: Hallee
Fallacies from Relevance
A fallacy from relevance occurs when the response to a conclusion or an argument is not relevant to the conclusion or argument. These are fallacies that ignore the point at hand and attempt to derail the argument by bringing irrelevancies into the arena of the debate. In this post, I will discuss the Genetic Fallacy and the Gambler’s Fallacy.
The genetic fallacy is committed when an idea is either accepted or rejected because of its source, rather than its merit.
Even from bad things, good may come; we therefore ought not to reject an idea just because of where it comes from, as ad hominem arguments do.
Equally, even good sources may sometimes produce bad results; accepting an idea because of the goodness of its source, as in appeals to authority, is therefore no better than rejecting an idea because of the badness of its source. Both types of argument are fallacious.
- My mommy told me that the tooth fairy is real.
- (Therefore) The tooth fairy is real.
- Jet propulsion was pioneered in Germany during the war.
- (Therefore) Jet propulsion is a bad thing.
Each of these arguments commits the genetic fallacy, because each judges an idea by the goodness or badness of its source, rather than on its own merits.
The gambler’s fallacy is the fallacy of assuming that short-term deviations from probability will be corrected in the short-term. Faced with a series of events that are statistically unlikely, say, a serious of 9 coin tosses that have landed heads-up, it is very tempting to expect the next coin toss to land tails-up. The past series of results, though, has absolutely zero effect on the probability of the various possible outcomes of the forthcoming coin toss.
- This ball has landed on RED nine times in a row.
- (Therefore) It will probably land on BLACK with the next spinbal.
This inference is an example of the gambler’s fallacy. When a ball is tossed in a 38 position roulette wheel, the odds of it landing in RED are 9 in 19, the odds of it landing in BLACK are 9 in 19, and the odds of it landing in GREEN are 1 in 19. These probabilities are utterly unaffected by the results of any previous tosses. The odds are the same each and every toss.
The gambler’s fallacy appears to be a reasonable way of thinking because we know that if the ball has landed on RED ten straight times, it is very unlikely to land on RED every single time. Think of tossing a coin, for example. If we observe a tossed coin landing heads-up nine times in a row we therefore infer that the unlikely sequence will not be continued, and that next time the coin will land tails-up.
In fact, though, the probabilities remain exactly the same with each new toss. Past results have no bearing whatsoever on random future outcomes.
Recognizing truth is an essential survival tool for the mind, and ultimately, for the soul. It is vital that believers weigh the so-called “wisdom” of the world on the perfect scale of authoritative scripture. (I Corinthians 1:19-21)
Teaching our children the ability to recognize fallacies of this type, giving them the intellectual skill to deconstruct these types of arguments, will ensure that the arguments they, themselves, will one day make are at least valid and thoughtfully arrived upon. It will also assist them to investigate more deeply into the conclusions espoused by those in the world whose motives might not come from love and might not have been very carefully arrived at or well researched.
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