Critical Thinking: Fallacies from Relevance VIII


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 Red Herring.

Red Herring

The Red Herring fallacy gets its name from fox hunting, specifically from the practice of using smoked herrings, which are red in color, to distract the hunting hounds from the scent of their quarry. Just as a hound may be prevented from catching a fox — and thus possibly mangling the pelt — by distracting it with a red herring, so a debater may be prevented from proving his point by distracting him with a tangential issue.

The red herring is as much a debate tactic as it is a logical fallacy. It is a fallacy of distraction, and is committed when a listener attempts to divert an arguer from his argument by introducing another or tertiary topic. This can be one of the most frustrating, and effective, fallacies to observe.


(In a debate over the age of the earth:) “You say the geologic column is completely unreliable, but how do you explain ice core samples?”

This example of a red herring fallacy is a classic example of how a typical Darwinist may completely ignore evidence that refutes his beliefs by shifting the debate to a side issue.  One way to defeat the red herring fallacy is by refusing to “lose the scent” of the trail to the point you are chasing.  One may answer with something like, “I would love to engage in a debate over ice core samples, but you have not yet fully addressed the geologic column issue, unless you are conceding that point?”

In addition, many of the other fallacies of relevance can take red herring form. An appeal to pity, for example, can be used to distract from the issue at hand:


“You may think that he cheated on on his wife, but the man has a terminal disease! How would he feel if she filed for divorce while he is on his deathbed?”

brain toolsConclusion:

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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