Critical Thinking: Fallacies from Relevance XIV

Posted by Gregg on Jul 3, 2011 in apologetics, Christian Faith, Critical Thinking, homeschooling |


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 Straw Man Fallacy, sometimes called the scarecrow argument.

The “Straw Man” Fallacy

In reasoned debate, one way of making an argument stronger is to anticipate and respond in advance to arguments an opponent might offer. This is especially useful when the opponent’s argument is stated accurately then logically disputed. This is known as “taking the wind from an opponent’s sails” since, in old nautical terms, removal of wind  would also remove forward momentum.

A straw man fallacy occurs when the arguer states an inaccurate or false version of the opponent’s position and responds to that position. The term probably came from the time honored tradition of burning a “straw man” in effigy. While it is possible to create a scarecrow and hang it or burn it or stone it, doing such things to one’s actual opponent presents an entirely different set of problems.  Straw men offer no resistance, after all.

A politician in the early colonies being stoned and burned in effigy

Just as being able to knock down or burn a straw man, or a scarecrow, isn’t terribly impressive, defeating a watered-down or false version of an opponents’ argument isn’t very impressive either. Nor is it actually relevant to the point(s) at hand, thus the fallacy.

Straw men are very commonly used by Darwinists in attempting to deny the Biblical account of creation. For example:

“You think dinosaur bones were buried by the devil to test your faith!”

Preposterous. Christians know that dinosaurs existed. We also know that evidence supports the idea that their bones were buried in the Global Flood by virtue of hydro-logic sorting.  To state that dinosaur bones were buried by Satan to test the Christian faith is an obvious straw man.

“You teach that animals were all created exactly as they are today about 6,000 years ago.”

Believers in the Biblical account of creation believe no such thing. We believe that animals and plants — and even people for that matter — were originally created very differently than they are today. Scripture says that God created people to live forever. Even after the fall, Adam lived at least 930 years! Likewise, we recognize that all created kinds have brought forth throughout history since the beginning, and this certainly agrees with the diversity and speciation events that we observe in living things today as well as the fossil record.

“You’re just attacking science as some massive demonic conspiracy.”

Again, no. This straw man also contains the fallacy of equivocation wherein science is supposed to be equal to Darwinism.  Darwinism is a world view that depends upon a dogma of methodological naturalism in the context of a doctrine of secular humanism.  Science (the scientific method) is a disciplined and formal methodology of inquiry by which conclusions can be drawn or inferred via observation and experimentation. Clearly, the two cannot be equivocated as the same.

As a tool for the mind, just as with any other tool, science is entirely neutral and neither divinely nor satanically influenced. It is no more demonic nor godly than a hammer and nails. Christians believe those influences can come from the person(s) wielding the tool — or misusing the tool — but that is entirely separate from the claim that Christians believe science itself to be demonic.

While these examples are overt, straw men arguments can also be phrased very subtly. For instance:

“Christians rely solely on direct observation and flatly ignore inferential explanation.”

This particular straw man relies upon a lack of recognizing the distinction between operational, observational science and historical (or origins) theory which can neither be observed nor repeated. Clearly, this is a distinction Darwinists often and consistently fail to recognize.

It should be fairly obvious that the disagreement is not over the actual evidence as this straw man implies. Rather, it is a disagreement over the interpretation of the evidence. The argument is not whether evidence exists that something occurred. Rather, just as it would be foolish to conclude that inferential explanations are always wrong, it would be equally foolish to conclude that inferential explanation — especially concerning unrepeatable and unobserved historical events — is just as reliable as directly observing repeatable, carefully controlled scientific experiments. The truth is that Christians reject weak inferences based on biased methodological naturalism that disagree with the Biblical account when strong inferences based on unbiased empiricism that better agree with the Biblical account are available.

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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