Critical Thinking: Fallacies from Relevance XVI

Posted by Gregg on Jul 17, 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 Fallacy of Equivocation, sometimes called a “bait and switch” fallacy because listeners are “baited” using one meaning of a word or concept, then the meaning is “switched” to an inaccurate meaning in context in order draw a faulty conclusion.

Equivocation introduces an irrelevancy into the debate because it claims that the meaning of one concept is equivalent to an entirely different concept. This inaccuracy introduces error in the form of a lack of precision, leading to a potential slippery slope, wherein any conclusions that proceed from that equivocal error are unreliable.

Fallacy of Equivocation

Most words have multiple meanings, but only one meaning is appropriate in a given context. Shifting from one meaning of a word to another meaning within the same argument results in the fallacy of equivocation. Equivocation is sliding between two or more different meanings of a single word or phrase that is important to the argument.

“Giving money to charity is the right thing to do. So charities have a right to our money.”

The word “right” can mean something that is correct or good (“I got the right answers on the test”) and it can mean something to which someone has a claim (“everyone has a right to life”).  Conflating these meanings within the same argument, as in the example above, is an example of equivocation.

Sometimes an arguer equivocates by mistake or based on a personal misunderstanding of the meaning of the words they use. Often, however, arguers will deliberately, sneakily equivocate, often on words like “freedom,” “justice,” “rights,” “science,” and especially “evolution.”

The word science commonly refers to the scientific method; a set of procedures by which the consistent and predictable behavior of the universe as it exists today can be formally tested. The scientific method is a disciplined and formal methodology of inquiry by which sound conclusions can be drawn or inferred via observation and experimentation as it relates to our present reality. This is operational science.

Science can also refer to a body of knowledge based upon operational science, for example the the science of thermodynamics, or the science of genetics. In this way, the valid body of knowledge is implied and meant to be inferred when one refers to science.

NOTE:  Christianity is a world view that replies upon the revealed knowledge documented in scripture coupled with operational science.

The word science can also refer to scientific models regarding unobserved events in the past.  This is historical science, also sometimes called origins science. The word science could also refer to a specific model of historical science, such as neo-Darwinism theory or Punctuated Equilibrium theory.

NOTE: Darwinism is a world view that relies upon a dogma of methodological naturalism (materialism) in the context of a doctrine of secular humanism.  Darwinism does not rely upon a foundation of operational science.  Darwinism relies upon historical science, or origins science which is not supported by operational science.

When any of these meanings are switched within a single argument, the result is the fallacy of equivocation.

Science has given us computers, medicine, and the space program. Isn’t it crazy that Christians dispute the science of [Darwinian] evolution?”

This argument conflates operational science with one particular model of origins science. Origins science lacks the testable or repeatable aspects of operational science.  The past can never be directly tested, nor repeated. Computers, medicine, and rockets are all an outworking of operational science. Clearly, the two cannot be equivocated as identical and doing so commits the fallacy of equivocation. By conflating operational science with Darwinian evolution, the arguer attempts to give Darwinism a credibility that it has not earned and does not deserve.

The word evolution has a number of meanings. It can mean “change over time” in a very general sense.  Can you think of anything at all that doesn’t change over time? The second law of thermodynamics alone dictates that all order tends toward disorder. Empirically speaking, a word that can mean anything at all ultimately means nothing.

Regardless, evolution can also refer to changes in the genome that occur over generations of offspring.  Darwinists call this micro-evolution.  Those not afflicted with Darwinism  call this phenomenon parents having children.

According to Darwinists, evolution can refer to the origin of the entire universe as in Cosmic Evolution also known as Big Bang theory.  According to Darwinists, evolution can refer to the origin of the stars as in Stellar Evolution. According to Darwinists, evolution can refer to the creation of heavier elements from lighter elements — something those not afflicted with Darwinism call Alchemy.  According to Darwinists, evolution can refer to rocks and dirt deciding to form a fully functioning living cell as in Prebiotic Molecular Evolution or Abiogenesissomething those not afflicted with Darwinism call utterly impossible.

Changes in the size and shape of finch beaks, bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics, speciation events such as one color of moth becoming more prevalent than another, the development of new breeds of dogs, and changes in allele frequency, and all kinds of adaptations are all cited by Darwinists as examples of evolution in action” though it would be far more accurate to list them as change over time.  Again, can you think of absolutely anything that doesn’t change over time?

And finally, according to Darwinists, the word evolution refers to the idea that all living organisms “evolved” from a single common ancestor. Darwinists call this macro-evolution in which you start with a single celled organism that sprang into existence entirely by random chance and you grow it up into trees, hummingbirds, salamanders, flowers, kangaroos, spiders, fish, algae, and politicians.

Darwinists famously conflate all of these meanings of evolution in the context of a single argument.  For example:

“Christians are wrong in thinking man didn’t come from monkeys, because we can see evolution happening all the time. Organisms constantly change and adapt to their environment.”

The fact that organisms change over time does not demonstrate that they evolved from a common ancestor in the Darwinist sense. Darwinists seem to think that by demonstrating evolution in the sense of “change over time,” that it therefore proves evolution in the sense of “common descent” ala Charles Darwin.  Not one single adaptation or speciation event demonstrates common descent.  None of them demonstrate that organisms share a common ancestor. Not a single one.

The Fallacy of Equivocation is ridiculously common in the Darwin v Creation debate and should be avoided in any reasoned debate.

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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