Critical Thinking: Fallacies from Relevance XVIII

Posted by Gregg on Jul 31, 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 Begging the Question. Begging the Question introduces irrelevancy into the argument because it does not introduce any new information.  Begging the Question merely reasserts the existing position (suppositions/assumptions) of the debater.

Fallacy of Begging the Question

A begging the question fallacy essentially occurs when the truth of the conclusion is presupposed by the premise(s). Very often, the conclusion is simply restated in the premise(s) in a slightly different form. In more difficult cases, the premise is a consequence of the conclusion. Begging the question is fallacious because it is arbitrary. Circular arguments are not useful in that anyone who denies the conclusion would also deny the premise — because the conclusion is pretty much the same as the premise.

The form of the Begging the Question argument is basically as follows:

  1. We assume that P is true…
  2. therefore we assume that P is true.

Examples are just as plentiful as they are arbitrary:

  • We know the politician was lying because his lips were moving.
  • We know that she is ugly because she looks so unattractive.
  • We know that the Bible is true because God wrote it and the Bible says God doesn’t lie.

A common example from the Darwin v Creation debate is the argument, “Darwinism is entirely true because it is a proven fact,” which begs the question and is fallacious because it is arbitrary, in that the arguer has simply assumes the point he is attempting to prove. Arbitrary assumptions are fallacious in logical argumentation and have no place in rational reasoning because they are arbitrary.  Someone arguing the other side could very easily assume the exact opposite and just as legitimately argue, “Darwinism cannot be proven true because it is entirely false.”

Likewise, all of the above arguments could be taken to task in a very arbitrary manner:

  • We know the politician was telling the truth because …
  • We know that you are attractive because …
  • We know that the Bible is not true because …

In other words, begging the question never adds anything to the debate.  There is no new information being offered in order to draw, perhaps, new or better informed conclusions.  Begging the question basically means the arguer is assuming that the point he is attempting to make is already proven true.  In the context of an argument, this is obviously not the case.  If this really were the case, then the point would not need to be argued in the first place.

“I can’t explain how life evolved on earth, so I concede that it is possible life evolved on some other planet first, then migrated to earth.”

In the above example, the arguer has acknowledged that there is no evidence that supports the Darwinian evolutionary model (abiogenesis, macro-evolution, etc.) on planet earth, but still assumes that life evolved via some Darwinian process — it just happened elsewhere.  The premise’s assumption is that Darwinian evolutionary processes are valid and the conclusion affirms the rather grand assumption contained in the premise.  Thus this argument fallaciously begs the question.

“Well, evolution obviously occurred, because life exists.”

This non-argument begs the question because the conclusion assumes the premise and vice-versa.  There is no new information added to the argument by either the the premise or the conclusion.  Arbitrarily, one could beg the question and argue, “Well, the scriptural account of Creation obviously occurred, because life exists.”  Such a claim has equal, if also arbitrary, validity.  If the argument is over HOW life came to exist, then the fact THAT life exists isn’t relevant to any conclusion.

The state of Texas passed a law that all information contained in public school textbooks must be factual.  As simple as such a law seemed on its face, it caused all biology textbooks in use throughout the state to be called into question.  It turned out that most textbooks in use were little more than propaganda for the pseudoscience of Darwinism and packed with opinion and assumption presented as fact. Entire chapters would have to be removed as simply not factual.  This resulted in one educator asking:

“If we remove all the [Darwinist inspired non-factual] evolution chapters  from all our school textbooks, what kind of information that teaches about evolution can we replace them with?”

I’m paraphrasing, but that is the gist.  The assumption of the speaker was that the Darwinist model of human evolution is entirely correct and should be replaced with more Darwinist non-science if some were removed.  Obviously, this commits the fallacy of begging the question.  As a sidebar, exactly what do unsupported guesses about unobserved events in the past that have never been observed to occur today and cannot be shown to be true via operational science — what does any of that have to do with the study living processes and life as it exists today which is what we used to call BIOLOGY?  In the absence of an agenda, why would 80% of every biology textbook need to be dedicated to historical or origins science, and specifically Darwinism, instead of life science?

Most circular reasoning also serves as examples of begging the question.

“The rock layers are a good scale by which to determine the age of the fossils which they contain, but the fossils  contained in various rock layers are an even better indication of the age of the rocks in which they are found.”

Methodological naturalism (aka: methodological materialism) is the assumption that nature is all that there is, ever was, or ever will be — that nothing exists other than the material — that therefore nothing else need be considered. Uniformitarianism is the assumption that present rates and processes are representative of past rates and processes.  So, by extrapolating from present rates of various earth processes, the arguer estimates how long it would take to build up or erode certain geological features or how long it would take for a radioisotope to decay, and how long it would take light to travel from here to there under “normal conditions,” and then assumes these estimates are entirely correct.

Darwinists constantly beg the question by assuming that everything must and therefore can be explained only via materialistic mechanisms, and by further assuming that there can be no intelligent designer and no supernatural explanation.  For example, all arguments for the earth being billions of years old instantly beg the question.

“Scripture teaches that the earth is mere thousands of years old, but we know the earth is billions of years old.”

All “billions of years” arguments are largely based on the assumptions of methodological naturalism with a gigantic dose of uniformitarianism.   Suppose that the speed of light hasn’t always been constant as has been demonstrated in more than one case.  Suppose that the rate of radioactive decay is affected by other factors such as gravity, as has also been shown via operational science.  In other words, begging the question about the age of the earth or the universe only ever leads to unreliable conclusions.

In the end, the Fallacy of Begging the Question uses biased language in place of reasoned, rational, logical argumentation without introducing new information into the argument and should be avoided in any 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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