Critical Thinking: Fallacies from Relevance XIX
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 the Question-Begging Epithet. The fallacy of the question-begging epithet is committed when an arguer tries to evoke an emotional response that is meant to persuade others of a point that is logically questionable.
Fallacy of the Question-Begging Epithet
Emotionally charged words have a place in debate. Obviously, even in debates language exists for purposes other than making logical, reasoned arguments. Sincere and heart felt vignettes that emphasize a point are perfectly acceptable — when they emphasize a well made point. The question-begging epithet fallacy occurs when emotionally charged empty words form the foundation of the argument.
Yelling or vulgar language during a debate is always an example of the question-begging epithet fallacy. Often, debaters will increase their vocal volume (shout down their opponent) to compensate for a lack of cogency in their argument. Many resort to mocking or vulgar language in debates and ironically think that this rhetoric constitutes a solid argument. Obviously, such emotionally charged language is an indication of a serious lack of critical thinking skills.
“If you don’t believe we evolved from apes, then you’re just stupid!”
When arguers rely upon empty words (“rhetoric”) to make their point(s) without providing a logical reason for their position such as evidence or facts, they have not put forth a logical argument. In fact, they are simply being arbitrary; and arbitrary arguments can always be reversed.
“Oh, yeah? Well, if you believe we evolved from apes, then you’re stupid!”
You can see how the fallacy of the question-begging epithet is entirely arbitrary by how easily it is reversed. Arbitrary arguments and their reversals are very popular at the elementary level. Obviously, neither adds anything substantive to the debate itself.
Darwinists are often and seriously emotionally committed to their secular position, and therefore may use biased or mocking language in an attempt to evoke similar emotions in others. However, even if the attempt is successful, it remains logically irrelevant to whether or not belief in Neo-Darwinism constitutes truth in any way.
It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).
Dr. Richard Dawkins PhD, Review of “Blueprints: Solving the Mystery of Evolution”
New York Times, April 9, 1989; section 7.
I hate to disagree with any Oxford professor, but I am willing to dispute this statement because it is obviously fallacious. Not only is it not “absolutely safe to say,” it is as a matter a fact an entirely arbitrary claim and merely committing the logical fallacy of the question-begging epithet.
The examples of the question-begging epithet on the part of Darwinists are nearly too numerous to list. It seems the default to couple words like “stupid” or “ignorant” with any words that describe believers in the Biblical account of creation. Examples of this can be found even in mainstream newspaper headlines in which journalists are allegedly dedicated to objectivity.
When describing those who believe in the Biblical account of creation, the words “Creationist” and “Creationism” as seen juxtaposed against (for example) “Darwin” or “Evolution” without also appending the “-ism” or “-ist” is itself a subtle epithet.
For example, Eugenie Scott, executive director of the rather ostentatiously and entirely misleadingly named “National Center for Science Education” (which would be more appropriately named the “National Center for the Advancement of the Neo-Darwinist Model of Evolutionary Theory” in my opinion), authored a book entitled “Evolution vs Creationism” that perfectly demonstrates this fallacious epithet. With the title itself constituting a logical fallacy, how many more logical fallacies do you anticipate one might find tucked away between the covers?
Instead of properly naming the book “Evolution vs Creation” or possibly “Evolutionists vs Creationists” or even an absolutely accurate and truthful title like “Neo-Darwinism vs Creationism” she chose specifically to pigeonhole believers in the Biblical account of creation as “-ists” who ascribe to an “-ism.” By attaching “-ism” to the end of “Creation” but leaving it off of “Evolution,” Scott attempts to subtly suggest that a Biblical understanding of Creation is some kind of faddish belief, whereas “Evolution” is something else. Yet Scott has made no argument to support this subtle suggestion. Thus the fallacy.
In the July 2002 issue of Scientific American magazine, editor John Rennie penned an article entitled “15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense” in which he caricatured believers in the Biblical account of creation first as “Creationists” then as if everything believers had to say was ignorant “nonsense,” all while feebly attempting to bolster the faltering theory of organic evolution using mainly the same old tired retreads of adaptation, speciation, and micro-evolution as well as 2 examples of really incorrect science.
While bullying tactics and name calling may intimidate a few detractors and impress some supporters, ultimately, it is still committing the logical fallacy of the question-begging epithet, and it has nothing to do with reasoned debate or argumentation. In the end, the Fallacy of the Question Begging Epithet uses biased language in place of reasoned, rational, logical argumentation without introducing new information into the argument and should be avoided in any debate.
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.
II Timothy 4:3-4 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
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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