Equivocation occurs when a person changes the meaning of a word in the middle of his argument. Here is an extreme example: The Bible says that Jesus rose from the dead; a rose is a flower; therefore, the Bible says that Jesus is a flower. Like I said, it's an extreme example but you see how it works. I changed the meaning of the word “rose” in the middle of my argument so even though both of my premises are true, my conclusion is false.
Evolutionists equivocate over the word “evolution.” In ordinary conversation, most people understand evolution to mean the changing of creatures from one kind to another over time (like a dinosaurs evolving into birds or apes evolving into people). Most people also understand “evolution” to mean the descent of all species from a common ancestor. However, scientists have a more technical meaning for the term evolution – namely that evolution is “any change in the frequency of alleles within a gene pool from one generation to the next.”
The problem is that evolutionists use the same term – evolution – to describe both change AND the descent of all life from a common ancestor. By doing this, they often use examples of one as evidence for the other. They seldom word it this way but their argument goes something like this: evolution is change, we see animals change, therefore evolution is true and all animals have a common ancestor.
Do you think I'm kidding? I'm sometimes accused of making straw men (see below). Look at this quote: “Biologists define evolution as a change in the gene pool of a population over time. One example is insects developing a resistance to pesticides over the period of a few years. Even most Creationists recognize that evolution at this level is a fact. What they don't appreciate is that this rate of evolution is all that is required to produce the diversity of all living things from a common ancestor.” (source)
In this quote, the folks at Talk Origin use one example of “evolution” (a change to insects' resistance to pesticides) and suggest it is all that is needed for “evolution” (the descent of all animals from a common ancestor).
Many times, when discussing the issue with creationists, an evolutionist will say something like, “How can you deny evolution? We see evolution happening all the time.” What he means to say is that we see animals changing. Of course, creationists don't deny that animals change. We do deny that dinosaurs have changed into birds or that apes have changed into people which are things we have never seen.
Evolutionists aren't careful about their use of the word evolution. I think they're happy for the confusion. In what is understood to be a discussion about common descent, evolutionists will constantly resort to examples of change. It's equivocation of the worst sort.
Another fallacy frequently employed by critics of the Bible is the straw man fallacy. In this fallacy, the critic doesn't address his opponent's argument directly. Instead, he creates a caricature of his opponent's argument and then attacks the caricature. In other words, he builds up a “straw man” that supposedly represents his opponent and then knocks down the straw man.
In apologetics, a typical example of this is when critics accuse Christians of taking the Bible “literally.” The critic might say something like, “My opponent believes every word in the Bible must be taken literally. I guess that means he believes trees have hands because Psalms says that the trees will clap their hands.” This criticism isn't accurate because I've never heard any Christian say that “every word in the Bible must be taken literally.” The Bible uses many literary devices like metaphor, simile, and personification. So the claim that any Christian takes every word in the Bible “literally” gives a false impression of what the Christian really believes. It's a false impression created by the critic. It's a “straw man” that the critic can then ridicule in order to make the Christian's position seem weak.
Here are some other examples of straw man fallacies that I've heard: “Creationists believe the Flintstones represent real history.” “Fundamental Christians believe we should stone gays and witches.” “The Bible teaches that women are second class citizens and treats them as property.” There are many others, of course.
In the course of any discussion, there are times when a person will try to “sum up” his opponent's position. I did so above when I said, “They seldom word it this way but their argument goes something like this...” Yet when this happens, there's a possibility that he's really creating a straw man. Don't let your critic characterize your position. Make your position plainly known and let the critic know he's being deceptive by creating a straw man of your argument.
I don't want to make this post too long but I wanted to discuss quote mining now. This is not one of the fallacious arguments that atheists use frequently (though they do use it occasionally), however, I bring it up for two reasons: First, it's a type of straw man so it would be natural to include it now. Second, evolutionists often accuse creationists of quote mining so I want to explain exactly what quote mining is since they seem to use the term incorrectly.
Quote mining is a type of straw man argument where a person's quote is taken out of context in order to make it seem like he believes something which he really doesn't. For example, someone could quote mine me here and say, “RKBentley once said that the Flintstones represent real history.” Even though I wrote those words above, I obviously don't believe it. It is a false impression of what I truly believe, thus it is a type of straw man.
Creationists are often accused of quote mining when we cite some secular scientist with whom we agree on some particular point. The secular scientists hate this because they loath creationists and so they claim we are misrepresenting what they said. The times I've seen this, I've never really suspected the creationist of misrepresenting the evolutionist.
One, very famous example is when creationists quote Gould about the lack of transitional forms in the fossil record. He said, for example, “An average species of fossil invertebrates lives five to ten million years (terrestrial vertebrates have shorter average durations). During this time, they rarely change in any fundamental way. They become extinct, without issue, looking much as they did when they first appeared.”
Gould, of course, believed in evolution. No one has ever claimed he was a closet creationist. However, he noticed that there is no clear progression of forms in the fossil record from one species to another (though he did recognize certain transitional forms at a more macro level). It is because of this lack of transitional forms that he came up with his theory of punctuated equilibrium. We quote him not because he believed in creation (because he didn't) but because we too have noticed the lack of transitional forms and have a different explanation for it. Therefore, Gould is sort of a hostile witness who sees the same evidence that we see even though he has a different interpretation of it. Therefore, when we talk about the lack of progression evident in the fossil record, we sometimes cite someone like Gould.
Quote mining only occurs when a quote is being misused to create a false impression of what the speaker truly believes. It is not appropriate to call every creationist's quote of an evolutionist a quote mine. I'm not sure if there is a technical term for mislabeling a logical fallacy. At the very least, we might say it's “crying wolf.”