googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Loving God with our Minds: A Series in Logic. Part 6

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Loving God with our Minds: A Series in Logic. Part 6


The false dilemma is when a person presents only a few alternatives when more might exist. A textbook example of this is Richard Dawkins famous quote about creationists: 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).” This is a false dilemma because Mr. Dawkins left out still one other possible alternative – namely that creationists are correct.


Occasionally, critics will cite an anecdotal example as being representative of the whole. Kent Hovind, for example, is a young-earth creationist whose ministry was to debate evolutionists. He is a gifted speaker but he received his doctorate from a less-than-prestigious college. Later, he was convicted of not paying taxes and was sentenced to prison. He's not really representative of the modern creationist movement but you wouldn't know that from what critics say about him.

A website called, “The Sensuous Curmudgeon” posted an article titled, “Kent Hovind: Creationist Role Model.” Hmm, do you see how that might suggest that all creationists are like Hovind? The article details the personal problems of Hovind and ends by saying, Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Creationists.”


Sometimes in a debate, instead of using a reasoned argument, a person will appeal to some emotion in his audience. This can take several forms but they all fall under this one broad category. Here are some specific types of appeals to emotions:

Appeal to Consequences: The folks at the National Center for Science Education have been claiming for years that if we teach creation to kids, they will suffer academically and America will fall behind the rest of the world in scientific advancement. This claim is not only completely unfounded (see my post on this topic), it is also irrelevant. If something is true then it is true regardless of the consequences. Would the critic prefer we teach a lie because it is more socially beneficial?

Appeal to Fear: Sometimes a critic will portray his opponent's position as dangerous. “If these Christians have their way, we will return to the dark ages and the Inquisition!”

Appeal to Incredulity: This occurs when a critic doesn't explain exactly how his opponent is wrong but merely states how the idea seems far fetched. “Christians actually believe Jesus will appear in the sky someday and 'call them home.'”

Appeal to Motive: This is a type of ad homenim where the critic attempts to make the audience suspicious of his opponent by questioning his motives. “My opponent is very committed to the creation issue because he makes a lot of money selling books about creation.”

Appeal to Flattery: In a debate, a critic might try to flatter his audience in an attempt to win them over. “I know that most people listening tonight are intelligent and rational people. They will certainly see how my opponent is wrong.”

Loaded Words: This is a clever, rhetorical device where a critic will insert unflattering and emotionally charged words into his argument. “Creationists believe the ridiculous idea that God magically spoke the world into existence.”

Guilt by Association: Sometimes a critic will compare his opponent or his opponent's position to some unpopular person or group. A very common example of this is to say, “Hitler was a Christian.” It's funny how they never point out how Mother Theresa was a Christian. Besides that though, no large group is represented by a single member (see “hasty generalization”). To condemn Christianity based on the beliefs of Hitler would be as irrational as condemning evolution by saying, “Hitler believed in evolution.” If something is true, then it's true regardless of who might endorse it.

Wishful Thinking: Some people believe something is true simply because they want it to be true. An example of this might be a mother who says, “I know my son didn't commit this crime.” The mother might not really know it, she just really wants to believe he's innocent. In a discussion about Christianity, you might have heard someone say something like, “I know God will accept everyone into heaven.” Obviously, the person has no foundation for such a belief. It's merely wishful thinking.

Further Reading

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 7

Part 8

1 comment:

Steven J. said...

You might, really, try directing your "series in logic" towards your fellow creationists. What is "the only possibilities are (implicitly the author's idea of "Darwinian") evolution and (implicitly young-earth) creationism," that backbone of a thousand creationist tracts, except a false dilemma? What are quotes from 19th century racist creationists, except an appeal to hasty generalization?

Come to think of it, the entire "evolution is the basis of racism, communism, fascism, laissez-faire capitalism, sexism, gay marriage and reality television" argument (without which there'd barely be a creationist movement) is an argument from consequences (and demonstrably absurd, as well). The whole "without creationism there is no basis for morality" is an appeal to fear (and incorrect).

Appeals to incredulity ("goo to you by way of the zoo!") are, of course, hardly unknown in creationist literature, nor are appeals to motive ("people believe in evolution because they want to avoid accountability to God!"). And maybe it's just me, but "we know the truth because God has revealed it to us" has more than a hint of appeal to flattery in it (or have I confused it with "wishful thinking?").

And the last few times I saw the "Hitler was a Christian" argument, it was a direct response to the "Hitler was an evolutionist" argument (which is false, by the way).

Physician, heal thyself (or at least your fellow creationists). And yes, I know that tu quoque is, itself, a logical fallacy.

One more point: Richard Dawkins was presenting a tetralemma; dilemmas by definition present only two alternatives. And I don't think that Dawkins was trying to list all the logically possible alternatives, only the alternatives that he regarded as consistent with the actual evidence.