Project Logicality | Begging the Question & Other Fun Forms of Specious Reasoning

Picking out logical fallacies can be fun, so here are a few more to add to your critical thinking arsenal, all while considering, as per Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, that “logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end.”

Begging the Question…

…additionally known as assuming the answer, a form of circular reasoning.

As an informal argument, this is borrows from the form of a tautology. It’s a common fallacy, in particular involving arguments which the conclusion of the argument is one of its own premises, or one of the reasons given to support it.

With this fallacy, in claims of fact rather than its use in pure mathematics or symbolic logic, where this form of argument can be valid if trivially true, the premise assumes the conclusion’s proof when this is the very thing that needs demonstrating, especially in arguments where the conclusion is in some way controversial or otherwise uncertain.

I’ve heard that this house is haunted, and I saw a ghost last week when I was drifting off to sleep, so this house must be really haunted.

Psi abilities are a significant deviation from the laws of chance, so any significant deviation from the laws of chance must mean that psi is at work.

The uncanny precision of the fine-tuning of universal constants that allow life to exist requires the work of an intelligent agency to perform the fine-tuning, therefore an intelligent agency fine-tuned the universe.

My eldritch alien gods speak directly to me when I read Their Unholy Word, since Their Unholy Word states that They speak directly to me when I read it.

Of course Cthulhu will eat his brain if he reads that dangerous book, because if it wasn’t dangerous, Cthulhu wouldn’t eat his brain for reading it!

Use of the phrase ‘begging the question’ in ordinary language isn’t a fallacy as long as no argument is being made, in the usage of ‘questions that beg for answers.’

Next in line we have…

…The Straw Man Argument:

This is an often-encountered and generally rude flaw in arguments, from discussions to formal debates, though more conducive to annoying and heated quarrels than constructive dialogue, it’s both common and well-known as a red-herring strategy.

It’s most often appreciated by those who intentionally use it, for this fallacy is incredibly easy to carry out.

A quick and easy way to appear to win a debate is to deliberately misrepresent the opposing position, especially by distorting it to make it look ridiculous or weak and easily refuted to the target audience.

Once this is done, the user can argue against the misrepresented position and claim that the opponent’s actual argument has been defeated.

A straw man is an informal fallacy and often intended to avoid or distract from the real argument instead of actually addressing the position actually taken. For this reason it’s always an unsound and dishonest form of argument.

Included in this fallacy are such tactics as intentionally misdefining words, such as the following, the first misdefining the word ‘religion’:

“Global Warming is a religion, and policies concerning it shouldn’t be undertaken by the Federal government…”

Misdefining ‘Gravity’ and ‘theory’ and ‘fact’ to declare that:

“Gravity is not a fact, just a theory,”

Putting words into one’s opponent’s mouth, and that all-time favorite of ideological apologists of all mutant strains, quoting one’s opponent out of context or completely fabricating a quote, which is then an argument from quotation.

Straw man arguments are often committed unintentionally, out of a genuine misunderstanding of the actual position, so it is important to actually understand an argument before offering a rebuttal.

Believing that you understand an opponent’s position when you really don’t is what psychologist Ray Hyman has referred to as a Type III cognitive error. Needless to say, this is something to be avoided.

A few more examples of this fallacy are below:

If humans came from apes, then why are there still apes? (The question is much like “If children come from adults, why are there still adults?”)

“Evolution teaches that energy, such as heat or light, plus matter, eventually becomes new life.”

Mainstream cosmologists ignore any evidence that doesn’t fit their preconceived beliefs and deny that there is an electromagnetic causation for anything in space.

This fallacy may take its name from the idea of two individuals being at odds, whereupon one builds a straw effigy of his foe, and destroying it, claims to have vanquished his actual opponent…

…but sources vary, and another likely origin for the term is the use of straw target dummies used by some military training camps for bayonet and combat knife practice by recruits, effigies that crudely simulate a live but immobile opponent for the purpose of repeated poking with sharp objects and other pointy things.

It is committing a straw man to falsely claim that your opponent is committing a straw man, when actually countering the original argument using its own definitions and in context.

And then there is…

…Shifting the Burden of Proof:

This is one of the more common intellectual strategies of anti-science contrarians, also called the negative proof fallacy.

The intent is to attempt to shift the burden of proof for a claim away from oneself, and onto the critics, arguing that said critics must prove that the pet claim in question isn’t true, or to demand proof to an impossible standard of evidence that a widely accepted and otherwise well-supported theory is true. This last use is also a moving goalpost fallacy.

This is a fallacy because of a principle in science known as the null hypothesis, which demands that the burden of proof falls upon the party making a claim of fact that has yet to be established, not the claim’s critics.

Simply put, it demands that ‘Any new idea is to be considered probably untrue until it is tested and demonstrated true beyond the doubt of a reasonable person exercising sensible judgment.’

This applies to all new theories, and any theory passing this gauntlet will become accepted by the scientific community at large, despite what you may hear from cranks. Any theory not passing this requirement is then relegated to the intellectual garbage heap of failed ideas.

Also, It isn’t possible to prove a universal negative when it comes to something existing, to prove absolutely that something isn’t real with a finite data set. You can move the probability of something existing ever closer to zero, but never quite there.

Nor is it possible to prove anything absolutely and forever true regarding facts of the real world with finite information. Facts change over time, after all.

Repeatable phenomena can only be demonstrated beyond a rational doubt, which is really all that is needed in science.

Unfortunately, not all doubt is rational, thus leading to the commission of this fallacy by proponents of pseudoscience, who insist that critics explain away all of the data, to their satisfaction or demand that the critics explain absolutely any perceived ‘anomaly’ in a standard theory, such as evolution, relativity, quantum mechanics or such, again to a standard that cannot be met, claiming that if it is not, that the standard theory is ‘in crisis’ or ‘on shaky ground.’

It’s just a rhetorical stunt, and any attempt to shift the burden of proof in these ways should simply be met with a refusal to comply with this tactic, and a firm reminder of on whom the burden actually rests. It’s most often used when the proponent of a theory has no real positive evidence in favor of his own idea, which is usually the case in pseudoscience.

And finally…

…The Tu Quoque Argument:

Tu Quoque is a Latin term, for the “you too” fallacy. It is a type of ad hominem in which one attempts to justify wrong doing by accusing one opponent of hypocritically doing the same. This is a fallacy because two wrongs do not make a right! It’s dismissing an argument without actually addressing it, by attacking the one argued with rather than the argument.

A few examples follow:

Why should I accept your contention that global warming is real, and at least partly caused by human beings, when you drive a gas-guzzling RV of the same make and model as mine? Your argument is bogus!

Or another…

I do not feel compelled to hold free elections in this country to restore peace when your followers in the opposition party commit just as much violence against my militia and others of my own tribe as you claim mine do!

A third comes to mind…

Your argument that the evidence for psi is not sufficiently robust to establish it’s reality carries no weight when your organization launches scathing personal attacks against my institute’s staff in response to our criticism of your blind materialistic ideology.

While you probably won’t spontaneously develop pointed ears, arched eyebrows or a black goatee, familiarizing yourself with bad reasoning can make it easier to identify it in oneself even without being a member of the Evil Spock School of Logic.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

2 thoughts on “Project Logicality | Begging the Question & Other Fun Forms of Specious Reasoning

  1. Pingback: What is the best way to travel out of solar system? | world travel tours

  2. Pingback: Thursday 13: Confessions, volume VII, the political edition

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