Tag Archive | Fallacy

Project Logicality | the Argument from Personal Incredulity

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Here we discuss a common flaw in reasoning, the Argument from Personal Incredulity, a variation of the Argument from Ignorance. It involves denying or asserting a claim from the standpoint of a failure to accept, understand, or imagine said claim or it’s contrary.

It’s to impose one’s own cognitive horizons on reality, and like the Argument from Ignorance, pretend to a certain conclusion that one does not have the data or perspective to correctly make.

Reality is not limited, restricted or constrained by our willingness or ability to comprehend it, by what we can personally accept as true, simply because no positive conclusions are obtainable from missing evidence or a failure to generate strong or valid explanations.

Someone with a more active imagination or greater understanding may discover a way to conceive of and comprehend what we cannot. The Argument from Incredulity could be illustrated by way of example:

‘Evolutionists’ and Origin of Life researchers (effectively one and the same to creationists) claim that life arose and reached its present form over billions of years.
Being a human with a lifetime of only decades, I can’t wrap my mind around time-scales that immense, or comprehend life arising and evolving by blind, natural processes.
So I conclude that evolution is false, as the only alternative I know of, young-Earth creationism, is easier to understand and accept.

Or by this silly example…

I can’t imagine computers working without pixies transmitting the data in them…
So I believe pixies must be responsible for the operation of my Mac.

…or further, in this way…

I don’t understand the mathematics and theory behind the Big Bang, Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, and the simpler Electric Universe theory appeals more to my personal intuitions…
So orthodox astronomy and cosmology is wrong and my pet alternative cosmology is correct.

This fallacy has a minor variant of its own, the Appeal to Ridicule, in which the one making the argument attempts to portray a factual claim or statement as ludicrous, often with dishonest intent in order to influence others into disbelieving it, as is often the case with portrayals of the theory of evolution by creationists like Ray Comfort, Kirk Cameron, the late Duane Gish and Kent Hovind. The following is an example of the appeal to ridicule:

Scientists would have us believe that hydrogen, a colorless, odorless gas, given time, becomes stars, planets, animal and plant life, and ultimately, people.
Now, who in his right mind would believe anything so absurd?

…As is this:

Mainstream astronomers are always saying that most of the mass of the universe is locked up in some invisible, fairy-tale thing they call ‘dark matter,’ and the even more silly concepts of magic ‘dark energy’ and ‘inflation theory’ unicorns they need to prop up their failing model.
Therefore conventional cosmology is unbelievably comical, so my pet doctrine must be true because it’s more sensible and logical than the Big Bang with all that useless, abstract math it involves.

Never mind that no self-respecting unicorn would be caught dead in an argument like that…much less ‘inflation theory’ ones…

It is not an argument from incredulity to make more valid inferences, when what we know is complete enough that our ability to imagine or understand something applies to most reasonable situations, when the phrase ‘I can’t imagine this’ is just a figure of speech, as with this example:

We happen to know things about Quantum Mechanics that we have verified experimentally time and again…
We do not know anything of QM as it is currently understood that supports its use as a viable explanation for Psi, should Psi even truly exist as is claimed…
So I think that Psi, if it exists, cannot be adequately explained by QM.

The argument from incredulity is sometimes a tricky one to pick out, especially in one’s own arguments, as it is not always made in the form of a statement, but well worth the effort in recognizing to avoid being bamboozled in a debate, with or without creationists, electric universe proponents or parapsychologists as the opposition.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

(Updated as of 2017.06.06)

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Project Logicality | The Appeal to Nature

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This entry deals with an error in reasoning known as The Appeal to Nature, often confused with the Naturalistic Fallacy, and its reverse, the Moralistic Fallacy.

To keeps things short n’ simple, the Naturalistic Fallacy is the confusing of a statement of fact with a statement of subjective worth, a value judgment, an ought from an is, without sound justification, while the Moralistic Fallacy is the confusion of a value judgment with a statement of fact, an is from an ought with an equal lack of good reason.

Is does not by necessity imply Should be, nor does Should be imply Is.

Either of these is an informal fallacy.

The Appeal to Nature typically takes the form of an argument that because something is natural, and of similar use are the familiar marketing buzzwords organic and holistic it is therefore right, good, safe or better than something that is artificial or more efficiently produced, or because something is artificial, it is therefore implied to be inferior, undesirable, bad or wrong…

…For example:

  • Someone tripped over an invisible turtle and staved in his skull on a rock. It is therefore correct to assume that the natural causation (gravity, and impact with a large piece of rock, a naturally-occurring substance…) of the damage to his cranium means that the damage is therefore right or desirable, and should thus not be treated by a physician.

The above is perhaps an extreme example, and then there is the following:

  • Vitamin A, when artificial, is harmful to the body, though not when it is natural, in any arbitrary amount for either.

The above is fallacious because whether natural or synthetic, vitamin A is exactly the same molecule regardless of how or where it is produced, and whether it is safe or harmful depends entirely on the dosage.

Because these last two examples are concerned with the goodness/badness or rightness/wrongness of something based on its origins they also constitute variations of a genetic fallacy.

There are a great many things of completely natural origin that are nonetheless rather unsafe. A few are below:

  • Arsenic, Cadmium, and Uranium are three highly toxic natural elements…
  • There are the herbs Hemlock, Foxglove, and Belladonna
  • …in addition to all other animal, mineral, and plant toxins, such as the venom of certain species of trapdoor spiders, curare, rattlesnake venom, platypus venom, a huge host of poisonous fungi such as species Amanita muscaria

A common argument using this fallacy is the assertion that behaviors and practices “found in nature” are good or more desirable than modern behaviors, such as some of our more detrimental evolved social instincts being “right,” even though in our modern technological society they no longer convey the survival benefits they did to our ancestors on the plains of Africa, now that we are a global species. The following is one such argument…

  • Before we were a technological species we were one with the natural world, but soon we shall pay for our continuous crimes against nature. For every illness we’ve bought temporary respite from through modern medicine, another, more resistant strain takes its place. How long can we keep at our unnatural and invasive medical procedures, when all we are doing is living longer and longer and getting sicker and sicker with each new ‘advance’ in treatment. The only way we can be truly healthy is to return to our roots, to return to nature and relinquish the evils of science and technology.

First, humans have always been a technological species, and we’ve been that even before we were human.

Second, we were then mostly ignorant about the natural world, and saw the supernatural everywhere.

As a species that better understands Nature now than we once did, instead of attributing everything to mystical influences in our ignorance, praying and chanting to invisible and probably nonexistent spirits in invariably failed attempts to cure horrible illnesses, with that better understanding comes a closeness to nature unparalleled by our ancestors even a century ago.

We understand better how nature works, and our scientific and medical advances, limited though they may be in some areas, have given those with access to them greater health and quality of life, and the greater modern life-expectancy and standards of living are reliable indicators of this.

Those belonging to a typical middle-class family live longer and in greater luxury on the average than a medieval king, though perhaps with less gold stashed in the cellar.

Yes, scientific advances are a double-edged sword, but we can’t solve the problems brought about by knowledge by replacing it with ignorance. A problem caused by misuse of knowledge can only be remedied by the use of better knowledge than that which caused the original problem.

Have fun looking for this fallacy in everyday discussions and in the media, especially advertisements for questionable ‘food supplements’ and medical products using the previously mentioned buzzwords, products which tend more often than not to have a high price tag, at least in cash if not in possible health consequences.

Consider: Despite what mystics and quacks will tell you, it pays to be skeptical.

Project Logicality | Labeling Argument Strategies & The Fallacist’s Fallacy

There are many ways to argue deceptively or mistakenly, and often these ways involve logical fallacies–flaws in arguments that come in two general sorts, formal and informal.

The former are defects in structure, errors in the pattern of the argument that render it invalid, usually independent of the argument’s specific content.

The latter are often breaches of procedure rather than structure, attempts to thwart the goal of a critical discussion, often to merely ‘win’ the argument than to achieve better understanding, to obscure truth rather than reach it. Many informal fallacies are not always fallacious.

Fallacy theory is a complex subject, and not all logicians agree on the definitions I’ve just given, but that’s cool. Fallacies can be used to distract and mislead, or they can be used in reverse, in labeling argumentative strategies, to reduce their effectiveness by calling attention to them when abused.

In some debates, such labeling will be done fairly frequently, in others, more subtle counterstrategies will be used rather than explicitly pointing out the fallacies. In this case, knowing thine enemy and naming it is useful, subjecting the flawed argument to scrutiny, and lessening its sting.

But that is not enough. And it pays to not be a dick when debating.

To argue that naming a fallacy shows the claim of an argument false is to commit the fallacists’ fallacy, as it it entirely possible for an argument may be weak, its claims not following from the premises, but the claim made can still be correct despite the argument made for it.

It is also committing the fallacist’s fallacy to falsely accuse one’s opponent of arguing fallaciously, when a fair evaluation of their argument and its context would clearly show the argument valid. Context matters with argumentation!

So it is not enough merely to label an argument. In fact, it’s advised that you don’t, at least not in an arrogant manner. What’s needed is to use your knowledge of how the argument goes wrong to craft an even better counterargument, assuming that it’s even important enough to refute. Not all arguments are, as some may be simply ignored if not worth the time spent ‘attacking’ them.

There’s a military metaphor in that, an unfortunate artifact of the history of argumentation that has given the entire field of study a reputation for quarrelsomeness and bickering.

That’s especially the case with logical inconsistencies and outright contradictions. If two or more arguments work at cross-purposes, logically at least one of them must be rejected, but the natural human inclination is to throw them all out, as reflecting poorly on the arguer’s credibility and even resulting in loss of the argument.

Even fallacious arguments sometimes assert things that are true, being right for the wrong reasons, but they cannot reliably show those things to be the case. Logic alone proves nothing, even if the argument is formally or informally valid or uses strong inference.

For that, we need objective data as well.

We need the best evidence available to support our premises, which must not only be true, but which must also be acceptable, clear, relevant, as non-circular as possible, and as free from unwarranted assumptions and presumptions as can be had.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

Project Logicality | Arguing by Assumption – The Enthymeme

Many arguments we make in daily life are incompletely stated, and less than completely certain in both structured debates and in informal discussions.

Some such arguments are called Enthymemes, arguments in which one of the premises, or the conclusion, is not stated but implied and needed for the argument to follow.

Why leave these out?

It depends on the situation, and the shared understanding of those involved in the discussion.

Generally, one part of an argument may be unspoken because it’s assumed by both and doesn’t need to be stated. So these parts will need to be teased out by a third-party analyst of the argument to determine fully what is being argued.

This can be an intellectually honest form of argument, and I offer some examples here.

I’m using here standard form deductive syllogisms—conditionally certain three-part arguments with two premises and a conclusion—for ease of presentation. The first is a 1st order, or unstated major premise argument.

The Magna is a mutant.
So the Magna is radioactive.

With the major premise being:

All mutants are radioactive.

This one has a hidden minor premise, or 2nd order enthymeme structure.

Not giving the proper homage to the Nine Who are One will endanger all our lives.
So we should not fail to give proper homage to the Nine.

With the hidden premise given as:

The Nine would wish us to do that which preserves our lives.

Finally, we have one in which the conclusion is left unstated, of the 3rd order:

We must deal ruthlessly with all freakishly powerful threats.
The Mirus is a freakishly powerful threat.

It’s not hard to see where this one will go… The conclusion, though unstated, should be obvious.

In some situations this sort of argument is less than intellectually honest, when the assumptions are NOT shared, or need to be fully expressed, this may be used to obscure matters as a rhetorical fallacy, as a tactic that hides the meaning of an argument and makes misdirection and confusion easy.

This happens when the aim intended, or not avoided, is thwarting honest critical discussion. I’ll provide an example of this as a fallacy, this one from a hypothetical creationism/evolution debate in which the major premise is obscured:

No fossil meeting my (impossible to satisfy) criterion as a transitional form has ever been found,
So there are no transitional fossils, so evolution is false.

But here is the missing major premise, NOT shared or expressed, and assumed only by the creationist:

To count as transitional, a fossil must be an impossible, half-formed monstrosity combining unlikely features of dissimilar species or ‘kinds,’ like a lizard/bird hybrid with incomplete, useless wings… (or the supposedly impossible ‘crocoduck,’ AKA, dinosaur genus Spinosaurus)

‘Enthymeme’ has also been used to refer to probabilistic arguments, such as those used in inductive logic or in much informal logic with language inextricably bound up with an argument’s content, with the conclusion following from the premises more or less strongly depending on the audience.

One such claim may be “Present-day Continental philosophy is not credible,” which could elicit different responses and have differing levels of credibility depending on the chosen philosophical schools of those hearing or reading it.

As can be seen, some of the very same sort of statements used in ordinary argumentation can be fallacies, and indeed, when informal, their fallacious nature depends on their misuse as argument strategies, not so much the the structure of the argument but more often violations of procedure.

Many informal fallacies are not always such, but even otherwise effective arguments, when they are put to specious use, are pure argumentative poison no matter their rational structure.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

(Updated, Links Removed, Image Added on 2017.06.06)

Project Logicality | Reducing to Absurdity

What happens when we carry a train of reasoning to its ultimate extreme, far past the reaches of sanity to the realm of the patently absurd? Here, we discuss such an argument in informal logic, borrowed from formal mathematical reasoning, and here known as the Reductio ad Absurdum.

In formal logic it may be used to show an argument’s claim to be false by following it to its ultimate logical conclusion, revealing a contradiction, an absurdity, or it may be used as a form of Straw-Man argument, known here as the False Reductio. I’ll deal first with the latter.

This works by forcing a conclusion that while absurd, doesn’t use the actual reasoning of the original argument, such as:

If you’re skeptical of the existence of UFOs, Bigfoot, and ancient aliens, then you must also be skeptical of the existence of the Taj Mahal, the Sydney Opera House, and the Empire State Building, since you’ve never been there to see those places.

This is fallacious because the proportional nature of the claims requires proportional standards of evidence. The criteria for each differ, and the argument itself ignores the use of evidence other than anecdotal testimony and grainy, low-resolution, or obviously photoshopped videos and photos.

Here is one of my favorites:

If you don’t believe in psychic abilities then you also disbelieve in dark matter and dark energy, so 90% of the Universe does not exist to you because you haven’t seen those either.

Again with ignoring evidence other than personally witnessing something. Also, it fails to consider the fact that though there is some question as to what dark matter and dark energy are, they have been reliably observed by their effects on the visible universe itself, and the evidence shows that they are real. Clearly, elusive supernormal psychic abilities and invisible but indirectly observable astrophysical phenomena are not analogous.

But all is not without a ray of light in the dark. There is an informally valid and intellectually honest use of this as well, to highlight the fallaciousness of some extraordinary claims. Here, the actual train of logic of the original argument is kept intact.

Here are a couple of silly claims I’ve come across:

The ancient Egyptians could not have built the pyramids without alien or Atlantean help. They were far too primitive a civilization.

 

In order to know what a human skeleton looks like, the Maya and Aztecs must have been given X-ray machines by ancient astronauts.

Such claims reek not only of thinly disguised racism and colonialist arrogance, but stupidity and historical shortsightedness as well. Typical of most of the claims of pseudo-archaeology, especially where ancient non-whites are not given due credit for their accomplishments.

And skeletons? Come on, that’s just silly!

Meh!

Here, we may apply the same train of logic to what the proponents of these ideas, mostly whites of Western descent, dare not apply it to: historical Europeans:

How could the Medievals possibly have had the intelligence to invent such marvels as the crossbow, stained glass windows, steel armor and weapons, and those massive cathedrals! They had to get their technology from aliens, because they were too inept to come up with them on their own! They must have gotten medical imaging technology from the aliens too, because Medieval art has lots of skeletons in it, and how could they have possibly known what those looked like without using it?

Absurd? Clearly it is, and in retaining as closely as can be the reasoning of the original applied to another subject, it shows that.

A side note: Technology is cumulative, and evolves over time, with earlier, precursor technologies leading to better, more advanced ones, with archaeological remnants to show this progression, no matter the location, or ethnic and cultural makeup of the civilization. This is true even dating as far back as the Paleolithic with stone tools.

Never underestimate human genius. There exists brilliance in every human era, with no need to gift early peoples with technology from super-civilizations for such tasks as constructing even impressive monuments, which require only engineering, tools, and social organization which we know they had, as opposed to the claims of pseudo-historians in massive, and dare I say, monumental, arguments from ignorance.

But I digress.

Reason is a tool. Use it well and it will serve you reliably, leading to the acquisition of more true conclusions than false ones. But abuse it, and the content of the claims you accept and promote becomes much more prone to error. Especially when you misrepresent the chain of another’s reasoning for ideological ends.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

(Last Update: 2017.06.06)

Project Logicality | Slippery Slopes & False Continua

Are chains of causation inexorable and dire? Does a continuum between extremes mean that neither extreme differs, or that one of those extremes doesn’t exist?

Here, we’ll discuss the Slippery Slope, and the two False Continua, similar arguments though representing causal and semantic versions respectively.

But first I’ll deal with its causal version, the Fallacy of the Beard, also the Camel’s Nose fallacy. The first name comes from an analogy with the greying of a man’s beard, in which the amount of grey is small at first, but inevitably progresses until the entire beard is grey. The second name comes from a fable in which a camel is permitted by its owner to stick its nose in the tent for warmth from the cold desert night air, quickly followed by the entire camel, who crowds its owner out of the tent and into the cold.

The slippery slope asserts that a position or claim is unacceptable because if accepted, its worst extreme must inevitably follow, without sound reasons as to how or why this must be.

It’s a fallacy that’s both committed and labels itself as an argument strategy at the same time, with the use of such opening phrases as “It’s a slippery slope if…” or “It sets a bad precedent when…” and so on.

A superficially similar form of argument can be a strong line of reasoning when the chain of inference is laid out and each link logically follows, but the fallacy refers to the specious usage, as below:

The public teaching of comparative religion leads to awareness of religious diversity, then to religious doubt, then to agnosticism, then to atheism, then to anti-theism, then to nihilism, then to moral degeneracy, then inevitably to the disintegration of a society in total anarchy, so we don’t want comparative religion courses taught in our public schools.

Beside the fact that the evidence just doesn’t bear this ridiculous chain of consequences out, note here that no supporting reasons or other justification are ever provided as to why this chain must be true.

The Vagueness, or False Continuum, is below, used in two ways:

One version attempts to argue that concepts B and E shade into each other along a continuum without any fine dividing line between them, so they are the same thing, that no distinction exists.

But it just doesn’t follow that:

There is no difference between blue light and yellow light, despite no sharp dividing point in wavelengths in the visible spectrum.

Nor does it follow that:

There is no separation between humid or dry weather when the moisture in the air at any one time and place varies in degree from high to low.

The second variant is used to argue that concept B differs so little from concept E with no fine line between them, that concept E simply doesn’t exist. As for this one, it doesn’t follow that:

Truth doesn’t exist because of the continuum between truth and falsehood. The concept of truth is without any objective reference. It’s all falsehood, and we don’t know a thing!

These two fallacies, causal and semantic, are distinct, but they are mentioned together here as the use of the semantic version can and does often lead to the commission of the causal version. Their joint use implies that a slip from position or claim B to E is inevitable because of the lack of a fine point of separation between them.

The tricky thing about fallacies like these, often used by postmodernists and political buffs with conspiratorial leanings, is that they are common in social discourse, especially in academic settings like the Humanities, and oddly hard to recognize as specious while committing them oneself.

Learn to note them, and picking them out reliably becomes easier with practice, even to avoiding the temptation to use them in your own arguments, which is always a plus.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

(Last Update 2017.06.06)

Project Logicality | Reducing to Absurdity

What happens when we carry a train of reasoning to its ultimate extreme, far past the reaches of sanity to the realm of the patently absurd? Here, we discuss such an argument in informal logic, borrowed from formal mathematical reasoning, and here known as the Reductio ad Absurdum.

In formal logic it may be used to show an argument’s claim to be false by following it to its ultimate logical conclusion, revealing a contradiction, an absurdity, or it may be used as a form of Straw-Man argument, known here as the False Reductio. I’ll deal first with the latter.

This works by forcing a conclusion that while absurd, doesn’t use the actual reasoning of the original argument, such as:

If you’re skeptical of the existence of UFOs, Bigfoot, and ancient aliens, then you must also be skeptical of the existence of the Taj Mahal, the Sydney Opera House, and the Empire State Building, since you’ve never been there to see those places.

This is fallacious because the proportional nature of the claims requires proportional standards of evidence. The criteria for each differ, and the argument itself ignores the use of evidence other than anecdotal testimony and grainy, low-resolution, or obviously photoshopped videos and photos.

Here is one of my favorites:

If you don’t believe in psychic abilities then you also disbelieve in dark matter and dark energy, so 90% of the Universe does not exist to you because you haven’t seen those either.

Again with ignoring evidence other than personally witnessing something. Also, it fails to consider the fact that though there is some question as to what dark matter and dark energy are, they have been reliably observed by their effects on the visible universe itself, and the evidence shows that they are real. Clearly, elusive supernormal psychic abilities and invisible but indirectly observable astrophysical phenomena are not analogous.

But all is not without a ray of light in the dark. There is an informally valid and intellectually honest use of this as well, to highlight the fallaciousness of some extraordinary claims. Here, the actual train of logic of the original argument is kept intact.

Here are a couple of silly claims I’ve come across:

The ancient Egyptians could not have built the pyramids without alien or Atlantean help. They were far too primitive a civilization.

 

In order to know what a human skeleton looks like, the Maya and Aztecs must have been given X-ray machines by ancient astronauts.

Such claims reek not only of thinly disguised racism and colonialist arrogance, but stupidity and historical shortsightedness as well. Typical of most of the claims of pseudo-archaeology, especially where ancient non-whites are not given due credit for their accomplishments.

And skeletons? Come on, that’s just silly!

Meh!

Here, we may apply the same train of logic to what the proponents of these ideas, mostly whites of Western descent, dare not apply it to: historical Europeans:

How could the Medievals possibly have had the intelligence to invent such marvels as the crossbow, stained glass windows, steel armor and weapons, and those massive cathedrals! They had to get their technology from aliens, because they were too inept to come up with them on their own! They must have gotten medical imaging technology from the aliens too, because Medieval art has lots of skeletons in it, and how could they have possibly known what those looked like without using it?

Absurd? Clearly it is, and in retaining as closely as can be the reasoning of the original applied to another subject, it shows that.

A side note: Technology is cumulative, and evolves over time, with earlier, precursor technologies leading to better, more advanced ones, with archaeological remnants to show this progression, no matter the location, or ethnic and cultural makeup of the civilization. This is true even dating as far back as the Paleolithic with stone tools.

Never underestimate human genius. There exists brilliance in every human era, with no need to gift early peoples with technology from super-civilizations for such tasks as constructing even impressive monuments, which require only engineering, tools, and social organization which we know they had, as opposed to the claims of pseudo-historians in massive, and dare I say, monumental, arguments from ignorance.

But I digress.

Reason is a tool. Use it well and it will serve you reliably, leading to the acquisition of more true conclusions than false ones. But abuse it, and the content of the claims you accept and promote becomes much more prone to error. Especially when you misrepresent the chain of another’s reasoning for ideological ends.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

(Last Update: 2017.06.06)