Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Exploring Logical Fallacies

Logical Fallacy. There are two words to this concept; logic and fallacy. Let us first define what those are using the Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language (1983, because that is what I have on hand).

Logic: log-ic (loj′ik), n. 1. the science which investigates the principles governing correct or reliable inferences. 2. a particular method of reasoning or argumentation: We were unable to follow his logic. 3. the system or principles of reasoning applicable to any branch of knowledge or study. 4. reason or sound judgment, as in utterances or actions: There wasn't much logic in her move. 5. convincing forcefulness: the irresistible logic of facts.

Logical: (loj′i kəl), adj. 1. according to or agreeing with the principles of logic: a logical inference. 2. reasoning in accordance with the principles of logic, as a person, the mind, etc.: a logical man; logical thinking. 3. reasonable; reasonably to be expected: War was the logical consequence of such threats. 4. of or pertaining to logic.

Fail: (fāl) 1. to fall short of success or achievement in something expected, attempted, desired, or approved: The experiment failed. 2. to receive less than the passing grade or mark in an examination, class, or course of study: He failed in history. 3. to be or become deficient or lacking; fall short; be insufficient or absent: Our supplies failed.

Fallacious: fal-la-cious (fə lā′shəs) 1. deceptive; misleading: fallacious testimony. 2. containing a fallacy; logically unsound: fallacious arguments. 3. disappointing; delusive: a fallacious peace.

Fallacy: (fal′ā sē), n., pl. -cies. 1. a deceptive, misleading, or false notion, belief, etc.: That the world is flat was at one time a popular fallacy. 2. a misleading or unsound argument. 3. deceptive, misleading, or false nature; erroneousness: the fallacy of our trust in such methods was soon apparent. 4. Logic. any of various types of erroneous reasoning that render arguments logically unsound. 5. Obs. deception.

Now, put all that together into one phrase: logical fallacy. In my own words, it is a self-refuting statement. Here are some others:


* A logical fallacy is an element of an argument that is flawed, essentially rendering the line of reasoning, if not the entire argument, invalid.


  • a fallacy is a misconception resulting from incorrect reasoning in argumentation.


  • Clearly defined error in reasoning used to support or refute an argument, excluding simple unintended mistakes.
  • A mistake in reasoning
  • Logical fallacy is an incorrect conclusion derived from faulty reasoning. See also post hoc, ergo propter hoc and non sequitur.

So, now that we have reasonably established what a logical fallacy is, why is it a bad thing to use in an argument? Quite simply, if you use a logical fallacy to support an argument, you are using a weak foundation that fails and your argument has no logical foundation, no standing, no grounds, etc.; it only serves to discredit you and remove yourself from serious consideration on the topic. Logical fallacies ruin the one using them, and everyone else will just point and laugh-depending on the crowd, of course: most might just laugh. Because logical fallacies are failures of logic, you do not have to actually know the name of the specific logical fallacy being used in order to fall into their trap. It is, first and foremost, a failure of logic.

Here are some of the most common with definitions from all over the place:

Straw Man

  • A misrepresentation of an opponent's position
  • A fallacy in which an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue. The basic idea is to "win" an argument by leading attention away from the argument and to another topic.

  • Person 1 has position A
  • Person 2 doesn't agree in part or in full with position A, but then presents a superficially-similar position B.
  • Person 2 attacks position B, declaring that position A is therefore false/incorrect/flawed.

Example: "Evolution means a dog giving birth to a cat."

Example: "Evolution says everything came from nothing."

Ad Hominem

  • Attacking the person rather than the argument.
  • Using irrelevant personal distractions about the presenter to avoid the argument.

  • Person 1 makes claim X
  • Person 2 says/creates something objectionable about Person 1
  • Therefore claim X is false

Example: "You are fat, therefore you are wrong about the heliocentric model of the solar system."

Example: "You must be a Cheeto loving slob living in your mother's basement."

This argument is close to a Red Herring, which is another diversionary tactic.

This fallacy does not mean people are free from being offended. The failure of logic is in attacking something personal rather than the argument because the physical condition of the presenter has nothing to do with the intellectual argument. This fallacy does not take effect unless an insult IS the intended refutation of the argument presented. If a logical argument is presented to refute the initial argument, this fallacy does not apply to any additional insults that are not part of the argument itself: that is called being rude or belligerent.

False Dichotomy / False Dilemma / Either-Or Fallacy

  • Asserting there are only two answers to a question which, in fact, there are many more.

  • Person 1 makes a statement or question in which only alternative A or B is offered.
  • Person 1 ignores solution C through Z.

This is also known as a Morton's Fork: a choice between two equally unpleasant options.

Fun fact: An opposite of Morton's Fork is the Buridan's Ass paradox.

Example: "If you are not with us, then you are against us."

Example: "Are you a Christian or an Atheist?"

Example: "If you dont follow Christ, then you believe everything came from nothing!"

Shifting the Burden of Proof

  • Placing the responsibility for validating a position on the wrong party.

In debate, the one who makes the positive claim must validate their position. If someone states their position as fact, they must validate that position. A common misconception is that non-believers must validate their own argument before the believer is supposed to validate their argument. This is generally not the case for the main reason that non-belief in a god is not a factual statement of denial of a god, but a statement of opinion in the lack of belief of a god. It is also impossible to directly prove a negative statement. This goes to the very definition of "atheist" vs "theist.

If someone defines "atheist" as a denial of a specific god, then they must show a definition of "theist" to be a positive belief in that specific god the anti-statement denies. Such a relationship does not exist. If the non-believer makes a factual statement about the non-existence of a specific entity, THEN they have the burden of proof to validate their statement.

The most common position is: "God is real." This must be validated before it can be accepted as truthful. There has yet to be any irrefutable validation for any god(s)/system of gods yet to be presented for the last several thousand years over the many thousands of gods in human culture.

When a factual statement is presented, it is not the responsibility of the opponents of that statement to prove it is not factual. When such a statement is presented, those supporting the statement have the responsibility to prove it is true.

A common tactic from non-believers is to first get the believer to identify specific beliefs they have/rely on to be accurate representations of their religion. Once those specifics are identified, the debate/argument can proceed. Without specifics, there is little to no possibility of satisfactory debate. Religious statements and debates will often substitute words, like "God", to mean the accepted representation of which ever culture the debate happens to be in/about. In the USA, this is most often assumed to be the Christian god. As there are 30,000 some different sects/divisions of the Christian faith, specifics must be defined for rational debate.

"God is real."
"I don't believe in your god."
"You must prove God doesn't exist."

"You can't prove god doesn't exist, therefore he exists."

"The Flying Spaghetti Monster put monkeys in Neptune's core."
"I don't believe that."
"Prove the FSM didn't."

Argument from Authority / Appeal to Authority

  • Asserting that an argument is true because another individual who is regarded as authoritative said so.

  • Person 1 says A is true.
  • Person 1 is authoritative.
  • Therefore, A is true.

This fallacy is used quite often. If someone makes a statement about a field of study or situation well outside of their own understanding or familiarity, their status in unrelated fields has no bearing on the validity on that statement. Clergy have little or no credibility on the subject of Evolution or Quantum Mechanics if they havn't actually studied it. Biologists have little or no credibility on theology if they havn't actually studied it. A seventeen year old minor who proclaims to be a "good Christian" is not an authority on Evolution. A fifty year old retired car salesmen is not an authority on Photolithography.

Biologists ARE an authority on biology. Clergy ARE an authority on their specific religion.

Example: "My parents said so, so it must be true."

Example: "My priest said it was true, therefore it must be true."

Example: "Pat Robertson said the Haiti earthquake was due to a deal with the devil by the Haitians, therefore it is true."

Argument from Popularity / Ad Populum

  • Asserting that something is true because many, most, or all people appear to believe it is true.

  • Lots of people are doing it, therefore it must be good/true.

This is also known as: appeal to the masses, appeal to belief, appeal to the majority, appeal to the people, argument by consensus, authority of the many, bandwagon fallacy, argumentum ad numerum.

The old refutation of this kind of argument asks the person if they would join their fellows in jumping off of a cliff to fall to their death.

Another refutation is to ask the person what they would believe at a certain point in history, and place emphasis on the reason they would believe, knowing how absurd some of them are considered to be today. At one point in our history, we believed the world was flat but that didn't have anything to do with changing reality. We once believed demons caused illness, but again that didn't have anything to do with reality. The point is to ask the person if they would be a "sheep" and follow the crowd because everyone was flocking in a certain direction, or would they accept or follow something else based on intelligent reasons.

Example: "Most of the world believes in religion, therefore there must be a god."

Example: "Everyone else is doing it."

God of the Gaps / Argument from Ignorance

  • An argument that asserts the divine hand of a god into a current gap of scientific knowledge.
  • Asserting the lack of a mundane explanation must prove supernatural intervention.

  • Person 1 points to A and claims their god is responsible.
  • Person 2 shows the naturalistic evidence that explains A.
  • Person 1 points again to a specific aspect of A, claiming B is the work of their god.
  • Person 2 shows the naturalistic evidence that explains B.
  • Person 1 continues searching the gaps in modern science.

  • It cannot be shown that A is true
  • Therefore A is not true

  • It cannot be shown that A is NOT true
  • Therefore A is true

This is most easily defeated by pointing out the obvious: just because there isn't a natural explanation does not prove there is no natural explanation.

This is related to the Moving the Goal Posts fallacy, in which the defender of a position continues to demand different or more complex answers in order to be satisfied. The problem with this is that the goal posts will continue to be moved: the statement or problem sets the person up to fail. This is most often recognized by someone asking for "transitional fossils" or asserting that the "missing link hasn't been found". This stance is most often intentionally dishonest because the real issue is about faith. Faith does not require evidence because it is, by definition, not required, and any evidence presented simply doesn't matter. This begs the question: why bother with what is obviously a rhetorical statement in the first place, then?

Gods were used to explain natural events, like lightening or earthquakes or rough seas. The phenomena that is responsible has been understood. Advocates of a god shift their "proof" to the fringe of our understanding every time a new scientific revelation is founded.

Gods used to be titanic creatures roaming the world, influencing everything we see around us. Now, some will say the god(s) are the force that binds atoms together. The supposed power and observable influence of gods have continued to shrink through the centuries in correlation with our ability to understand more and more about our reality.

Circular Logic / Circular Reasoning / Begging the Question / Fallacy of Redundancy

  • Stating that the consequence of a phenomena is also its cause.
  • An argument that uses its conclusion as one of its premises

While not as common, there are individuals who use this kind of logic to support their belief in a god. See the second example.

"Circular reasoning works because circular reasoning works because..."

"Is there a God?"
"How do you know?"
"Because the Bible says so."
"How do you know the Bible is correct?"
"Because it was inspired by God."

Special Pleading

  • Rejecting a premise or set of rules that would apply, without justification.
  • Exception to generally accepted rules without justifying the exemption.

This comes close to a double standard, or the famous "just because" or "because I said so" excuse. This is a failure of logic because there is no reasonable justification for the resistance to the exemption that would normally be applicable.

"Everything must have a cause, and God was the initial first cause."
"What caused god?"
"God doesn't need a cause."

Cherry Picking / Quote Mining

  • Citing or reporting specific data to support a claim which ignores a larger scope of the data that may refute that claim.
  • Taking something out of context and making a false representation out of it.

This is a very deceptive and intellectually dishonest tactic that basically, and knowingly, lies in order to make an attempt at convincing someone else.

"Even Darwin admitted the eye was too complex in the first sentence of this paragraph!"
"Read the rest of the paragraph, and those that follow, and you will realize he says quite the opposite."

Argumentum Ad nauseam / Argument From Repetition / Argumentum Ad Infinitum

  • Repeating the same thing over and over until the opponent gives up

No matter how many times someone repeats a statement, it does not have any relation to the factual nature of that statement.

Person 1 "God is real."
Person 2 "I dont see any evidence to support that claim."
Person 1 "God is real."
Person 2 "Can you prove it?"
Person 1 "God is real."







Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Reason to Live

I've come by the question from believers (and non-believers too, probably) who ask about the purpose of life from someone who doesn't believe in life after death. I think I've finally articulated something that expresses my response to that kind of question. This was written and developed as I thought of it one day, and while it isn't proper English it does, hopefully, convey the depth of thought I was getting at:

Secular Response To The Purpose of Life Question

Is not unlike a pillar holding up a frame, a pillar of influence that holds the framework of our race.

Through our entire life, we have a sense of doing something important; of being someone of note, to leave our legacy to those who will follow.

We begin with a foundation; the early years in our lives of which the stones of our Pillar of Influence are carved from the mass of potential from our race. We are each restricted and bound in many ways to the types and limitations of those specific stones that we claim as our own, or of which have been set for us. Each stone represents a part of who we are: our sense of humor, tolerance, our will... everything that is us, is shaped and molded and finally placed at the empty spot that is to become our life, our Pillar of Influence.

As we live, we grow and rise in our environment from our foundation to something more. Each moment adds more and more onto our pillar, each moment adding to the history of what we were, what we have done, who we have influenced, and why we have done; each moment helps to plan for where we are going and how our pillar is shaping up. We rely on our foundation for guidance, but we have the potential to exceed and redefine how we build our pillar.

Dramatic events in our lives may change, alter, crack or even completely reshape our pillar. Dramatic events in the lives of others will also influence our own pillars, but never in quite the same way. Some pillars will never be influenced by our own pillars, but will influence our own quite profoundly. We will always be influenced by other pillars, for that is the very nature of our existence: for we are not solitary things, but things that grow when there are multitudes of us. We always see those pillars around us that we choose to see, and some that we don't even know are there, even if we do not want to see them.

When we stop growing, we end the creation of our history by our own efforts, but it is the legacy of our influence that we hope continues on in our place. Even if we no longer grow and influence by doing actions or speaking words, our influence, however small, adds to the history and to that which defines our race: our legacy of individual influence continues to shape that which will be. We are not one. We are many, and our strengths and weaknesses are reflected between ourselves over and over again, unbound by generation or any physical limitation.

We stand as one. We stand as many. We stand as a thing held and supported by that which has come before us. We stand as the inspiration and influence for that which comes after us. By the influence of those before us, we shape the future in front of us. We are nothing more and nothing less than the individual Pillars of Influence which support what we call humanity.

And thus I present my answer to that question: The Pillars of Influence.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Understanding the Prefix

Language and Concept

Language is an interesting thing. While we use it as a tool to convey complex thoughts like how to build something or go somewhere, it seems like it fails at some level to really and fully express abstract thoughts. When we look at something, there are dozens or hundreds of little aspects about that thing which we can draw upon to identify it and its role. When that identification is complete we associate that object and particular attributes with a word or label for future reference. These labels serve us very well, almost all the time, especially when dealing with objects.

We seem to have a communication problem with the more abstract things in our lives. Ask someone to explain their concept of self or creativity, and you might be stuck for a while. And then there are the problems with expressing emotion; "Words just aren't enough", or "words cannot express...", and the like. Philosophers have been playing with this for a very long time I would think, and it almost seems like we are hindered by our own slow and clumsy tool which is the primary one we use, frustratingly enough, for getting those concepts from one person to another.

I also note the irony in trying to talk about the problems and limitations of using language to describe abstract thoughts ... by... using.... language to convey these abstract thoughts. Quite amusing.

Theism, Atheism, and Agnosticism

So how does that influence the topic of religion? Well, first off, the feeling theists try to hold up as validation for their continued belief: "feeling the Holy Spirit". How can anyone even try to express what that is when our language is clearly inadequate? Usually they don't, or will say you have to experience it yourself-and that holds true for anything, really: emotional states... like love, or depression or other extreme emotions. That tangent will have to wait. The problem with language and labels as it relates to religious topics can be addressed on a basic level.

The way we try to deal with the abstract concepts in language is to construct labels. When someone mentions that a particular person is very beautiful, we don't automatically start trying to gauge the person's aesthetic qualities to the standards of the commentator-we assess that beauty with our own concept of the label "beautiful". This seems to be one major problem with religious debates, at least on an "average Joe" level with the general public. Defining theism, atheism, agnosticism, and a few other key words (like theory vs scientific theory-another tangent for another time), creates an initial rift or gap between the different debating parties because everyone is using their own concept of the words. Bridging that gap will go a long ways in avoiding misunderstandings and misrepresentations, and probably saving a number of those parties from being frustrated with the other.

So let's examine the words and some of the common arguments I've seen used with them:

Theism - belief in the existence of a god. This is a positive statement-a label that affirms acceptance or agreement with what the label is assigned to: belief in god(s).

Atheism - disbelief in god(s). This is a negative statement against the primary label of "theism" because of the prefix "a". This means that the word is a label founded on the first word to which the prefix applies.

What is a prefix? A prefix is an affix which is placed before the stem or base of a word, which then modifies that word and creates a new meaning that is derived from that first word. The prefix does not make a completely different word that has no relation to the first word because that simply isn't how our language works. Some examples: the "un-" in unkind or "pre" in prefix. In those examples, the "un" means not, and expresses the opposite of "kind" which could also be replaced with other words and labels that are associated with being unkind, like "mean". With the word "prefix", the "pre" means before the affix, which will then modify the affix.

What is the problem?

Many theists claim that those who don't believe/accept their position of belief in a god, and who then call themselves atheists, are making a claim that the theist's god doesn't exist. Why are they taking this position? Primarily, I believe this is an intellectually dishonest tactic to try and force the non-believers into the position of having to validate "their claim", or shifting the Burden of Proof, so the theist doesn't have to validate anything themselves. This is called a Strawman logical fallacy. The theist is misrepresenting (intentionally or otherwise) the position of the other person and then attacking that misrepresentation to make a distraction from the point(s).

The reason this is a misrepresentation is because of what the prefix does to the word. The prefix "a" modifies the word to make a new meaning, but it doesn't have anything to do with making a claim against the base/stem word. Here are some examples:

Symmetrical vs Asymmetrical
The prefix "a" does not imply the non-existence of symmetry, it describes the opposite, or state of being "not", of the affix: symmetrical.

Moral vs Amoral
When someone is described as amoral they are "without" morals, and not claiming that morals somehow don't exist.

There are many other examples to demonstrate this relationship, but that should do. Validation comes from the origins of the word itself; the Greek prefix "a" means "without". With regards to the base/stem word "theism", the prefix "a" modifies that word to mean "without god" or "not believing".

The word "theist" breaks down to "theo" (meaning "god") and "ist" (suffix that means "one who practices").

The word "atheist" breaks down to "a" (meaning "without") and "theist" (one who practices/follows a belief in a god or gods).

Theism/Atheism vs Gnostic/Agnostic

Another misconception about these labels is a basic understanding of what they actually represent in a position. Theism and atheism are statements of belief, not affirming knowledge of one thing or another. gnostic and agnostic are statements regarding knowledge. Most people will recognize that their religious or non-religious position is a combination of both of these statements: a gnostic theist affirms that they believe in their god because they know it is real, while an agnostic theist would say they believe the proposition of a god is true but do not claim they know it for sure. The agnostic atheist does not believe in gods, but allows for the possibility of such entities, while the gnostic atheist doesn't believe in such things and further affirms that they do not exist.

Richard Dawkins expanded this concept a little more in his book The God Delusion by making a numerical scale of seven. The first being a "Strong Theist " who knows gods exist, fourth being a "pure Agnostic", and seven being "Strong Atheist" that affirms with 100% certainty that gods do not exist.

Regardless of which position is taken, there must be a statement of opinion/affiliation, and to what degree to form a foundation for any debate or argument. For that, we have two labels for each aspect (belief and knowledge) that defines the person's identity.


Every time someone says atheists must validate their position, or asks how atheism can be true/proven, they are either mistaken or deliberately trying to use fallacious logic to deflect/distract the argument.

One great example is a notorious YouTube user by the name of "ShockOfGod". He has a question he always asks: "What is your proof that Atheism is accurate and correct?". This is the kind of thing that promotes intellectual dishonesty and it spreads like cancer among a people who are used to not questioning or validating anything. Belief or non-belief in something is a statement of opinion, not a statement of knowledge-which means proving an opinion is a meaningless and impossible proposition. That question needs to be addressed to the individuals who claim gods do not exist because they are actually making a positive claim that requires validation.

As with any other hot topic of "our day", which ever generation/culture/location that may be, understanding one's position is a combination of belief and knowledge statements. Once there is an understanding by all parties, the discussion can be all the more productive.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Defining The Question

I first created my youtube account name, ThatOneQuestion, with a purpose. I didn't really have a good way to express that reason, really, and didn't bother with it until I decided to try and make a "video intro" that explained a little bit about that. So, I've only recently articulated that question into something more meaningful and thought provoking, but I think it does a great job.

"The concept of our world view is founded on the answer we define for one question: What is religion?"

I believe that when you answer that question you will have a deeper understanding of your own concept of religion. That may or may not help you with what you currently believe, but at the very least, that will help you define yourself.

If you find that religion is some kind of truth about reality, then it will take you down a certain group of explanatory terms to define reality.

If you find that religion is something like a psychological aspect to human nature, then that conclusion will similarly guide you down specific paths.


Hello! I've started this blog as a tool for myself to share, examine, and save inspired and detailed discussions and topics for myself in the general category of religion.

I've spent most of the last three years of my religious exploration on youtube-but before you roll your eyes or facepalm yourself, think about it for a moment. Youtube is a global communication tool that connects billions of people in one common point of reference. Just one quick search, and you can find thousands and even millions of people who actually share the same ideas, tastes, desires, etc, that you do. That is something local communities can not offer.

Communication is very important. Its even more important in broadening your own experiences and understanding of things. And as I am expanding into another facet of global communication to "put myself out there" as it were, I am looking forward to seeing what all it can do for my growth as a person and as someone with a few things to say on what I find important.

Personal Story - As It Relates To The Topic

The most significant aspect of my life that has defined who I am, when it comes to religion, is the early passing of my father. As I have very few memories of the man who was my father, I have had to rely on what I have been told. This has presented an interesting problem for me in how to relate to others who have both parents and how that influences their development, but thankfully I've usually had a male father figure around most of the time (grandfather and uncle).

I have been told that my father was devoutly religious. He would read from his particular Christian Bible every morning. I do have early fragmented and fuzzy memories of what I think is Catholic church mass on Sundays, doughnut social events afterwords, but not a great deal more. My father's cancer claimed his life just around the time when the important religious questions should have started to come up. Given the very strong religious conviction of my father, I often wonder how I would view the world now had I been guided by his words. Would I still have rejected the notion of a supreme being? Would I still desire to learn about science, or would I spit on it as "blasphemy" like a fundamentalist and close my mind?

My mother was not as devout as my father, but, from what I can remember, still stands firmly in her beliefs of a divine being. I do get the sense that she, like many moderates I have come to be familiar with, do not accept or even like organize religion. That, however, does not sway her (nor should it) in the reasons she has to or not to believe what she does. While not seemingly religoius at all, a better term to describe my mother would be "spiritual" (and yes, as labels go, this is still fairly useless because it is far too vague-and there is much to be said about social labels some other time). As the calm and cool intellectual influence on my life, I have her to thank for what she has had to teach me.

My brother and I seem to have shared our view of the world since I can remember. Oddly, or not so oddly, the question of religious affiliation never really presented itself to our family because of my father's cancer. That was the focus of our lives for a long time, and thing like religion took a back seat to more practical concerns. In recent years, my brother share occasional jokes about the silly things religious fundamentals tend to do and say.

My uncle and aunt, whom I lived with for a number of years, seemed to have also kept religion at a fair distance. It is because of this continued benign influence from the religious world that has left me to explore it on my own. That freedom has lead me to develop my own concepts of a world view in peace, without harassment and indoctrination from "the home".

So Where Does That Leave Me?

While willing to entertain and seriously consider claims (at least the first time around) in favor of such things, I dont believe gods exist. Through everything that I have read, seen, heard, and experienced, I think the best explanations for religion can be described by human psychology. Intellectual tools, such as defining logical fallacies, have helped me specifically identify why certain aspects of religion have failed to convince me.

The most important thing to me is intellectual honesty. Making claims about one thing or another is perfectly fine, but what matters are the reasons you make those claims; the underlying foundation to a claim will determine everything else about it. In a word: evidence.

I think this should do for a quick introduction. I will enjoy writing more, and I have a great deal to "put out there", if only to read it back to myself and develop those ideas even further. If it can spark some good debate/arguments/flamewars, hey, all the better. Hopefully I can entertain some of you, and intellectually challenge others!