Taking it to the absurd

23 Sep

Up for a quick logic workout for your mind?

Critical Thinking the other national deficit

I heard someone advance an argument FOR killing unborn babies in the womb.  It went like this:

  • Since many Christians espouse the doctrine that pre-born and newborn babies as well as very young children all go to heaven (before the age of accountability), why should anyone oppose what Planned Parenthood does?

At first hearing, I thought – “Huh! – I wonder what this theologian’s response will be?”

Reassuringly, the speaker proceeded directly to the question I, myself, have learned.  Before any question or comment, do this: take your opponent’s argument seriously and flow with it to its logical and uncontrived conclusion.   Then lead him to consider that conclusion by posing a question.

  • So if we follow your logic, since a child of 1 has not yet reached the age of accountability, then it’s okay to murder him, seeing that he’s headed to heaven?

It’s clear that very soon, his entire premise will crumble.

Beside the toddler, who else might not be accountable for their actions?  I can think of

  • those born with mental disorders
  • those in a coma
  • those with Alzheimer’s or dementia

Evil terrorists could easily exploit this argument of a quick dispatch to heaven as well!

So is this a slippery slope argument?   In this case, yes!

As Archbishop Justin Welby recently and forcefully argued:

“Whenever assisted suicide is discussed, supporters of a change in the law are quick to pour scorn on “slippery slope” arguments, dismissing them as scare-mongering. The truth is, however, that some slopes are slippery and it is important to identify them”   Website here

3 Responses to “Taking it to the absurd”

  1. Cody Libolt September 24, 2015 at 10:51 am #

    I love the content of this blog!

    There is also another important approach to know about for the kind of bad questions you mentioned in your example. That is, you have a choice to make: grant the premise of your opponent, or don’t grant it.

    To grant the premise can be useful for a reductio ad absurdum, but I suggest that this will only really work when you are speaking to an audience sympathetic to your viewpoint. It is powerful rhetorically. But it will not often change the mind of an entrenched opponent or listener.

    Here’s why: a reductio is an attack on an attack. If you succeed, it’s like successfully shooting down a single missile. They will have another. When you grant the premise and challenge the implications, they may redirect and say, “There are other circumstances you haven’t accounted for.”

    But there is no reason you need to grant their premise. Aristotle did advocate the granting of a premise for the sake of argument in one’s own mind, as a means of discovery. But in the context of a debate, the granting of a premise can have the unfortunate effect of putting the argument on the opponent’s home turf.

    Why not deprive them of the turf as well? When possible, it can be very effective to say, “I dismiss the premise of the question.” Then explain why the question ought never even to have been asked and is invalid because of a deeper point.

    To apply this, in the case of the pro-abortion people, I would respond by saying the following:

    “Your question is not relevant to the topic. We are discussing whether it is moral to kill this particular living being or not. If you want to make arguments inventing some supposed contradiction within the way you think that I think, please save it for another day. It’s off topic. Planned Parenthood is evil because it kills unborn babies. If you want to draw a parallel to the killing of born babies, by all means, let’s do that. I don’t think we should be killing either one. Planned Parenthood wants to kill both. Who is right?”

  2. Maria September 24, 2015 at 12:40 pm #

    Cody – thank you so much for giving an alternative. Your’s seems simpler and as long as one’s tone is kind when you announce that you are rejecting their premise and you can make them curious enough to ask you why, then I think it’s a better way to go! I appreciate you taking the time to give the verbiage. Bless you!


  1. How to Surrender No Premise | If We Will Live - February 10, 2016

    […] you grant him his premise and work to show an internal contradiction? A blogger friend (Maria at Logical Gal) recently suggested this […]

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