Tag Archives: Fallacies

When do you draw a conclusion?

20 Jan

Hasty Generalizations

American culture grows seemingly more coarse and vitriolic.  Contributing in part to this downward trend in civility is the tendency to draw a conclusion based on too few individual cases.  This mistake in reasoning is called the Fallacy of Hasty Generalization.

Guilty as charged!  I have committed this error often because I have WANTED to generalize. As an adult who has already raised kids yet still works with adolescents in the classroom, I find that I tend to assert unfairly this and that about teens.  Often my conclusions are backed by weak reasons drawn from too few examples. Whether I pronounce judgments about their decreased interest in deep reading or their inability to converse intelligently, I am being dishonest.  It is not fair to that generation to apply an observation about some members to the entire cohort!

As one who easily falls into this lazy way of thinking, I notice the same tendency in others to demonize others. Just who are these groups generalized about and often cast in a negative light?  A few examples are:

  • Muslims
  • the government
  • evangelical Christians
  • socially-liberal democrats
  • small-government republicans
  • corporations or ‘Big Business’
  • ‘climate change deniers’
  • ‘big agriculture’
  • the pharmaceutical industry
  • immigrants, both legal and illegal
  • welfare recipients
  • different ethnicities

Well what do we do to be a fair-minded and honest Logical Joes or Janes?

A simple change of ‘quantifier’.  Instead of broadcasting with a universal,

  • ALL conservative Christians are intolerant or 
  • ALL welfare recipients are lazy

(which is NOT true), one should instead employ,

  • SOME evangelical Christians are intolerant
  • SOME welfare recipients are lazy

Personal sample experience can never be complete.  We are in effect lying when we infer inductively from too few examples to the whole.

So for 2016, let’s challenge ourselves to refrain from adding to the social media hostility and accurately communicate with our pens, mouths, photos and keyboard or finger strokes. We can only control our actions, but others might notice and voluntarily restrain their tendency to exaggerate.

What about the appropriate time or occasion to draw a conclusion?  I’ll throw out that my only source for absolute truth, which is the Bible or God’s Word.  For an example of a certain truth that pertains to ALL people, here’s a paraphrased Biblical conclusion. The One who created every molecule in the universe, alone is capable of formulating a 100% accurate assessment:

All have sinned by exchanging and turning their back on God’s glory for the meager and far lesser satisfying glory of created things.

Now that’s a true and safe conclusion!

 

 

Follow reason, not the heart in making a decision

9 Dec

My husband used to be in sales  – the kind whose products were invisible and long term.  Life insurance, college accounts, emergency savings, although worthy goals, couldn’t hold a candle to the allure of a shiny new car.  What he learned was that despite a couple’s acquiescence to the need for financial protection, that pure desire for a new car exerted a stronger pull.

new car

The husband would be the one to enumerate all the reasons why the family needed this new van.  Reality taught my husband the truth of the adage: People buy emotionally and justify their purchase rationally. 

My daughter-in-law and her husband face a decision, like all parents, of how to educate their oldest child.  Over the past two years, Anne has considered home-schooling with much turmoil.  She has felt her heart pulled toward this paradigm for various reasons, but last year she enrolled our grandson in pre-school.  At the time, it was the right decision.  The family moved over the summer and they found a 4-year old preschool in their new city.  But the tug to homeschool has grown stronger.

Decision-making is challenging for all of us.   It doesn’t help that in today’s ‘Disney-fied’ world we are counseled to ‘follow our heart’!

Christians should know that according to God, our hearts cannot be trusted.  Only as these hearts are being renewed by the Holy Spirit and informed by a Bible-saturated mind that considers, weighs and evaluates all things can they be trusted.

The other challenge to wading through options is the oppression of the majority.  I’m surprised, yet I shouldn’t be, when I encounter people  who seem to assume that if a majority of people in their country think XYZ, then it must be true.  Where is THAT assumption grounded on?

All Logical Joes and Janes recognize that view as a bald-faced fallacy – Argumentum Ad Populum.  The holders of this view automatically assume minority dissenters must be wrong.

So back to Anne and her recent decision process to switch to homeschooling.  My husband and I have long thought that this couple are well-suited to homeschool.  Furthermore, we have confidence in parents’ ability to equip and guide their children just as well, if not better, than outsourced educational institutions.

As someone who supports critical thinking, I am encouraging Anne to think through her reasons FOR this change.  If the benefits to her and to their children outweigh other options, then she should choose home-schooling.  Her husband, our son, absolutely supports his wife in whichever educational choice she opts for.  She is a full-time mom to their two kids and is the one whose day-to-day responsibilities center on raising the family.

As we talked about this over Thanksgiving Anne gave vent to the real pressure from the world, seeped in ‘majority knows best’ thinking.  But trying to please extended family or current pre-school teachers or friends who evince surprise and trot out, “But what about the social aspect N would be missing?” should carry no weight against researched reasons that matter to the couple.

What about the heart?

Follow your heart

When I mentioned to Anne that Christians are counseled NOT to let feelings and emotions guide our decisions, she balked a bit.  I know that what grounds her reaction is that she truly feels that God has given her the desire to homeschool.  And I don’t discount that.  Maybe we’re using different words.  I might say about a decision: “I don’t feel any check from the Holy Spirit,” thereby giving weight to the ‘affective’ aspect of my choice.

A more effective final check might be for Anne to review the purpose they see for educating their children.  Then they can evaluate if homeschooling is the correct and best course to meet that goal all the while guided by their values.  Decision-making MUST start with the end in sight and progress backwards.  I offer that when Anne articulates their vision for their children as young adults and then looks at the options for their family, she can feel peace about her decision.

Logical Gal – same ‘ole, same ‘ole lazy thinking clouds the minds of many

24 Jun

Many people still seem to swallow whole whatever they hear or read.  Reminds me of Saturday Night Live’s skit portraying a restaurant, Pre-Chew Charlie’s, for those who didn’t want to masticate their own food.

Pre-Chew Charlie's

A kind reader sent me examples of a common fallacy he had encountered, all in one day.  The first illustration came from a Twitter conversation in which the other fellow maintained that ‘evolution MUST be true because’ (drum roll, please: Voilà his rational reason) ‘…most biologists believe it.”  That’s it? That’s why the theory of evolution is true?

‘Twitter-man’ is using the crutch called, “Truth by consensus.”  Yet anyone who has been exposed to a bit of logic or lessons in clear thinking knows the first ground rule.  To wit – the responsibility is yours to make a case for what you claim.  In other words, the person asserting an opinion, in this case that evolution is true, is obliged to give supporting reasons and evidence.  In this case, Twitter-man merely trotted out the hackneyed, but inappropriate prop called Fallacy of Mob Appeal, also called Band Wagon.

It could be that most biologists are right, but Twitter-man must provide evidence if he is making an argument.   But maybe he wants merely to offer a sound-byte and leave it at that.

He should know that it actually doesn’t matter what most people think.  What matters is if his claim is true or false.  However, I do understand that siding with ‘most people’ FEELS safe.  As a follower of Christ in today’s shifting sands, it’s challenging and sometimes uncomfortable to belong to a minority of thinkers who hold an unpopular view.

The same day as his conversation with Twitter-man, this reader See his website; he also advocates clear thinking! drove past a movie rental shop with the sign out front that proclaimed a take-off of that original song from the 1920s entitled, “Fifty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong.”

3 million can't be wrong

Set during the era of Prohibition, the song (followed by a book and then a movie) contrasts life in France where drinking and looser sexual mores appeal to a young American man.  One could debate for hours which culture promotes human flourishing.  But I would hope each side would actually martial positions based on clear terms, true premises and valid arguments.  What a bunch of people DOES doesn’t make it ‘right’.  What SHOULD matter is rather whether what they DO is in line with true beliefs regarding reality. That’s called integrity.

I am a Christian. Both the Christian AND the non-Christian are created in God’s image.  God has made us different from animals.  He has given us minds.  And like the muscles that pack our skeletal structure, humans must DAILY exercise, guide, train, hydrate and nourish their minds or else we are no different than most animals!  Choosing beliefs based on fallacious crutches is to bypass the mind entrusted to you.

Mind is a terrible thing to waste

Logical Gal – Allowed to have an opinion?

4 Mar

From her 22 January 2015 Press Conference at the Capitol, when pressed about whether a 20-week old fetus was a human being, Pelosi responded:

“And as a mother of five, in six years, I have great standing on this issue, great understanding of it, more than my colleagues. In fact, one day many years ago, perhaps before you were born, when I was a new member of Congress, as a Catholic and a mom of five, opposing some of the initiatives similar to what–in the same vein as–what we have today, one of the Republicans stood up and said: Nancy Pelosi thinks she knows more about having babies than the pope.

“Yeah, Yeah. That would be true.”

Nancy Pelosi

**So in essence, Nancy Pelosi’s presupposition might be stated this way:

Premise 1:  Only those who have had babies have the moral authority or right to make judgments about babies and fetuses and when life begins

Premise 2: I am one of those people who have had babies

Conclusion:  Therefore, I am qualified to make pronouncements and judgments about babies, fetuses and life

This kind of reasoning is easy to refute when one applies a technique called, “Reductio ad Absurdum”.  What we do is apply the principle inherent in the argument to an extreme case. The argument self-destructs on its own.

So in Nancy Pelosi’s argument, let’s boil down her reasoning so we can apply it to another situation.  Her thinking goes like this:  only those who have experienced an event have the credibility/aka, ‘the moral high ground’ to make a decision.

If this is so, then we would have to preclude the following situations:

  • doctors diagnosing and commencing healing remedies
  • Congress creating laws for our country
  • judges deciding legal cases
  • parents applying wisdom in situations that they themselves never experienced as children

All these cases and a plethora of others would not be valid, since those making a judgment had not actually undergone the experience of the people affected by their decisions.

Judgments are sound when supported by sufficient reason and evidence.  Period. Plain and simple.

Don’t get snookered by this ‘playing the personal experience card’.

 

Logical Girl does NOT beg the question

25 Feb

Pet Peeves, we all have them!

Pet Peeves

When it comes to grammar usage, my ire-raiser is when people misuse LESS and FEWER.  The following example is my g0-to reminder of proper usage:

  • This cookie might have less fat, but it does not have fewer calories.

If you can COUNT items, you must use ‘fewer’.  If you can’t count the substance, choose ‘less’.  How difficult is that?

And when it comes to logic, I get irked when people incorrectly use the expression to beg the question to mean to raise the question or to wonder about something.

According to a useful website About this fallacy ‘begging the question’ is:

  • a logic term….used to indicate that someone has made a conclusion based on a premise that lacks support

If I say, Susie is unskilled as a bookkeeper because she lacks accounting skills, then I have just restated my opinion/conclusion instead of providing reasons or proof.  No skill in bookkeeping is very close to a lack of accounting skills.  I haven’t built any case at all.  I have simply reworded my conclusion.  My duty still awaits; I must prove my point with reasons and evidence.

Here’s another example, incorrectly using this logical fallacy:

  • Sugar, which comes from juice squeezed from harvested sugar beets or sugarcane, must be good for you because it grows in nature.

We haven’t actually shown that substances derived from natural plants ARE good for one.  The first counter example that comes to mind are certain types of mushrooms, which although ‘natural’, are most definitely poisonous.

Voilà a few examples of this logical error, ‘Begging the Question’.  Of course we should strive to argue correctly, but more importantly, I’m advocating an accurate USE of the English language to avoid confusion.

Just so you know, I don’t ‘buy’ the possible comeback that language evolves, that as soon as a word or phrase comes to be accepted by many, then it has a new legitimized meaning.

Question:  What do YOU think about sticking to the formal meaning of a word or phrase versus going with the tide of general usage?

Logical Gal questions 99.99% death rate of germs

31 Dec

anti-bacterial soapis clinically proven to eliminate 99.9% of bacteria

Hmmm, what questions might a thinking, logical person pose about the claim above?

  • What do you mean by the term, “to eliminate”?
  • How was the study done?
  • Which bacteria were eliminated?

If one takes the time to dig just a little, it turns out that many of these advertising assertions are misleading.  The article below describes just such a situation.

Veracity of one set of claims

As often is the case, statistics get batted around pretty indiscriminately. But this sloppiness is not confined to marketing.

How about the claim that 50% of marriages end in divorce?  Apparently that number, also, is a misinterpretation of data.  Have you heard the adage that a lie repeated often enough becomes a truth?

The real data about marriage and divorce

The world is filled with data-hungry people.  And without careful thought, statistical fallacies can be allowed into our assessments, coloring what we believe to be true.  And if we pass along false data to others, even in casual conversation, we are adding to the problem.

A couple of weeks ago, a report correcting an oft-quoted statistic about crimes against female college students set the record straight.  For years, people had cited a 1 in 5 chance (20 %) that a college co-ed would be attacked on her college campus.  Apparently the study was flawed in several ways, one being it was based on too few data.  A more rigorous study shows the probability of attack to be less than 1 percent. Sexual assault statistics of women on campus

Statistics lie

Please don’t think that I am impugning the character of everyone who conducts or cites studies whose conclusions are false.  I would imagine that most people sincerely believe what they assert. Nevertheless, just like we should check out any fantastical story that arrives in our email inbox to see if it’s true, we should take equal care to vet a statistic before passing on something shocking in one mass email to our contacts.

Snopes.com

 

 

 

Dodging arguments – Appeals to Authority

17 Dec

I was listening to a radio discussion about correct Bible interpretation.  One of the three men dismissed the entire conversation with this comment:

“There’s something wrong about 3 white guys talking about how to understand the Bible!”

3 men

What struck me was the following thought:  What does the identity of the one(s) advancing the argument have to do with the force of the argument? What about examining the reasons for one’s interpretation of the Bible?   This dodge is simply a reverse of a common fallacy, Appeal to Authority.

Appeals to authority work like this: in lieu of reasoning with care, the advancer of a point of view avoids giving any support for his assertion by informing his audience that So-and-So believes it.  The assumption is:

So-and-So is a well-known authority

Whatever he believes must be right

He shares or has endorsed my point of view

Therefore, my assertion is correct

Back to the three gentlemen discussing the Bible.  The one I quoted tried to weaken the entire discussion by dismissing it before it got off the ground.  In essence he was saying:

  • We can’t possibly come up with a sound and full-orbed understanding of God’s Word due to our gender and race.  Our viewpoint as men is one-sided and incomplete, a priori.

That’s absurd!  That’s akin to claiming that women are incapable of researching and writing with any degree of accuracy about war or likewise men have nothing credible to say about rape.  Dismissing one’s ideas due to one’s identity is faulty!

This reverse of the Fallacy of the Appeal to Authority can sometimes be an example of the Genetic Fallacy.

Genetic Fallacy - red fish This red fish announces that since he is red, he is irrelevant.  The implication is that nothing he might advance has merit because of what he is.

I often hear people marginalize a point of view by this derisory comment:

  • You only say that because you’re a _________!

My experience has been that many of us resort to fallacies when we don’t have a watertight argument OR worse, we have NO facts or evidence for what we believe.   Yet, we desperately want to discredit the other guy’s argument.  So the fight instinct kicks in and we clobber our opponent with a sound byte and then fall back on fallacies because we are bereft of reasons.

What’s the solution?

My advice to this logical gal (me!) is

  • don’t articulate an opinion until I have done a bit of research
  • and when asked my views, resist the temptation to respond by instead asking some clarifying questions  IN ORDER to gain some information

Easier said than done!