Tag Archives: Informal Logic

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 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

 

 

 

Logical Gal and Truth by Repetition

27 Jun

Brave New World

Summertime and I’m using the time off to read!

One of the English teachers from my school lent me Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel.  In his futuristic vision, caste life is engineered in factory-like laboratories.  And for each caste member to be content and ‘happy’ with their work and limitations, they are brainwashed from birth through something called ‘Hypnopaedia‘. While they sleep, certain messages are repeated numerous times until they are absorbed as ‘truth’ by the hearer. “One hundred repetitions three times a week for four years, thought Bernard Marx, who was a specialist on hypnopaedia.  Sixty-two thousand four hundred repetitions make one truth.”  (p. 47)  Hypnopaedia

We shutter and chalk that up to science-fiction, however long ago it was written. (1932) But is that particular society’s modus operandi so different than ours, today in the 2010’s?  You hear something enough times and it becomes ‘a kind of truth’. Take the widely accepted ‘fact’:

  • 50 % of all marriages end in divorce

Apparently that is not true.  What?  But everyone says it is.  (that, my friend, is called a fallacy –  when your reason for advancing or believing a proposition to be true is just because ‘everyone’ says it’s true – Argumentum Ad Populum) Cats - 8 of 10 prefer Whiskas (Like the ad says, 8 of every 10 cats prefer Whiskas! Conclusion: it must be good! )

 

In doing a little fact-checking about the divorce numbers, the story goes that some assumptions were made in 1981, the year that this ‘fact’ was publicized as legit.  See link for account of rumor’s origin Okay, you say, you don’t fall for urban legends like marriage and divorce rates.  You track down alleged facts and do your homework before you believe what you hear! And maybe that is so, but where I live in Western North Carolina, many don’t.  They have absorbed publicized claims as truth because they WANT to believe them.  Each day I read the letters to the editor in the Asheville Citizen-Times.  I’m sure they are not unique in their source of letter-writers.  I would guess (before doing my homework) that many citizens across the United States cobble together truth the way these local readers do.  And repeated enough times, anything becomes believable.

But what is Truth?  By definition truth is that which corresponds to reality.  It doesn’t matter whether many or none believe it.

Truth is the truth

I don’t doubt that you KNOW what truth is.  And reading a novel whose leaders so blatantly have set systems in place to brainwash people strikes us, the readers, as fantasy.  Actually, however, we gloss over the same kinds of practices ONLY because they are not SOPs, publicized standard operating procedures.  But whether the actions are de jure or de facto, the results are the same.  And that is frightening.  Control by repetition.

Logical Gal identifies a common Red Herring

25 Jun

Red Herring

You Christians are so intolerant and bigoted!  You think Jesus is the only way to God!

Have you heard that shouted out in the public square?  Increasingly religion is an invitation to an emotional mudfest.

You might have barely summoned the courage to broach the subject of one’s guilt or need of a savior when your interlocutor is all over you in barely concealed indignation.

Wait one!!!

Wait

You are being led OFF track by this accusation.  It’s easy to get confused and attempt to defend yourself when emotionally beat upon.  But it’s a trick, a diversion AWAY from the topic.

If you picture a petty thief  being chased by police and their dogs, you can also imagine that he might run through a market square, grab a fish (hence ‘red herring’) and throw it to the dogs to distract them from tailing him!

Thief

We must sidestep the bait and gently focus the discussion back to the original topic.  Here’s how you might respond (after you have counted to 3!)

You:  You could be right, that Christians are intolerant, but that’s a discussion perhaps for another day.

You continue:  I would like actually to go back to our original topic. Would that be all right with you?

So what WAS the topic?

In essence you had started to lay out the claim that:

  • People are objectively guilty
  • Unless a person wants to face the one and only judge of the universe, one needs a savior who will stand in his stead and ‘pay for the crime’

You hadn’t even gotten to whether these two propositions were TRUE!!!

For if they are not true, it really doesn’t matter whether Christians are intolerant and bigoted!

Question:  Do you see how a policy of ‘First things, first!’ can save a lot of energy and time?  First, clarify your terms and then determine the truth or falsity of the premises.  To do the latter, the advancer of the premise must supply supporting evidence or reasons!

 

First things first

 

PS:  This post marks the 156th one I’ve written since last 25 June 2013 – 52 weeks worth of writing and publishing accounts where clear thinking and the knowledge of logic have helped me and others.  I owe it ALL to the one true and living God of the universe, the triune Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  My prayer each week was both for God to supply the topics AND to stretch my time.  Ten months of the past 12 I taught French and commuted 100 minutes a day.  At other times we had company or travelled to visit family and friends. This last post today is proof of His faithfulness.

 

 

 

Logical Gal falls prey to a fallacy

18 Jun

You’d think I’d know better!

I’m the one, after all, who has TAUGHT logic.  But it was my husband who picked up on my faulty thinking and asked me, “Isn’t that a fallacy?”

And darn if he wasn’t right!  Good for him.  And good for me, because it reminded me how easy it is to swallow someone’s line of thinking without even questioning. Especially if one is PREDISPOSED to agree with the one making the case.

Fallacy Picture

A columnist whom I respect was condemning, as misguided, the thinking of a friend by summarizing a recent conversation.  The columnist wrote:

“My friend said the following –

  • Our neighbors, even though they engage in a behavior I don’t approve of, are actually very moral people.
  • In fact, one of them as helped me set boundaries on my son’s video game habits.

The columnist had preceded this conversation snippet by arguing that we should be aware of the danger of having our minds changed through continual exposure to wrong-doing.  That, over time, we would find the ‘wrong-doing’ acceptable and normal.

I recognized the attempt at sarcasm in the columnist reporting the friend’s view.  This friend apparently was okay with behavior once considered immoral and had shifted to evaluating one’s degree of morality based on video game beliefs.

Video Game Danger

When I pointed this out to my husband, his questions to me were:

  • What’s the connection?
  • Does the source of the advice on video games invalidate the advice?  That sounds like a fallacy!

This dear man of mine was asking about the RELEVANCE.

Relevance

With that question, my mind quickly sorted through the fallacies I knew and BINGO!

This mistake falls under the label of:  Ad Hominem Circumstantial Fallacy.

The way this works is to point out the background or affiliation of the person making a case and thereby invalidate their point of view NOT on the merits of their case but on who they are.

So the gal whose neighbors of questionable moral background OFFERED advice on how to curb a teen’s video game habits is being logical when she evaluates the suggestions for themselves.  It really doesn’t matter who proffers the advice, even though we sometimes disparagingly remark, “Consider the source!”

If we were to be an authentically logical Joe or Jane, we would not even dismiss a suggestion purporting to come from Adolph Hitler on how to make Wiener Schnitzel.  We wouldn’t trot out the Ad Hominem Circumstantial fallacy and dismiss his recipe by saying: “Oh, he’s a Nazi and mass-murderer – what could he possibly know about cooking!”

Wiener Schnitzel

Question:  Which views or whose views do you routinely discount because you don’t agree with them about something else? 

 

 

 

 

Logical Gal – it must be true if 97% of scientists agree

9 Jun

Truth by consensus!

97 % of scientists

Now there’s a stable foundation for science and public policy!

When someone making an assertion offers as support the fact that the majority of experts back his view, then you know the arguer has no argument.

People resort to fallacies (false reasoning) for one or more of the following  reasons:

  • they haven’t thought through a proper defense of their point of view
  • they KNOW they don’t have any legitimate reasons resilient enough to respond to critique
  • they are lazy and rather just bash their opponent by appealing to a variation of that old song lyric ‘50 million Frenchmen can’t be wrong‘!

50 million frenchmen

But science has always progressed by being dragged forward by a few brave souls going against the ‘party line’.

So what is driving the forceful and almost shrill proclamations that the ‘debate is over’?

Like so much in life, I think it’s……… the money.

In today’s local Sunday paper, hope for new jobs permeated an unabashedly eager article about Asheville positioning itself to sell tech solutions to our ‘climate problem’ Article link is here.   This was in the same issue that gave editorial space to syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts who mockingly derided climate deniers who should do the math and get on board. See if you can spot his use of Mob Appeal cum Appeal to Authority fallacies

What frightens me is that the ‘average Joe or Jane’ DOESN’T take the time to read, study and think through issues.  And to be honest, one has to pick and choose just which topics one is going to investigate.  There was a time when the Fourth Estate, the ‘soi-disant’ independent media, played that role in society, keeping the other three estates in check (traditionally – the nobility, the clergy and the commoners….perhaps in 21st century America – the government, business and the little people).

But today, a FIFTH ESTATE has arisen – us, the counter-cultural voice of independent media, bloggers and certain talk-show hosts.

For more information click here

We CAN make a difference, one step at a time.  My small piece in that unorganized but powerful force is to encourage average Joes and Janes to practice clear thinking.  Acquiring logic is a useful tool to that end!

Question:  Which issue is number one for you?  the one that is worth your time and concentrated energy

  • to study
  • to be able to articulate both sides
  • to come down on one side and be prepared to give a defense

 

 

Logical Gal and the Argument from Ignorance

20 Feb

I heard someone accuse another of employing the Argument from Ignorance.

He painted the scenario like this:

Accuser:  “You are being UNreasonable.   Why?  Just listen to what you are, in essence, saying: Since we don’t have an explanation for how the universe came into existence, then it must be God who caused it.  That is defaulting to arguing from a basis of ignorance and that, my friend,  is a fallacy!”

As it turns out, the one putting forth the ‘God Hypothesis’ actually had some good reasons for his conclusion.  He was using abductive reasoning.  This form of logic takes the information at hand and seeks the best possible explanation based on evidence at hand.

What’s interesting about the Argument from Ignorance is that there are two versions, the converse of the other.

  • Since you can’t prove mermaids don’t exist, therefore they exist!
  • Since you can’t prove mermaids do exist, therefore they don’t!

The latter also involves a false dilemma.  It assumes that there are only 2 choices:

a) we either KNOW that a proposition is true

b) or we KNOW that a proposition is false

But there is actually a 3rd choice – that we don’t know…

Question:  are there other possibilities than  TRUE, FALSE or DON’T KNOW?

Where do you encounter this kind of faulty thinking?

Logical Gal delights in a new Fallacy

10 Feb

I never knew the Etymological Fallacy existed! But when I read about it yesterday, I saw exactly what it was and how helpful this category is going to be.

Take “sin” for example. The Greek word is ‘hamartia’.  Many Christians have glibly defined this Greek word as ‘to miss the mark’.  How tame can you get? What’s the big deal about lack of skill or lack of practice or ‘woops! – guess I missed’?

But I now know that relying on the original meaning of ‘hamartia’ commits the Etymological Fallacy.  So what if the term originally referred to shooting an arrow off course?  The way it was employed by Jesus and the apostles to teach about sin is what counts.  In that context, sin resulted in death, not the counsel to get more coaching!

So here is how the Etymological Fallacy works.  It doesn’t MATTER how a term was first or originally used at one time, what counts is how it is understood in the current context. A striking example of that is the adjective ‘gay’.  When I was growing up, the jingle for the Flintstones used it in its then-current meaning of merry or happy.  But to cling to that original definition today fails to communicate.  Contemporary usage guides the proper use of terms.

A few weeks ago, I blogged about Peter Boghossian’s disingenuous retooling of the term ‘faith’ to mean unwarranted belief or wishful thinking.  So, too, can we err in the opposite direction and stubbornly claim that we ought to be able to use a definition from times past that is no longer part of the common vernacular.

The whole point of any conversation or written essay is to communicate to others what is in our minds. We have to be careful in how we use a term.

Next Step: What words have YOU puzzled?  Maybe the first step is to consider other possible meanings.  You might be as tickled as I was to find a way to distinguish among the definitions, thus clearing up a concept that has puzzled you for years.

Logical Gal and how kids can benefit from studying Logic

31 Jan

A friend of mine’s daughter has her doubts about the benefit of studying logic.  It’s a required course for 7th graders at her classical school.  The curriculum introduces informal logic in the 7th grade and formal logic in the 8th grade.

Informal logic consists in all the fallacies or bad arguments people use.  Formal logic is the study of GOOD argumentation: its form.

But back to this pre-teen’s question about the relevance of her course of study.  I hear it as a French teacher and I’m sure math teachers have learned to shut their ears to this perennial question:

When am I ever going to use THIS!!!!

Here is how the study of poor argumentation can help anyone, no matter his or her age.  Armed with the ability to identify the fallacies of others, you will be able to stop them in their tracks when they come at you with:

  • …because I said so (Argumentum ad Baculum – Big Stick) – often used by parents!!
  • …because anyone who is anybody does it (Argumentum Populum – Mob Appeal)
  • …because Justin Bieber said they were the coolest running shoes (Celebrity Transfer)
  • …because these puppies and kittens will die if you don’t donate (Appeal to Pity – avoiding looking at other reasons, but relying on emotions)
  • You shouldn’t vote Joe for class president because he’s a nerd (Ad Hominem Abusive- attacking the guy’s character instead of looking at his platform)
  • You can’t trust what the disciples said about Jesus.  After all, they lived with him for 3 years (Ad Hominem Circumstantial – they must be biased)
  • You can’t tell me not to smoke because YOU smoke (Tu Quoque – you do it, too!)
  • You can either clean up your room now or before dinner. (False dichotomy – there are other times) again, a favorite of parents.
  • If you don’t let me have a cell phone at age 12, then I’ll never have any friends! (Strawman – reframing someone’s position incorrectly)- a favorite of kids!

These are just a few of the more common poor arguments or fallacies that swirl around us all the time. Can you see how useful it will be in giving both the adolescent AND the adult the key to identifying manipulative reasoning?  Even if you don’t remember the name of any of them, once you understand the thinking behind each, they are super easy (and fun!) to spot.  All you have to do, when someone tries to lay one of these babies on you,  is come back forcefully with,

That’s a fallacy!  

Try your hand at spotting what’s wrong in this argument!

How did you do? At least you could probably FEEL that something was wrong.  It’s invalid because of the Fallacy of Equivocation.    In this case, the word ‘headache’ is used equivocally, that is – in two different senses, thus creating the fallacy.  Equivocal words refer to two different concepts.  Both a pain in one’s head and an annoying condition can be called a headache.

Finally, the one fallacy I, as a parent, would want my child to have down pat before launching out on his or her own would be the Fallacy of the Non Sequitor.

If you have a daughter, think of a guy trying to get her to indulge in casual sex with him.  He lays this line on her: “If you love me, you’ll sleep with me!”

That, my dear readers, is an example of something that does not follow, hence a NON SEQUITOR.

Or how about this: “Why not try these drugs, you’re only young once!”

In both cases, there is absolutely NO CONNECTION between the first premise and the second.  Our children need to know HOW to respond before they are faced with the absurd and sinful choices, which will surely be thrown at them.

Question: Which fallacies have you succumbed to?

Logical Gal and the Fallacy of Bunny Trails

3 Jan

I know, ‘there’s no such fallacy as this one’, you say.

Actually, there is!  But it has a different name.  It’s the Fallacy of Red Herrings.

A herring is a fish that is very tempting to a dog. Apparently in European markets, ‘back in the day’, the police employed dogs to chase down petty thieves.  And if the thief sprinted across the town square, weaving in and out of market stalls, dogs hot on his heels, he might grab a fish from the fishmonger and throw it away from him and the dogs would switch directions to feast on a ‘red herring’.

Great diversionary tactic

In logic, we talk about the tactic of the Red Herring whenever your interlocutor tries to shift the direction of the ‘conversation’ away from what is at hand.  Our son, Wes, was recounting a perfect example of this sneaky technique in a conversation he read on Facebook.  Person A was defending the Bible’s prohibition against homosexuality.  Person B, instead of dealing with that topic, tried to divert the conversation this way, “Why doesn’t the Bible take up the sin of gluttony?  Why do Christians seem always to harp on this one topic of homosexuality?!!!!”

So what could Person A have done?

Not fall for the bait!  He needed to calmly say,

  • You raise a good point about gluttony as a sin.  Would it be all right with you if I first answer your question about homosexuality and the Bible?  Then once we’ve discussed that, if you still are interested, I’ll be happy to listen to this other concern.  Does that seem fair? 

The difficulty is, of course, maintaining the discipline and quiet composure to treat the other person with respect.

It seems to me, that if we practice staying on one topic in general, when the stakes and potential for ‘heat’ aren’t  likely, then once we’ve gotten that ‘habit’ well placed, maybe we won’t be easily led off the trail.  What I find humbling is how often I, myself, try to shift the topic to make it easier for me to ‘clobber’ my opponent.

Question: When was the last time either YOU yourself tried to shift the topic or experienced the ground moving beneath you?