Tag Archives: Red Herring

It’s the differences that count

1 Dec

Have you heard these remarks?:

  • We, humans, share 98.8% DNA with chimps; so of course, Darwin’s theory of evolution is correct!
  • Rights for the transgendered is a civil right’s issue, just like it was for African-Americans!
  • Why is it NOT okay when a suicide bomber kills a bunch of innocent people, but the Bible condones Samson’s act of bringing down the crowded pavilion to which he was chained, killing many?

I heard this latter issue discussed the other day. The radio show host responded by putting aside the similarities and focusing instead on the differences.  As I was listening, I realized how often I had been subject to this confusion-producing tactic.  Obfuscation can occur when arguments highlight the points in common.  Often the distinctions and differences go unmentioned, yet they can quickly bring clarity to the controversy.

Trading on what appears to be a significant showstopper, the powerful appearance of similarities between examples, can be a case of redirection.  In informal logic, we name that fallacy the Red Herring.

What is a Red Herring?  It’s a tactic based on a tradition in northern coastal town markets (but likely to occur anywhere deception is needed).  Imagine a weekly farmer & fisherman’s market. A policeman spots a pickpocketer.  Blowing his whistle and gathering reinforcements, he sics his hound dogs after the thief.  Speeding by a fishmonger, our criminal grabs some mackerel or other fish and throws it behind him at the yapping dogs like a stick.  The animals change course, suddenly motivated by the prospect of a tasty treat!

So what are we to do when an opponent moves the spotlight to their defended case and how it’s no different than an example, 100 % accepted by current society?

Gently acknowledge the similarities; don’t dispute them.  But then YOU redirect the discussion to the fact that differences often are critical.   Offer this example:

  • Two glasses of clear liquid.  One contains nothing but water.  The other holds water and one teeny, tiny eye-dropper-measured partial milliliter of arsenic.  I think any reasonable person would say that the invisible drop of the poison WOULD make a difference!

If you can’t think on your feet to discern differences between examples, then ask your interlocutor some clarifying questions to uncover what he thinks the pertinent commonalities might be.  That will buy you some time so you can think clearly.  However, if nothing comes to mind, there is NO shame in saying with humility that you need some time to think about the issue he brought up.  Ask him if you all can revisit the topic in the near future.  The other person, someone whom God also created in His image with the ability to reason, will likely look at you with a tad more respect.  And that is gain.  Then go do your research and do follow up with him.  You’ll grow in your thinking skills and learn something about how your friend thinks.  And you might change his mind!

 

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.