Tag Archives: Strawman

Logical Gal and the ‘good’ life

6 Aug

Good Life - Rob Lowe Cigar Aficionado  “Good” – Once again we bump up against the importance of clarity in our language.

Rob Lowe, apparently, exemplifies someone enjoying ‘the good life’.  To wit, ‘Cigar Aficionado‘  even has a regular feature by that name. Just what IS the ‘good life’?   And what is meant by ‘good’?   The word good is one of those equivocal  terms that refer to different concepts.  The differences in meaning and usage range from-

  • the moral good – John always does what is good in the eyes of God
  • the effective good – This device is good for opening cans
  • the expedient good – What good timing, that John arrived in time to take the children home
  • the good player – John is good at tennis – skilled in a sport
  • the pleasing good – Your dinner tastes good;  the photo is a good representation of me
  • the thoughtful good – It was good of you to stop by with my mail

“Yes, well….what’s the big deal?” you say.  Good question!  (in this case, good means ‘appropriate’). The rub is the time one needs to clarify meaning.   Making distinctions takes time. It’s much easier for person A to be sloppy with terms or accuse person B of a contradiction or even portray person B’s view by means of a strawman fallacy.  (Distorting someone’s argument so you can knock it) Strawman Fallacy

I heard such an exchange the other day when a young Christian man announced that God had contradicted himself, citing several places in the Bible where God claims to show NO partiality:

  • For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. (Deut 10:17)
  • ...because God does not show partiality. (Rom 2:11)

Yet, (the young man continued), God also says that He chooses some to love and some to hate.

  • Even as it is written, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated. (Rom 9:13)

Perceptive young man, he was, but the key to unraveling a seeming contradiction was to clarify the term PARTIALITY. Fortunately for me (and the young man), the pastor reassuring us that there was NO contradiction was John Piper.  He clearly explained that partiality was discrimination based on irrelevant considerations.

For example, if I am hiring the most qualified person to teach French, but overlook someone’s clear lack of abilities and experience because her mother  is my friend, or due to her skill in baking goodies for the teachers’ lounge or because she and I both happened to be  born in Atlanta, then I am WRONGLY showing partiality.

But if God chooses people on whom to show His favor according to HIS wise and good criteria as opposed to how the world judges what is appropriate, then we can still say with assurance that God does not show favoritism.

Just look at how God saves people from every kind of :

  • social strata and
  • people group and
  • age bracket and
  • income level

..and people with differing levels of education and aptitudes and experiences

…and regardless of the crimes they have committed or societal good they have done

These examples surely point to the FACT that God IS impartial.

What good news for you and me.  All we have to do is act on His encouragement….

  • “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:22)

Jesus knocking at the door

Do you see the importance of taking the time to exercise correct thinking?  Deliberately parsing out meaning from the different distinctions is WORTH the energy.

Question: What is a seeming contradiction that the ‘world’ tends to showcase, whether in  the political, spiritual or educational arenas? 

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?