12 Fallacies to Avoid in Communication | Reasons To Believe

12 Fallacies to Avoid in Communication | Reasons To Believe

  1. Argumentum ad baculum: “An appeal to force” uses threats to achieve the arguer’s goal. Damer cites the evangelical “threat of eternal damnation” conversion tactic as an example of this fallacy. Ouch! Time to rethink that approach.
  2. Argmentum ad misericordium: “An appeal to pity” stirs up emotions and tugs on our heart strings. Though the evoked emotions don’t change the truth or falseness of the issue at hand, they can cloud our judgment.
  3. Genetic fallacy: This fallacy occurs when people draw a conclusion about something based solely, or primarily, on its origin, without regard to how it has changed over time. For example, Ken points out in an online article that skeptics commit this fallacy when they “suggest that belief in God isn’t objectively true because such beliefs arise [originate] from feelings of loneliness.”
  4. Wishful thinking: Wishful thinking makes the logical error of assuming that just because we want something to be true (or false), then it will be true (or false). Relativistic thinking succumbs to this fallacy. (Listen to episode 42 of Ken’s podcast, Straight Thinking.)
  5. Post hoc ergo propter hoc (“after this, therefore because of this”): As Ken explains in his book A World of Difference, “This type of reasoning insists that because A precedes B, then A must have caused B.” For example, research shows that linking standard immunization shots with the rise in autism mistakenly assumes that simply because some cases of autism were detected after administration of a vaccination that the vaccination must some how be a cause of autism.
  6. Argumentum ad ignorantiam: “An appeal to ignorance” argues that something must be false because it has not yet been proven true. In A World of Difference, Ken notes that atheists frequently use this kind of fallacy to argue against God’s existence. They insist that since God’s existence has not been proven, God must not exist.
  7. Slippery slope: Also known as the “domino fallacy,” this tactic predicts that dire consequences will inevitably result from a certain belief or course of action. For example, someone might argue that drinking an occasional glass of wine eventually leads to alcoholism.
  8. Hasty generalization: This fallacy pops up everywhere—in politics, religion, social issues, etc. It makes sweeping judgments about a group of people based on an insufficient sample of group members. For example, CEOs are often typecast as greedy, heartless profit-mongers based on the deplorable actions of a few CEOs.
  9. Argumentum ad hominem: “Attacking the man” methods aim to smear an opponent’s character, rather than answer the challenge of his or her arguments. (Listen to episode 10 of Straight Thinking.)
  10. Abusive: Name-calling, mudslinging, whatever you want to call it, this rhetorical tactic is rude and offensive.
    Poisoning the well: This attack, as Ken puts it, attempts to “discredit a person’s motives.” This is a challenge RTB’s scholars frequently face when opponents charge them with having insidious reasons for believing in an old Earth.
    Tu quoque (“you too”): This form of ad hominem turns the tables in order to avoid criticism. It is, essentially, the old childhood tactic of declaring, “Well, you do it, too!”
  11. Attacking the straw man: It’s much easier to knock down a scarecrow than an actual human being. Likewise, it’s easier to set up and defeat an exaggerated, simplified, or otherwise misrepresented version of an opponent’s argument rather than his or her true views. (Listen to episode 9 of Straight Thinking.)
  12. Suppressed evidence: This fallacy occurs when an arguer cherry-picks evidence and ignores or dismisses legitimate evidence that either challenges his or her own view or supports the opponent’s.
  13. Diversionary humor or ridicule: Everyone enjoys a good joke, but in a debate setting humor can be misused to avoid the real issue or ridicule an opponent unfairly.

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"...unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins." (John 8:24 ESV)