Friday Fallacy 4-10-15

It’s Friday and you know what that means… It’s time once again for your #FridayFallacy!

As always, we will begin with an example to give you a chance to guess the fallacy, and then we’ll name it and explain how it works and how to counter it for the next time you come across it.

This week’s fallacy is visual! See the picture, then scroll down the the explanation.

straw-man
Ready?

This week’s fallacy is the Straw Man fallacy. This fallacy is committed when “a person simply ignores a person’s actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position” (The Nizkor Project). It looks like this:

1. Person A has position X.
2. Person B presents position Y (which is a distorted version of X).
3. Person B attacks position Y.
4. Therefore X is false/incorrect/flawed.

Here’s an everyday example:

Bill and Ted are arguing about dinner plans:
Ted: “Let’s go out to dinner. I don’t want to cook tonight.”
Bill: “We just went out the other day. Do we have to go out every night?”
Ted: “That was last weekend, and I never said anything about going out every night.”

The easiest way to catch a straw-man fallacy is simply to listen very carefully for the exact argument being asserted. Sometimes it helps to restate it for the person and check in with them: “To make sure I understand your position, you are saying that ____. Is that right?” To counter one, just be frank and correct the misstatement, and make sure to offer that you believe your claim is not only accurate but reasonable. Sarcasm and beating around the bush tend not to work well to counter this fallacy, although they can be effective in the right situation. But, because it depends on the fallacious party marking an outrageous claim, you already have the high ground, and all you have to do is keep it by showing that what you’re saying is, in fact, reasonable.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s fallacy! Have a great weekend!

Thanks to our very own Alexa Blumenstock for this “fixed” version of the graphic:

straw-man-fixed

  • Plank in your own eye

    Of course, atheists NEVER use the straw man argument when arguing that believers are anti-science, anti-gay, etc. Atheists ALWAYS ask what someone believes before judging them and NEVER resort to stereotypes, hyperbole, and intellectual dishonesty when talking about religion, right?

    • cletis

      No, no; you’re using the wrong fallacy here. “Guilt by generalization” is a fallacy for another Friday.

      • Chris Harper

        i had someone tell me i was gay because i had long hair, and then when i told them that if i was gay cause i had long hair then jesus was gay cause he had long hair, they got very, very mad and wanted to fight me, so all i did was walk away shaking my head

        • Samuel Lane

          Someone once accused me of being gay but I said, o, I was just festive.

    • Spartacus Maximus

      Religion is for dopes.

      • computernerd12

        yep. it is.

      • Wow … just wow

        Wow, that really does settle things once and for all, doesn’t it?

      • Miriam English

        Religion is a delusion, but some very smart people can be captured by it. Larry Wall, the brilliant programmer who created the programming language Perl, is Christian, but is far from being a dope. Benedictine nun Joan Chittister is an incredibly smart woman who works for peace and human rights, particularly women’s rights. She is also a vocal critic of her own church. She is certainly no dope.

        I have met a lot of very stupid religious people, but I have also met a lot of stupid atheists. As a group, atheists are smarter, but that can never say anything about any individual person.

        All generalisations are false. 🙂

        • Spartacus Maximus

          I cannot understand how an intelligent person can believe the ridiculous nonsense that is Christianity. Religion is certainly the millieu of dopes, tho I will Grant you that apparently some otherwise smart people fall in, like a stinking, slimy cesspool of quicksand.

          • Miriam English

            It is easy to be mystified when looking in from the outside. I have never been a believer, so I don’t know first-hand what religion feels like, but I have, over the years, had many smart and lovely friends who were believers of one or another loony religion. I imagine it must look very different when your judgement is distorted by the mind-virus itself.

            Remember that religion has several extremely effective survival tricks. One of the primary ones is to make people think that to question it is bad. Also, many of these people are raised in families and communities saturated with that world-view. When all the mental connections you have reinforce such an idea it is difficult to see an easy way to escape it.

            That’s why we are important. We can give them a helping hand to left themselves out of it.

            Don’t despise them. They are our brothers and sisters infected with a mind virus. Feel sorry for them and try to help them escape its grip.

          • Spartacus Maximus

            You are correct. They are to be pitied, since they are mired in delusion. I tend to forget that, because it is frustrating when you see them drowning in quicksand, throw them a line to pull themselves out, which they refuse, choosing instead to sink deeper and deeper into their silly fairy tales. Sigh.

    • Jon Todd

      Atheists aren’t against Christian people, they are against Christianity. The Bible itself is anti-gay, and anti-science, and if you are a Christian you should follow the Bible completely, that’s the point. Therefore, it’s not quite a huge logical step to say that Christianity is full of anti-science, anti-gay stubborn mules unwilling to ever budge on anything, because their Word is THE WORD, as it’s been for 2000 years.

  • Atheism – Feel superior yet?

    It’s fascinating that the author of this post can’t even come up with a decent example of straw man argumentation. But he’s so VERY sure of his own cleverness that he’s unlikely to listen to anyone else anyway.

    • Cthulhu21

      Got any better ideas then? This shit’s harder than it seems.

      • Look! An intellectual believer

        How about “Christians believe God created the world in literally seven days and don’t believe in evolution, hate gays, and are less intelligent in general than atheists”?

        And no, this “shit” (i.e. logical reasoning) isn’t hard at all. But it’s painful to watch the supposedly intellectually-superior and reason-driven atheists struggle with concepts that are older than Aristotle.

        • Cthulhu21

          I thought this was about giving an example of illogical reasoning and the guy complaining that it wasn’t witty or some such. Being witty isn’t that easy.
          That was what I was trying to get at.

          And yes I do realize that there are those in the atheist comunity that are under the false impression that belief, or lack thereof, in a deity (or any supernatural claim really) denotes intelligence. It doesn’t mean we’re all like that. (we have idiots comming from all walk of life)

          I find it painful watching people looking down on other people just for being people, and then thinking that they’re somehow above all that. Even if you weren’t religious (correct me if I’m wrong) I would still think you were being a crappy person.

          • Plank in your own eye

            Isn’t modern atheism nothing more than “looking down on other people”? The whole point of AA and all of their PR is telling people that there is no God and that they should give up their “silly” religious beliefs.

            Look at the billboards that AA spends money on and tell me who is being “crappy” by “looking down on other people”.

          • Cthulhu21

            You think I agree with everything they do? I know that there are atheistic people who lump religious people under one roof but you’re doing that also with me. Think on that a bit.

          • Next move is yours

            I am very happy to say that atheists can be good, productive, and kind people worthy of my respect and friendship. Please ask your atheist friends and AA to make a similar statement about religion — something along the lines of “we don’t agree with them, but religous people aren’t all bad and some are actually quite intelligent and nice”.

            If Mr. Silverman is willing to make such a comment on national news, I’ll donate $100 to the charity of his choice in the name of AA.

          • Jon Todd

            So since you use the president of AA as an example of what every atheist on earth is like, to the point where you want him to make a public statement representing all atheists, can we quote the last and current Popes and leaders of fundamentalist Christian organizations and use those as examples of how all Christians are? I’ve said that religious people can be nice and intelligent plenty of times, and so have many others, so stop making such general statements. I don’t get it, fundamentalist Christians say things against atheism, so obviously atheists refute said things, and people like you jump in to defend them like they aren’t being assholes and spreading fallacies. Not a person ever said that some Atheists don’t do the same thing. And most Christians believe that Atheists are doomed and going to hell, and at least we don’t believe anything so horrible about Christians. So forgive the Atheists a bit for being a bit begrudging sometimes, we ARE talking supreme creator and afterlife after all, not a game of checkers. We don’t have to point fingers at each other and be dicks though, which is something you seem to be doing well.

          • Miriam English

            Well said, Jon.

          • Miriam English

            Many of us do say that all the time. I said it above, about half an hour ago.

          • Miriam English

            Atheism is simply about not believing in fantasies. The atheist movement has sprung up largely as an antidote to the dangerously strong grip that religion and its bigotry has on society. Even as it dwindles, religion grows more vocal and insistent. The atheist movement is a rational humanist counterweight.

          • Plank in your own eye

            “Christmas is hard for many atheists, so we will provide programming free from superstition and fairy tales that allows families to watch together and not worry about being preached at,” said American Atheists President Dave Silverman.

            I’m sure that the president of AA wasn’t “looking down” on people when he called their beliefs “superstition” and “fairy tales”, right?

          • Miriam English

            I’m puzzled. What would you expect them to be called? They are superstition and fairy tales. You would agree with that description if someone was talking about astrology, or belief in leprechauns, or someone (like Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories did) who believes in actual fairies. All those things, it is easy to show, are mere superstition and belief in fairy tales.

            It is similarly easy to show the same about Christianity and all the world’s religions (of which there are more than a thousand). There are dozens of ways to show the fallacy of believing in Christianity, such as pointing out the hundreds of contradictions in the Bible (http://miriam-english.org/articles/biblical_bloopers.html), or asking why an infinitely good god would torture anybody for a minute — let alone forever — simply for not being convinced by it, or asking why a good god is fine with innocent children dying horribly from diseases, parasitic infestations, poverty, and war. But the easiest way is to simply show that the soul doesn’t exist.
            http://miriam-english.org/articles/soulless.html

            I’m sorry Plank, it is not spite to describe religion as “superstition” and “fairy tales”, it is simply correct.

          • Plank in your own eye

            ““Even children know churches spew absurdity, which is why they don’t want to attend services. Enjoy the time with your family and friends instead,” said American Atheists President David Silverman. “

            Nope, Mr. Silverman is definitely not “looking down” on other people …. not “crappy” at all …..

          • Cthulhu21

            My comment goes for other atheists also. What? Do you think we’re all like minded?

          • morgan

            I hope not. If we were we would be just like any other supernatural clubhouse.

          • morgan

            Christers (and their enablers) look down on atheists all the time.
            Supernaturalism is crappy.

          • Tony

            Umm he doesn’t seem to be. He simply “attacked” religion not the children or it’s parents. If he is looking down on anything it is the absurdities spewed. Although it’s true that some equate themselves with their religion so I can see how you could make that assumption. Please read with caution as if if you are asked to vote for the puppies and kittens bill don’t assume it’s to save them read carefully for all one knows it may be a measure to feed puppies and kittens to our children. Read, think, read some more then think some more lest you wind up agreeing to or voting for, or in this case assuming, without having a clear understanding of the issue. If I “look down” upon nazis it is not to be assumed I look down upon Germans. If I dislike our law enforcement procedures and structure it doesn’t mean I hate cops, right? This is an opinion I’m holding to at the moment but one could easily assume I’m stating what I feel is fact, which is not the case. Furthermore, some preach peace and understanding in their church at times I’m sure but there is no way that anyone can deny that absurdities are uttered from pulpits on a regular basis. If those examples still make no sense here is a final one, it’s a direct attack on individuals to say sinners will go to hell, that is “crappy” it is an attack on an idea or concept to say sinning is bad or evil.

  • Support Atheism Today

    Any christian who supports the homosexual lifestyle is not lending support to their religion & is guilty of being a hypocrite. The christian bible is clear in its teachings against homosexuality. There is no way a christian can support both sides. Anyone who thinks can is only fooling themselves.

    • Tolerance

      Please tell that to the openly gay BISHOPS in the Episcopalian church.

      As Christians we should love our neighbors regardless of their sexual orientations or habits — that doesn’t mean we approve of or condone them.

      Saying that we love, tolerate, and respect people who we disagree with is not hypocracy : it’s maturity, something apparently lacking in much of the atheist world.

      • Andrew

        Why are you suddenly attacking all atheists? That’s uncalled for. One person who identified as atheist presented a view that you don’t like. That’s unfortunate. It’s also just one person and no basis for a sweeping generalization.

    • Barry Phelps

      No rational person can take the Bible literally – too many contradictions, dubious translations and no contemporary documents. So Christians should just take the teachings of Christ who told us to love each other but said nothing at all about “The homsexcual lifestyle” and only ever uttered some forty words about sex..

  • peter melian

    Nobody has seen yet any celestial fetish in Kastmandu, Nepal or the area hit by a certain volcano in Chile.

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