Wednesday, January 14, 2015

8 Logical Fallacies

8 Logical Fallacies That Fuel Anti-Science Sentiments

1. False Equivalence

Balanced reporting is important, no question. But that doesn't mean every single perspective on a contentious issue deserves equal air time or consideration. Such is the fallacy of false equivalence, the assertion that there's a logical equivalence between two opposing arguments when there is none. 
False equivalence is a logical fallacy which describes a situation where there is a logical and apparent equivalence, but when in fact there is none. This fallacy is categorized as a fallacy of inconsistency.[1] It would be the antonym of the mathematical concept of material equivalence.
False equivalence is occasionally claimed in politics, where one political party will accuse their opponents of having performed equally wrong actions.[2] Commentators may also accuse journalists of false equivalence in their reporting of political controversies if the stories are perceived to assign equal blame to multiple parties.[3] False Equivalence should not be confused with false balance – the media phenomenon of presenting two sides of an argument equally in disregard of the merit or evidence on a subject (a form of argument to moderation).

2. The Appeal to Nature & The Naturalistic Fallacy

Fewer things have done more to undermine scientists and their work than the appeal to nature and the naturalistic fallacy. The former is the belief that what is natural is "good" and "right" and the latter deducing "ought" from "is." Both have been used to argue that progress in science and technology represents a threat to the natural order of things. It's a line of argumentation that lauds the inherent wholesomeness of all things natural, while decrying the unhealthiness and unsavoriness of all things unnatural.

3. Observation Selection

Many critics of science deliberately (and sometimes unconsciously) select and share information that serves to undermine specific proclamations of science, while ignoring information that works to support credible hypotheses.

4. Appeal to Faith

I'm not interested in the evidence — I just have faith that what I believe is true.
Arguing about God is useless because God is beyond scientific reasons or arguments.
I refuse to believe in all this global warming doom-and-gloom. I have faith that God wouldn't let such a bad thing happen to us.
Sound familiar? These are common refrains repeated by people who have appealed to their faith when making an argument — a fallacy in which religious convictions are conflated with reason and evidence. But while many of these people believe they're acting rationally, the truth is of the matter is that the choice to believe in something is no substitute for science.

See also: the argument to uncertainty and the universal skepticism fallacy.
The "appeal to faith" is often used in a different way by theists - who claim that all forms of thought rest upon faith. This claim, which was created to undermine reason itself, is false. There is no need for a baseless belief when one has reasons to believe, be they axioms or pragmatism. See the quote under the Stolen Concept Fallacy for more on this.
Faith, by definition, relies on a belief that does not rest on logic or evidence. Faith depends on irrational thought (i.e., a desire) and produces intransigence. Faith has never been shown to be anything more than believing what you want to believe no matter the reality. Historically, people "of faith" have used the very next appeal that follows "to alter the opinions" of their opponents.

5. God of the Gaps

Science does not have all the answers, nor does it pretend to. We still don't know how consciousness works, we don't know what instigated the Big Bang, and there are still holes in our understanding of how certain traits emerged via natural selection. That's not to say these are intractable problems; it's quite possible we'll solve these some day. In the meantime, it's important to gather evidence, posit hypotheses, and assume the naturalistic paradigm (i.e. all phenomenon can be explained without having to invoke the actions of a divine force).

6. Appeal to Consequences

Appealing to consequences can be seen as a kind of precautionary principle, an injunction to not engage in activities or scientific endeavors that raise threats of harm (or undesirable outcomes) to human health or the environment on account of a unforeseen series of cascading events (which is related to another fallacy, the slippery slope). In many cases, however, anti-science folks intertwine the boundaries between their disputes of a particular scientific line of inquiry with alleged philosophical and moral consequences.
For example, there's a fear that belief in evolution will lead to genocide, or that it will lead to the opinion that humans are just another animal in the forest (i.e. the negation of human exceptionalism). Another common concern is that atheism/materialism will lead to an unfulfilled, immoral life.

7. Withholding of Consent

It's just a theory.
No, sometimes it's not just a theory. Okay, sure, scientific principles like natural selection and general relativity are theories, but there comes a point when explanations or models become so instructive and so damned useful that they graduate to the level of axioms — a statement or proposition that's so established, accepted, or self-evidently true that we should refrain from withholding our consent, because to do otherwise would be simply unreasonable.

8. Playing God

Think of this as the nonsecular corollary to the naturalistic fallacy. Though not a formal logical fallacy, it is an error in thinking — the idea that humanity should not tread on what is traditionally God's domain, and that by doing so, we're being hubristic, reckless, and irreverent.

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