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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Weekly Trivia: Bad Arguments Series #5

The Slippery Slope
I've been talking about fallacies in arguments, in other words, bad reasoning techniques in a debate situation.  I started this trivia series because I've seen a lot of Christians presenting their beliefs poorly in recent years.  It's important that when the world is watching, we don't use these bad techniques to argue our points.  They leave doubts that what we have to say is really true--and we may not get another chance to correct the mistake.

The Slippery Slope
The title of this fallacy fits wonderfully with the 2010 Olympic Games coverage, but the actual error in reasoning unfortunately has been better applied to some members of the religious community.  In the slippery slope fallacy, the debater argues that if something is allowed, it will set off a disastrous and inevitable chain of events that leads to ultimate doom.  This fallacy pushes the illogical "mental leap" that just because something could happen, it will happen, and often is fraught with the personal opinion of the debater.

Example: "Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.  But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.  Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. 'What are we accomplishing?' they asked. 'Here is this man performing many miraculous signs.  If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation'" (John 11: 45-48 NIV)

The Sanhedrin's predicted doom came years later, but not as a result of anything that Jesus did.  They assumed that Christ would become a military or political leader, and based their predictions on that.

This suggests a possible solution to the slippery slope fallacy: check for assumptions based on personal opinions.  Having a strong personal opinion is great, but your point will become much stronger if you can back off personal opinion and base your conclusion on facts that other people could logically accept.