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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Weekly Trivia Files #14, No Alternatives

I just realized I've been talking about argument fallacies since the first week of this year!  I just hope that at this point my readers share some of my enthusiasm, or at least agree with my motives for posting all of this information.  (But if you're getting bored, don't worry. I only have 3 more topics to cover, and then I'm moving on to something else for the weekly trivia posts.)

I believe that critical thinking is essential for becoming "savvy sheep" in this world, and that part of critical thinking is learning to spot a lie, however cleverly hidden.  While some people believe that it is a bad idea to study about theologies or philosophies that oppose the gospel, I think it's very important that we do learn about the things (and people) we say we oppose.  This is not to make ourselves like them, or even to sample what they are dabbling in.  We should be careful to guard our hearts from their influence.  The best way we can do that is to weigh everything we hear against the balance of many scripture verses to solidify our own beliefs.

Polarization, or the Either/Or Fallacy

This debate trick is similar to the Red Herring in that it is used to distract the reader from noticing inconvenient or missing facts.  In the Either/Or Fallacy, the speaker sets up pairs of opposing statements that appear to be the reader or listener's only two options.  This overlooks (perhaps deliberately) any other ways someone could approach the issue or solve the problem.  It is possible for a debate to come down to only two options or solutions (with many reasons that support this conclusion), but this fallacy is usually employed to cut short the debate or to create an arbitrary solution to a very complex situation. 

Example, Not an Either/Or Fallacy:  "Either you clean your room like I've told you, or you're going to bed with no tv," Mom said.
This is not a debate or a complex issue.  It's a statement of terms, a laying down of the law.  Using an either/or statement here is correct, because this is a dilemma with only two solutions.

Example: Every Christian must write to their government officials about this issue, or millions could die.
This may be a worthy cause--fill in a cause as you will--but writing to government officials may not be the only solution to the problem.  Perhaps you could work with a charity that deals with the problem, etc.?  It's clear that there may be many solutions, but the speaker or writer only wants you to choose the one suggested.

Example:  "This is what Sennacherib king of Assyria says: On what are you basing your confidence, that you remain in Jerusalem under siege?  When Hezekiah says, 'The LORD our God will save us from the hand of the king of Assyria,' he is misleading you, to let you die of hunger and thirst.  Did not Hezekiah himself remove this god's high places and altars, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, 'You must worship before one altar and burn sacrifices on it'?
"Do you not know what I and my fathers have done to all the peoples of the other lands? Were the gods of those nations ever able to deliver their land from my hand?  Who of all the gods of these nations that my fathers destroyed has been able to save his people from me? How then can your god deliver you from my hand?  Now do not let Hezekiah deceive you and mislead you like this. Do not believe him, for no god of any nation or kingdom has been able to deliver his people from my hand or the hand of my fathers. How much less will your god deliver you from my hand!" (2 Chronicles 32: 10-15 NIV)
 The Either/Or Fallacy is more clear if you read the rest of the passage.  Sennacherib is stating that either you turn your back on your God and surrender to me, or you will die like all the others.  This excluded other outcomes, such as defeat at God's hand. Read the full passage here.