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Monday, May 10, 2010

Weekly Trivia Files #16 (The Last), Apples to Oranges

I started this trivia series at the beginning of the year, and today I'm wrapping it up with another fallacy that appears in both creative literary works (prose fiction, poetry, drama) and formal debate (essays, speeches, etc.).

For the sake of any readers who are just tuning in to this series, I've been covering bad logic and debate fallacies so that Christians can be armed against rhetoric tricks that can confuse and destroy faith, and so that they won't use them on others (because we don't have to trick people into believing the truth).  If you haven't kept up with the series, feel free to look through the archives.  The posts are numbered (except for the first two, but they're clearly labeled).

Last time I posited that the creative works we read have arguments in them, although we tend to overlook these arguments.  It is true that creative writing derives much of its power from emotion and symbolism, and that formal logic dictates an almost mathematical simplicity and order (thus excluding this sort of thing).  But I think we're missing something if we say that these two types of writing are mutually-exclusive.  In my personal creative writing endeavors, at least, I think of emotion and symbolism as a way of enriching logical debate, like a sugary coating on an otherwise dry or unpleasant set of problems.  It is logic that presents and orders the truth, but without emotion or symbolism, it never becomes personal, never draws us to examine ourselves or desire what is good.  This is why I think Jesus presented some of His most important points in parables instead of preaching in essay form.

So what am I saying?  Should we ignore logic?  Certainly not.  Every human being I've ever encountered was logical in his or her thinking--that is, always trying to have a reason to do something and think something.  Even babies try to find patterns in the world around them.  I don't think we can ever truly escape this trait in our natures. Therefore, I've come to believe that at the root of everything we hear is some sort of logic, even if it is flawed logic.  It isn't wrong to love beauty and symbolism, but it is our job, as thinking Christians, to find the argument amidst it all and determine whether it is the truth.

False Analogy: Comparing Apples to Oranges

I'm talking about emotion and symbolism and it's place in argument because this fallacy, the false analogy, is closely connected to that debate.  Authors of creative works regularly use metaphorical language (simile, hyperbole, synecdoche, etc.) to illustrate hard-to-describe or -explain  qualities.  Often figurative language compares a familiar thing to a less familiar thing, drawing parallels between the two or pointing out significant things they have in common, so the audience can understand the new concept better.

Okay, that sounds extremely technical, but I have to say that we use metaphors all the time.  When we try a new food and someone asks us what it tastes like, we might grin and say, "It tastes like chicken."  Metaphors likewise teach us something we didn't know before by making a comparison, although they're usually more complicated than that.

The false analogy looks just like a creative bit of metaphorical language, but it is illogical because the comparison it draws often overlooks key differences between the two things being compared, leaving the audience confused and misinformed.

A classic example is the comparison of apples to oranges.  They are both fruit, both sweet, and both frequently appear in still-life paintings.  However, if you compare them on the basis of shape, color, structure, parent plant, vitamin content, etc. they are radically different.  Therefore, you couldn't use one as an example to help a child understand more about the other.

Here are some more examples:
Example 1: The fall of Adam and Eve and subsequent banishment from Eden in Genesis should not be read as the initial breaking of fellowship between God and man as a result of sin; it is better read as a growing up story, in which God booted Adam and Eve out of the nest so they could achieve a more mature understanding of Him.
I read a discussion of this on a blog today (I've not quoted it verbatim) and I thought it fit here, perfectly.  It is part of a recently-published book by a famous Christian author who is an ordained minister (I'll give you no more details for now).  Let's break this down into simpler terms.  The author was comparing banishment from Eden and from God's presence to the experience of being told to move out when we're grown so that we can learn responsibility.  There are two metaphors here: (1) A bird sometimes pushes its babies out of the nest to force them to achieve what they were born to do, so a parent making a child move out is forcing him to achieve what he was designed to do; (2) In Genesis, God was like a parent trying to make Adam and Eve achieve what He designed them to be, not like a parent following law with punishment.  So we are being instructed to believe that God designed us to disobey Him and to die in exile from His presence (but with an understanding of God's reasoning that was achieved through negative experiences); that blaming others for our own decisions, killing others, etc. are just childish behaviors we grow out of; and finally that disobedience is not sin (transgression of a law) and not serious, but rather just honest, natural mistakes made while experimenting and learning, and therefore deserves no punishment.  In essence, the basic argument in this false analogy is that sin is not wrong, because it's just as much a natural part of growing up as losing a tooth or getting pimples.
Example 2: "In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked.  He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, 'Stand up on your feet!' At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.
 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, "The gods have come down to us in human form!" Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them." (Acts 14: 8-13 NIV). 
This false analogy is a little harder to explain, because it requires a bit of historical background.  Hermes was the messenger of Zeus according to Greek myth, so the basic analogy being made is that Paul and Barnabas were like Hermes and Zeus (in fact, were human versions of those gods) because they had performed miracles.  Beyond that, Paul was like Hermes because he was the one talking.  Obviously there are a lot of ways that Paul and Barnabas were unlike the Greek gods, including the fact that they did not have supernatural powers (their miracles were done by God, not by their own efforts) and Paul was not indeed Barnabas' messenger.  The people (reinforced by their temple priests) acted this way, based on a misinformed analogy, a false analogy.