Monday, September 10, 2007

Reasons to take a course in Critical Thinking (Or: Some Plain Truths about Fallacious Reasoning)

During the course of this series my aim is to post responses to examples of poor reasoning skills, to correct them, and to explain why the reasoning is faulty. Some of these will be situated in the context of my ongoing endeavor to expose the manipulative and bigoted reasoning of hate groups like Pennsylvania's Patriot's Voice, and some will be in response to other examples of faulty logic. The point is to illustrate not only examples of reasoning gone astray, but to show how poor critical thinking skills can lead to conclusions that perpetuate stereotypes, encourage harmful behavior, and sometimes even lead to violence. Many of the fallacies I point out can be and often are employed to extort consent from an audience without having provided them either legitimate evidence or a coherent argument.

My first example amply illustrates this point, and is taken from the Press Enterprise (Bloomsburg, PA) call-in column, 30 Seconds: (

9.10.07. Confirming voter’s wise choice to reject his Berwick primary bid, PV-Runyon demonstrates his weak grasp of basic facts. Confusing natural law for civil law, he claims that “for law to exist it must have authority.” True for alterable civil laws; false for inalterable natural laws. The former are human artifacts; the latter describe the mechanics of the material universe. Neither require a supernatural creator, and even if the latter required an original cause (also false), a physical event like Big Bang neither is nor requires supernatural deity to produce it.

The name of this fallacy is Fallacy of Equivocation: The author confuses two different meanings of a word as if there were only one, in this case "law."


Russell Hume said...

This is funny. I addressed the same topic in a subject I just posted over on my blog ( I plan on elaborating on the topic tomorrow and was debating writing into "30 Seconds" about it also.

This might inspire me to do so.

It is also reassuring to see that the logical fallacy I noticed was the same one you did. Every year that passes since my undergrad tends to undermine the confidence with which I approach analyzing different arguments, but his was simply too good to resist.

Wendy Lynne Lee said...

Happy to have been of service, Mr. Hume. The Patriot's Voice supplies a virtually endless river of fallacies ranging from linguistic fallacies to begging the questions to fallacious appeals to authority to fallacies of ignorance, to post hocs--just a treasure trove. The frightening part, however, is that the reading public doesn't always see through the absurdities of much of their reasoning--hence the new blog.

Now, of course I will need to keep up with it! Thanks for the encouraging words....and may I say, your blog is quite spiffy looking!