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."