Isn’t it annoying how, when you’re having an argument with someone, they keep demanding that you make sense, or expecting you to explain yourself, or telling you that your position has no basis in reality? Like, when you’re pointing out how that Obama guy’s definitely a Muslim, but people keep bringing up those Christian churches he went to for years and all those things he’s said about being a Christian, and completely ignore that one time it looked like he was wearing a turban? Doesn’t that just piss you off?
Some people are just sticklers for sound logic that way. A logical fallacy is some type of argument which doesn’t work, and can’t reasonably be used to support the proposed conclusion. This section of the Skeptictionary is going to be about the various types of logical fallacy that people constantly use, often without really being aware of it. These are important to understand, and to avoid as much as possible, for what I hope are obvious reasons. If you’re trying to persuade someone else of your correctness, and you’re having to use manipulative strategies and faulty logic to do it, then maybe what you’re arguing ain’t so great. And if you don’t know how to spot a fallacious argument, then you’re in a pretty weak position to judge when someone else is taking you for a ride.
Arguments that try to sound persuasive, without actually invoking logic or making any sense, may look something like this:
“Have you examined every photo of an alien spaceship ever and proved that every one of them is a fake?”
“If you let them gays get married, next year you’ll be legally obligated to go on a honeymoon with your dog!”
“I’m just too ahead of my time for you to understand me. They laughed at Einstein too when he invented the speed of light.”
“It’s not a horse, it’s a unicorn! His horn’s only visible if you really believe in him!”
“You know who also wanted universal healthcare? Communists.”
It’s a useful skill to have, to understand why these kinds of arguments shouldn’t persuade us. Otherwise we could end up basing our political opinions on some irrelevant nonsense, or giving money to nutcases for pointless scientific research because they think they’re the next Einstein, or rallying against a good idea just to avoid being painted with some undesirable label.
So, this section of the Skeptictionary is going to detail some of the wonky arguments to watch out for, and to call people on when you see them being used to try and convince you of something.
Anyway, you know who gets taken in by logical fallacies? Communists. You’re not a communist, are you?
(What are we thinking of the name “Skeptictionary”, by the way? I was also toying with Rationalmanac, but I’m not wholly convinced by either. Suggestions welcome.)