Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How people invalidate their own arguments, part two.

Here are three more boneheaded moves. For great illustrations of these fallacies, and many others, just listen to a Rush Limbaugh show -- he has fallacies in spades.

Shifting the burden of proof: when the party that has to prove something just asserts that the opposition has to prove or disprove something.
Example: "Disprove my theory that all life was seeded on Earth by a race of highly evolved gym socks!" (the burden of proof is on the person making the original claim, it doesn't rest on those that are skeptical to the idea.)

Appealing to the majority: Attempting to justify one's argument by simply stating that tons of people believe in it.
Example: "Over half of American adults believe that the sun orbits the earth, therefore it must be true."

Composition Fallacy: wrongly drawing a conclusion about a whole entity based on observations about a smaller part of it.
Example: "I knew a Mexican guy, he was really lazy, therefore, all Mexicans are lazy."

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Common ways people invalidate their arguments

Here is quick list of some common fallacies, these three represent the bulk of what I hear in religious and political discussions.

Straw man: Your opponent will build an imaginary form of your argument, and then beat the stuffing out of it; hoping nobody will notice that the real argument has not been addressed.
Example: "So you believe in Evolution huh? So you believe we came about through random chance? Do you realize how silly that is!" (Evolution is not a theory of chance, but some will straw man that it is.)

Ad Hominem: Basically a name calling tactic, you smear the other speaker while not addressing their argument.
Example: "So you believe in the right to bare arms? You stupid gun nut."

Red Herring: They just try to change the subject on you.
Example: "Your god doesn't exist, why do you keep nagging me about it?" "Wow, why do you hate god?" (The position was that a god doesn't exist, not expressing hate to it.)

... More to come!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Occam's Razor

One of the best tools to have available to you is Occam's Razor. One way to define the function of OR is:

"When competing hypotheses are equal in other respects, the principle recommends selection of the hypothesis that introduces the fewest assumptions and postulates the fewest entities while still sufficiently answering the question." 

In English that means: if you have two or more equally solid ideas about how to explain something, the idea that is the most simplistic is the one to choose. Of course this doesn't mean that a really simple -- but completely invalid -- theory should be chosen over a valid one that is more complex; it's just a "rule of thumb" that instructs us to keep it simple.

One example of OR in action is its use in investigating religious experiences. Say we have a test subject named "Greg", who is a believing and practicing Christian, and he claims to hear the voice of a God in his head. Let's suppose we hook Greg up to an MRI machine, and we measure and record his brain activity while he is having a religious experience; we study this until we have a solid understanding of the effect of revelation on the brain. Now, if we hook an Atheist up to that MRI machine, and we observe the exact same changes in his brain while we simulate a religious experience, we can thus eliminate god from the picture via Occam's Razor; since we were able to replicate the effects of revelation without a God being involved, it's simpler to just say that the God isn't necessary for these brain activities to occur.

Another example of OR doing its thing would be crop circles. There were two leading ideas about how these circles happened, some say aliens did it, while others argued that humans were responsible. Since the idea of aliens being the cause is a highly complex one, we can eliminate it in favor of the more simplistic explanation that humans were behind the phenomena -- which turned out to be right. 

I would even argue that OR can help us with the Evolution vs Creationism debate. Both ideas are complex, but Creationism is far more complex than Evolution, and thus we should prefer the more streamlined explanation that we came to our current form by changing over time.

Occam's Razor is still sharp even after 700 years of use. Thanks William!


First post!

Welcome to the Evil Rationalism blog! This blog will be centered on clear thinking: rationality, logic, evidence, empiricism, and other tools we should use to enhance our understanding of the world.

We will also spend time on illustrating the freaky effects of what happens when we don't use our brains. By showcasing examples of illogical or irrational behavior we hope to "push back" against the continuing assault on our most precious faculty -- our ability to reason.

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