Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Informal Fallacy, Pt. 1: Straw Man

It might be fun to revisit some of the most common informal fallacies, because we see and hear so many of them these days. Let's start with that old favorite, the straw man.

Debaters construct straw men by deliberately misinterpreting their opponents' arguments, then use these distortions to attribute opinions to the opponent which he or she does not hold. Debater A then gleefully demoishes the straw man he himself has created. It works well if the audience is unsophisticated and gullible, as most are.

With this in mind, consider Dinesh D'Souzas contention that the conflicts between scientists and religious fundamentalists are the fault of...atheists.

About a hundred years ago, two anti-religious bigots named John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White wrote books promoting the idea of an irreconcilable conflict between science and God. The books were full of facts that have now been totally discredited by scholars. But the myths produced by Draper and Dickson continue to be recycled. They are believed by many who consider themselves educated, and they even find their way into the textbooks. In this article I expose several of these myths, D'Souza recently wrote as historical introduction to this topic.

There's the setup. Now watch for the hayguy:

According to the atheist narrative, the medieval Christians all believed that the earth was flat until the brilliant scientists showed up in the modern era to prove that it was round. In reality, educated people in the Middle Ages knew that the earth was round. In fact, the ancient Greeks in the fifth century B.C. knew the earth was a globe. They didn’t need modern science to point out the obvious.

OK, class, what medieval theory is Galileo famous for debunking? Was it the belief that the world is flat? That doesn't sound right, let's see...

D'Souza is a fairly popular fascist writer and the author of books with silly titles like "The Enemy at Home." He's done more than his share to kick off the revival of McCarthyism we're seeing these days. When you read people like this or listen to wingnut radio, try keeping a list of informal fallacies handy, along with a sharp pencil.

Many thanks to Sadly, no for this item, quotes, and the idea.

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