Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 6, 1956

The Need Of Argumentation

E. L. Flannery, Sciotoville, Ohio

There have always been arguments, and I suppose (and hope) there always will be. Argument, in addition to satisfying the understanding as to the truth of the proposition, must also reckon with human prejudices, impulses, motives and emotions. The types of argumentation are persuasion, debating, discussion (Latin dis, "apart," and quatio, "shake") and the sales talk. Perhaps we use discussion (public and private), more than any other type of argumentation. We try to "shake apart" for examination or analysis most every controversial subject. Is not this in harmony with the Divine injunction to "prove all things; hold fast that which is good"?

Detecting Fallacies

In all discussion, and especially in religious subjects, we should learn how to detect fallacious arguments and refute them. We should never knowingly use a fallacious argument. A fallacy can be an error in reasoning, an inconsistency in argument, a false belief whether due to sound reasoning from unsound premises, or to unsound reasoning from sound premises, or "any mental confusion Whatever." A brief classification of fallacies has been made by A. Craig Baird, famous Professor of Speech in State University of Iowa, and published by Ginn and Co. in "Public Discussion and Debate," and then discussed fully in the chapter on fallacies. We here give only the incomplete classification as given on pages 177-178, with a brief statement to clarify the meaning:

I. Equivocation — (the wrong interpretation of a term; the using of the same term more than once in an argument and in a different sense).

II. Ambiguous construction — (meaning is doubtful).

III. The Syllogism.

A. The categorical syllogism

1. Four terms (ambiguous middle)

2.Two terms (ambiguous middle)

3.Undistributed middle

4. Illicit major

5. Illicit minor

6. Negative premises

7. Hasty generalization, or false causation in the premises

B. The disjunctive syllogism

1. Alternatives not exhaustive

2. Alternatives not mutually exclusive

C. The hypothetical syllogism

1. Denying the antecedent

2. Affirming the consequent

IV. Argument from specific instances (Generalization)

A.Insufficient number of instances

B.Negative instances

C. Instances not typical

D. Inaccuracy in facts

E.Faulty causal connection

F. Fallacies of statistics

V. Casual relation A. Assumed connection between phenomena — (non secuitur, "it does not follow").

B. Assumed connection between phenomena and antecedent

C. Inadequate cause

D. Counteracting cause

E. Inaccuracy of facts

VI. Analogy, figurative and literal A. Points of difference outweighing points of like-nets

B. Negative instances C. Inaccuracy of facts

D. Lack of casual connection VII. Begging the question

A. Arguing in a circle B. Assuming a more general truth which involves the point at issue

C. Fallacious question — ("Have you quit beating your wife" type of question)

VIII. Ignoring the question, the issue — (While "begging the question" sticks to the issue but asserts what needs to be proved "ignoring the question" leads away from the issue to other matters )

A. Appeal to passion, prejudice, humor B. Discussion of personalities

C. Shifting ground — (carrying argument to some other proposition)

D. Refuting an argument not advanced by opponent E. Appeal to tradition, custom

F. Appeal to authority — (that some distinguished man favored it)

G. Appeal to ignorance of the opposite — (In ROUGHING IT Mark Twain has a character support his statement that a buffalo can climb a tree by asking his skeptical listeners if they ever saw a buffalo try. On their replying in the negative he says they have no grounds for doubting his word until they can prove that a buffalo cannot climb a tree)

H. Fallacy of false synthesis — (the fallacy of assuming that a thing is true of a whole which is true only of the parts — or some of the parts — taken separately)

I. Fallacy of division — (this is the converse of false synthesis; it is assuming that what is true of the whole is true of each part. ILLUS. "America is a rich country. Every American is therefore rich")

J. Fallacy of exceptional instances — (Illus: "He drank corn liquor and lived to the age 102. To live long drink corn liquor")

Could You Make Application?

As you read this list of fallacious arguments did you see where it had been employed by some in discussion of present issues in the church? Check each one again to see if, first, you have been guilty of fallacy, and secondly, to see if you recognize where others have used fallacies instead of genuine arguments. We can easily employ fallacies and be unaware of it. That is why we need discussions ("apart — to shake") by able men to take the arguments apart if it can be done, that we may examine them in the clear light of truth and logic.