Jonathan Sarfati (PhD, physical chemistry) is the author of Refuting Evolution. The title page shows the hammer of science smashing a glass pane (which I think is probably meant to represent evolution). The idea here – and certainly the idea expressed in the book, is that evolutionary biology can be refuted based on scientific considerations. This is a work on creation science.
I admit up front: I have not fully read this book. I picked it up the other day and read a few lines only, and something caught my eye. The point of my “name that fallacy” game is not whether or not you or I agree with the point of view of the author being quoted (I plan to do this multiple times in future with different authors holding a range of different points of view in an effort to spread the love around). It’s a bit like my “nuts and bolts” series, but with 85% more fun!
OK, here are the words that caught my eye as I flicked through the book aimlessly. The quote is from page 17:
Professor Richard Lewontin, a geneticist (and self-proclaimed Marxist), is one of the world’s leaders in promoting evolutionary biology.
I picked an easy example for the first round of this game. Now please, be nice, and also make sure to check out the game I told you about last time from Slots Baby. All I’m asking you to do is name the fallacy. Be specific: Is it a specific type of fallacy within the general category you’re thinking of?
- Ruse vs Dawkins
- Pathological misrepresentation by infidels
- Deal Breakers and Christian Essentials
- Don’t get a degree in apologetics
- Coming up…
95 thoughts on “Name that fallacy! Sarfati on Evolution”
Glenn i cant name the fallacy without doing a little research first, no training in logic.
However i believe it was Stephen J Gould who admitted his Marxist beliefs and ideaology had informed the way he looked at evolutionary theory. So although i cant name the fallacy it may not be a fallacy as other evolutionists have admittedly that their political philosophy has informed their science.
That well be poisoned.
Good God, a foreword by Ken Ham. Ew.
Was that comment meant to be ironic, Richard? 😉
Unless any of facts given in that statement are wrong making it a strawman, then I thinks a Poisoning the Well fallacy. The Author tries to cast doubt on Lewontin’s presentation by slipping in that he’s an admitted Marxist.
Trick question. There is no fallacy.
You’ll have to show an actual piece of reasoning for there to be a logical fallacy. What you’ve got in your quote are a couple of premises.
We should coin a new fallacy type – falsely claimed fallacy. 🙂
The cows are dying, is it the water in the well? I think someone has poison the well!
It is indeed a type ad hominem, class: Poisoning the Well because Professor Richard Lewontin is being tagged “self-proclaimed Marxist”, a poison to keep away cows that wish drink at Richard Lewontin’s well of knowledge.
The reasoning is implicit: the Professor is a Marxist, and so we should be suspicious of anything he says. Linketh.
The reasoning needs to be explicit else you’re making up fallacies to poke at.
Well Lewontin is an evolutionary biologist, and he has identified himself as a Marxists, so there’s nothing factually wrong. Its true that to be a logical fallacy it has to be a sort of argument, but I sorta assumed there would be a proper context to the quote.
It looks like poisoning the well doesn’t need falsehoods to work. What you say might be true and still successfully classified as a fallacy. But one would need to show that the comment was unjustified or unnecessary in order to show the fallacy.
For example the quote labelled the guy as a geneticist. Perhaps geneticists might be held in poor light by some and thus an example of poisoning the well.
Admittedly it is difficult to imagine what ones political ideology might have to do with a science debate. But then again, evolution ain’t science, is it. 😉
Maybe it’s a case of preemptive poisoning of the well?
Grant’s right though, that if the game is ‘name the fallacy’, it’s only fair for one to expect there to be actual stated arguments.
I mean it’s a bit like wheel of fortune without a wheel, or name-that-tune but you have to infer the tune.
“You’ll have to show an actual piece of reasoning for there to be a logical fallacy.”
Not really. The book is itself an extended argument against evolution. If, in the context of making such an argument, someone says what Dr Sarfati says here, they are indeed committing a fallacy. I don’t need to reproduce the argument here.
“Poisoning the well” I’d say. I was having a discussion with a 6-dayer the other day who said (by implication) that Christian evolutionary scientists are so for the funding—try getting funding as a creationist! But the irony is that this kind of argument (which I think is falsely premissed on the idea of their insincerity)cuts both ways—try being an honest scholarly pastor in some parts of the US deploying the learning that comes from the best biblical criticism: you daren’t if you want a platform and an income!
Here is the book online
The fallacy is not poisoning the well.
You should probably read the book. Also his books Refuting Evolution 2, and Refuting Compromise. His latest book is The Greatest Hoax on Earth? which specifically argues against Richard Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth. I suppose the highest compliment he received on richarddawkins.net was the number of people who criticised his book without reading it.
Lewontin is a geneticist, an evolutionist, and a Marxist. He is also one of the most self aware of evolutionists because he understands the naturalistic philosophy behind evolution. It’s remarkable the number of evolutionists who don’t understand that a proposition that excludes God a priori can never be used to argue against God.
“The fallacy is not poisoning the well.”
wait are you saying that not poisoning the well is the fallacy, or that poisoning the well is not the fallacy?
The only explicit statement given is that Lewontin is a world leader in a specific field. There are also some implied statements like the fact that he is a professor. I could only see a fallacy here if any of the supplied information is false.
Perhaps the real fallacy is taking a statement out of context from a book you haven’t read?
I wonder how long it’ll be before Glenn weighs in. Its been twelve hours.
Ha, Lewontin is my grand-supervisor
Looks like poisoning the well to me. Safarti’s readers are unlikely to think highly of Marxism so he slips Lewontin’s political leanings in before he talks about… whatever he talks about.
” It’s remarkable the number of evolutionists who don’t understand that a proposition that excludes God a priori can never be used to argue against God.”
I don’t think this is true, at least in terms of probabilistic reasoning. Think of it this way, Paley looked at the biological world and said “this couldn’t have happened without some intelligence behind it”, so the facts of biology made us think god was more likely. Darwin came along and showed us that the Paley was talking about could be explained quite happily with a few naturalistic laws. Now, if you thought Paley’s arguments made god more likely, then it follows Darwin’s theory makes god less likely.
Evolutionary biology can’t disprove god, but it does undercut some arguments for god.
No, really Glenn. You have to show how the reference you claim as a fallacy is designed to be so. I can think of any number of reasons that would fully justify this particular adjective.
By your standard, every adjective used in any argument is poisoning the well.
Poisoning the well or positive association depending on the reader.
I remember when that guy posted on Tweb. He was jerk.
Ha! I can use logical fallacies too!
Hey, Joel. Calling someone a jerk is not a logical fallacy. 🙂
You have to actually have an argument before you can make a fallacy. 😉
Might I suggest that calling Professor Richard Lewontin a Marxist affords evolutionists cover rather than this being the case of a logical fallacy. Understanding the source of this quote reveals the motivation of its author when he is honest about evolution whereas a non-Marxist evolutionist is far more politically savvy.
There is every justification for having this description in brackets.
And Glenn should definitely read what he wants to argue about before posting next time.
Grant, I think I’ll write a 2000 word blog on why John Sarfati is a jerk.
Ha ha. Knock yourself out. 😀
Grant, what you may not realise (but in reflection I’m sure you’ll grant) is that many self professed Christians say that they identify strongly with socialism and even Marxism. They do tend to be theologically liberal as well, but my point is only that noting that a person is a Marxist does not ipso facto mean that they oppose Christianity (although in this case he does). It’s obvious that this reference was inserted and presented to a conservative Christian readership to further an association in their minds.
“By your standard, every adjective used in any argument is poisoning the well.” This is simply not the case. I have no such standard as this. The point here is that a description (this was not an adjective but a noun) that is not particularly relevant to the argument in one’s presentation but which does arouse prejudice toward a position and encourage people to associate the position being attacked with another disliked position is indeed a case of poisoning the well, with clear overtones of the bad seed
Glenn, this is very pertinent to the argument because Sarfati is talking about bias. The chapter acknowledges people have biases on both sides of the argument. And he gives a quote from Lewontin showing that even he acknowledges this. Here is the full piece.
Professor Richard Lewontin, a geneticist (and self-proclaimed Marxist), is a renowned champion of neo-Darwinism, and certainly one of the world’s leaders in promoting evolutionary biology. He recently wrote this very revealing comment (the italics were in the original). It illustrates the implicit philosophical bias against Genesis creation regardless of whether or not the facts support it:
“We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfil many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”
Sarfati does not claim (that I know) that all evolutionists are Marxists. Lewontin is an example of a materalist who admit his own bias.
“Sarfati does not claim (that I know) that all evolutionists are Marxists.”
No of course not. To make that strange claim would be simply false and nobody would take it seriously. The fallacy of poisoning the well only ever works when the claim being made is true. The way that it works is by making a true claim about someone that is likely to arouse prejudice and therefore to create a negative impression.
While it’s true that in this particular part of the book Sarfati is saying that people do have biases that will push them towards on side or the other of the issue, he does not make the argument that because this professor is a Marxist that makes him more likely to be an evolutionist. I have double checked. In fact, I don’t really think that there is an argument from a Marxist political outlook to a Darwinian take on biology, and Sarfati doesn’t suggest that this argument can be made (so neither does he respond to it). Instead this evolutionist’s political outlook is thrown into the mix without clear logical rationale, in a way that looks to me to quite clearly be a case of well-poisoning, associating evolution with Marxism. It’s an emotive tactic, not to make people believe that evolutionists are a bunch of Marxists (that would be absurd), but rather simply to associate suspicion and “bad” beliefs with the theory of evolution.
Thanks for correcting my grammar. I should know better. 🙂
If many self professed Christians say that they identify strongly with socialism and even Marxism then how does identifying another Marxist automatically put the target in a negative light? I will gladly concede that this example and many others might well be logical fallacies, but you must provide full context in order to demonstrate such. Picking up a book, reading a few lines and presenting only those words will only get you in trouble.
It might be obvious to you that this reference was for a conservative Christian readership, but you’ll have to demonstrate that this is true and the sole and deliberate intention of the description was to “poison the well”. You haven’t done a single thing to demonstrate such.
Like I said, I can think of any number of reasons that would fully justify the parenthisised description. Without context and with the right assumptions, any adjective (or descriptive phrase) might be imagined a case of poisoning the well.
In answer to your interest, I haven’t read any substantial amount of Dr. Sarfati’s work. I’ve heard him in interviews and tend to agree with most of his ideas.
Just out of interest, are you a Marxist?
“If many self professed Christians say that they identify strongly with socialism and even Marxism then how does identifying another Marxist automatically put the target in a negative light?”
Because those who adhere to creation science are very conservative. Do you deny this? You ask me to demonstrate this, but I put it to you that this is a technique to get me to meet an unreasonable standard. You don’t ask people for evidence that the sky is blue do you? I have no intention of conducting surveys. I put it to you that adherents of creation science reside within conservative Christianity and nowhere else. I put it to you that if you do not know this then you know nothing about the evolution/creation debate. It might be an interesting challenge to see if anyone can come up with even one single theologically liberal organisation that adheres to creation science – or even to Young Earth Creationism at all. I’m thinking that a nice round figure will apply here. Zero.
Here I make an appeal to the obvious and well known. If you won’t accept that this is obvious and well-known, then there’s the stale mate, for I consider it too obvious and well-known to make my effort in demonstrating the fact to be worthwhile. It find it preposterous that you appear to crow over the fact that I “haven’t done a single thing” to demonstrate that creation science believers are conservative as a rule. I find it absurd that the challenge would ever be made, and the fact that a person needs to question this in order to avoid he point I am making suggests that they really should have conceded long ago. It’s like saying “but how do you know that only theological liberals claim to be Christian but deny the resurrection of Jesus?” I would never ask anyone to waste time proving that.
Given the fact that his readership most certainly consists of conservative Christians, associating evolution with Marxism is certainly a negative, rather than a positive association.
And no, I am not a Marxist. I am a free market capitalist. But I am quite willing to defend people from fallacious techniques even when I disagree with them, and I will not defend a person’s tactics because I happen to agree with their position.
Glad to hear you’re a capitalist, Glenn. 🙂
I’d agree with you that most YEC are conservative. But what I wanted you to show was that this book was directed solely at them.
Evolution may not imply Marxism for all (though Marx though so). But Marxism is closely aligned to (more likely to imply) evolution.
And it is relevant because it seems that Lewontin’s evolutionary beliefs are more associated with his philosophical beliefs, ie. naturalism and Marxism, rather than his biological belief, ie. genetics.
Lewontin’s quote is from a review he wrote about Carl Sagan’s “The Demon Haunted World”, a book that is about the value of science in combatting superstition. The irony is that the quoted piece is not even about evolution, although creationists like to pretend it is.
With regard to bias, doesn’t it bother anyone else that Sarfati, as an employee of Creation Ministries International, adheres to a statement of faith that declares invalid any evidence that does not conform to scripture? Look it up on CMI’s website. Now that’s bias.
I’d agree with you that most YEC are conservative. But what I wanted you to show was that this book was directed solely at them
I think the subtitle might be a clue…
As far as Evolutionary Biology and Marxism, it’s true that Marx and Engels admired The Origin but, then, almost every political ideology has seen support for their ideas in some misunderstanding on evolutionary biology. Many other Marxist found it very hard to marry Darwin’s evolutionary theory, with no frame in which to measure progress and focuses on incremental change and no large ‘jumps’. Lysenkoism was about genetics, rather than evolution per se, but variation is at the heart of all theories of evolution and, in that case, the Marxist were against the Darwinian models.
I am not arguing whether evolution implies Marxism, nor whether Marxism logically implies evolution. But it seems that many Marxists think so. Because their opinion (valid or not) is relevant to a discussion on bias, I do not think this is a case of poisoning the well. This chapter is about underlying belief structures and their influence on people’s thinking. Mentioning people’s philosophical foundations, eg theism, naturalism/ materialism, etc. is appropriate. A case could be made for Marxism being wider than just economic policy.
With regard to bias, doesn’t it bother anyone else that Sarfati, as an employee of Creation Ministries International, adheres to a statement of faith that declares invalid any evidence that does not conform to scripture? Look it up on CMI’s website. Now that’s bias.
Exactly Sarfati’s point in this chapter. All are biased. In fact this is what he writes
It’s not really a question of who is biased, but which bias is the correct bias with which to be biased!
I think I read somewhere Marx supposing our minds advancing was due to economics rather than evolution…
The subtitle is, “A handbook for students, parents, and teachers countering the latest arguments for evolution”. How does that show it is directed solely at conservative Christians?
Grant, I submit that you’re pushing a line of argument that you know to be wrong.
Do you know what my argument is?
It’s the same as the one I started with. There is no fallacy. You’ll have to show an actual piece of reasoning for there to be a logical fallacy. What you’ve got in your quote are a couple of premises.
If you want to show that Dr. Sarfati was attempting to poison the well you’re going to have to show that the only reason for his parenthisised description was to paint Lewontin in a bad light.
Grant, your current claim is hinging on the premise that this creation science book, written as a “handbook for students, parents, and teachers countering the latest arguments for evolution,” was not written for a predominantly conservative Christian audience.
Since I do not believe that anyone, yourself included, genuinely entertains this premise, it follows that you are presenting a case for a position that you believe is false. Other human beings are not as stupid as you appear to suppose.
Maybe so. Perhaps you should have presented all these things when you said there was a fallacy. 🙂
As it stands, your post contained nothing that could be defined as a fallacy. Unless you were importing a whole lot of assumption.
“Perhaps”? You were “perhaps” using an argument that you knew to be wrong? Good grief…
Grant, you now think I should have presented things that you already know and which are obvious and widely understood (even though for a couple of posts you suggested that you did not know them)? Is there such a thing as a fallacy of time wasting responses? I make my kids miss out on dessert for carrying on like that.
Hi, Glenn. Not too interested if you’re not going to read what I write with a little common sense. 🙂
I hope your kids don’t miss out on dinner when what they suggest is actually reasonable.
Grant appears to be a bit of a troll.
Sarfati uses all sorts of insults and ad-homs etc whenever he talks about atheists or “evolutionists”. For examples, go to “Fundies Say the Darndest Things”, go to their Search engine and under “Fundie” enter “Socrates”, and “board” put Theology Web.
You can click on the links given with each entry to go to the actual posts where you can read more of that guy’s “style”.
For an account of an encounter with that man.
As an aside, creationist misquotes is one of Sarfti’s group (AIG now CMI) stock in trade.
Reynold, yes that definitely is an aside.
Grant: If not reading you with a bit of common sense means simply taking you at your word, then you’re right, I did not read you with a bit of common sense. It’s what I do. 🙂
LOL! The blog post was fine. Then Grant Dexter came along and said: X isn’t true! You didn’t prove X!
Glenn says: Look, X is obvious OK?
Grant says: NO! Prove X!
Glenn says: You can’t be serious. X is obvious and I’m not going to waste time with this. I bet even you realise that X is true.
After a bit more back and forth, Grant says: Yeah OK perhaps I do know X is true after all and I didn’t really accept my own objection. But you still didn’t prove X in this blog!
Glenn responds like any normal person would: Dude, you’ve been wasting my time.
Then Grant says that Glenn is lacking in common sense?
ROFL! Good blog post Glenn. I have to say, you’re patient with some of your visitors!
Thanks Reader. 🙂
Sounds like this Glenn person is indulging in something of a fallacy himself: allege that I commit a fallacy in a minor point, then we can safely ignore everything else in the book.
Another fallacy of a sort: this Glenn thinks he can read my mind! As a matter of fact, it was written to be given to school and university students, most of whom have been indoctrinated into leftist thinking. I hope I won’t be asked to prove the obvious any more than this Glenn was: that teachers and professors have a strong leftist bias.
Of course, as bethyada pointed out, it was using Lewontin as a bona fide atheistic evolutionist admitting his ardent and ad hoc materialistic bias. Far too often, creationists are attacked for their religious bias in accepting biblical creation, while atheistic evolutionists are supposed to be the epitome of objectivity.
PS: the pic is not of the latest edition, showing that 500,000 copies have been sold 😛
I guess that settles it then. 🙂
Lots of assumptions there about what biblical criticism shows. But even granting that, there is no comparison. Those who pay pastors’ salaries do so voluntarily, unlike the taxpayers forced to fund evolutionism (probably another reason why so many evolutionists have Marxist leanings :P). Also, if a pastor doesn’t believe the statement of faith of his own denomination or seminary, then he has no right to stay in his job.
Great to see that Jonathan Sarfati – the author himself – has responded. Interesting that suddenly all commenting ground to a halt. I wonder what’s with that? I’m still wondering what actual study Glenn has done of YEC (which I prefer to call biblical creation as it’s the biblical position)…
The comments come to a halt on the topic of evolution because evolutionists refuse to engage rationally.
Pretty much. And this applies to churchian ones especially, aka atheopaths’ useful idiots. Never mind the baneful consquences for marrying their theology with evolution from goo to you via the zoo; see for example my Response to the evolution appeasers from Treasury magazine, NZ.
Maybe this Glenn person can do a better job trying to find fault with biblical (‘young-earth’) creation than William Lane Craig after my splattering of his pathetic attempt?
Not sure how I missed this, but welcome, Jonathan person.
“Sounds like this Glenn person is indulging in something of a fallacy himself: allege that I commit a fallacy in a minor point, then we can safely ignore everything else in the book.”
Jonathan person, if you could just quickly quote me offering any indication that I think that your fallacious comment means that we can now ignore everything in the book, that would be great. Otherwise I think we can add the fallacy of the straw man in here. 🙂 It might bring some clarity at this point to review something I actually did say in this blog post, which strikes me as quite incompatible with your summary of what I have done here:
While I’m in the fallacy observation mood, I notice that you made a remark about your book selling thousands of copies. Congratulations. Although such an appeal does bear a remarkable similarity to the ad populum fallacy. If the appeal was a helpful one then I suppose we could press it into the service of the book of The Secret, which sold a few more than this book of yours (more than 19 million, I believe). It seems that when it comes to informal fallacies, it doesn’t rain. It pours.
In this post – as in others – I am simply identifying that a fallacy has been used. Whether the overall position of the fallacy user is true or false is, quite obviously, left untouched by this observation. This blog post is not about the truth of scientific creationism on the one hand or young earth creationism on the other (how do you like them apples, Brendan? 😉 )
All the best
(Also – I’m not sure why you’d list a qualification after your name in a blog comment).
“The subtitle is, “A handbook for students, parents, and teachers countering the latest arguments for evolution”. How does that show it is directed solely at conservative Christians?”
This surely strains credulity to breaking point. Are you suggesting that there are Christian creationist students, parents and teachers out there who want to “refute” arguments for evolution but who are something other than conservative Christians? I don’t know what you think “for” means, but the above remark seems ludicrous.
And Jonathan, offering further examples of fallacies in your comments surely reinforces, rather than undercuts, the impression that you tend you use fallacious reasoning. (Not that Glenn Peoples, PhD, implied in this article that you have this tendency, mind you.)
Proverbs 18:13 “He that answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.”
I came across that verse today, and it seems to be fitting given the fact you seem to have no qualms with criticising a book without reading it and understanding the context, and given that it would seem you have not done much study of the whole biblical creation (YEC) topic. If you have read any key YEC books then feel free to enlighten us as to what they are. If you haven’t, which I suspect is the case, then I hope that you’ll make it a matter of diligent study before criticising something that you don’t fully understand and that is outside your area of expertise. While in this post you’re not really criticising YEC directly you’re clearly not supportive of it, and in another post on creationism you said: “I think that creationists tend to have a wildly false understanding of the history of the universe.”
“no qualms with criticising a book without reading it and understanding the context”
One moment there, Brendan. I did not read the book, true. But neither did I criticise the position defended by the book. So your comment seems to miss the mark. I certainly did not criticise that which I did not read. I know there is a degree of satisfaction of quoting Scripture against people, but you are mistaken. I did, in fact, read the context of the small part that I have discussed. I think I can see what is going on there.
When I held to the YEC view I really liked the book by Roger Oakland and others, The Evidence for Creation as well as a video presentation by him (I forget the title) as well as Gish’s book, Evolution: The Fossils Say No! I also used to regularly read the Creation Ex Nihilo magazine, which covered a wide range of arguments and evidence, and I watched a number of Ken ham’s lectures. So at the very least, it’s a position I understand, and I have experienced what it is like to believe it. I have never professed to be someone who digests large amounts of YEC material, nor do I believe it is necessary to do so in order to believer other views are more likely to be correct. I assume that you have not read much material supporting belief in a flat earth (and no, I do not think these two beliefs are on par), but I doubt that you feel bad about rejecting it.
And you’re right, I am not supportive of YEC. I’ve never suggested otherwise. But this blog series is all about the use of fallacies and our ability to recognise them. That’s a worthwhile subject in its own right and that is what I am interested in. I have used other examples, too. But I have only done a few, and these recent comments have prompted me to come up with more examples. Something positive, at least!
Thanks for your reply Glenn. Well I guess 2 books and a few videos is better than nothing, but hardly a thorough investigation of an issue that would warrant abandoning the clear teaching of God’s word on this issue. How could God have made it any clearer that he created a mature universe and earth in 6 literal days thousands of years ago rather than billions of years ago? 6 day creation is one of the clearest doctrines in the Bible, and if you’re going to be consistent you should also abandon the resurrection because science is clear – dead men don’t rise. Of course you can still be a Christian and not believe in Genesis, but you can’t be consistent, and you’re opposing and undermining the foundations of the Christianity by opposing the clear teaching of the Bible and effectively siding with atheists on this issue.
Also, the parallels to the topic of conditionalism aren’t easy to see – people being influenced by traditions of men rather than the Bible – the difference is the case for conditionalism is much weaker than the case for biblical creation, so it baffles me as to what brought you to a place of abandoning Genesis on this issue other than the secularisation of society influencing your thinking via secular scientific ideas of ‘deep time’ from TV, movies, museums etc.
This is a bit of a trend in Sarfati’s talks, actually. See here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qq-jFb-MIGw
Notice how he introduces a person as an “leading” evolutionist, mathematician etc, and then adds “staunch communist as well, which is not surprising.” Out of the blue. Glenn’s diagnosis is absolutely correct: Poisoning the well.
*aren’t hard to see… Sorry – I can’t edit the posts here after posting like can be done with FB so I’ll have to be more careful with checking my posts before clicking submit.
From the blog post: “The point of my “name that fallacy” game is not whether or not you or I agree with the point of view of the author being quoted”
I have reiterated several times that this is the case. Brendan, you have simply made some very confident sounding assertions in favour of a YEC position. That’s basically cheerleading. I know you’re a YEC person. I understand that you find it impossible to imagine how a sincere, well-informed believer can read the Bible and not embrace your view. Got it. But this is about the use of logical fallacies. Sorry, you can write your own blogs all about creationism if that’s you thing.
What’s more (just because you seem to be implying this), I never said that I have only ever read 2 books on the subject. Rather, I noted that those 2 books were examples that I particularly liked (and I mentioned the magazine as well). I’ve seen people make the case plenty of times.
Jonathan isn’t using logical fallacies as the foundation of his argument, and it seems to me that the biggest fallacy being used here is the fallacy fallacy. Just because something is or seems to be poorly argued this doesn’t make the conclusion of the argument necessarily false – and that’s the trickiest thing about logical fallacies. I often see this mistake being made by atheists – and I’m sure that the other biblical theists here will agree – that when you make an argument for God that you know has a true conclusion because it’s based on God’s word, critics try and cry ‘logical fallacy’ but they’re wrong.
Sorry – I wasn’t aware that are strong and logically coherent argument was “cheerleading”. What logical fallacy has been used there I wonder?
Brendan, this is the last comment I’ll make on the back n forth about the fact that this is not about YEC.
You did not offer a strong and logically coherent argument. This is not a criticism, because the comment to which I replied did not even express the intent to offer an argument. There was no argument. None at all. You just stated in several ways that the Bible clearly teaches YEC.
I called it cheerleading because all you were doing was proclaiming a position’s truth and clarity. I used that term because cheerleaders, effectively, just shout something like “our team is the best!” And that’s what you did – just stated that your position was the right one.
An argument is where a person draws on premises that they will defend, where those premises establish a conclusion. Here’s the salient part of your comment again. Read through it and try to find an argument:
I hope you see what I mean. There is no argument there (nor am I inviting one).
“Just because something is or seems to be poorly argued this doesn’t make the conclusion of the argument necessarily false”
Correct. I have already said as much. Whether Sarfati’s position is correct is another matter. From the blog article: “The point of my “name that fallacy” game is not whether or not you or I agree with the point of view of the author being quoted” [emphasis added].
I doubt that I need logic lessons from the likes of this Glenn person (see Loving God with all your mind: logic and creation). In any case, his whole case was based on thinking he could read my mind about why I wrote my book, to whom it was aimed, and why I mentioned that Lewontin is a Marxist.
I noticed that, like many enemies of biblical creation, he resorted to a guilt-by-association with his flat earth mention, although contrary to claims of Dawkins, Obama, Neil Tyson, and many other anti-Christians, the church always affirmed that the earth was global and a tiny speck compared to the distances to the stars.
Then this Glenn person thinks that “PS: the pic is not of the latest edition, showing that 500,000 copies have been sold” is an ad populum fallacy. It’s as Brendan Larsen says, Glenn is so desperate to attack biblical creation that he sees fallacies under every corner when there is nothing there.
Last, I imagine that Glenn, like William Lane Craig, has a few cheerleaders who will call me ‘divisive’ for responding to the attacks, but never call out Glenn and WLC for their own divisiveness. See also ‘But it’s divisive!’.
Kenneth, while a lot of creationist Christians in America are also quite politically conservative, this is not necessarily the case with those in Australia and New Zealand, in my ample experience. You do realize that I wrote the book in Oz, and gained my qualifications from VUW, don’t you?
Hi Jonathan person, and welcome back! I can see that again you’re packing the maximum possible number of links to your own site into your comment. In the interest of good manners (namely me enforcing yours), I’ve removed those links and left the content of your comment untouched. Blog policy and all that.
No mind reading required, nor did I claim to do any. Thanks for the history lesson, but I’m well aware that the church never taught that the earth was flat. Indeed, I never even suggested that there’s a link between YEC believers and the flat earth. Interesting that after imagining that I am trying to read your mind, you are now attributing to me this claim about what Christians taught. 🙂 There was no guilt by association at all, as any sensible reading of the context shows. If you care to take another look, you’ll observe that I was making the following claim: That you do not need to be intimately familiar with all the literature supporting a claim in order to justifiably reject that claim and hold another. The flat earth analogy is an effective one to make this point: “I assume that you have not read much material supporting belief in a flat earth (and no, I do not think these two beliefs are on par), but I doubt that you feel bad about rejecting it.” Note the remark in parenthesis. Perhaps this is an additional instance of the fallacy of the straw man on your part. Really, Jonathan person. What were you saying just now about seeing fallacies where there are none? 🙂
But the fact is, your remark in the book absolutely looks like a case of poisoning the well. Then when you came in here to object, referring to me as “this Glenn person,” you misrepresented me by saying that I have said that your whole case can be dismissed because of this fallacy. I never said that. And as if to somehow make your book / argument / something seem more credible, you started talking about how many copies it had sold. All the fallacies that I commented on are right here in black and white. So however annoying it is, no doubt, to have me going on about fallacies, you following the initial one up with a couple more! But at the end of the day, as you said, the fallacy that I noted in the book was minor. It’s hardly the end of the world.
Regarding your remark to Kenneth: Theological conservatism was the real issue, but here in New Zealand I can say (and you’ll know this) that there is indeed a correlation between the type of conservative evangelicalism that would support YEC and argue against evolution and the rejection of socialism. It’s clear that the book was written for quite conservative Evangelicals, hence the subtitle. I don’t even know why that should be an objectionable thing to point out.
Lastly, I also note that you’re using the language of me attacking YEC (intriguingly called “biblical” creationism by you) and you’re depicting yourself as replying to those attacks. But if you review this thread and blog post you’ll see that I haven’t attacked YEC (sating that I don’t think it’s correct is hardly an attack) and you haven’t defended it. Sorry, but you’re not a martyr for the cause here, other than the cause of using a few informal fallacies.
Take care, Jonathan person. And if you find that nomenclature somewhat inappropriate, I’d ask why you turned up referring to me as this Glenn person.
This would all be a lot easier had you just picked an actual example of the poisoning the well fallacy.
Grant – this was dealt with in the discussion thread some time ago now. This was an example of the fallacy of poisoning the well. I don’t want to offer your denial a retrial, sorry, and that last comment of yours offered nothing new at all, merely a quip. I very nearly deleted it for that reason.
I thought this Glenn person wasn’t going to comment any more. All this whinging, but he was the one who started it with his absurd fallacy-manufacturing. Much easier than dealing with the evidence, I guess.
“Political conservatism didn’t even get a mention.” Since we were talking about Marxism and my alleged appeal to ‘conservatives’, then political conservatism, which normally includes favouring free-market capitalism, was exactly what is being discussed.
It was indeed guilt by association to mention the flat earth in this context. It’s notable that a huge motivation of the flat-earth–mythers in the 19th century was to smear Christian critics of Darwinism (see the definitive Inventing the Flat Earth by historian Jeffrey Burton Russell). Then, as now, it is an excuse for far too many people to ignore the evidence for YEC and attack it anyway, not caring about misrepresentation.
Jonathan, I have amply demonstrated that there was no guilt-by-association argument. So that’s a non-starter. It’s not true.
As for political conservatism, it looks like you copied my comment right after I typed it because I re-worded it slightly, but the point is the same. I was overtly talking about the theologically conservative readers. Did you follow the conversation between Grant and me? In any event, the point remains just the same: In the context where you slipped in a reference to this man’s Marxism, his political leanings are irrelevant but for the fact that your book is tailored towards a theologically conservative Christian audience who is likely to find his Marxism objectionable. In New Zealand, too, as you and I both know from experience, the very conservative Christians who would support YEC and openly attack evolution are – just as elsewhere – generally concentrated at the conservative end of the political spectrum as well, rejecting the perceived secularity of the left. As Mark pointed out, this is not the only time when you used this particular fallacy, which is unfortunate. There’s little wiggling out of it, and your comments here have been densely packed with further examples of fallacies. I trust you feel you’ve had your say, however.
Let me add, though, that I’m a little disappointed that you chose to persist with the references to “this Glenn person.” Regrettably your manners have not improved since your Theologyweb days. No further such comments from you will appear here.
Still trying to read my mind, in a desperate attempt to manufacture fallacies where there are none. Yet C.S. pointed out a long time ago how absurd it was to attribute motives to an author, since in the cases which he knew, they were totally wrong. I think I am the best person to know my own motivation in writing. Also, as usual, critics of YEC are blindingly insensitive to their own ill manners, but hypersensitive when YECs respond.
Actually, in NZ, I’ve found quite a few politically left-wing Christians who are more theologically conservative than Glenn, who holds a number of heterodox ideas besides billions of years. A lot of the older NZ Labour party people were that way, e.g. Labor leader, Sir Arnold Nordmeyer was basically an economic socialist, but a conservative Presybyterian minister and patron of what was then called SPUC. The same was true even when I started to vote, e.g. a lot of the old-guard Catholics in NZ Labour voted against legalizing homosexual behaviour and abortion. In more recent times, the leftist parties have generally indeed become more secular.
Glenn and Mark claiming something does not make it true, as has been amply shown.
Jonathan, thank you for ceasing to refer to me that way – even if you complained about it!
OK, so pretty much everything is mopped up, I’ll just tidy up one last detail, Jonathan. I said that the “very conservative Christians who would support YEC and openly attack evolution are – just as elsewhere – generally concentrated at the conservative end of the political spectrum.” Note “generally.” Being able to identify some individuals who are theologically conservative but who do not identify with the political right is perfectly compatible with my observation. No doubt you realise this, but I am just making it explicit. And with that, I think I’ve covered everything. Take care, Jonathan.
Covered everything—that is, a few minor details like not having proven the slightest fallacy, or proven my motivation for mentioning Lewontin’s Marxism, writing my book, or for whom it was aimed. Well, I doubt that you could make a better evidential case against YEC than WLC, straw-man and misrepresentation and all, so all you are left with is childish mock-fallacy hunting.
You need to man up more, instead of attacking authors then playing the martyr when they counter-attack.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jonathan.
I see this comment thread has started back up. Focusing back on the supposed fallacy, I wish to know how this is poisoning the well.
While my knowledge of logic is not that of Peoples or Sarfati (though acceptable considering I have not studied it), I thought poisoning the well was to disparage someone in order that readers (or listeners) do not accept a claim.
Eg. Lewontin believes in global warming.
Yeah, but Lewontin is a Marxist.
(Implying that because Marxism is wrong, Lewontin is generally wrong, thus he is wrong about global warming).
Now while I don’t think that poisoning the well is completely fallacious for reasons I will not go into here, this is not what Sarfati is doing. He wants us to read what Lewontin is saying and believe him (at least here).
Sarfati is not ridiculing Lewontin’s claims here. He is saying look at what Lewontin admits his biases to be (and I agree with Lewontin’s claims about his own biases).
Bethyada, the fallacy in this instance would work in the following way:
Person X is a model advocate of belief Y.
Oh, by the way, person X also holds to this nasty view Z – I’m just saying
So yeah anyway, now let’s keep talking about belief Y
In a book where the overall argument is against belief Y (evolution), this becomes an instance of poisoning the well. If you follow the link that Mark provided I think you’ll find some confirmation that this is the way such association is supposed to work. Notice that Sarfati there refers to somebody who is a leading evolutionist and then adds that he is a “staunch communist, which is not surprising.” There is a very clear attempt to link the two and to allow our impression of one of these beliefs to affect our evaluation of the other. This reinforces my observation that this is what’s going on in the book.
In the blog post I didn’t name the fallacy, but I asked others to do so, and several did, before I indicated that yes, this is the fallacy I had in mind. I would also happily add that this is a kind of fallacy that is very easily committed without being mindful that this is what one is doing.
Hopefully that helps 🙂
Thanks Glenn. While that may all be true, that could easily come under the guise of rhetoric which is legitimate in a debate. If we are going to talk about the larger issues raised in the book then my comments above about the larger context (bias) are also relevant.
Further, if Sarfati wants to diss Lewontin in a book for Christians he need only say that Lewontin is an atheist (which carries more weight than Marxist). But I understood that poisoning the well was to get them to disregard the person. As the book is not about Lewontin and that Sarfati wants us to pay attention to Lewontin’s comment and not disregard it, I still fail to see how this can be classified as the poisoning the well fallacy.
Bethyada, yes, it is the sort of thing that constantly appears, as you say, “under the guise” of things that are legitimate.
And don’t get me wrong. I do not think that the most important fallacious role of the comment was to poison the well against Lewontin personally. As you say, the book is not about him. No, the fallacy is to build up an impression of people who believe in evolution, and thereby poison the well against that belief.
Actually, no. bethyada had it right in his post March 3, 2011, 8:26 pm—but then, he bothered to read the book before commenting on an isolated sentence or two! In short, here is an atheist of undisputable atheist credentials, even to the point of adopting Marxism, admitting his bias for materialistic explanations at all cost.
I’ve certainly argued elsewhere about the baneful consequences of evolutionary belief, e.g. Nazi Germany, and the widespread support of ardent evolutionists like Peter Singer, Julian Savulescu, and P.Z. Myers for post-birth infanticide as well as pre-birth. But I’ve also explained:
Not totally incompatible, but awkward.
Jonathan, I do not know why you are now trying to distance yourself from the argument from consequences. As best I can tell, this is the first time that argument has even been mentioned. Nobody has accused you of using it.
And as for those two quotes from me, you are right: They are not incompatible, and I have explained them fairly clearly in this thread, which I assume you have read. Some Christians do indeed identify with the left and even with Marx. Those Christians tend (again note, tend) to be liberal in several ways. On the other hand, those Christians who would be much more likely to support YEC and attack evolution tend to be conservative and also tend (again note: tend) to appear on the right of the political spectrum.
That’s not even awkward, let alone incompatible. So while your comment does seem to be tending towards the irrelevant, with all due respect, thank you for it.
As someone sympathetic to the arguments against evolution in general championed by CMI and others of like mind, may I say that your exchange here is unbecoming in the extreme. How do you expect to win unbelievers, when you cannot civilly interact with other believers? You have completely misconstrued the intention of this post, as a thorough reading of the introduction makes crystal clear, and you have made this all about you, when the intention clearly, was anything but. I implore you to read again from the start and think on what you have said here.
I expect better from you.
Evidently you think I should just be a doormat in the face of a silly and false accusation of a fallacy. Not going to happen, no matter how many WFJs (Wimps For Jesus) are offended. Unfortunately I don’t expect better from you and your ilk. Apparently you think you can win over unbelievers by being useful idiots and attacking Christians who show some backbone.
Quite obviously this comment does not comply with the blog policy, in spite of the leeway that policy gives users. Mature, reasonable and civil discourse is generally required, and future comments like this are not permitted. I have already declined to publish one such comment from Jonathan, and I explained why, noting that he is absolutely welcome here, but future comments will be required to comply with that policy (I provided him with a link to the policy). Sometimes, however, all that is required to destroy a person is their own words – not that I have set out to do so, this was Jonathan’s decision. I am allowing this comment to remain simply as a demonstration of why I am disallowing his comments. Jonathan is going away now, and is unlikely to return unless things change considerably.
Ciaron – that would be an ad hominem attack on Jonathan – which I could equally say is “unbecoming in the extreme” of you especially as you’ve not given any specific reason why. I’ve read Jonathan’s comments and have seen nothing unbecoming. I’ve noticed that many Christians these days are good at judging others who they see as judging, all the while ignoring the fact that in criticising the judgers that they themselves are being judgmental. I’ve also noticed that many christians have a wimpy concept of Jesus and if they’d lived in the time of Jesus would probably be telling Jesus off for his harsh words against his opponents. I’ve written a blog post about this kind of thing here which includes a CMI article by Jonathan called ‘Refuting Compromise’ about the biblical basis for challenging those who are in error. http://godorabsurdity.blogspot.co.nz/2014/01/is-it-wrong-for-christians-to-argue.html
Brendan, for the record nobody here has said that it is wrong for Christians to argue. I would also ad that decrying a person’s behaviour does not automatically amount to a fallacious ad hominem attack. Indeed, if that were so then you would be accusing Jesus of ad hominem attacks continuously.
I see we are now discussing attitudes and motives. As someone who both agrees and disagrees with Glenn and Jonathan about various topics but is not a participant I think I might have a little more objectivity, though given the topic I will have my own bias 🙂
I think a defense can be made for Jonathan here. Sure he is a little miffed, but Glenn is giving as good as he gets. Despite the original quote being for illustrative purposes, this is still a claim that Jonathan is using a fallacious argument. Now it actually matters whether he is fallacious, as if there is a fallacy here which Jonathan doesn’t recognise then he is annoyed through ignorance (or pride). But if there is no fallacy then not only is Glenn wrong, he is falsely accusing of Jonathan. Now perhaps Jonathan should overlook the slight in the spirit of love, but that is his call, not Glenn’s, the onus on Glenn is to apologise if he is incorrect (though he denies this).
Jonathan’s first comment may have been a little disparaging (who is this Glenn person), but if Glenn is incorrect, then it was in response to being disparaged. I think it is reasonable for Glenn to note Jonathan’s perspective here (even though he doesn’t agree with it).
Further, Glenn removed links stating: “I can see that again you’re packing the maximum possible number of links to your own site into your comment.” This seems both unfair, and (to me) insulting. I understand this type of policy: not using another’s blog to promote your own. But Jonathan isn’t doing this at all. Jonathan has not linked to creation.com on other posts at Right Reason. This particular post involves Jonathan directly and that at Glenn’s direction. And Jonathan links to material he has previously written. His material is obviously going to be predominantly at his own site.
Later Glenn writes: “I do not know why you are now trying to distance yourself from the argument from consequences.” But this is clearly part of a quote, and the quote was to specify that the book (or the chapter at least) wasn’t about scientific evidence for creation (as per his previous 2 Refuting Evolution books) but the consequences of such a belief. This is response is directly relevant to the claim that Glenn made responding to me saying: “No, the fallacy is to build up an impression of people who believe in evolution, and thereby poison the well against that belief.” Ie. Jonathan: “No Glenn, the book is not about how evolution is wrong, but why it matters.” Glenn did not note the relevance so indirectly says to Jonathan his response is irrelevant.
Now it seems that both parties can handle such robust argumentation, and it is tamer than elsewhere. But as annoyed as Jonathan may have sounded, I think Glenn has unnecessarily antagonised the situation. Though it hasn’t particularly changed my opinion of either, they are both interesting to read and like most, are miffed if feel misrepresented, as many have done to Glenn on other blogs,…
Glenn, I think I might push a little here if my last comment hasn’t dissuaded you.
You write: No, the fallacy is to build up an impression of people who believe in evolution, and thereby poison the well against that belief.
Let’s go with that (for the sake of the argument).
Jonathan writes: Professor Richard Lewontin, a geneticist (and self-proclaimed Marxist), is one of the world’s leaders in promoting evolutionary biology.
Jonathan wants us to listen to Lewontin here not ignore him. So he is not poisoning the well against Lewontin. He could be poisoning the well against evolution as you suggest.
Lewontin then says: Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.
Thus identifying himself as a materialist and an atheist.
So Lewontin by his own words gives the theist reader a negative impression against evolution. How does the addition of the adjective Marxist (by Jonathan) make that worse?
To paraphrase Lewontin here. Science promises but doesn’t deliver, it makes stuff up, it makes claims that appear to be nonsense; but I prefer materialism even if it involves all this over any talk of God because I refuse to accept that God is even possible.
That is pretty damning. Oh and he is a Marxist. Doesn’t really poison the well for me, seems like Lewontin is already getting his water from the sewer.
Bethyada, I do not think that, when a person says that another person has employed an informal fallacy, we generally think that the claim is disparaging – indeed that seems obviously untrue. What is more, any arguments from the consequences of evolution or why it matters are entirely absent from the point of the observation here. So I do not see it as antagonising to point out to a person that they are trying to make the issue their own argument against evolution (and what it is and isn’t) when I have been clear all along that this is not my concern. Evolution simply isn’t relevant. The point was simply to see if readers can spot a fallacy when they see one (notice again that I did not name the fallacy, I let others do that), and a number of people did. So I really do not buy the line that I’m “giving what I get,” so to speak – especially not in light of some of the remarks that have been offered here. If I may, I think all that has happened here is that an author has gotten his nose out of joint that I chose to use his book when finding a fallacy and has been pretty rude about it, something I have tried not to do.
Now, to your last comment, which comes back to the topic: “So Lewontin by his own words gives the theist reader a negative impression against evolution. How does the addition of the adjective Marxist (by Jonathan) make that worse?”
Perhaps you will see how when you consider the question: If we already know that Lewontin is not a theist and believes in evolution, why does the fact that he is a Marxist matter? And therein is the point. His Marxism is surely not relevant once we are told that he is an atheist. And yet, we are told nonetheless. That he is an atheist and an evolutionist is a matter of course: These are the people on the other end of the metaphysical spectrum of creationism and theism from Jonathan. But that he is a Marxist? Well, that is the icing on the cake to the particular audience for whom Sarfati is writing (namely, the sort of conservative Christians who believe in YEC and argue against evolution). We may as well have just told them that he is a gay feminist.
Brendan, you can think whatever you like, but I think it was pretty clear that I was not employing ad hominem, as I have not tried to refute his arguments ( in fact I stated that I was sympathetic) rather, that in all the comments in this thread, Jonathans are the only ones to read to me (in my opinion) to be unnecessarily aggressive and rude, and there is just no need for it.
Weighing in on a long dead argument I’d like to explain what Lewontin means by evolutionary “just so stories”. He co authored a book called “Not in Our Genes”. This focused on sociobiology. That’s the theory that our social behaviour is determined by evolution. It constantly comes up with explanations of what doesn’t need explaining. Eg “women prefer rich men because prehistoric women had a predeliction for successful hunters who brought home the woolly mammoth giving their children a greater chance of survival. Two problems. 1. A false picture of primitive man/woman. Hunter gatherers (and we were hunter gatherers for almost all of our history) share resources within the tribe so the top hunter gets kudos, not more meat.That’s why we find bones of prehistoric humans who were too disabled to fend for themselves but lived to a ripe age by the standards of the time. 2. All you need to know to explain why women like rich men is that you need money to buy food and other goods. No further explanation is needed.
That’s the kind of idea Lewontin calls a “just so story”. He sees these claims as propping up a hierarchical society. They assume human nature is fixed by genetics and the competitive society we live in is just how Man is. Lewontin points out that for most of our history we practiced intra tribal sharing and that the behaviour, say, of the modern Swedes is radically different from that of their fairly recent ancestors, the Vikings. Far from believing evolutionary science to be inherently friendly to Marxism he is concerned with critiquing “Social Darwinism” which says survival of the fittest entails that individual competition is the natural state of humanity. He believes human nature is more plastic than generally acknowledged capable both of cooperation and competition depending on circumstances. He’s not saying evolution is a “just so” story. He’s saying sociobiology often is.
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