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Fallacy: Red Herring

A Red Herring is an informal logical fallacy in which an irrelevant topic is introduced in order to attempt to shift attention away from the original issue at hand.

It has been said that, “A ‘Red Herring’ refers to a smelly fish which someone would drag across the path of the hounds pursuing their quarry, so that they get distracted and go off the path in pursuit of the fish.”

And so it is when someone commits a Red Herring fallacy they are either willfully or ignorantly attempting to introduce an irrelevant topic which distracts from the original issue at hand.

 

Navy SEAL Chad Williams

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The Moral Argument: Addressing Red Herrings

Question:

I know one person I talked to on the subject of the TMA said that how can God be ‘Good’ if He lets His people (in reference to Israel) destroy men, women, and children (citing Deuteronomy 2, particularly vs. 34). Any thing you can lend on this?”

Response:

This is a very common slight of hand the person tried to pull on you. I must point out that they are not engaging with TMA at all by erecting an objection to biblical revelation.

To make this clear in your interaction with them ask, “Can you please tell what specific premise of TMA you are attempting to address right now?”

Let us suppose that in response they try to aim their objection at premise (2). You can then point out that biblical revelation was never appealed to as support for premise (2)! So in this particular case -with regard to TMA- such an objection introduces a straw-man and red-herring to the argument! Nobody has to read the bible to know that objective moral values exist. Let me put it this way; I knew it was objectively wrong to murder long before I read Exodus chapter 20. Make it clear that you have not appealed to biblical revelation in your argument but that premise (2) is affirmed by in light of apprehending such objective moral values through moral experience!

Objectivity Apprehended In Moral Experience

As believers we are aware that this realm of objective moral values is made known to us through a God-given conscience (Rom. 2:15) but, we never had to first read Romans 2 as a sort of precondition to get that God-given conscience functioning. The awareness of objective moral values was already in full operation prior to reading the text. So it is not necessary to appeal to biblical revelation in support of premise (2) because objective moral values are already apprehended through moral experience.

Much like how we apprehend the objective reality of the physical world around us, we can also apprehend the objective reality of moral values. Most people are well aware of objective moral values with exception to morally handicapped folks like the psychotic sociopath serial killer. In the same way that some people are physically handicapped, say like the color-blind are incapable of distinguishing between the colors red and green. There are some people out there that are morally handicapped and incapable of identifying the morally objective difference between nurturing a child and torturing a child. Thus, just as a color-blind person that cannot distinguish between the colors like red and green doesn’t cause us that see color just fine to suddenly start doubting the difference we do see. So the morally handicapped person that can’t apprehend the objective difference between loving their neighbor or torturing their neighbor ought not to cause doubt in those of us that do apprehend an objective moral difference between the two.

Street Apologetics

Atheist:how can God be ‘Good’ if He lets His people destroy men, women, and children in the Old Testament?”

Street Apologist: “I never appealed to biblical revelation in support of premise (2). I pointed out that I know objective moral values exist in probably the same way you know they exist. I apprehend them through moral experience.”

(At this point, it would be good to put them on the spot to agree with you.)

Street Apologist: “You do believe certain moral behaviors like rape or child molestation are objectively wrong don’t you?”

Atheist: “Of course!”

Street Apologist: “Ok then you agree with premise (2)!”

Atheist: “Uh…Right.”

Street Apologist: “Ok then you must disagree with premise (1), otherwise the conclusion: ‘God exists‘ will follow logically and inescapably.”

Atheist: “Ok, well I don’t believe the conclusion so I will disagree with premise (1).”

Street Apologist: “Alright, well if you affirm premise (2) objective moral values do exist yet deny premise (1), I would like to hear how you justify the existence of objective moral values in the absence of God’s existence?”

Let the squirming begin!

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What is a Logical Syllogism?

A logical syllogism is a type of logical argumentation that draws its conclusion from two or more premises.

What is so powerful about this form of argumentation is that the conclusion will follow from the premises logically and inescapably so long as the premises are affirmed as being true.

In order for someone to refute the conclusion they will be forced to deny one or more of the premises and present a case for their negation.

Basic example of a logical syllogism:

Premise (1) All men are mortal.

Premise (2) All Greeks are men.

Conclusion: Therefore, all Greeks are mortal.

The conclusion is logically valid. In other words the logic is irrefutable! If some one wants to deny the conclusion -as has been stated before- they will only be able to do so by denying one or more of the premises.

Examples from Natural Theology:

Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA)

Premise (1) Anything that begins to exist has a cause.

Premise (2) The universe began to exist.

Conclusion: Therefore, the universe has a cause.

The Moral Argument (TMA)

Premise (1) If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.

Premise (2) Objective moral values do exist.

Conclusion: Therefore, God exists.

Note: It is inevitable that there will be those that deny certain premises but, what they will have to demonstrate is that the negation of those premises is more plausible than their affirmation. What constitutes a “good argument” is that the affirmation of any given premises is more plausible than their negation. This point cannot be stressed enough, the detractor is going to have to demonstrate that their denial of any given premise is more plausible that the its affirmation and if they do not succeed in doing so you will have an argument in good standing!

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God vs Science?

The Common Objection: “I don’t believe in God, I believe in science!”

This objection fails logically. It is a text book example of the “either/or” fallacy.

The “either/or” fallacy is committed when someone presents only two options as though they are the only available options to choose from when in reality there are one or more choices that can be made.

In the particular objection before us it is assumed that one either believes in God; or one believes in science. But are those really the only two options available? Certainly not. There is no conflict between God and science and therefore one could opt for belief in God and science.

Furthermore, it could be argued that the Christian worldview (system of thought) is the only worldview that can justify the vary foundational conditions that are necessary for doing science. That is to say, only Christianity can provide an un-assumed answer as to why the “laws of science” are law-like and reliable rather than the atheists unjustified presumptions of such laws. For a better understanding of this click here.

So how should we respond to such an error on the street? Well, you can slice and dice the persons claim via swiftly pointing out their erred thinking by pulling out the logical fallacy card. However, I don’t think such an offensive approach will provide conditions for any further fruitful conversation. More to the point, I know so from plenty of experience and depending on the tone such a response can even be unbiblical as we are to remember to give an answer while showing gentleness and respect (cf. 1 Peter 3:15).

I would suggest that the best way to engage with the objection would be to lead the conversation by asking probing questions until no further probing questions can be asked. I can’t stress that enough! Asking the right questions is a great start to coming alongside the objector and helping them to see clearer. You won’t only win the conversation but you will be a winner of souls (Prov. 11:30).

Example:

Objector: “I don’t believe in God, I believe in science.”

Street Apologist: “Is belief in God and science in conflict?”

Objector: “Uh… I think so?”

Street Apologist: “So is it logically impossible to maintain a belief in God and science?”

Objector: “Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is impossible.”

Street Apologist: “Great! You are open to the possibility and I would like to tell you about it. In fact, I would go further and say the only reason we can do science is because of God’s existence!”

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What is the Taxi-Cab Fallacy?

 

What is the Taxi-Cab Fallacy?

The “Taxi-Cab Fallacy” is committed when one hops in and assumes a certain system of thought or worldview in an attempt to make a particular point but then jumps out of the system of thought when it suits their fancy. Such practice lacks logical consistency and is therefore a logical fallacy.

A detractor of the Christian worldview cannot hop into the Christian system of thought by erecting an objection grounded in the Bible and then demand an answer be given without the use of a Bible.  Again, they cannot appeal to the Bible in raising their question and then insist we throw our Bible out of the equation when we give an answer!

“How to Answer” Archive: Click Here

Navy SEAL Chad Williams

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