Exposing PseudoAstronomy

November 19, 2009

Logical Fallacies: Straw Man Argument


Introduction

In my ongoing series about logical fallacy types, the discussion this time is about the “Straw Man.”

What is the “Straw Man” Fallacy?

In a nutshell, a “Straw Man” is an argument against a claim that was never made. An extreme case would be that someone claims, “The sky is blue,” and then the person who argues against it says that that person actually said, “The sky is green” and chose to argue against the sky being green.

Example from Creationism

As seems to be the case so far, my example from Creationism of this claim is the origin of the universe. Cosmologists argue that the Big Bang was the first thing that happened in our universe. From this event, everything that we know originated. Cosmologists do not know how the Big Bang happened/occurred/originated, but there are several different hypotheses that are being worked on (bubble universes, brane theory, etc.). For two sentences, that’s a fair description of the state of things.

However, what you will often see creationists argue is that we came from “Nothing.” Yep, the common claim is that, “Nothing happened to create something which created us.” They then go through hoops to effectively say, “Well isn’t that silly,” or, “Isn’t that the same thing as God created everything?”

But, what the creationist argument really is, is simply a Straw Man — they are taking something that astronomers never claimed and then arguing against it. This is done usually because either (a) they don’t actually understand the claim and hence the difference between it and what they argue, or (b) because they are purposely trying to make the original claim or claimant appear foolish.

Final Thoughts

Straw Man arguments are usually fairly easy to pick out if the incorrect argument is actually stated. To use my original contrived example of the color of the sky, if the second person does not explicitly state something to the effect of, “Well if the sky is green …” to indicate that is what they are arguing against, it can be a little tricky. That’s because you will have to pay careful attention to how and what they argue in order to see what they are actually arguing against.

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