Social Media Fallacies, Part 1

A trend I consistently see on social media sites it the use of illogical arguments to try to make a point.  It seems that the more emotional the discussion, the more ridiculous the arguments.  The irksome thing to me is that most of the people making these arguments have no idea just how irrational they are.

The current discussion of the Paris terrorist attacks and debate over President Obama’s push to bring Syrian refugees to the United States is a case in point.   I took a random sampling from my Facebook newsfeed, and found numerous quotes and memes that are utter nonsense.  Here are a sampling of them:

The M&M Argument

M&Ms

This is an example of a weak analogy.  The argument is that since you would reject all of the M&Ms rather than risk eating a poison one, we should reject all Syrian refugees because there may be some terrorists embedded.

The analogy breaks down for a couple of reasons.  First, M&Ms aren’t people.  Throwing away M&Ms isn’t a moral issue.  Whether or not we help refugees is a moral issue.  Second, the analogy implies that it’s impossible to determine whether any of the M&Ms are poison – they are all identical.  Refugees aren’t identical.  Some – small children, for example – can be fairly easily determined to not be terrorists.  Unlike the M&Ms, there are vetting procedures in place that can reliably identify some people as terrorists, and some people as non-threats.  Granted, these protocols aren’t foolproof, and extreme caution should be taken.  Still, unlike the M&Ms, it’s not random chance.

The Problem is Religion

The Problem Is ReligionThis one is an example of the fallacy of prejudicial conjecture.  An emotional, arbitrary, and ill-informed opinion is substituted for an accurate and factual assessment of the issue.  There is no factual basis for this argument.

It’s also an example of wishful thinking and manipulative propaganda.  Just because someone has an anti-religious beliefs doesn’t make religion bad.  Propaganda is defined by Webster as “the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person.”  This argument is really nothing more than a weak attempt to exploit the legitimate issue of terrorism in order to discredit God.

It’s also an example of a red herring argument.  It’s an attempt to distract from the actual issue being debated or discussed.

The entire argument is shown as preposterous when one uses the same form to argue against other issues:

FOOD poisoning

Homeless Before Refugees

Here are a couple that are very similar:

Homeless

There are a couple of logical fallacies embedded in these memes.

First, like many memes, the pictures are selected for their appeal to emotion.  Look at that poor little child!  Look at those homeless veterans!  How could you be so cruel as to ignore them and help refugees?  Tugging on people’s emotions is not a rational argument.

A second fallacy is the either – or fallacy, also known as bifurcation or a false dilemma.  These memes present us with a choice:  Either you support the American homeless, or you can support refugees.  It’s one or the other.  We can’t do both.  The fallacy is that in reality, we do not have to choose one or the other – we can do both.  In a bifurcated argument, the possibility of alternative solutions is ignored.

You’re an Idiot!  Look – a Squirrel!

obama-manilaIllogical arguments aren’t limited to social media memes.  There was a link on my newsfeed to a news report of President Obama making the following statement in regards to those who oppose Syrian refugee immigration:  “Apparently they’re scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America.”

This is a typical ad hominem attack.  An ad hominem attack is simply an insult or name-calling.  It’s not a rational argument; it’s attacking the person, rather than their argument.  It’s typically used when the person making the attack has run out of valid arguments, and so they resort to name-calling.

It’s also a classic strawman argument.  A strawman argument first distorts the opponent’s actual position, making it easier to argue against.  Almost nobody is claiming that Syrian widow and orphan refugees pose a threat; it’s mostly the males of military service age that people have expressed concern over.  However, by falsely implying that those who oppose Syrian refugee immigration are against widows and orphans, it’s much easier to argue against than their actual position.

Not So Scary

Refugees in Cincinnati

This photo was posted by several people, and was accompanied by this text:

I saw a friend of a friend post this picture and felt I needed to share it. It is a picture of the first refugee family from Syria to be settled in Cincinnati, Ohio after they arrived yesterday.

A big faceless unknown is scary, I know, but when you put a face to it and see exactly who these refugees are, I believe that’s where we can all start seeing the truth behind this crisis and exactly who is being effected by this.

When we understand something, it’s a lot less scary and a whole lot easier to be compassionate towards others. This is something I feel relates to almost all aspects of life, not just this single issue.

Again, the photo is an appeal to emotion.  Look at those faces.  They’re not so scary, are they?

The language is also an appeal to emotion, not a rational argument.  A friend posted this.  The unknown is scary.  We need compassion.  This is nothing but playing on people’s emotions, and is not a rational basis for determining public policy.

This also falls under the fallacy of a biased sample.  The argument is that these people are representative of all of the 30,000 refugees we plan to bring in to the United States.  Just because someone posts one photo of one refugee family, it doesn’t mean all refugees are the same.  There are also photos of scary-looking male refugees floating around the Internet – which are just as biased.

Don’t be a Hypocrite!

Let’s look at one more:

Hypocrite!

This is a Tu Quoque argument.  Tu Quoque, or the appeal to hypocrisy, is a fallacy in which one attempts to defend oneself from criticism by turning the critique back against the accuser.  It basically says, since you don’t live up to your own position, your position is invalid.  This is a form of red herring argument – an argument designed to distract from the real issue.  It’s just creating a diversion, and it’s not a rational argument.

Conclusions

My point with all of this isn’t to argue for or against Syrian immigration, but rather, to point out how silly and misleading many of the arguments are.  It’s also to point out just how gullible people are, since they see these silly arguments, but have no idea they’re nonsense.

This isn’t to say that illogical arguments can’t be effective.  We all use common fallacies when trying to persuade others, and these arguments can often drive a point home.  The problem is, these arguments are misleading and often play on emotions rather than reality.

Fallacious arguments aren’t limited to social media or to political discussion.  They’re found in science textbooks, legal cases, and the network news; they are used in discussions involving religion, politics, sports, and just about every other topic, especially when attempted persuasion is involved.  We all must be discerning and learn to spot faulty logic in order to not be persuaded by ignorance.


Republicans, Democrats, and Kim Davis

Kim Davis

Great Big Stupid World – A Reading Test

readingAre you smarter than a fifth grader? The following reading comprehension test is written at approximately a fifth-grade level.

Directions: Read each of the following passages. Answer the questions that follow.



The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states, in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”



  1. In this passage, the word establishment means:
    1. a commercial organization
    2. official recognition as a national institution
    3. allowing public expression
    4. permitting
  2. In this passage, the phrase free exercise means:
    1. unrestricted practice
    2. fitness without cost
    3. limited if it offends someone
    4. practiced only in private
  3. The First Amendment states that which of the following is prohibited?
    1. free exercise of religion
    2. respecting religion
    3. praying at public events
    4. Congress imposing an official national religion
  4. What is the main idea of the passage?
    1. Citizens may not express their religious beliefs publicly.
    2. The government may neither force a specific religion on citizens, nor limit how citizens practice religion.
    3. The government must reject all forms of belief in God.
    4. Religious expression is prohibited on government property, at government funded events, and by government employees.

    The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution states, “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”



  5. In this passage, the word arms means:
    1. weapons and ammunition
    2. hunting rifles
    3. body parts
    4. “gun-free” zones
  6. According to this passage, what is to be well-regulated?
    1. guns
    2. people
    3. militias
    4. ammunition
  7. According to the Second Amendment, people have the right to bear arms in order to _____ .
    1. hunt deer
    2. form militias
    3. protect themselves from burglars
    4. shoot at clay pigeons
  8. A militia is:
    1. an army composed of ordinary citizens rather than professional soldiers.
    2. a hunting organization
    3. a law that restricts gun ownership
    4. the police department
  9. In this passage, the best meaning for the word infringed is:
    1. permitted
    2. the hem of a garment
    3. expensive
    4. controlled
  10. What is the main idea of the Second Amendment?
    1. Guns must be controlled to keep whackos from killing children
    2. Only government military and police should have assault rifles.
    3. All citizens have the right to unrestricted weapon ownership so they can form militias.
    4. People can own guns so they can hunt, shoot targets, and threaten bad guys.

Answers:

  1. B
  2. A
  3. D
  4. B
  5. A
  6. C
  7. B
  8. A
  9. D
  10. C

Scoring:

9 – 10 correct: You can read and understand what you read. You do not allow bias to cloud your judgment.

8 correct: You may need to brush up on your reading skills, or else use them more objectively.

6 – 7 correct: You either lack basic critical reading skills, or fail to use them when you don’t like what you are reading.

0 – 5 correct: You are either illiterate, or you are blinded by political ideology.



Great Big Stupid World – Reaping What We Have Sown

On December 14, 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother, and then massacred 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, before taking his own life.

The staggering loss of innocent lives has left many asking, “Why?”

People blame everything from lack of gun control, to CIA conspiracies, to lack of treatment for the mentally ill, to video games and rap music, to media coverage and copycat murderers.

I believe our culture is simply reaping what it has sown.

7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. 9 And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.

God in SchoolsAmerican society has learned to mock God. We have largely thrown God out of our schools, our media, our government, and our lives. God has been relegated to a few church pews, a couple of days a week, for a few hours, for a handful of people who are considered by most as relics of the past.

Most children are taught in school that they are accidents of nature and nothing more than animals, albeit somewhat more evolved than most, rather than being created in the image of God, Who loves them. Then we wonder why they act like animals.

Much of our modern music and many video games glorify killing, drugs, sex, and death. Then we wonder why teen pregnancy and abortion rates are so high, and why someone would walk into a school or mall and start shooting people.

Television portrays God as a myth, Christians as intolerant bigots, fathers as idiots, and the traditional family as irrelevant. Then, we wonder why Godly values are ignored, and why our kids are out of control.

As our culture has sown, so has it reaped.

The problem is not gun violence, drug abuse, rap music, abortion, greed, suicide, the education system, the Democrats, or the Republicans. These are just symptoms of a deeper problem. The real problem is that our culture mocks God. We have lost our foundation; we have rejected our Creator.

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

Isaiah 5:20

The United States was once blessed, because we were built on a Biblical foundation. That foundation is gone, and has been replaced by a humanistic foundation that says mankind can choose whatever he wants about right or wrong. When human beings decide what is right and wrong, we invariably choose wrong, and call it right. And in the process, we mock God.

Why do people like Adam Lanza, James Holmes, Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, and Seung-Hui Cho kill people? Psychologists will debate the causes, but from a Biblical perspective, I believe they simply act in a manner consistent with what society teaches them. Our culture taught them that human life is basically meaningless, that we are animals, and death and killing are glorious – a lesson they learned well.

Our culture is reaping what it has sown; the culture mocks God, then wonders why God doesn’t intervene.

How do we fix the problem? Not through politics, or social programs, or public education:

8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. 9 And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.

God help us.

It’s a Great, Big, Stupid World (Part 1)

If Jesus came back today
They’d try to book him on the Oprah Winfrey show
‘Cuz it’s a great big stupid world
Great big stupid world

Randy Stonehill, “Great Big Stupid World,” Wonderama

This is the first in a series looking at stupid ideas people have.

Today’s topic: What Would Jesus Cut?

I ran across this ad while Web-surfing:

click to enlarge

It was printed in Sojourners Magazine in 2011, and endorsed by 28 “progressive” Christian leaders.

Why do I think this is stupid?

First, it assumes that Jesus would have anything to do with American politics.

I’ve read the New Testament several times, but I can’t remember reading that Jesus involved Himself in secular politics at all. The closest He came was to make the statement about Roman taxes, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus never stated anything about how those taxes should be spent. He never indicated anything about how the secular government of His day, the Romans, ought to do business. Most of His followers thought He would be a political Messiah, overthrowing the Romans and setting up an independent Jewish state. Jesus made it very clear that His kingdom is not of this world, and He intentionally stayed out of Roman political issues.

Secondly, although Jesus did make numerous statements about the poor, He never said the government should take care of them. Jesus made statements like:

“One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” Mark 10:21

“But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.” Luke 14:13

These passages do show that Jesus taught that it is important to give to the poor. However, His comments were directed at religious leaders, not secular politicians.

Jesus also stated the following:

“The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” Matthew 11:5

“For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always.” Matthew 26:11

“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor” Luke 4:18

These statements demonstrate that Jesus was more interested in having the Gospel preached to the poor than in making sure their material needs were met. Jesus taught that it is more important that the eternal spiritual needs of the poor are met than their temporary physical needs. This obviously does not mean that meeting the physical needs of people is unimportant. Jesus Himself healed the sick. But, it does mean that Jesus was far more interested in drawing people to Himself than He was in meeting worldly needs.

Jesus never said anything about:

  • International aid that directly and literally saves lives from pandemic diseases
  • Critical child health and family nutrition programs – at home and abroad
  • Proven work and income supports that lift families out of poverty
  • Support for education, especially in low-income communities

Thirdly, I find it interesting that the “Christian” ad in question doesn’t quote any Scripture to support their position.  It’s also interesting that these “progressive” Christian leaders ignore what Jesus said about other issues, like marriage, prayer, and evolution.

To ask “What would Jesus cut?” is a stupid question. There is nothing in Scripture to indicate that Jesus would have involved Himself at all with the issue, and in fact, there is much to indicate He would stay completely out of the discussion. This ad is nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt to invoke the name of Jesus to promote a liberal political agenda.

Don’t get me wrong; the federal government should work to prevent diseases, feed the poor, help people get jobs, and support education. Both liberal “progressives” and social conservatives would agree that these issues need to be addressed, although they would disagree with how to best provide for these needs. But, to claim that Jesus would cut parts of the federal budget, but wouldn’t cut international medical aid, nutrition programs, work and income supports (aka welfare), or education, is completely unsupported by the Bible.

Jesus is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, neither a conservative nor a liberal. He is the Creator of the universe and Savior of mankind, not a political pundit. For any so-called Christian political group to imply that Jesus is on “their side” is heretical, ignorant, and downright stupid.