Friday, April 4, 2014

Look for the shades of gray: The False Dichotomy

The false dichotomy fallacy occurs when only choices are artificially reduced to only two options, ignoring all other alternatives, either intentionally or unintentionally. It implies that there really is only a choice between two extremes with no room for compromise, and usually it is worded in such a way to favor one answer over the other. It makes two big assumptions: that the two options are mutually exclusive (cannot be both) and exhaustive (no other options available). Therefore, if you do not accept one, then you must accept the other. (Other names include the false dilemma, black/white fallacy, either-or reasoning, fallacy of false choice, fallacy of exhaustive hypotheses, fallacy of false alternative, and the fallacy of the excluded middle).

How this applies: Many are taught that evolution is the "counter-argument" to God and that one cannot accept both. However, "creationism" and "evolution" actually exist on a continuum, and many people have no problems believing in God and accepting evolution. Along the same lines, if you believe this dichotomy, then you tend to also believe that accepting evolution means that you are damned. (This particular view is also the "Appeal to Emotion" fallacy). You can also see this fallacy when someone claims that because science doesn't have all the answers that a literal 6-day creation must be true (also an "Appeal to Ignorance" fallacy).


  • America…love it or leave it! (Since America was founded on the concept of respectful political dissent, not only is this a fallacy, one could also say that anyone who loves America would want to fix its problems and thus disagreements are truly American).
  • It’s owls versus jobs, the environment or the economy.
  • If you criticize [insert favored group], then you must hate [the group]. (e.g. “If you criticize Christians, then you must hate Christians.)
  • Whilst rallying support for his plan to fundamentally undermine citizens' rights, the Supreme Leader told the people they were either on his side, or they were on the side of the enemy.
  • You’re a German Christian? So was Hitler. You must hate Jews.
  • You don’t support the Israeli occupation of Palestine? You must be an anti-Semite.
  • You support the existence of an Israeli state? You must support the occupation of Palestine.
  • Either you favor a strong national defense, or you favor allowing other nations to dictate our foreign policy.
  • C. S. Lewis perpetrated the famous "Lord, Liar, Lunatic" false trilemma: "A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse."
  • “Either you accept this conspiracy, or you’re a mindless sheep who believes whatever the establishment says.”

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