Fallacy Friday!

Today's Logical Fallacy is...Shifting the Burden of Proof!

(related to “appeal to ignorance”) This fallacy occurs when the burden of proof is placed on the wrong side of an argument. In a logical...

Friday, May 13, 2016

Today's Logical Fallacy is... False Analogy!

(apples and oranges)

This fallacy occurs when two things are incorrectly compared so as to draw a false conclusion. No two scenarios or ideas are exactly the same, nor do they so different that there is nothing similar about them. Therefore, all analogies are flawed in some way because otherwise the two objects would be identical and thus the same object. However, the mere presence of similarities does not justify equal treatment. If, in comparing two objects, we focus on superficial similarities while ignoring fundamental dissimilarities, then we are committing this fallacy.


This is a very common fallacy because our language functions partly through comparisons; we use metaphors and comparisons to teach and to explain situations; we use them in deciding how to handle new experiences (you don’t freak out if you walk into a grocery store just because you haven’t been there before); we use them to make unfamiliar situations and ideas more familiar, thus helping us avoid acting out of fear. However, it is unwise to rely on analogies in making arguments because they will undoubtedly fail in key aspects.

This fallacy is very common in the anti-evolution and Intelligent Design community. For example, claiming that the probability of a complex organism evolving by chance is the same as a tornado ripping through a junkyard and creating a 747 by chance – a very common analogy – is false. Evolution doesn’t work by chance but through the accumulation of changes, so the analogy fails on a fundamental level. The “watchmaker” analogy by William Paley, the founding idea behind the intelligent design movement, is also a false analogy. In Paley's comparison, the universe is like a watch, and watches have been created by an intelligent being (a “watchmaker”), so the universe must also have been created by an intelligent being. However, there are too many dissimilarities between watches and the universe to make this a valid comparison (not only does a watch bear little resemblance to a universe [including vastly different types of rules for governing motion], the universe, being everything we have ever experienced has nothing to which it can be adequately compared.)

Examples:

“Customers are always right, and as a student, I’m paying you to teach me, so I demand that I get an A.” (Students are not customers purchasing grades; they are paying for the opportunity to learn. It is their choice as to how well they learn.)

“DNA is a code, and since codes require an intelligence to create it, DNA must have an intelligence behind it.” (DNA as a code is a metaphor in itself; unlike codes in language, DNA preceded the information.)

“If we legalize gay marriage, next we'll legalize marriage between men and their pets.”

“Iraq is another quagmire, just like Vietnam."

“Feminazi.”

“Meat is murder”

“What's the big deal about the early pioneers killing a few Indians in order to settle the West? After all, you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.”

“Banning ‘head’ shops from selling drug paraphernalia in order to curb drug abuse makes about as much sense as banning bikinis to reduce promiscuity.”

“Life is like a box of chocolate – you never know what you’re going to get.”

“Just like an alley cat needs to prowl, a normal human being can’t be tied down to one single lover.”

“Employees are like nails. Just as nails must be hit in the head in order to make them work, so must employees.”

“Government is like business, so just as business must be sensitive primarily to the bottom line, so also must government.” (This fails, in part, because the objectives of government and business are completely different, so they will have to meet different criteria.)

Opponent of a bill that would ban the use of chlordane, found to cause cancer in lab animals, says, “This bill reminds me of legislation that ought to be introduced to outlaw automobiles” on the grounds that cars kill people, said Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who owns an exterminating business. (Associated Press, June 25th, 1987)

Medical Student: “No one objects to a physician looking up a difficult case in medical books. Why, then, shouldn't students taking a difficult examination be permitted to use their textbooks?”

“People who have to have a cup of coffee every morning before they can function have no less a problem than alcoholics who have to have their alcohol each day to sustain them.”

Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer on why he accepted Louis Farrakhan's call to African-American men to take part in the 1996 Million Man March on Washington, D.C.: “If somebody has a cure for cancer, would you reject it because it was somebody you may not like who came up with it?”

During the Cold War, Congressman Charles Rose (Democrat, North Carolina) answered (in part) the arguments of those opposed to government-sponsored research to develop "remote-viewing" the ability to see a distant place telepathically by stating, “It seems to me that it would be a hell of a cheap radar system. This country wasn't afraid to look into the strange physics behind lasers and semiconductors, and I don't think we should be afraid to look into this.”

“Making people register their own guns is like the Nazis making the Jews register with their government. This policy is crazy.”

“If one were to listen to only one kind of music or eat only one kind of food, it would soon become tasteless or boring. Variety makes eating and listening exciting and enriching experiences. So it seems to me that an exclusive sexual relationship with only one partner for the rest of ones life, that is, marriage, does not hold out much hope for very much excitement or enrichment.”

“Smoking cigarettes is just like ingesting arsenic into your system. Both have been shown to be causally related to death. So if you wouldn't want to take a spoonful of arsenic, I would think that you wouldn't want to continue smoking.”

“Because human bodies become less active as they grow older, and because they eventually die, it is reasonable to expect that political bodies will become less and less active the longer they are in existence, and that they too will eventually die.”

“People who buy stocks are no different from people who bet on horse racing. They both risk their money with little chance of making a big profit.”

“Trying to prepare a couple to be married without allowing them to live together first is like trying to teach kids how to swim without letting them get in the pool” (colorful and memorable, but is the emotional and intellectual skill set required for marriage fundamentally similar to the physical skill set required for swimming?).

“Children are like dogs. They need to be strongly disciplined and housebroken.”

“Tofu is like meat: both have the essential protein for building muscle mass.”

“Tofu is like meat: just as we having regulations against inhumanely killing animals, we should have regulations against inhumanely harvesting soy beans.”

Regarding "Mayor, supes in synch: Foie gras a gone goose" (April 1): “Taking foie gras off menus is like removing the cherry from a Manhattan and declaring the drink non-alcoholic. I can't stand animal cruelty of any kind, but doesn't it make more sense to address our cruelty against our fellow human beings before we can clean up the mess that is animal cruelty? We allow people to live in the streets, turn our eyes away from poverty and hunger on par with some Third World countries and support the death penalty, for crying out loud. Talk about cruelty. Priorities, please!” – Sally Norvell, Alameda (short letter to the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle)

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