Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Straw men - Make Believe Arguments
Straw man arguments.
This is probably not one of my more interesting posts (no comments, please!), but I’m tired of seeing them when someone tries to build the correctness of their view.
Why do we create a caricature of someone’s position, attack that caricature, and think we’ve advanced our own view? We set up a story that doesn’t really represent the view of another, knock that view down, and think we’ve won. However, the logic in this is seriously flawed! It’s called a “straw man argument”. These show up everywhere – in personal arguments, in politics, everywhere. Sadly, this approach even pops up in Christian contexts. Here’s one example:
“If there’s going to be an Armageddon, and we’ll be in heaven already raptured up just in time, it really doesn’t matter if you have acid rain or greenhouse gases prior to that. Or, for that matter, whether you bombed civilians in Iraq. All that really matters is saving souls for that disembodied heaven”.
This author tries to make the point that his view of the kingdom and heaven is more biblical than the traditional view (which includes, “when I die, I will be in heaven”). Some people who don’t agree with his view might well believe that “it doesn’t really matter”, but I doubt that’s the main teaching of Bible-based Christianity. I, for one, believe that we enter heaven at the moment of death and I believe in a future rapture. However, between now and then, my stance is not “it doesn’t matter.” I believe we should be good stewards of God’s creation while we are here, for His glory, for my immediate benefit, and for benefit of generations to come. I like to see the mountains; I prefer blue skies to the brown skies I saw in Beijing. And the fact that I don’t get as excited about some issues (e.g., “global warming”) as other people has nothing to do with my views about heaven or the rapture. It comes from doubts about the soundness of the science behind the story (or other factors, depending on the issue!)
Here’s another example:
“We have been told all that is required is a one-time decision, maybe even mere intellectual assent to Jesus, but after that we need not worry about his commands, his standards, or his glory. We have a ticket to heaven, and we can live however we want on earth. Our sin will be tolerated along the way.”
This particular author wants his readers to take a more biblical view of discipleship and to live accordingly (which I commend, by the way). He view is that the proper response to the gospel message should be “unconditional surrender of all that we are and all that we have to all that he is.” The problem with his argument, though, is his description of the response allegedly required by those who hold a different view than him. Again, a few may hold the view that “we can live however we want” and that “our sin will be tolerated.” But most within Bible-based Christianity do not; those who teach that the response should be belief in Jesus (“whosoever believes in Him… has eternal life”, John 3:16, et al), would never teach we can live like we want and tolerate sin (Romans 6:1-2).
It seems that the straw man approach only convinces two groups of people: (1) Those already in the arguer's camp, and (2) those not well-read enough to recognize that the description of the other position is not a sound description (This doesn't mean they aren't intelligent. They just aren't aware of the options related to the issue at hand). The rest who believe differently will see the straw man and not be convinced.
What should we do with this?
(1) Watch for straw-men arguments. Don’t be swayed by them. The author may have some valid points, but make sure the logic he or she uses to support them is sound. Do options other than the straw man exist? What are they? By the way, even if the other option isn’t a caricature, there may still be other options. Presenting only two views when others exist is called a “false dichotomy”. Usually (but not always) more than two options exist to consider.
(2) Avoid using straw men in our own argumentation. If we want to say something about someone else’s view, try to accurately reflect their view.
Okay. Not fascinating. But I got it off my chest. Read carefully - think carefully!
(By the way, if you know who the authors are who wrote these examples, please don’t mention their names. I’m not interested in criticizing them, but instead the logical problem of their approach).