This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

← The WTF Fallacy, and others

The WTF Fallacy, and others - Comments

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 1 by Steve Zara

Dear moderators. You may have noticed that there is no number 4! Sorry about that. If it's possible to change the numbering, I would be grateful, but not if it's too much trouble.

Sun, 26 Jun 2011 18:44:34 UTC | #842982

Moderator's Avatar Comment 2 by Moderator

Fixed!

We'd thought that was a blast against the '4 must always come after 3 Fallacy' ;-)

Sun, 26 Jun 2011 18:50:04 UTC | #842984

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 3 by Steve Zara

We'd thought that was a blast against the '4 must always come after 3 Fallacy' ;-)

If only I had been that witty!

Sun, 26 Jun 2011 19:11:58 UTC | #842995

God fearing Atheist's Avatar Comment 4 by God fearing Atheist

Moderator, can we have a html anchor for each one of Steve's 19 points, so we can just link when we see a fallacy please?

[Or should that be 20 points, with one missing :-)]

Sun, 26 Jun 2011 19:14:45 UTC | #842997

Ornicar's Avatar Comment 5 by Ornicar

  1. The Einstein Fallacy

X is true because it's rejected by scientists, but then so was Einstein. The problem with this common argument is that Einstein was not rejected by scientists, and the chances of the person using the fallacy being another Einstein are exceedingly small.

I once said to my father that, at my age, Einstein was very bad at maths.

My father answered : "But Einstein was a genius. What is your excuse ?"

Did you mention the infalsifiability fallacy ? Like, if you say X is wrong because Y is wrong, I say Y is right, but if you say X is wrong because Y is right, then I say Y is wrong.

For example, someone say toasts always fall on the buttery side, and you throw 1000 toasts in the air to demonstrate that about only 500 will fall on the butter side, those people will tell you that half of the time you buttered the wrong side.

Sun, 26 Jun 2011 19:21:19 UTC | #843000

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 6 by Cartomancer

William Tapley, Third Eagle of the Apocalypse.

The "if you try hard enough then everything looks phallusy"...

Sun, 26 Jun 2011 19:47:06 UTC | #843018

DoctorChristian's Avatar Comment 7 by DoctorChristian

Not sure if this one is covered by your list, but it's one that I find particularly annoying. It says something like "You either have to accept God, or reject the whole of science", as if the fate of science was tied up inextricably with acceptance of God's existence.

For example, it came up in a debate I was having with a guy about the applicability of Goedel's Incompleteness Theorems to the universe (he was claiming that the theorems prove that the universe is incomplete, therefore God must exist!). After trying to explain some of the huge assumptions he would have to make about the universe in order for Goedel's theorems to be applicable he replied:

I cannot prove that the universe is computationally enumerable, I can only point out that the entire enteprise of science and mathematics implicitly presumes that it is...If you wish to reject science and math instead of accepting God as axiomatic, you are free to do so.

Sun, 26 Jun 2011 19:56:38 UTC | #843022

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 8 by Steve Zara

Comment 7 by DoctorChristian

What a bizarre fallacy! Thank you for mentioning it.

Sun, 26 Jun 2011 20:00:39 UTC | #843024

cixelsyd5's Avatar Comment 9 by cixelsyd5

Absolutely wonderful list, Steve! I cannot wait to refer people to this page!!

Ben

Sun, 26 Jun 2011 20:13:04 UTC | #843031

God fearing Atheist's Avatar Comment 10 by God fearing Atheist

Comment 7 by DoctorChristian :

This guy?

My understanding of Goebel's theorem is that in a mathematical system you can make some statements that are true, and some false, but you can make other statements that you cannot prove one way or the other except by introducing another axiom into the system. If you do that, you get another system where the same happens, and so on recursively. Hence mathematics is always incomplete in the sense that you can always make a (non axiomatic) statement that you cannot prove.

I don't think that is relevant to a model of reality. Axioms can be added to the mathematical model until the model and the experimental evidence align. It is irrelevant that you can create an arbitrary mathematical question about the system that can't be answered, all that matters is that any sensible question about the real world can be answered by using the mathematical model.

I'm not a mathematician, so I may have misunderstood. Comments please!

Sun, 26 Jun 2011 20:28:33 UTC | #843040

susanlatimer's Avatar Comment 11 by susanlatimer

Great list!

My favourite is the fanged-chameleon fallacy because this is the one I've encountered throughout my life and still encounter most often. It never fails to make my brain spin.

Sun, 26 Jun 2011 20:32:06 UTC | #843042

Premiseless's Avatar Comment 12 by Premiseless

I'm not sure which this is but it goes along the lines of,

"God is love therefore if you have love you must love god else you are a complete loveless twat and not worth listening to."

Stuff like this mixes up emotions with reason and degrees of engagement, till it simply reduces you to the options of getting onto its emotional fairground or else accuses you of none fairground boredom type speak.

I'll let you work this out since you seem the house expert at fallacies.

Sun, 26 Jun 2011 20:40:55 UTC | #843048

debonnesnouvelles's Avatar Comment 13 by debonnesnouvelles

"8. The Many Cats Fallacy This is an interesting one. It's a quantum fallacy, but the construction of the argument reveals deep confusion about quantum mechanics. In one part of the argument parallel words will be mentioned..."

Should it read "...parallel worlds..."? Otherwise where do the many cats come in? Ah, I got it:

Molly, Charlie, Tigger, Poppy, Oscar, Smudge, Millie, Daisy, Max, Jasper, just to name a few?

Love your list, cheers!

Sun, 26 Jun 2011 20:44:26 UTC | #843050

cornbread_r2's Avatar Comment 14 by cornbread_r2

It seems the article's title needs to be corrected...

Thanks for these Steve!

Sun, 26 Jun 2011 20:49:37 UTC | #843055

CaptainPlanet's Avatar Comment 15 by CaptainPlanet

  1. The Einstein Fallacy X is true because it's rejected by scientists, but then so was Einstein. The problem with this common argument is that Einstein was not rejected by scientists, and the chances of the person using the fallacy being another Einstein are exceedingly small.

I consider this to be factually incorrect and logically incoherent.

Einstein was initially rejected by most scientists. It took decades for physicists to accept his theory of relativity and his theory of the photoelectric effect. And even if he weren't rejected at first, so what? Isn't there more to truth than consensus? What you have is an argumentum ad populum. That is, you are the one with the fallacy.

Sun, 26 Jun 2011 21:05:27 UTC | #843062

DoctorChristian's Avatar Comment 16 by DoctorChristian

Comment 10 by God fearing Atheist :

Comment 7 by DoctorChristian :

This guy? My understanding of Goebel's theorem is that in a mathematical system you can make some statements that are true, and some false, but you can make other statements that you cannot prove one way or the other except by introducing another axiom into the system. If you do that, you get another system where the same happens, and so on recursively. Hence mathematics is always incomplete in the sense that you can always make a (non axiomatic) statement that you cannot prove.

I don't think that is relevant to a model of reality. Axioms can be added to the mathematical model until the model and the experimental evidence align. It is irrelevant that you can create an arbitrary mathematical question about the system that can't be answered, all that matters is that any sensible question about the real world can be answered by using the mathematical model. I'm not a mathematician, so I may have misunderstood. Comments please!

This is a bit off topic for this thread, but yes, that's the dude. For me the main point is that Godel's theorems are only applicable if certain conditions are satisfied. In this context you'd have to assume that the entire universe is a formal system, and that its axioms are computably enumerable. Either of these assumptions on its own is just as big as the assumption "God exists". There is no reason whatsoever to assume that the entire universe is a formal system just because we are able to apply some maths to bits of it. And even if it is, there is no reason whatsoever to assume that its axioms would be computably enumerable. There are mathematical structures which encompass the whole of arithmetic and cannot be axiomatised (they are complete and consistent). The universe could be like that. There are also axiom systems which extend the usual system of arithmetic and have an uncountably infinite number of axioms. Godel's theorems do not apply to either of these cases. The universe would have to satisfy very particular conditions for the theorems to apply, and assuming these is just as huge as assuming god in the first place.

Sun, 26 Jun 2011 21:32:48 UTC | #843073

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 17 by Steve Zara

Einstein was initially rejected by most scientists.

No, not really. His papers were mostly quickly accepted for publication.

It took decades for physicists to accept his theory of relativity and his theory of the photoelectric effect.

General relativity was published in 1916, and people generally accepted it after a dramatic demonstration in 1919 through a solar eclipse. The New York Times published an article with the catch title: "Lights All Askew In The Heavens/Men Of Science More Or Less Agog Over Results Of Eclipse Observations/Einstein Theory Triumphs". We can only guess how Fox News might report such a thing today!

And even if he weren't rejected at first, so what? Isn't there more to truth than consensus? What you have is an argumentum ad populum. That is, you are the one with the fallacy.

No, that fallacy does not apply to scientific matters, because in that context argumentum ad populum does not factor in expertise.

Sun, 26 Jun 2011 21:33:01 UTC | #843074

CaptainPlanet's Avatar Comment 18 by CaptainPlanet

Comment 17 by Steve Zara :

No, not really. His papers were mostly quickly accepted for publication. .

A disingenuous argument. Peer review in those days was extremely relaxed, especially in Germany. Even today, most academic journals would only reject a paper if it contains technical errors or blatantly sloppy reasoning. Lots of scientists didn't accept special relativity. Even Henri Poincaré, one of the inventors of the theory of relativity, didn't really accept it. Max Planck, one of the founders of quantum theory, didn't accept Einstein's theory of particle-wave duality.

General relativity was published in 1916, and people generally accepted it after a dramatic demonstration in 1919 through a solar eclipse. The New York Times published an article with the catch title: "Lights All Askew In The Heavens/Men Of Science More Or Less Agog Over Results Of Eclipse Observations/Einstein Theory Triumphs". We can only guess how Fox News might report such a thing today!

Even after that, many physicists were skeptical. The 1921 Nobel was awarded to Einstein for the law of the photoelectric effect, simply because relativity was still controversial.

No, that fallacy does not apply to scientific matters, because in that context argumentum ad populum does not factor in expertise.

You are not thinking clearly. An ad populum is still an ad populum, even if the populus happens to be wearing white lab coats. It is entirely possible that a single person can be right and everyone else is wrong. Not very likely, but still possible.

Sun, 26 Jun 2011 21:43:32 UTC | #843078

Alex, adv. diab.'s Avatar Comment 19 by Alex, adv. diab.

Einstein was initially rejected by most scientists. It took decades for physicists to accept his theory of relativity

I think his special theory of relativity was immediately discussed as a serious proposition by some of the leading scientists, and experiments were performed attempting to refute it. Very soon after, Einstein was already part of the scientific establishment. The picture that Einstein was this maverick scientist who was laughed at for decades until his ideas were vindicated is inaccurate, like the old canard that he was supposedly terribly bad at maths - he was excellent at it, he just wasn't a mathematician in the modern sense.

Sun, 26 Jun 2011 21:48:18 UTC | #843081

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 20 by Steve Zara

You are not thinking clearly.

Ad Hominem fallacy.

It is entirely possible that a single person can be right and everyone else is wrong. Not very likely, but still possible.

Excellent! You have just committed the Einstein Fallacy :)

Thanks for this helpful demonstration for those who might not be familiar with it!

An ad populum is still an ad populum, even if the populus happens to be wearing white lab coats.

I think this needs a new fallacy name. Here we go:

20. Not Understanding the Fallacy Fallacy

Using a fallacy beyond the circumstances when it works.
Example: "Quoting Dawkins on Evolution is committing the fallacy of Argument from Authority". Argument from Authority only works if the Authority is insufficient or unconnected with the subject.

Sun, 26 Jun 2011 21:52:07 UTC | #843083

CaptainPlanet's Avatar Comment 21 by CaptainPlanet

Nobody thinks Einstein was laughed at for decades. That is a strawman. If we wanted a scientist who was laughed at for decades, we would look to Galileo or Charles Darwin.

That is the problem with these fallacies. Theyr'e mostly all strawmen. I see no evidence that anybody is that stupid.

Sun, 26 Jun 2011 21:52:40 UTC | #843084

CaptainPlanet's Avatar Comment 22 by CaptainPlanet

Comment 20 by Steve Zara :

Ad Hominem fallacy.

What, telling someone they're not thinking clearly is a fallacy?

You're really going overboard with this stuff.

Sun, 26 Jun 2011 21:53:49 UTC | #843085

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 23 by Steve Zara

What, telling someone they're not thinking clearly is a fallacy?

Sure. It's attacking the person, not the argument. It may not be a particularly heinous fallacy, but it is still a fallacy. How does it add to any argument? And, as fallacies are the subject of this thread....

That is the problem with these fallacies. Theyr'e mostly all strawmen. I see no evidence that anybody is that stupid.

Argument from incredulity. I have personally come across all of these, some of them many, many times.

Sun, 26 Jun 2011 21:53:57 UTC | #843086

Jason72's Avatar Comment 24 by Jason72

Are we including the Nazi/Communist Fallacy (or is that too bleeding obvious/in a separate Fallacy listing) where they argue Hitler/Stalin/"insert dictator here" was an Atheist so therefore you must be condoning what they did which always rears its head no matter the subject!

Sun, 26 Jun 2011 21:54:03 UTC | #843087

Jason72's Avatar Comment 25 by Jason72

Great list by the way Steve!

Sun, 26 Jun 2011 21:55:54 UTC | #843088

Anonymous's Avatar Comment 26 by Anonymous

Comment Removed by Moderator

Sun, 26 Jun 2011 21:56:06 UTC | #843089

Anonymous's Avatar Comment 27 by Anonymous

Comment Removed by Moderator

Sun, 26 Jun 2011 21:57:43 UTC | #843092

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 28 by Steve Zara

It isn't a fallacy. It IS possible, however unlikely, that a single person can be right and everyone else can be wrong. There's no use in calling this a fallacy, because it clearly is not. [Quote edited by moderator to bring original within Terms of Use]

That's not what the fallacy is about. It is about trying to justify a claim because it's currently considered a minority opinion.

I'm sure you're just trying to wind me up.

Goodness no. I don't know you at all. Why should I do that?

Sun, 26 Jun 2011 21:58:37 UTC | #843093

CaptainPlanet's Avatar Comment 29 by CaptainPlanet

But nobody, and I mean NOBODY, would argue that something must be true "because" it is a minority position.

This is just one strawman after another.

Sun, 26 Jun 2011 22:00:14 UTC | #843096

Mark Jones's Avatar Comment 30 by Mark Jones

Excellent list Steve.

What about the false equivalence fallacy (or the black equals white fallacy)? For example:

  • Atheism is just another religion (although that could be another WTF fallacy; aren't theists supposed to be pro-religion?)

  • Militant atheists are as bad as militant theists, they are so!

  • Insisting on evidence equals scientism, don't you know?

  • Sun, 26 Jun 2011 22:02:58 UTC | #843097