It has happened to many of us. We post an encouraging Bible verse like Psalm 145:9 on Facebook: "The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made." By noon an atheist from somewhere in social media land has found the post and leaves a lovely comment:
The person who leaves comments like these probably isn't looking for a real conversation, but they are a great example of the abundance of bad logic waiting to be discovered in the dark corners of cyberspace. Here are the 5 most illogical people you will meet on the internet, and how to spot their fallacies:
1. The Straw Man
How easy do you think it would be to knock down a pretend man made entirely of straw? It would be a lot easier than knocking down a real man—that's for sure. This happens in the world of social media disagreement All. The. Time. The "Straw Man" is a fallacy in which someone oversimplifies or misrepresents the view of their opponent (builds a straw man), and then argues against that false view (knocks the straw man down). Straw men can often be found in discussions about abortion:
You made a claim about scientific evidence—not women's rights. The straw man has misrepresented your argument and created one that is much easier to refute.
2. The Red Herring
The "Red Herring" fallacy is committed when someone brings up an irrelevant point that diverts attention from the original point being made. Changing the subject doesn't actually win an argument, but it can make people forget what they were disagreeing about in the first place.
The red herring has diverted attention away from what the Bible teaches to the credibility of the Bible as a book. It's a worthy discussion, but it's a different discussion—don't take the bait.
3. The Character Assassinator
This fallacy is called "Ad-Hominem," and attacks the character of the person making the claim, rather than addressing the person's actual argument.
The character assassinator has shifted the focus from your claim to their perception of the motive behind it—thus avoiding the actual argument. The straw man, red herring, and character assassinator can all be handled in a similar way—by gently bringing them back to your original point.
4. The Self-Defeater
The self-defeater is a person who makes a statement that refutes itself. You can spot a self-defeating statement by taking the claim that is being made, and applying that claim to the statement itself.
If you can spot this self-defeating statement, one simple question will bring the fallacy to the surface: "Is that true?"
5. The Gish Galloper
The "Gish Gallop" is a fallacy in which someone introduces so many (often individually weak) arguments in one space, that you could never possibly answer them all. This tends to happen more often in live-debate settings, but there are internet gish gallopers as well!
Notice that the gish galloper has introduced several possibly related but unsupported statements which no person with a life or a real job would be able to sit down and answer in one sitting—it would take all day! There are a few different ways to handle a gish galloper but the simplest would be to stay within the scope of your original claim. You didn't make any claims about the Bible, flood or creation narratives, or Paul's status as an apostle. You DID make a claim about a miracle, so that's a good place to start.
It's easy for any of us to fall into some of these traps, so be looking for these 5 illogical people as you interact on social media—and be careful to not be one yourself! Have you ever met one of these characters on the internet? Please share in the comments below!
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