One pattern I often see online is that people shape their worldviews in black and white. It doesn't matter what the subject is: abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, Dr. Who, the President, or pumpkin spice lattes--everyone seems to have an opinion, and that opinion seems to rarely declare: "there is grey area here!"
This is striking--at least in my mind--because at no other time have the majority of people (in the US) had virtually all of the wealth of human knowledge literally available at anytime, in virtually any place. We have the internet, with countless dissenting opinions and information, and yet we cling to our perspective with such clarity and confidence, often with little desire to dig into the thoughts of those whose opinions differ from ours.
I have only recently begun to think critically using certain logical skills. While I have been an atheist for at least 5 years, and a pro-lifer since being a teenager, I only began to recently understand what it means to really think critically. What I found was a whole new world of perspective, leading me to fewer sure opinions, more "I-don't-know"s, and increased wonderment at the universe.
Over the next few weeks, I will be working out the concept of logical fallacies with all of you. I am by no means an expert in logic or critical thinking, but one thing is clear to me when I read any abortion-related article, blog post, or comment thread on the internet: people revel in their own logical fallacies. If you point it out to someone, they likely will not care, or they will change the subject. I used to react this way myself when my own logical fallacies were pointed out, because I was not familiar with the big-picture of logic and critical thinking, nor was I appreciative of them.
Assertions and Evidence
It is easier to assert without evidence than it is to assert with evidence. Because of this reality, we often employ logical fallacies to "enhance" our assertions. What ends up happening is that assertions are made that the other side can quite easily take down. So we scramble and move on to the next argument, or we try and enhance our position with another logical fallacy. (Sometimes we don't respond or we block people from our Facebook pages, because those things are easier to do than to abandon our original assertions.)
|Politicians often rely on logical fallacies and making assertions without evidence. (From xkcd)|
We need to make Arguments, not assertions.
The difference between an argument and an assertion is probably obvious: arguments give reasons for why we believe our position. Logical fallacies come into play here as well--our brains often justify our positions using seemingly-reasonable lines of thought. However, when closely examined, these lines of fault end up being fallacious, and we have to start again. Unless we're on the internet, in which case we're already 200 comments in and it's too late.
"Abortion is wrong."
This is an assertion. There is no argument, nor is there any evidence. In other words, it sucks.
"Abortion is wrong because God says so."
This is an argument with unacceptable evidence. There are many gods, many versions of his supposed writings, and many interpretations of those said writings. It is not a compelling argument.
"Abortion is wrong. Many biologists and doctors believe this."
This is an argument with a logical fallacy. Do you know which one? We'll talk about it in the coming posts!
I am writing these posts just as much for me as for those of you who are interested in critical thinking. Personally, I enjoy having my worldview, my beliefs, and my strategies challenged. This series of posts isn't meant to reach out to pro-choicers, nor to every pro-lifer. My hope is that when you encounter a bad argument on either side, you can identify it and (hopefully!) correct it in an effective way. My bigger hope, however, is that you begin to see these logical fallacies in yourself.
I invite other pro-lifers with more seasoned abilities to contact me with corrections, clarifications, or other thoughts you have. You can reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.