The Straw Man Fallacy

Apologetics, and all clear thinking requires logic. Logical thinking is an indispensable tool for refuting opposing ideas as well as defending one’s own. To be able to demonstrate one’s own position in a logically consistent and compelling way honors God and goes a long way in showing the futility and falsity of unbiblical ideas. Thus, learning the laws of logic and applying them is an essential feature for doing apologetics. Furthermore, logical thinking also helps us identify fallacies in reasoning; this is vitally important because much of the argumentation of unbelievers demonstrate fallacious reasoning based upon faulty logic, a failure to understand context, and failure to clearly define one’s terms. Learning the basic logical fallacies which are usually committed in argumentation will help deflect many of the intellectual attacks of the unbeliever. One such fallacy is know as the “Straw Man”.

The “Straw Man Fallacy” is committed when an opponent’s argument is misrepresented, and the person proceeds to refute that misrepresentation of the argument. It is called a “straw man” because, like a straw man, it is easily knocked over. This fallacy is committed when the original argument is misunderstood or when a person is meaning to intentionally misrepresent another’s position. This fallacy is also committed when the opponent is unable to successfully refute the actual argumentation; so they purposefully misrepresent the argument to give the impression that they are refuting it.

Some common examples of the “Straw Man Fallacy” include:

  • The Christian view of “faith” is believing something without evidence. We should only believe things that have the evidence to back it up, so therefore, we should reject Christianity.
    • This is an example of the straw man fallacy because it misrepresents the Christian conception of “faith”, and then deems such a position as irrational. The biblical notion of faith connotes the idea of “trust”. Furthermore, the trust that the believer has in God is based in God’s demonstration of his faithfulness in the past. It is for this reason the Bible places great emphasis on God keeping his covenant faithfully.
  • Christians deny the usefulness of science. Instead, they believe that the Bible contains all the truths about the world that we need.
    • This is an example of the straw man fallacy because it misrepresents the Christian notion of the role and usefulness of science. It needs to be pointed out that it was in the Christian West, where science flourished. Indeed the scientific method was developed with the assumption that we lived in a world created by God who created the world in such a way that we can make predictions and learn about God’s creation. Indeed, Christians believe science is very useful; but we do not assign to science a role that surpasses what it is meant to accomplish.

Finally, understanding what the straw man fallacy is, we need to take care that we do not fall into this form of fallacious reasoning. Logic is a funny thing since like a knife, it cuts both ways. We can use it to refute the faulty positions of others, but we can also be cut by the same tool if we do not use it properly. A good way to practice identifying logical fallacies is to be intentional about finding them. Think about what someone is saying to you and try to decipher in your own head whether there is something illogical about what they are saying. Just be careful that while you are practicing in your head, you don’t always verbalize the fallacy. That can be a little annoying!

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