Argumentum ad logicam

n. A logical fallacy that presumes the outcome is incorrect on the basis that the argument is incorrect.

A few days ago, I finally got around to watching Bill Maher’s documentary/screed Religulous, mostly just to see the interview with Reginald Foster. While I found the discussion of religion fascinating, I found Maher and his tactics despicable.  Under the pretense of open discourse, Maher set out to “debate” the religious world, not to move from a hypothesis to synthesis, but to prove that he is right.  Unfortunately, he also served as judge and jury considering he ultimately had the power of editing the tape.

If Maher’s attempt was to prove religion foolish, as a sort of film version of Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason, he was certainly guilty of committing the fallacy of argumentum ad logicamWikipedia informed me that this is also known as argument from fallacy or fallacy fallacy.  The idea is a basic one: one argues that an idea must be false simply because the given argument for that idea is false:

e.g. Theodore Roosevelt was a great president because he helped America out of the depression.

Theodore Roosevelt did not help America out of the depression, but that does not mean he was not a great president.  Maher chooses many unimpressive to people to defend religion with specious arguments, and then uses their specious arguments as grounds for arguing against religion.  At the end of the day, all he has truly proven is that some people who defend religion are rather unthinking.

Simply put, one can not choose to refute the weakest defender of something to be successful but must chose the greatest defender.

Obviously, I had unrealistic expectations for Maher, who ultimately is a comedian and demagogue at heart.  In addition to his argumentum ad logicam, he is clearly  guilty of ad hominum attacks (yes it is disturbing that Senator Mark Pryor makes up words, but that doesn’t mean that his argument is by definition wrong).  As a comedian, his most common weapon is the appeal to redicule: a specious attempt to prove your opponent wrong by making him seem foolish.

All of these things make good television, but if your point is to expose the unthinking nature of the religious world then you should use more thoughtful arguments.

P.S. An interesting website, and one I consulted in writing this, that discusses logical fallacies, is the Fallacy Files.

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3 Responses to Argumentum ad logicam

  1. John Kuhner says:

    A very nice demonstration of this term. More discussion of Bill Maher’s tactics, who is the ostensible definition of a smartass, at my website here:

    http://www.johnbyronkuhner.com/?p=221

    I’m less upset at Maher, because one of his points is that all people need to stop believing they have all the answers, dumb people especially. In fact, that’s more important than getting rid of religion, and one of the reasons why a religious person like myself can enjoy the movie.
    What did you think of the great Reginaldus?

  2. Tench Ringgold says:

    Reginaldus was great, although he came off slightly mad. In general the Catholic scholars came off the best.

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