1. Melbourne, Australia
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    11 Mar '11 07:00
    In my last discussion with twhitehead he raised the issue of "the strawman". This fallacy of reasoning is common on this forum and it would be good to clarify it in the hope of promoting good reasoning. This is not a "dig" at twhitehead but an attempt to improve all our reasoned arguments. (He was actually right in indicating I had confused the "strawman" term, although still we remain in disagreement on my previous OP)

    I would like to look at a couple of examples.

    I invite him (or others) to do so with one he claims from my recent posts, while I will seek to raise one from his, if I can find one. Just for enjoyment's and education's sake, rather than whose ego is the biggest and irrespective of the particular argument or its validity or not. The development of objectivity is a good but sometimes difficult thing, particularly in the matters discussed here.

    From Wikipeadia:

    "The straw man fallacy occurs in the following pattern of argument:
    Person A has position X.
    Person B disregards certain key points of X and instead presents the superficially similar position Y. Thus, Y is a resulting distorted version of X and can be set up in several ways, including:
    Presenting a misrepresentation of the opponent's position.

    Quoting an opponent's words out of context — i.e. choosing quotations that misrepresent the opponent's actual intentions (see contextomy and quote mining).

    Presenting someone who defends a position poorly as the defender, then refuting that person's arguments — thus giving the appearance that every upholder of that position (and thus the position itself) has been defeated. [My clarifying edit: Person B makes a (poor) assertion in your camp, therefore the position you Person A are presenting is declared wrong.]

    Inventing a fictitious persona with actions or beliefs which are then criticized, implying that the person represents a group of whom the speaker is critical.

    Oversimplifying an opponent's argument, then attacking this oversimplified version.
    Person B attacks position Y, concluding that X is false/incorrect/flawed.

    This sort of "reasoning" is fallacious, because attacking a distorted version of a position fails to constitute an attack on the actual position."
    *****

    As a further example, say, I posit I am not a creationist for various argued reasons but do not raise the issue of apparent design, (which I actually perceive and acknowledge), having a differing position as to that issue, not a theist-creationist one.

    Another responds with an argument placing arguments presenting apparent design to prove the correctness of the creationist position.

    Here the arguer has set up a "strawman" if I am not mistaken. The argument has shifted to equate ideas about creationism with ideas about apparent design. This is not an argument that had been presented, but one set up anew to support the creationist position.

    In other words you have either intentionally or not, set up a target your opponent is not holding. You have created a "strawman".

    There is already a danger of a strawman emerging in this very thread and I wait to see if it emerges. Please remember this is a post about illustrations of a fallacy of reasoned argument, NOT about any particular theory mentioned.

    Anyone interested?
  2. SubscriberFMF
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    11 Mar '11 07:34
    Originally posted by Taoman
    Anyone interested?
    Well I think your implicit suggestion - that using strawmen is legitimate - is wrong.
  3. Melbourne, Australia
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    11 Mar '11 08:45
    Originally posted by FMF
    Well I think your implicit suggestion - that using strawmen is legitimate - is wrong.
    A good illustration, thanks.
  4. Cape Town
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    11 Mar '11 09:53
    Originally posted by Taoman
    ... although still we remain in disagreement on my previous OP
    Do we still remain in disagreement about whether or not the argument I labelled a strawman in the other thread really is a strawman?

    If so, let me explain why I believe it is a strawman:
    From your OP:
    "Nonetheless, these odds are what many are suggesting we accept."

    It is my claim that nobody, is asking you, or anyone else to accept those odds. To claim that we are, and then attacking our position on that basis, is a classic strawman argument.

    You could:
    1. Accept that it is a strawman, and rework the argument so that it more accurately reflects the position you are arguing against.
    2. Show that it is not a strawman by showing that I, or others have, in fact, suggested you accept those odds.
  5. Melbourne, Australia
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    11 Mar '11 11:251 edit
    Originally posted by twhitehead
    Do we still remain in disagreement about whether or not the argument I labelled a strawman in the other thread really is a strawman?

    If so, let me explain why I believe it is a strawman:
    From your OP:
    "Nonetheless, these odds are what many are suggesting we accept."

    It is my claim that nobody, is asking you, or anyone else to accept t ...[text shortened]... is not a strawman by showing that I, or others have, in fact, suggested you accept those odds.
    Ok, Rabbi Jacobs, and I, by implication in posting his piece, have created a partial strawman in the depiction of "total chance odds" claims by so-called scientists.

    I would, in the context of my main argument would redo it something like thus:

    In the desription of the origin of DNA and its pre-component RNA, there are various incomplete conceptions of how the origins of life emerged from a chaotic pre-biotic environment. The problem with DNA is that proteins would be required to achieve the process and yet such proteins requires DNA to produce them. So many scientists look to RNA the pre and simpler component of DNA and numerous postulations (not all) involve some form of spontaneous formation, and others involve some need for an as yet unknown "structuring" component to achieve their formation. I maintain that that "structuring component" may well involve a primal form of awareness underlying all existence, and required to initate and sustain life and living processes. I maintain that is as equally believable as the current scientific attempts at explanation.

    Somewhat longer and more detailed.
  6. Melbourne, Australia
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    11 Mar '11 12:47
    Now my illustration of a strawman created by yourself. I maintain it fits two elements indicating a strawman:

    1. Person A has position X.
    Person B disregards certain key points of X and instead presents the superficially similar position Y. Thus, Y is a resulting distorted version of X and can be set up in several ways, including:
    Presenting a misrepresentation of the opponent's position.

    2. Oversimplifying an opponent's argument, then attacking this oversimplified version.
    Person B attacks position Y, concluding that X is false/incorrect/flawed.


    The response is found in post 10th March 14:08

    My statement:
    "If you ask me what unfinished science I will only state I am not writing a book here and limit my answers."

    Your response:
    Typical fundamentalist theist stance. You are essentially saying: "I believe in God but I cant tell you why and don't have the time to discuss it, and why do you scientist types not go and look into my religion."

    You have created a strawman in portraying me as

    - a fundamentalist theist

    - avoiding extended detailed argument because I can't produce it

    - expecting scientists to investigate "my religion"

    Now I maintain that is a strawman because:

    - I have repeatedly asserted I am not a theist and certainly not fundamentalist in both the current meanings of the words (rather than subtly redefined by you in this strawman argument). This is a distortion of my position.

    -The reason I stated for not pursueing in detail is simply the one I mean.

    Your argument in response to this point is stronger elsewhere, when you expect more detailed back up, and I have to admit I simply didn't have the energy or inclination to go into such detail at the time. It was primarily, however, avoiding extended forum posts. You could argue (possibly validly) that don't start a discussion if not prepared to provide extended detail, at your numerous requests.


    Finally, you have transformed a philosophical stance and possible scientific exploration about primal consciousness or awareness, into " investigating my religion". This is oversimplifying and distorting an opponent's argument.


    I maintain all this response is a strawman, possibly a partial one.
    My intention here is to illustrate. If it is not a strawman please be specific in why it is not in order that the meaning of strawman is clear.
  7. Cape Town
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    11 Mar '11 13:00
    Originally posted by Taoman
    Ok, Rabbi Jacobs, and I, by implication in posting his piece, have created a partial strawman in the depiction of "total chance odds" claims by so-called scientists.
    There is nothing 'partial' about it. It is a strawman in its entirety. It essentially claims that scientists are asking you to believe that life came about through insurmountable odds. This is simply not true. It then attacks this position by basically saying: "look, this is so improbable it couldn't have happened by pure chance."

    So many scientists look to RNA the pre and simpler component of DNA and numerous postulations (not all) involve some form of spontaneous formation, and others involve some need for an as yet unknown "structuring" component to achieve their formation.
    So you admit that spontaneous formation is not the only possibility on the table.

    I maintain that that "structuring component" may well involve a primal form of awareness underlying all existence, and required to initate and sustain life and living processes. I maintain that is as equally believable as the current scientific attempts at explanation. Somewhat longer and more detailed.
    I think there are a number of problems here that make discussing it difficult.
    1. There really is no single scientific theory about abiogenesis. All we have is ideas about how it could have happened. However, for any given such suggestion, if there is a problem such as insurmountable odds, then scientists will rightly either discard the hypothesis or try to refine it to resolve the problem. At no point will science as you to believe insurmountable odds.
    2. You maintain that 'a primal form of awareness' is 'equally believable' in this instance. I think this stance warrants further discussion into exactly what you mean by this, but I think it would be a lot easier if a simpler example was used.

    What I would like to know is whether or not you are arguing from a possition of statistics (as the Rabbi was), or are you just saying that for any event in the universe 'a primal form of awareness' is a reasonable explanation?

    To help me understand your position better can you answer the following:
    After noticing that when I release an apple (or any other object) it falls to the ground, are the following explanations equally believable:
    1. There is something (let us call it a force, and call it specifically 'gravity'😉 whos origin and complete description is unknown but operates in a well defined and predictable manner (Newtons Laws of gravity)
    2. It falls because of 'a primal form of awareness'. Note that by using the word 'awareness' we have given an attribute (awareness) to the cause of the falling, yet we have no reason whatsoever for assigning it this attribute. We cannot detect this attribute, we cannot use it to predict how the object will fall.
    3. It falls because of Santa Claus.
    4. It falls because of something we will call 'fallingness' which is green. We have given it the attribute green because thats our favorite color, though once again there is no real whatsoever for assigning it this attribute. We cannot detect this attribute, we cannot use it to predict how the object will fall.
  8. Joined
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    11 Mar '11 13:18
    Originally posted by twhitehead
    There is nothing 'partial' about it. It is a strawman in its entirety. It essentially claims that scientists are asking you to believe that life came about through insurmountable odds. This is simply not true. It then attacks this position by basically saying: "look, this is so improbable it couldn't have happened by pure chance."

    [b]So many scientists ...[text shortened]... ect this attribute, we cannot use it to predict how the object will fall.
    To help me understand your position better can you answer the following:
    After noticing that when I release an apple (or any other object) it falls to the ground, are the following explanations equally believable:


    Is this itself a strawman? You are applying his arguments to a phenomenon he is not disputing the cause of.

    --- Penguin
  9. Cape Town
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    11 Mar '11 13:43
    Originally posted by Taoman
    I maintain all this response is a strawman, possibly a partial one.
    I fully admit it could be called a partial strawman, but it was more a case of frustration on my part than an attempt at winning a debate via fallacious methods.
    This is the way I saw the thread going:
    You start with a strawman supporting your case for the existence of 'a primal form of awareness'.
    I point out the strawman and go to some lengths to counter the argument and now want to you to either admit defeat or present a new argument in support of your 'primal form of awareness'.
    You announce that this would be too much trouble.

    I did not intend to say that you were a fundamentalist theist, but I do feel that that whole thread took the exact same path as countless other threads on this forum where the OP was by a fundamentalist theist using the exact same strawman argument (the improbability of abiogenesis), never admits that it is a strawman, and eventually leaves the thread saying "Well you cant prove my God doesn't exist".
    You repeatedly claimed your argument was in some way more rational (than those of a fundamentalist theist) but I have so far failed to see how it is.

    One difference is that you have apparently admitted the existence of a strawman in your OP which is uncharacteristic of a fundamentalist theist.
  10. Cape Town
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    11 Mar '11 13:461 edit
    Originally posted by Penguin
    Is this itself a strawman? You are applying his arguments to a phenomenon he is not disputing the cause of.

    --- Penguin
    No, I don't think so. I am not claiming he disputes the cause of gravity (though he did bring it up in the other thread). I am taking a different case which has less side issues than abiogenesis. I am essentially trying to teach him about Occam's razor.

    P.S. The cause of gravity is, I believe, unknown to both of us.
  11. Melbourne, Australia
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    12 Mar '11 13:40
    Originally posted by twhitehead
    There is nothing 'partial' about it. It is a strawman in its entirety. It essentially claims that scientists are asking you to believe that life came about through insurmountable odds. This is simply not true. It then attacks this position by basically saying: "look, this is so improbable it couldn't have happened by pure chance."

    [b]So many scientists ...[text shortened]... ct this attribute, we cannot use it to predict how the object will fall.
    The purpose of this thread is to define and illustrate a strawman, not reopen the discussion we were having in a previous thread. So initially I will restrict my responses initially to where you seek to be showing a strawman in my statements.

    I state it is partial because some scientists DO theorize on spontaneous generation of RNA. My acknowledgement was that the Rabbis statement too simply asserted that this was the position of scientists in general.

    You say, in recognition of this yourself, "So you admit that spontaneous formation is not the only possibility on the table". My answer is yes. The Rabbi was distorting what scientists in general theorize. I guess just by being a distortion it is a whole strawman, despite the fact, one that you acknowledge and implied in your question above, some do.And they do.

    So lets just say this is a strawman by distortion of what all scientists are saying.

    Your next comment involves a response to my clarified statement of opinion, in recognisoing the strawman of the Rabbi's assertion. Are you now saying that that clarified statement of mine is a strawman too. I don't think so. You are disagreeing and raising questions.

    You may and do disagree with my clarified statement, but have I in anyway commited the "sin" of strawman in my clarified statement, at your suggestion, with which you disagree?
    Though you disagree, am in some strange way misrepresenting my own position?
    Am I misrepresenting someone else? No, they are my opinions.

    Here I will leave the topic of strawman. I trust others who may be interested are clearer as to what it is.

    To answer you briefly on the other matters and about my previous "cuckoo" speculation on gravity: I will probably open another thread shortly specifically on consciousness and it may be better to pursue it there, rather than confusing the simple intention of this thread on strawmans.

    I have no argument at all with all scientific descriptions about gravity. So I agree with your first point and am happy you recognise we do not actually know what this "force" is, though we can label it, measure it use it etc.

    I have a difficulty of referring to that which I am talking about. Both words "consciousness" and "awareness" I am not fully happy with, but must use them. This is why I sometimes refer to it as an awareness-like property. Our normal use of the term implies some mind that is aware or conscious, along with the added difficulty of the usual take on consciousness as being consciousness of something or other, rather than a state that exists even without an objective to be conscious of.
    My understandig is that it exists as a "property" that is without previous cause, and is the underlying nature of existence. It sounds like "God", but again this implies usually a "Being separate from and "above" "his" creation. Too simplistic for me.
    My understanding is much more aligned with Eastern mysticism, wherein such "Mind" is inherent in some way within the whole fabric of existence, which on examination and as a result of modern scientific knowledge is not as quite as solid nor locally unconnected as once thought.

    There is a lot in it and I can only try to point you too a place where some interesting papers (many by scientists) and one particular proponent (a scientist) who will do a better job than me in describing a scientific examination of the problem of consciousness and how some scientists are now seeing it, not as an epiphenomenon upon matter, but rather as the "Ground of Being" from which everything arises.
    He examines the mysterious nature of light and its so-called "speed", the space-time continuum of Einstein and the new quantum findings in relation to the issue.
    If you care to read it I would appreciate any scientific criticism of wrong facts.

    The set of consciousness papers etc are found here:
    http://twm.co.nz/ind3.html
    and the article by Peter Russell is found here:
    http://twm.co.nz/prussell.htm
    My copy of that article is dogeared and I agree and am persuade by it greatly, so you will know something of my view from a scientific perspective if you wish to read it.
    It is "Reality and Consciousness: Turning the Superparadigm inside out" It is an abridgement of his book "From Science to God" It is solid science he refers to and no religious references or Biblical quotes etc are found therein. It is not creationist stuff.

    Good night I'm tired.
  12. Cape Town
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    12 Mar '11 14:32
    Originally posted by Taoman
    The purpose of this thread is to define and illustrate a strawman, not reopen the discussion we were having in a previous thread. So initially I will restrict my responses initially to where you seek to be showing a strawman in my statements.
    Thats fine with me, but I would appreciate a discussion of Occams razor and how it applies to your revised statement, - in some other thread perhaps?

    I state it is partial because some scientists DO theorize on spontaneous generation of RNA.
    But never based on insurmountable odds which is what the Rabbi uses for his argument hence the key points of the Rabbis argument are a strawman.

    Your next comment involves a response to my clarified statement of opinion, in recognisoing the strawman of the Rabbi's assertion. Are you now saying that that clarified statement of mine is a strawman too. I don't think so. You are disagreeing and raising questions.
    No, I do not see a strawman in your clarified statement, but neither do I see any actual argument in favor of your position. You merely state that it 'may well' be the case. You also claim that your idea is 'as equally believable as the current scientific attempts at explanation' - and that, I would dispute, on the grounds of Occam's razor, but I am happy to have that discussion in another thread if you wish.
  13. Melbourne, Australia
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    13 Mar '11 11:37
    Originally posted by twhitehead
    Thats fine with me, but I would appreciate a discussion of Occams razor and how it applies to your revised statement, - in some other thread perhaps?

    [b]I state it is partial because some scientists DO theorize on spontaneous generation of RNA.

    But never based on insurmountable odds which is what the Rabbi uses for his argument hence the key poin ...[text shortened]... s of Occam's razor, but I am happy to have that discussion in another thread if you wish.[/b]
    Your mention of the Razor immediately brought a thought that the most direct, the most unified and simplest solution to numerous incomplete scientific and other carefully scientifically observed and confirmed phenomenon of claimed "psychic" origin, would be the one "Primal Consciousness" that underlies them all. If accepted on sufficient indication and increased research (beyond simple belief) it would remove in one fell swoop the plurality of suggested and somewhat awkward theories currently being considered from a solely materialist scientific perspective.


    Apparently, as a theist, Occam, thought so too.
    From Wikipedai's entry :

    "The term "Ockham's razor" first appeared in 1852 in the works of Sir William Hamilton, 9th Baronet (1788–1856), centuries after Ockham's death. Ockham did not invent this "razor"; its association with him may be due to the frequency and effectiveness with which he used it (Ariew 1976). Though Ockham stated the principle in various ways, the most popular version was not written by him, but by John Ponce from Cork Ireland in 1639 (Meyer 1957).

    The version of the razor most often found in Ockham's work is Numquam ponenda est pluralitas sine necessitate, “Plurality must never be posited without necessity". For Ockham, the only truly necessary entity is God; everything else, the whole of creation, is radically contingent through and through. "
  14. Cape Town
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    13 Mar '11 12:35
    Originally posted by Taoman
    Your mention of the Razor immediately brought a thought that the most direct, the most unified and simplest solution to numerous incomplete scientific and other carefully scientifically observed and confirmed phenomenon of claimed "psychic" origin, would be the one "Primal Consciousness" that underlies them all.
    And I feel compelled to point out once again, that although it might be unifying, it is not a solution. It merely moves the question one step back.
    What caused A? Answer B. What caused B?
    Ultimately, we still don't have a 'solution' as to what caused A.

    If accepted on sufficient indication and increased research (beyond simple belief) it would remove in one fell swoop the plurality of suggested and somewhat awkward theories currently being considered from a solely materialist scientific perspective.
    So what is a 'materialist scientific perspective'.? Surely 'sufficient indication beyond simple belief' implies a materialist perspective?

    I also feel compelled to point out that all your above statements could work equally well with 'Santa', or 'the Green Goblin' or virtually any entity that you choose to claim is the cause of all unexplained phenomena. But until more is known about said entity, and as long as it is is not known that it is a single entity, it remains pure speculation - not based on evidence, and should be discarded (Occam's razor).
    Even if it did become apparent that some 'primal consciousness' existed, that would not be good enough reason to attribute it as the cause of all unexplained phenomena. One would have to show some sort of connection.
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    13 Mar '11 14:18
    Originally posted by Taoman
    Now my illustration of a strawman created by yourself. I maintain it fits two elements indicating a strawman:

    1. Person A has position X.
    Person B disregards certain key points of X and instead presents the superficially similar position Y. Thus, Y is a resulting distorted version of X and can be set up in several ways, including:
    Presenting a misrepr ...[text shortened]... ase be specific in why it is not in order that the meaning of strawman is clear.
    Please i would appreciate that my understanding is clarified in this matter also, a strawman argument, is one in which a person assigns to you values which you do not hold and have not professed and then proceeds to base an argument upon those fallacious values, is that not the case?

    For example, someone may state that the process outlined in the book of genesis could not have taken place because six literal days is geologically disharmonious, while the person who put forth the proposition never intended that they should be considered as six literal days but merely unspecified epochs of time.
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