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False Analogy

by Hans Bluedorn

"Legal rights for mosquitoes! New studies show that mosquitoes have a similar genetic makeup to lawyers. Yes, a study conducted by the American Lawyer Behavior Research Trust (ALBRT) finds that there are striking similarities between mosquitoes and the common lawyer. And, yes, you've probably already guessed what they are. It seems mosquitoes have been found to have an obnoxious propencity towards the sucking of human blood, a behavioral trait formerly thought to be found only in leeches and lawyers. Mosquitoes have also been known to carry viruses and bacteria from host to host, thus contributing to the spread of disease, an ability long attributed to lawyers who propagate and multiply, leading to a weak and diseased society. "We believe that mosquitoes are the closest living ancestors to the modern lawyer ... and the differences are very minor" says Harry Leech, Vice President of the American Lawyer Behavior Research Trust. "Since lawyers are allowed to practice law, we think Mosquitoes should not be barred from taking the BAR exams either." "While mosquitoes share approximately 75% of their genetic makeup with lawyers," he says, "the reason we put mosquitoes earlier on the geologic column is because they are not as developed as lawyers." "Mosquitoes aren't able to get blood out of a turnip," he states. "We are currently searching for the missing link between mosquitoes and lawyers."

While researching on the Internet I came across a very interesting if not alarming website put out by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, an organization devoted to furthering the legal rights of animals, and specifically apes.

Quote: "The Great Ape Legal Project (GALP) is a joint project of the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Great Ape Project – International. Its goal is to establish legal rights for nonhuman great apes, including the right to life, liberty and protection from torture...

"...We now have sufficient information about the capacities of great apes to make it clear that the moral boundary we draw between us and them is indefensible," states Peter Singer, who co-founded the Great Ape Project in 1993. Research by Dr. Roger Fouts, Dr. Jane Goodall and other primatologists has demonstrated that chimpanzees are aware, that they experience pain, and have rich mental and social lives. As individuals they are highly intelligent and have well-developed cognitive skills. They express a broad range of emotions previously thought to be limited to humans – joy, sadness, grief, rage, fear and even a sense of humor. They can reason, plan for the future, make and use tools, be curious and inventive, engage in sophisticated non-verbal communications and learn over 300 signs in American Sign Language. Chimpanzees are our closest biological relatives, sharing 98.4% of our DNA.... Because the similarities between us are so compelling, there is no ethical justification for the difference in legal status." – from the Animal Legal Defense Fund website ( http://www.aldf.org ).

Arguing through analogy can be an acceptable form of reasoning so long as the things being compared are similar in major ways and differ only in the minor stuff. However, when it is the other way around – the two things are the same only in the little stuff and are different in important things – then the analogy is unsound. For example: if I said that it's ok to beat your dog because, "you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs" I would be comparing things totally different (one can feel pain while the other is something for breakfast). This is called the fallacy of False Analogy, where two things which are similar in some minor things are thought to be the same in all things.

In our quote, the argument has the following facts: Humans have complex emotions; chimpanzees seem to have complex emotions. Humans can communicate; chimpanzees can use a form of communication. Chimps share 97% of their genes with us. Conclusion: chimpanzees and humans are the same.

Does this analogy differ only in minor ways. Are all the important facts the same? No.

First, it's similarities are minor: What is the criteria for judging OUR legal status? How do you know we belong at the top of the geological column instead of, say, ... the striped cucumber beetle? Is it because we feel pain? Even the smallest amoeba can do that. Is it having a social life? Our cows have that. Is it being able to communicate? Our parrot can talk better than any chimp can sign. Is it looking like us? Pigs are practically the same when you look inside (some say the outside too). Is it sharing our genes? No, it couldn't be that, we already share 91% of our genes with rabbits and 59% with yeast. Then what is it? Until you know what puts us humans at the top, any observed similarities are but minor.

Its differences are major: The Bible says in Genesis 1:27 "So God created man in His own image...and God said to them, "...have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'" Certainly being created in the image of God makes you a bit different than those that are the subjects of man's dominion. While being able to feel emotionally, being capable of some form of communication and even sharing our genes does make chimpanzees look like us, that is but a minor detail. Like in my earlier mosquitoes and lawyers example, in the broader picture they don't compare to being made in the image of God.

How do you deal with a False Analogy used on you? Show what the differences are. Show that the differences far outweigh the similarities. If you can demonstrate that, then the analogy is false. What's the difference between a lawyer and a mosquitoe? The mosquitoe could be on the endangered species list.

Copyright August 14, 2000, all rights reserved. 8461 views


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