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Irrelevant Conclusion

by Hans Bluedorn

Irrelevant Conclusion

Some people - probably those who have been in this loop for a while - may remember that, some time ago, I used several examples of logical fallacies I'd found in an article in a publication called "Campus Journal," published by RBC Ministries. It was called "Ten Reasons to Believe in the Bible."

Recently I perused other publications from RBC Ministries–hoping to find fodder for my loop. And I did.

Now, while I am not a twisted, sadistic writer – always happy to see a fallacy in anything anyone says, "Searching hither and thither, for some unwary fallacy committer"– I do take a certain joy in finding a particularly juicy specimen.

In a tract from RBC Ministries titled, "Ten Reasons to Believe in Life After Death," the author attempts to convince us of the reasonableness of a life after death. Unfortunately, many of his reasons are fallacious.

Take Reason # 10:

"Practical Effects: Belief in life after death is a source of personal security, optimism, and spiritual betterment (I John 3:2). Nothing offers more courage than the confidence that there is a better life for those who use the present to prepare for eternity. Belief in the unlimited opportunities of eternity has enabled many to make the ultimate sacrifice of their own life on behalf of those they love."

The heart of this quote's fallaciousness is in the first statement: "Belief in life after death is a source of personal security"

To paraphrase reason #10: "We should believe in life after death because it would be nice if it were true."

It should be easy for you to observe the irrelevancy of this argument.

This is the fallacy of irrelevant conclusion.

Irrelevant conclusion is where someone argues for, and often proves, an irrelevant point - a point that is not the point of the original assertion. He dresses up his irrelevant conclusion to look as if it was relevant.

An irrelevant conclusion can be very persuasive because the argument that is being made is often a good argument–it's just not the argument that is being argued.

Example: Grizzly bears can't be dangerous to humans, because they look so cute.

While the remark "they look so cute" may be good enough to make you want to hug a grizzly bear, it isn't enough to support a conclusion on the dangers of grizzly bears.

Likewise, while the author of our quote does make a good case that it would be nice if there was an after life - such a belief giving you the security you think you need - his argument is not a convincing argument that you should believe in one. The only reason to believe in something is because it is true!

Likewise, if you concluded that there was a life after death and based that conclusion on your feeling that "it sure would be nice if it were true," your faith would be standing on shaky ground. Such an argument is irrelevant.

Now on to the tract's Reason #1 to believe in life after death. This one is similar, with no improvements.

"The Injustices Of Life: It would be difficult to believe that life is good if we knew there was nothing beyond the grave to compensate for problems of inequality and unfairness. While some people seem destined for happiness, other are born into terrible relationships and circumstances. If we could be sure there was nothing to offset unequal distribution of suffering, many would have reason to curse the day of their birth for the way life has treated them," (Job 3:1-3).

A paraphrase of this one would be similar to the last: "We should believe in life after death because it would be bad if there wasn't one." This also is an irrelevant conclusion.

The fallacy of irrelevant conclusion is the basis of many other fallacies. Appeals to such emotions as snobbery, fear, tradition, and–as in this case–our sense of justice, pity, and security all start with an irrelevant subject in order to distract the mind from what it should be analyzing.

But, not to seem like a curmudgeon, Reason #9 brings us to what I believe is a logical reason to believe in life after death.

"The Resurrection Of Christ: There is no greater evidence for the existence of life after death than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament predicted a Messiah who would overcome sin and death for His people (Isaiah 53; Daniel 9:26)."

We must not resort to emotional arguments when arguing for the resurrection. A much stronger argument for an afterlife would be to ask somebody who has already been there. We believe in life after death because Jesus has told us about it in the Bible. "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, thought he may die, he shall live," John 11:25.

It does not matter whether it would be nice if there were an afterlife, or bad if there weren't. Such arguments are immaterial. What matters is what the Bible says.

How do we deal with an irrelevant conclusion?

The ageless question, "What has that got to do with it?" must be asked. The argument must be drawn back to the issues that are pertinent: How do we KNOW there is an afterlife? Because the Bible says so; certainly not because it would be nice if it were true.

YOUR TURN:

What is the fallacy in Reason #5? "Universal Beliefs: 

While some believe it's impossible to know whether there is life after death, belief in immortality is a timeless phenomenon. From the pyramids of the Egyptians to the reincarnation of New Age thinking, people of all times and places in history have believed that the human soul survives death. If there is no consciousness or laughter or regret beyond the grave, then life has fooled almost everyone from the Pharaohs of Egypt to Jesus of Nazareth."

What is the fallacy committed here? Below I list several fallacies to get you started (it could be more than one, and even some that I don't list). Tell me what you think, along with your reasons.

1. Irrelevant Conclusion: Attempting to come to a conclusion (which may or may not be true), that has no bearing on the actual argument.

Ex: Spinach can't be good for me, it tastes terrible.

Ex: Man with dog in car, speaking to police officer: "Hey I'm not crazy....sure, I let him drive once in a while, but he's never, never off this leash for even a second." ? Far Side cartoon

2. Equivocation: Changing the meaning of a key term in mid-argument:

Ex: Those are my reasons for doing it, but, since you never listen to reason, you'll ignore them.

Ex: If the English don't drive on the right side of the road, what are they doing on the wrong side?

3. Appeal to Tradition: Arguing that something is true just because the idea has been around for a long time.

Ex: We've lived in this house for 50 years and we're not about to move out now.

Ex: The very fact that England has had an uninterrupted monarchy for hundreds of years shows you the efficiency of their system.

4. Fallacy of Composition: Arguing that the whole possesses the qualities of its individual parts:

Ex: This will be a very good pie; I used only the best ingredients.

Ex: This team has very good players, it's bound to be a good team.

LETTERS I HAVE RECEIVED:

From: "Ted Holt" tholt#midrangecomputing.com

Dear Christian Friends,

Are phrases like "we've all heard ..." and "we've all read ..." examples of mob appeal?

The following paragraph is from an article on the web. ("Public Educators Hate Your Children," http://www.lewrockwell.com/edmonds/edmonds43.html)

"We've all read that government educators vigorously oppose any internal reforms that might improve the quality of their product, such as competency testing or the weakening of tenure. We all know that public educators fight such reforms as school vouchers (which I don't like, but for different reasons) that would introduce competition, providing external impetuses toward improvement." (end of quotation)

I don't like government-operated schools either, but that's off the subject. I'm wondering if this is mob appeal, because there may be an insinuation that there's something wrong with a person who hasn't read about educators' opposition to reform, as if that person isn't keeping up with current events as he should or not reasoning correctly.

On top of that, the statement is probably wrong. There are probably some people who have not heard or read about such things. And how could the author know if everyone's read about this topic?

Am I reading too much into this?

Also, what about the phrase "you will want ..."? For example, "There will be a meeting of the [organization, committee, club, etc.] next Tuesday night. You will want to be in attendance" or "You will want to take advantage of this opportunity." Is this also mob appeal?

The phrase bothers me because I don't know how the speaker could know what I will want to do. It seems like a form of manipulation to me. Is the speaker insinuating that there must be something wrong with me if I don't want to attend the meeting he's telling me about?

I enjoy the Logic Loop. I'm 43 years old and was never taught logic in the public schools and universities I attended. Please keep it coming.

Ted Holt tedholt#tsixroads.com

RESPONSE:

Ted Holt,

You hit the nail right between the eyes.

Copyright June 21, 2001, all rights reserved. 25775 views


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