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by Hans Bluedorn

I was going to write this Logic Loop on stem cell research. Actually I had a pretty good quote–several of them–and you will find a good quote on the subject in the letters portion of this loop.

But after the Eleventh of September, stem cell research seemed a long ways away.

Now, things are getting back to normal. I actually heard a news broadcast that didn't lead with a story on terrorists–their activities, past, present and future.

So, instead of stem cells and their problems, I will write about a stick – preferably a big one.

When those fated terrorists flew airplanes into those buildings, what were they after? What was their target? Certainly it could not have been the death of the people inside. It could not have been the collapse of the buildings themselves. It could not even have been a blow to our symbols of power. All these things can be rebuilt.

We may think their target was something more abstract, something idealistic, say, the American spirit. Maybe, but the American spirit isn't much of a target–it is undefined. What is the American spirit? Everybody has a different idea of what it is. For terrorists to attack an idea, first there must be an idea.

No, I do not believe these were what those terrorists were, and still are, after.

They wanted you to fear them.

Now, fear is a healthy thing. The Bible commands us to "fear God rather than man." We are to recognize who is in control and fear "Him who can destroy both soul and body in Hell," instead of His instruments, man or circumstances. But on an earthly level, man and circumstances are still frightening.

So, in the real world we can't avoid fearing things. Everybody has fears. We may have silly fears, like, ghosts or woolly caterpillars. Or, we may have serious fears, like the ever impending stock market crash, or Anthrax doused junk mail.

However, what is important is what we do with our fear. If that hanging economic collapse prevents us from doing something useful in business (out of fear of failure), or those lurking woolly caterpillars prevent us from walking outside during woolly caterpillar season, then we are succumbing to the rule of fear. We are fearing man rather than God.

"The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe." Proverbs 29:25

This is the aim of terrorists – to rule us with the power of fear. So what has this to do with logic?

The terrorist fallacy is called "argumentum ad baculum," which means, in Latin, "appeal to the stick." It is an appeal to fear and force.

Terrorist reasoning progresses in the crudest of forms. It goes something like this:

Premise 1: BANG! (Or similar act of violence – SMASH! does just as well)

Premise 2: I can do that again.

Conclusion: Comply with my demands.

Now, that is pretty basic reasoning – convincing for many, if the premises are true. However, the tricky part, for terrorists, is that just as soon as he gets off his argument, everybody else tries to make one of his premises false. This is no good for the terrorist because if any of his premises are negated, he doesn't have an argument.

He, therefore, has to be clever. He either has to pick out somebody to terrorize that hasn't much power to resist, or make it so that the people he terrorizes don't put their power to good use. In our particular case, he's up against somebody who certainly has the power to resist. This is where the "terror" part of his name comes in. Terrorists rule when the people fear them. After an attack, like the one on September Eleventh, what do we do? Our first reaction is to panic. "We have to do something, this is something, so we have to do this." This is natural, but not terribly useful. Reacting out of fear, we do the first thing we think of – whatever relieves our fears.

We say a pan-religious prayer, lob a bomb or two in the enemies direction and ban all handgun sales at gun shows. (I think I need to interject here, before somebody misunderstands, that I am NOT criticizing how our government is handling this crisis, I am only speaking of what the natural human reaction is to any crisis and how terrorists take advantage of this).

This kind of reaction is what terrorists want you to do–they want us to flee from our fears. After the terrorists commit many more acts of violence, seemingly unhindered, they appear to be immortal to their victims. Soon the people are more ready to comply with the terrorist's demands.

The President made some apt comments the other night:

"We cannot let the terrorists achieve the objective of frightening our nation to the point where we don't–where we don't conduct business, where people don't shop. That's their intention. Their intention was not only to kill and maim and destroy. Their intention was to frighten to the point where our nation would not act. Their intention was to so frighten our government that we wouldn't seek justice; that somehow we would cower in the face of their threats and not respond, abroad or at home."

The only true solution to the problem of terrorism, or any other crisis, is not to flee from it in fear, but to face it.

". . . but the truth of the matter is, in order to fully defend America, we must defeat the evildoers where they hide. We must round them up, and we must bring them to justice." – George W. Bush.




As per the Larry Shyers quote in the TIME article:

"...Home schoolers were generally more patient and less competitive. They tended to introduce themselves to one another more; they didn't fight as much. And the home schoolers were much more prone to exchange addresses and phone numbers.... "In short, they behaved like miniature adults. Which is great, unless you believe that kids should be kids before they are adults. . . . One could argue that kids need to get into a certain amount of trouble to learn how to handle temptations and their consequences."

Typical, typical, typical. The TIME article summarized the plethora of "yeah, but" arguments I hear regarding me homeschooling my three elementary-aged boys. "Yeah, but what about socialization?" The TIME article, as exemplified in the first quote on which you asked us to comment, presupposes the ridiculous notion that children ought to be rude, impatient (ADD?), ruthless, self-centered, unsure, unhappy, anti-social, sexually active, troublemakers, irresponsible, and hateful–in other words, "childish." And any child who is not all these things must surely have been denied the joy of childhood.

This is precisely WHY we have chosen to homeschool our kids–we don't want them to behave in the manner of so many public schoolers which the author believes to be more "normal." I can't tell you how many times we've been stopped by total strangers at the mall, at the park, in restaurants, all wanting to go out of their way to comment about how well-behaved, polite, mannerly, and articulate our boys are (6, 8, 10). They've become so used to the holy terrors in their neighborhoods and disturbing their meals in restaurants that they feel compelled to compliment parents of kids who behave correctly.

Sheri Crawford

Aberdeen, Maryland


From: Daniel Kirk

From Logic Loop 31: "This second quote from the article is a fallacy. I will list several fallacy types below. Pick which one you think this is, and email me your answer.

"Quote: 'The same blinkered approach can extend to academics. "I make pretty much all the decisions about what to study," says Maren McKee, 15, of Naperville, Ill., who left public school after third grade. "I wasn't interested in math or composition, so I didn't really do it. I liked to dance." But now McKee, who is dyslexic, realizes she will need more than dance steps to get into college. "My mom and I are going to spend this whole year on math and learning to write," she says, perhaps not fully appreciating that both of those skills can take much longer than a year to learn.

"'Brie Finegold, 22, a graduate of the University of North Texas, says she did fine without the traditional classroom. "I got to do volunteer work at the food bank at my synagogue and apprentice to a dance company when I was a teenager, when others my age were sitting in classrooms," she says. But volunteering and dancing aren't necessarily better than chemistry and poetry.

"'The basic function of a liberal education is to expose people to fields they normally wouldn't investigate. Whether you believe the purpose of education is to shape one's character in a democracy or to prepare Johnny for his job, neither is accomplished when kids get to study only what they want.'" – TIME Magazine.

Hasty Generalization:

All homeschooling parents allow their children choose what to study or not study, even if their choices are obviously immature and leave them at a disadvantage: Here are two homeschooled students who were allowed by their parents to make poor choices, therefore all homeschool parents will allow t heir children to make bad choices from an early age. Their answer, of course, is to turn the children over to the loving arms of the state as early as possible.


From: Stan and Julie Smith


Thanks for Logic Loop #31. The events of this week show how much we need clear thinking to meet the challenges of today!

The final quote in the LL31 email seems to have all three of the fallacy types you offer.

First, hasty generalization. The writer concludes from two examples that 1) all homeschoolers choose their own courses of study, and 2) most or all of these choose dancing, volunteer activities, and the like at the expense of the three R''s and the more demanding and fundamental subjects. This is also called anecdotal evidence.

Second, appeal to ignorance. The writer states without attribution or proof that "the basic function of a liberal education is to expose people to fields they normally wouldn't investigate." I have another view, but since I can't immediately disprove his, his must be true (he wants us to suppose).

Lastly, genetic ad hominem. Home schooling must be bad, the writer implies, because homeschooled students make bad curriculum choices (see point of hasty generalization above).

Is this what you had in mind, or am I straining my points?

Best wishes,

Stan Smith



Your first answer is correct, hasty generalization. I think it would be proper to study a few more people than just two when making a claim about all homeschoolers. I suspect that in the public school we could find a might more than two people who would say they get away with not studying their assigned subjects.

Appeal to ignorance is where somebody merely asserts something, and then tries to shift the burden of proof to you. "Now, you prove me wrong." The article does merely assert what a liberal arts education is, but he doesn't, in the article, try to shift the burden of proof to you. He just makes an unproved assertion and leaves it at that–which is equally bad. If we pressed him to prove his point, he might resort to an appeal to ignorance, saying, "if this isn't what a liberal arts education is, then what is it?" Hans Bluedorn


From: "Matt & Cindi Topper"


I'm not quite sure which is the fallacious statement you are referring to. However, I see examples of all three fallacies in this portion of the article.

First, the author is building a criticism of homeschooling on sparse examples. Without examining every aspect of a child's education, I would not be willing to say that she hadn't studied both Mathematics and Writing indirectly. This would, I think, be the Hasty Generalization error.

I also see in this article an assumption, without proof, that all children need a Liberal Arts education to be prepared for citizenship and career.

Since that author doesn't offer proof of this, but rather assumes the reader will accept it as a given, is this an example of an Appeal to Ignorance?

I may even see an instance of Ad Hominem in the mentioning that the student who hadn't studied Math and Writing is dyslexic. I think this is a veiled attempt to blame the homeschooling choices the parents have made for the child's disability. The implied criticism is that a child with dyslexia needs extra attention to her education, which these parents have neglected.

As I read through the article, the most troubling for me was the assumption that all children need a liberal arts education to be prepared for citizenship and career. Since I do not operate my homeschool under this assumption, it was easy for me to see this fallacy, but I don't doubt that most of my friends, including many well-intentioned homeschoolers, buy this argument and make life choices for their children based on this assumption.

I would like to think of a simple way to get them to think more about the basic assumptions involved.


Cindi Topper

Flagstaff, AZ


From: "J&L Herrera"

Below is a quote I came across (sorry I can't reveal the source) that I'm having difficulty justifying: On the one hand, the person is arguing in support of Bush's position of embryonic research cell lines already in place, but acknowledging concern with the appearance of "complicity with the creation and destruction of new human life for the utilitarian, if compassionate, intent to find cures for those suffering from debilitating diseases."

This person utilizes what appears to me fallacious arguments, primarily arguing from silence/ignorance as quoted:

"That the embryos did not give consent to the use of their cells presents another moral challenge. Yet, perhaps it is reasonable to assume consent; indeed, if I were the victim of a crime, I would approve use of my cells and organs for medical and research purposes and I suspect others would also, especially if it would prevent other innocent human beings from being killed for such purposes."

While I agree the following argument may be sound justification for using vaccines today, it is not applicable to the issues at hand, namely because the lack of "remote cooperation with evil" is non-existent:

"Yes, there is certainly reason to want to avoid all cooperation with evil and even the appearance of such. Still, everyone unavoidably participates in various forms of cooperation with evil.

"Many pro-lifers have been concerned about the use of vaccines that were created from cell-lines generated from an aborted fetus. They fear that use of these vaccines makes them complicit in the killing an innocent human life."Again, I share these concerns but I think the cooperation with the evil is sufficiently remote to permit use of the vaccines."

The quotation above also leads to me to ask, how far removed from the evil finally justifies its use, and "avoids complicity (or the appearance of such). Seems we have the dilemma of the afternoon shadow (stubble to beard, et al) on our hands.

In my opinion, the issue is an ethical Pandora's box, better left closed.



I agree with you.

The first part of the argument presents an irrelevant argument.

"That the embryos did not give consent to the use of their cells presents another moral challenge. Yet, perhaps it is reasonable to assume consent; indeed, if I were the victim of a crime, I would approve use of my cells and organs for medical and research purposes."

What the author would do with his cells if he were the victim of a crime has no bearing on whether or not we have the right to use embryonic stem cells. The question that should be debated is over who has the right to control those cells, not what the owner of the cells would do with them if he/she were alive and old enough to tell us.

His argument that "everyone unavoidably participates in various forms of cooperation with evil" is a classic "tu quoque" argument. "Even though it is wrong, everybody does it, so we can too."

Copyright October 31, 2001, all rights reserved. 4528 views

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