Logical Theology

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Archive for the tag “suppressed evidence”

Cherry Picking Part 2

Now that we have a better understanding of what cherry picking is, let us now turn to how this fallacy can be committed within Christian discourse. Consider the following examples:

Example 1:

Martha says, “Have you heard about Fairbanks Christian University and what they teach?”

Jason replies, “I have heard of them, but I do not know much about what they teach. What have you learned?”

Martha replies, “The university appears to offer many good programs for their students. However, the faculty and leadership do not teach traditional Christian doctrine. In fact, many of the things they teach are so obviously wrong that it amazes me that so many people go to their university. If you would like, I can send you an article detailing their false beliefs.”

Jason responds, “Yes, I would like that. Thank you!”

Jason later receives Martha’s email. As he reads the article, it sound convincing. However, knowing the importance of not uncritically accepting what one is told, he decides to do some research and put Martha’s evidence to the test. After he does his homework, he tells his wife:“Having done all this research, I can say for a fact that Martha’s article was quoting the University’s statements out of context and making it appear that they believed things that they might not really believe. I still don’t know whether or not the University believes orthodox or unorthodox doctrines, but I cannot trust an article that does not quote in context and does not fairly evaluate the University’s statements.”

Is Jason’s response justified? Absolutely. It may well be that the University’s faculty and leaders do believe some unorthodox doctrines. It also may be true that the University’s leaders publicly teach those doctrines. However, it is important to accurately and fairly represent what people are saying and teaching. Selectively looking at only specific fragments of an entire speech, pulling these statements out of context, and basing your conclusion on those statements is fallacious.

When responding to someone, it is important to be sure that you are quoting them accurately and in the correct context. If the article Martha sent Jason was selectively picking and choosing what statements to attack, and not fairly considering them in their correct context and not considering the speech in its entirety, those who wrote the article would be engaging in cherry picking.

It may be that these individuals believe something completely different; however, we would not be able to tell simply by reading a biased article that lifted their quotes out of context.

Example 2:

Bob says, “Matthew, what do you think about the topic of the millennial reign of Christ? Is there a position which you agree with or do you think that we cannot know for sure?”

Matthew replies, “Yes I do have a viewpoint. Having studied the three competing positions—pre-millennialism, post-millennialism, and not trying to explain it because we can’t know for sure, I believe that the pre-millennial view is accurate. I have looked into the arguments for the other two views, and I do not find them nearly as convincing as the arguments in favor of pre-millennialism.”

After Bob and Matthew finish talking, Bob goes back to his house and does some research into the subject himself. He discovers that there are alternative views which Matthew did not address. Bob therefore says, “I need to look at these other views and see what they have to say before I can make a firm decision on this issue.”

Is Bob’s decision the correct one? Yes it is. There are multiple positions which Christians adopt on the subject of Christian Eschatology and the millennial reign of Christ. It is therefore important to look at all points of view before arriving at a conclusion. Matthew attempted to list the positions that Christians take on this subject and provide his reasons for accepting one and rejecting the others. However, he did not take all the positions into account, for example, amillennialism. He therefore has committed the cherry picking fallacy. Though this was probably done unintentionally, the fact that people can neglect to consider all points of view is one reason why we need to look at the evidence for ourselves. It is a mistake to accept someone’s assessment of a topic uncritically, especially when there are multiple interpretations and conclusions which people draw on a subject. Let us consider one more example:

Example 3:

Frank says, “I thank you for your explanation of your beliefs; however, I am not interested in accepting Christianity.”

Mary replies, “Why not? I would really like to know what you base your rejection of Christianity on.”

Frank responds, “I base my rejection on the fact that pastors are charlatans and hypocrites, and almost all Christians are hypocrites as well. I could go on and on about how many pastors are just trying to get their flocks to give them all their money and then use it to satisfy their selfish desires instead of glorifying God, which they claim to do. Then there are all the Christians who claim that God requires people to live a godly and morally good life, and then they turn around and do the exact opposite of what they claim to promote. It is for these reasons that I reject Christianity.”

Many replies, “Well, I don’t see how you can be so sure that all pastors and almost all Christians are hypocrites. It may be that all the ones you have encountered are that way. However, I don’t see how you can say that you have met enough to justify such a broad conclusion.”

Mary’s statements are of course correct. It is an example of the cherry picking fallacy to use a limited pool of information, in this case the limited people Frank has encountered, and then draw a conclusion about the entire whole. There are other fallacies in Frank’s statement, but let’s focus on the cherry picking fallacy. Can Frank honestly say that “all” pastors are charlatans and hypocrites? He did not say that some are. Rather, he just says that “pastors are charlatans and hypocrites,” which implies that they all are that way. Has Frank personally met every pastor and discovered that they are as he sees them to be? Of course not. Therefore, his statement is committing the cherry picking fallacy because he is only considering the examples of bad pastors he has encountered and overlooking all the good ones.

His statement that “almost all Christians are hypocrites as well” commits the cherry picking fallacy for the same reason. Is his pool of information large or small? If small and limited, and if he is refusing to consider the possibility that some might not fit his stereotype, he has indeed committed the cherry picking fallacy. Even if it were true that “almost all Christians” had acted hypocritically at some point in their lives, it hardly follows that “almost all Christians” consistently act that way. If Frank’s argument were true, one wonders why he restricts it to just Christianity, as if Christians are the only hypocrites in the world. However, the fact remains that the personal failings of an individual do not invalidate what they say. To think otherwise is to commit another fallacy, namely the Tu Quoque fallacy.

The Bottom Line: Selectively looking at and only considering the evidence which agrees with your beliefs and ideas, while ignoring evidence and alternative points of view which disagree with your beliefs and ideas is a logical fallacy.

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Cherry Picking

Cherry picking is a logical fallacy in which an individual presents a one-sided argument, overlooking and possibly ignoring competing arguments, in a situation where objectivity should be required.

There are certain cases in which it is perfectly fine to present a one-sided argument, such as in advertising. In advertising a product, a company does not need to discuss the competing products.  All they need to do is to present you with the reasons why you should purchase and consume their product. However, in many situations, it is fallacious to present a one-sided argument.  This is particularly true in matters of science, news, personal faith and beliefs.  If you are attempting to convince someone that something they believe is mistaken and that what you believe is correct, you need to fairly evaluate the arguments on all sides of the debate.  Neglecting or refusing to do so is fallacious.

To better see how someone can commit this particular fallacy, consider the following examples:

Example 1:

Bob says, “In my opinion, Libertarians have some serious problems with their beliefs.”

Jason replies, “What do you find problematic with their beliefs?”

Bob responds, “For starters, they support legalizing drugs including pot.  In my opinion, anyone who would want to completely legalize all drugs does not realize the dangers that would pose to society.”

How has Bob committed the cherry picking fallacy?  His response assumes two things about Libertarians: 1) that they all want to legalize marijuana and 2) that they all support legalization of “all drugs.”  This is in fact false.  It may be that the Libertarian Party itself supports the legalization of marijuana and other drugs.  However, Bob did not direct his statements to the Libertarian Party but to “Libertarians.”  The problem here is that not all Libertarians agree on the same issues; for example, some only support the legalization of marijuana but not other drugs. Therefore, Bob’s argument is overlooking important evidence that has resulted in him committing the cherry picking fallacy.  It is important to make sure that we are considering all the available evidence before we draw our conclusions.  Bob probably was not aware that he was committing this fallacy, which shows that the fallacy can be committed inadvertently.  All the more reason to be sure we have taken all the available evidence into consideration.  Consider another example of this fallacy:

Example 2:

Jennifer says, “A few days ago there was a protest that got very violent.  Cars were burned, windows were broken, and the police were assaulted by the protestors.  The police rightly responded by arresting over two hundred protestors and putting an end to the disorder.  Frankly, I am tired of these protestors behaving this way and something needs to be done to stop it.”

Jill replies, “I think you are overlooking something important.  Virtually all of the protestors were nonviolent and were not causing any trouble.  It was only a select few individuals who broke windows, burned cars, and assaulted the police.  Instead of arresting these few individuals, the police used the incident to arrest hundreds of innocent protestors en masse and disperse the rest.  So the police grossly over-responded to the few acts of violence. You really need to have all the information before you make your statements.”

If what Jill said is true, Jennifer’s statements were hasty and demonstrated a lack of information about the subject under discussion.  It is very important to possess all the relevant information before drawing a conclusion.  Perhaps Jennifer made her mistake because she watched a slanted news program or read a biased news article about the protest.  This is why it is important to seek out more than one single source of information and to rely on trusted sources to give you an unbiased presentation of the evidence.  Not doing so can cause you to accidentally commit the cherry picking fallacy.  Cherry picking fallacies can be committed deliberately, as with the news reports that Jennifer possibly read.  To better see this, consider another example:

Example 3:

Mitch has published a paper in a scientific journal about the number of people who believe that advanced alien life exists on other planets.  In the paper, Mitch says, “Our scientific survey has demonstrated that over 35% of people within the United States believe that advanced alien life exists on other planets.”

When Jason reads Mitch’s article, he turns to his wife and says, “I am a good friend with someone who worked on Mitch’s team.  She told me that Mitch only polled 200 individuals and that most of them were science fiction fans.  Therefore, I think that Mitch’s results are clearly biased.”

If what Jason says is true, then Mitch’s finding are suspect and do not provide enough evidence to support his conclusion.  The fact that he polled mostly science fiction fans means that  his results are more likely to be biased, due to the fact that science fiction fans probably believe in advanced alien life more than the average person.  Even if he did not poll mostly science fiction fans, the pool was limited to only 200 people.  Are the opinions of 200 people really enough to determine what the range of opinion is within the entire United States?  Obviously, Mitch’s article has committed the cherry picking fallacy.

The Bottom Line: Selectively looking at and considering only one side of an argument, or selectively considering only the data that agrees with your opinion, while failing to recognize and evaluate competing points of view, is a logical fallacy.  The fallacy may be committed either deliberately or accidentally, but it is the same mistake either way.

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