All the chewy goodness of fallacious reasoning in new fun-sized bites!

Author Mark B. Woodhouse defines the fallacy of attacking a straw man as being the situation where “a critic replaces the original point with an extreme or exaggerated version of it.”[1] It certainly is easier to critique an extreme (often to the point of being distorted and erroneous) position rather than deal with another’s actual (perhaps nuanced) view. It is characterized as such since attacking a straw man is easier than trying to knock down a flesh-and-blood individual capable of defending himself. Since committing the straw man fallacy (as it is otherwise referred to) provides no intellectual advantage it should be avoided at all costs.

Here is an example of attacking a straw man:

“Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do.” – George Carlin.

Carlin speaks of religion broadly, except he forgets to mention which one actually believes his characterization as stated. Christianity certainly does not believe: 1) God is a man; 2) God is a physical being that can be located somewhere in the sky; and 3) that the only thing God cares about is that people follow the Ten Commandments. While Carlin’s characterization is rhetorically persuasive for the uninformed, it is actually a textbook definition of attacking a straw man.

The best way to point out someone’s fallacy is by using the Columbo tactic as laid out in the Funsized Tactics series. There are plenty of excellent resources available in book, e-book, or PDF format. Two good places to start, with regard to formal and informal fallacies, are A Preface to Philosophy by Mark B. Woodhouse and Schaum’s Outlines: Logic by John Nolt, Dennis Rohatyn, and Achille Varzi.

[1] Mark B. Woodhouse, A Preface to Philosophy (Belmont: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2006), 84.