Strawman Fallacy

Proverbs19:20 “Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise.”


The fallacy of the “Strawman” is changing or exaggerating the opponent’s position or argument to make it easier to refute. What this does is to distort the opponent’s argument just enough to make it weak, because the original argument was not as easy to knock down.


We should always take the time to hear, think and try to understand about the opponent’s belief in what they mean and say. This is especially true with children. A mother or father might say to the son/daughter that they are spending too much time on video games and the child comes back and says, “Should I throw away hundreds of dollars of video games just to go and do something else?”


This child introduced a “strawman fallacy.” That is not what the father or mother said, but by introducing the strawman makes it easier to refute the original argument. This fallacy is like the ‘red herring’ in the sense that it introduces something irrelevant to the position that one is taking or by taking the opponent’s argument and presenting it in an inaccurate light.


A “red herring” fallacy argument distorts from the main issue, but the “strawman” argues against a position that is not the position at all.


Some of the more politically correct textbooks use the term “straw-person” rather than “strawman.”


We see this approach being used against conservative Christians when what they say is constantly being lumped together under names like “homophobes,” for their “hate speech,” etc. We, who are evangelical Christians say that homosexuality is wrong and repentance is called for, but the opponents try to change the position that is not a position at all. We do not hate homosexuals nor are we engaging in hate speech, but by distorting what we believe it is easier for them to tear down what we believe. One can see in our society how successful this has been. In one sense the “strawman” fallacy reveals the fallen nature of man. Instead of facing the facts or truth, the tendency is to turn the truth into a caricature.


When recognizing that the opponent’s position has some merit to it, a “strawman fallacy” shows intellectual cowardice and unwillingness to face the truth.


The “strawman fallacy” relies heavily on psychology and propaganda rather than truth. We see the “strawman” fallacies coming out with many atheists – like Richard Dawkins in how they paint a false caricature of who God is. Often they read passages in the Old Testament, like in the Book of Joshua when the children of Israel came into the Promised Land, and bringing out how vicious and cruel He was.


The character of the “strawman” is one who wants to win an argument no matter what. He is not interested in doing the study, the discipline of learning what the opponent is actually saying or meaning. Often he lacks the humility to face the truth.


In dealing with “strawman fallacies” we must counter by bringing out the error. We must keep our “strawman” honest by bringing out what is really meant and showing that the issue has not been addressed properly.


However, in all of this we must be much aware of the danger of creating our own “strawman” of our opponent. We must be able to understand and express our opponent’s argument better, or at least as well as he does. This takes time, study, reflection, etc.


As Christians we must first discern the actual facts, and then contrast the “strawman fallacy” against the truth.




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