Straw man

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Not to be confused with the tax evasion concept of Strawman theory.

A straw man is an intentional misrepresentation of an opponent's position, often used in debates with unsophisticated audiences to make it appear that the opponent's arguments are more easily defeated than they are. [1] Unintentional misrepresentations are also possible, but in this case, the individual is guilty only of simple ignorance. While their argument would still be fallacious, they can be at least excused of malice.

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[edit] Men of straw

File:Wdzydze strach.jpg
For detailed assembly instructions see back of packet. [2]

The title of the argument comes from the art of practising fighting techniques against men made of straw: which is a problem in that straw men don't fight back, don't wear armor, don't bleed and generally aren't anything like the sort of thing you would actually encounter in a battle. Therefore someone arguing against a straw man is just arguing against an idealised opponent that only exists in that person's own head.

Straw men are notoriously easy to construct, and require little more than extending the opponent's arguments beyond their original point until their stance appears ridiculous - appearing like the fallacious use of reductio ad absurdum. Once the opponent has accepted (or failed to refute) such a set-up, one can simply attack the straw man position instead of the opponent's actual points, and claim any subsequent attempt to correct the situation as conceding the argument.

Sometimes it's so easy, you can do it without thinking.

[edit] Examples of the straw man argument

[edit] Straw evolution

Straw versions of evolution are remarkably common. After all, it's definitely in the best interests of creationists not to actually teach it properly.

See:

[edit] Straw religion

Straw man arguments against religion are also easy to generate - conflating religions together into one entity is perhaps the most common. Zen and Christianity have almost nothing in common, for example, yet both can be dismissed readily by a straw man of a generic "religion" concept.

Defining anyone who is even moderately religious as an unthinking, sheep-like entity who blindly accepts whatever their priest or pastor tells them is another. In this case, the straw man is to conflate fundamentalism with mainstream belief - decent sites such as Fundies Say The Darndest Things on occasion have an unfortunate tendency to mistake anyone talking about prayer, faith, or Jesus as rabid fundamentalists. Straw man positions on religion are often held by anti-theists; who are, let's face it, teenagers who have just discovered the internet.

Prominent biologist Richard Dawkins has been accused of generating straw man religions to fight in his pro-atheism writings such as The God Delusion by falling into a few of the traps discussed above.

[edit] Straw atheism

A straw man in action.

There are enough straw man versions of atheism going around to fill a whole article itself. This is most likely due to the fact that religious apologists that generate these arguments have never been atheists (or possibly exaggerate their 'atheism' if they had a later conversion), in contrast to many atheists who were previously believers.

What usually unites straw arguments against atheism is that they're constructed when a specific religion thinks that it's all about them - thus ignoring the main point of atheism, that it's the rejection of all religious belief equally. Further common ones include the assertion that atheists "believe in nothing," which seems to confuse it with the distinct concept of nihilism (even then, "believe in nothing" is a slight straw man of nihilism!) or that they lack a moral code or any concept of morality. The latter either stems from or forms the base of the argument from molarity, but is easily refuted simply by looking at the behaviour of atheists, which is most conveniently done by examining the crime statistics of secular countries.

See:

[edit] Straw politics

In the political sphere, the easiest way to construct a straw man is through the generous application of stereotypes. By making the assumption that a politician believes in all the ideologies associated with their general political leaning, they can be dismissed more easily. For instance, assuming a fiscal conservative is also socially conservative or assuming a pro choice politician is also in favour of extreme wealth redistribution are common fallacious straw men that are made by politicians, pundits and voters themselves. The same is true of conflating ideologies, such as stating that liberalism, socialism and communism are identical political ideologies (a rhetoric notoriously popular in the US).

This is extremely problematic in politics because it is not possible to give an accurate appraisal of political beliefs without knowing what those beliefs are, or by presuming that belief A automatically means subscribing to belief B. This is also used within politics to introduce snarl words into discussions.

[edit] Straw skepticism

It is quite easy to make a straw man argument of woo explanations and things like alternative medicine. The classic example is homeopathy, an alternative medicine treatment where active ingredients are diluted until no trace of it remains in the remedy. It is, of course, absurd to think that this could work, but it is also a straw man argument because homeopathy includes a succussion procedure involving striking the solution in a special way. Thus, homeopathic remedies aren't "just dilutions" but dilutions that have been whisked about a bit. Woooooooo!

It is contentious whether this is a true straw man position, as the burden of proof lies with homeopaths to establish that the succussion procedure adds anything new to the remedy, such as instilling water memory. Thus, given the balance of evidence, homeopathic remedies are just dilutions. Skepticism, however, requires an honest appraisal of all the facts and ignoring the striking involved in succussion, even if it is just an escape hatch, is still wrong in principle. Remember extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

[edit] Straw Feminism

This is where people jump to generally inaccurate conclusions and cherry picking to say things like "feminists want women to rule over men" or "we're equal, feminists are reverse sexists".

[edit] See also

FrenchWiki.png
Si vous voulez cet article en français, il peut être trouvé à Homme de paille.

[edit] Footnotes

  1. A straw man debate takes the following form.
    1. 1st person puts forward argument A.
    2. 2nd person puts forward argument B which alters argument A misleadingly.
    3. 2nd person refutes argument B.
    4. It appears superficially that argument A has been refuted.
  2. Favourite Fallacies - The Straw Man
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