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Sanctioning the devil

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Sanctioning the devil is a logical fallacy that occurs when Person A avoids debate with Person B because debating B would (supposedly) give B undue credit or "sanction" their views.

It is essentially a fallacy of opposition and an informal fallacy.

Form[edit]

Sanctioning the devil follows the form:


P1: Debating X gives them credibility.
P2: X should not be given credibility.
C1: X should not be debated.

This argument is valid so long as the premises are valid. The fallacy most often occurs in P1 (debate does not lend credibility, if done correctly) but may occur in P2 (treating some view as inherently wrong and unworthy of consideration).

Inverse form[edit]

The inverse form of the fallacy (my opponent is too afraid to even debate me!) is very common among creationists and other cranks.


P1: If X refuses to debate, they are wrong.
P2: X refused to debate.
C1: X is wrong.

P1 is simply incorrect (in general and in specific -- see the exceptions section), and so the conclusion does not follow.

Explanation[edit]

Debating an adversary, or "sanctioning the devil", supposedly shows that their position is at least partially credible, while denial of the opponent indicates that their arguments are not even worthy of consideration.

However, while avoiding the debate and presenting your viewpoint as a unified message is an effective strategy, it is not (according to empirical studies of people observing) as strong as presenting your viewpoint and refuting one or more alternative views.[1]

Avoiding debate altogether lets the undebated opponent paint their view as ironclad and irrefutable — or why else would their cowardly debate opponent run from the debate?

Exceptions[edit]

It is acceptable to avoid debate if one knows that one is not prepared. For example, many evolutionists are not up-to-date on each kind of creationist argument, and may feel unable to accurately represent science.

Alternately, one may avoid debate if one knows it cannot produce useful knowledge. For example, many creationists simply Gish Gallop their opponent out of existence; this mistakenly gives the impression of creationist success.

Debating an opponent repeatedly when the opponent has clearly failed to prove an argument and has no new evidence devolves into the balance fallacy.

Examples[edit]

  • Even more often, creationists claim that evolutionists don't debate them because evolutionism is false.

External links[edit]

References[edit]