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Sunday, April 25, 2021

Specious Reasoning: It Is Everywhere, Often UndetectedSpecious Reasoning: It Is Everywhere, Often Undetected


Specious reasoning is any argument or analysis which has the apparent ring of truth or plausibility but is actually incomplete, deceptive, or even altogether fallacious. Such arguments are attractive because they are seemingly well-reasoned or factual. They  can be deceptively persuasive. When an argumentation style is based on specious reasoning, it is called "Sophistry."


Below are some modern examples of sophistry:


"Impose gun control to reduce crime." The fact is that guns prevent more crimes than they cause.


"Give the mother automatic custody of children in divorce to reduce divorce." In fact, that leads to more divorce, as it reduces incentives to maintain a marriage.


"Raise taxes to increase revenues." In fact, creating disincentives to earn not only directly decreases revenues by decreasing the amount of taxable income but also stifles economic growth.


"Give children contraceptives to reduce teen pregnancy and disease." In fact, abstinence education does both better


"Support so-called 'civil rights' organizations and leaders to oppose racism." In factby constant harping and race-baiting, they are the primary promoters of racism today


"Listen to the experts." The experts don't always get things right. Besides, they often disagree.


Specious reasoning typically accompanies arguments aimed at advancing personal agendas.


The apparent increase of speciousness in today's agenda-driven social discourse provided a big part of my motivation to write my recent book about truthfulness: Realville. How to Get Real in an Unreal World. Specious reasoning typifies all of the seven forms of untruthfulness in that it:

·       Often relies on outright lies.

·       May cheat others out of benefits by giving advantage to others.

·       Encourage the specious person to deny their argumentation weakness and delude themselves and others.

·       Provide a way to deceive others.

·       Pretends to have unwarranted stature and valuable argument.

·       Withholds relevant ideas that would otherwise challenge assertions.



Different Specious Category Examples


Opinions Without Evidence


This category is probably the most common form of specious thinking. It does not involve flawed reasoning, because in the absence of factual evidence there is nothing available to structure an argument around. One just happens to have certain opinions. Facts be damned. Such opinions are typically formed from emotions that have been stirred by various forms of specious reasoning.


The disdain for evidence often arises as a natural consequence of anti-science or unappreciation of the nature of scientific thinking. Scientific thinking requires one to question even one’s own suppositions and opinions. Most assuredly, opinions need buttressing from objective evidence and verifiable truths. In a post-modern world in which everyone is allowed to have their own truth, such objective thinking is hard to find. Former Dean of Science at Texas A&M, Mack Prescott, once said to me, "Liberal arts courses are required in college, because people think you can't be educated without them. I think that science courses should be required in college for the same reason."


Straw man


This is a weak or sham argument set up to be easily refuted. Sometimes it is called a "red herring." This is a change-the-subject strategy aimed at distracting a rhetorical opponent onto another subject. For examples, check this web site.


Selective Argument


This is an argument that ignores all unfavorable evidence. The argument that is presented is advanced in a way that precludes consideration of alternatives, especially ones that are more viable. Typically, the impression is given that there are no viable alternatives. Almost everyone advancing an agenda selectively omits facts and arguments that don't help their case. Always think about relevant things that people don't say.


Flawed Premise


The logic may be impeccable, but useless if the premise is flawed. This is a common rhetorical trap. Once you accept the premise of an argument, your positions have to be consistent with the premise, and you are thus constrained in what you can reasonably say about it.


Syllogisms are frequent sources of flawed premises. One example is the inference that "kindness is praiseworthy" from the premises "every virtue is praiseworthy" and "kindness is a virtue." This example is fine, because of the two premises, both are generally regarded as true. However, syllogisms have more than one premise, and the more there are the greater the chance that one or more of them is not valid.


Circular Logic


Basically, the problem here is that the argument one intends to defend is pre-supposed to be true. The conclusion is assumed as a premise, rather than justified. The argument is not proved, just re-stated as if it were true. This fallacy is sometimes called “begging the question.”


Virtue Signaling


Symbolic statements and gestures that convey virtue are frequently used to impart authoritativeness. Who can argue against virtue? Thus, those who signal virtue are attempting to gain stature, both for their own social worthiness and to advance their cause. This also makes the signalers feel good about themselves and self-righteously superior to others. Factual or logical deficiencies in their positions are masked by the signaled virtue. As we see on a continuing basis, this is a common strategy for advancing problematic agendas of politicians, celebrities, and media elites.




This form of specious thinking comes from the 1944 film, Gaslight, in which a husband manipulates his wife into thinking she has a mental illness by dimming their gas-fueled lights and telling her she is hallucinating.


Gaslighting occurs when a person or group is conditioned by false suggestion to question their values, sanity, perception of reality, or memories. People experiencing gaslighting often feel confused, anxious, and unable to trust themselves. The point is to make the target trust the accuser.


In today’s world, the common form of gaslighting is to condition whites into thinking that they are racist. The technique is basically a form of conditioning in which repeated charge from supposedly more moral people generates a belief that it is true and thus creates a guilt that is exploited.


Logic Errors


Many cases of specious argument are based on common mistakes in logic. I have explained some thinking errors in a post several years ago. Such errors are typically inadvertent, but sometimes they are used deliberately in in discourse to buttress positions.


How can you protect yourself from the specious thinking of others? First, check to make certain you are not just responding emotionally, agreeing because this is what you want to hear. Next, check to see what actual evidence is presented and the likelihood that it is reliable. Look for conflicts of interest and hidden agendas. Finally, try to think of alternative perspectives that have not been presented.




Cline, Austin. 2019, Begging the question.


Huizen, Jennifer (2020). Gaslighting. Medical News Today,



Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Education Requires More Than Literacy


I recently attended a lecture by a prominent Texas historian,  James L. Haley. The focus of his talk was on the lessons of history in the context of the American revolution against England and Texas' revolution against Mexico. The theme was that the U.S. founders and Sam Houston in Texas used their knowledge of history to create a form of government that could avoid the errors of the past if the voters were educated. The  founders were themselves generally quite literate, reading history in the original Greek and Latin and absorbing the ideas of leading formation of a new government Renaissance philosophers. 

Haley went on to point out that today our government is imperiled because so many Americans are illiterate and thus incapable of correct knowledge about political issues and electing wise leaders. He presented a litany of statistics showing a shocking percentage of Americans who cannot read at all, cannot read at the fourth-grade level, and cannot read above 8th grade level. The clear implication was that to save our country, we need a more educated pool of voters.

While I accept that literacy is important, I think it is a myth to attribute our hyper politically correct "woke" cultural to illiteracy. In the Q&A that followed, I raised the following point: "I am not persuaded that education is the solution. The origin of much of our cancel culture originates in the universities." Liberal arts professors seem to be obsessed with race, gender, revisionist history, and Marxist ideology. James heartily agreed with my point, but the paradox was not explored, because time was running out.

How can education be a solution to illiteracy when the source of our current historical and political dystopia largely originates with ostensibly the most educated professors in the universities and more and more youngsters go to college? Could it be there is something wrong with how professors were educated and how they in turn educate citizens these days?

The answer is a resounding YES. Civics is no longer taught in K-12. History, when taught at all, is commonly taught from a revisionist perspective. As a professor with over 58 years of observing university teaching practices and consulting with the middle school teaching community, I disparingly conclude that we no longer teach youngsters HOW to think but focus on WHAT to think. Educators have confused education with indoctrination. We tell students what they must learn and then test them for compliance. Too many teachers and professors were trained, not educated in the classical education sense. The focus of teaching at all levels is on WHAT to think.

The problem is illustrated by how few people know about logic and logical fallacies, which I tried to address in a recent blog post. The problem extends to a general inability to think critically and creatively about what one reads and hears. Where are the Socratic teachers of today who are showing students how to engage reading content, ask penetrating questions, develop reasoned possible answers, distinguish evidence from opinion, test knowledge for accuracy, and how to learn from history instead of erasing it? When it comes to reading literacy, many youngsters have such limited vocabulary and reading skills that they cannot handle the extra cognitive load of critical thinking about what they read.

In his essay on college graduate illiteracy, Dale Ahlquist concludes, " The rise of incomplete thinking has been marked over the last several decades by a near-total loss of true humanities studies at many colleges and universities.  It’s a terrible scandal that, without authentic humanities education, universities around the world are manufacturing cohort after cohort of uneducated people " He explains the cause of the scandal this way: " Everyone agrees, or claims to agree, that we want citizens who can think for themselves. But our education system, our commercial culture, and the latent message of our social media are precisely the opposite. We want everyone to get in line."

Literacy alone is not the answer. We already have too many under educated college graduates, as has been amply documented in numerous surveys. Some shocking examples are found in Walter Williams's essay,

Though I am known as a "Memory Medic," many of my followers misunderstand my emphasis on improving memory ability. My whole point is that the quality of thinking depends on what you remember. Remembered knowledge is what one uses to think with. The less you recall from past learning, the less knowledge you have to inform rigorous thought.

Improving the way reading skills are taught would surely help. But recall that the pupils of Socrates were not necessarily all that literate in reading Greek. The main value of Socrates' pedagogy was that he showed his pupils the value of avoiding knee-jerk thinking, of questioning and thinking about reasonable answers, that his was a mind-set habit they could learn, and that such practices help to minimize error and foolishness.



Ahlquist, Dale (n.d.) The Scandal of Uneducated College Graduates. Principles from Christendom College.

Williams, Walter (2016). It's Little Mystery Why So Many College Students Are Illiterate. March 29. CNS News.

A key to thinking straight is to get your facts straight. I urge readers to check out my book, Realville, which explains how to wade through the swamp of the seven main forms of untruthfulness.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

On the meaning of "Immaterial"

 It is hard to realize the existence of realities that that we cannot see or measure. This was impressed on me when I recently visited a planetarium in which the audience and I viewed a map of the universe created by the Hubble space camera. The camera had taken many successive snapshots of the sky as it moved along its orbit, saving each adjacent shot side by side. The overall result, projected on the curved ceiling of the presentation hall, looked like a bow tie. If we did not know any better, we would think that the universe actually has this structure, with nothing outside the three-dimensional bow tie. The confusion arises if we don’t realize that the camera is located in the center of its horizon view. The camera’s horizon is constrained by its orbit. To get a better mapping, it would have to create maps from all points in all theoretical orbits around the earth. 

In this case, the evidence for a relatively homogeneous three-dimensional universe caused by  a central black hole explosion is missing. We might erroneously conclude that the “big bang” theory is wrong. But absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. This principle emerges in another context when we say that certain phenomena are “immaterial.” Material things have a chemistry and physics, and things that do not seem explainable in those terms are often called “immaterial.”

What about things we call “abstract,” such as probability? Probability is not defined as a reality but rather the likelihood that a certain reality may emerge. In Shannon’s Information Theory, for example, “information” would not be regarded as a material reality as such but rather as the probability that a certain material event may occur. Indeed, information’s lack of material reality was probably why Shannon chose to define it the way he did. Probability ideas apply to much of the “spooky” aspect of quantum mechanics.

In the field of neuroscience, many scholars use the words “immaterial force” to explain consciousness. Yet, how can a force have the force of mediating our thoughts and willed action if it is immaterial? In the field of religion, many theologians use the word immaterial to explain the soul as some kind of immaterial form of being. How can something “be” and yet not be?

Neither case explains anything. In both cases, “immaterial” is intended to have the circular definition of not being material. What can this word possibly mean? To claim that something is immaterial is to imply that it does not exist. We know from personal experience that consciousness surely exists, and there are many good reasons to believe that souls exist too.

A fundamental premise of science is that all things are material, including those things that we cannot explain in material terms. Here is a list of material phenomena that were originally thought by many to be immaterial, because at the time there was no evidence for a material explanation:

·       The germ theory of disease

·       Immunity to infection

·       X-rays and other portions of the electromagnetic spectrum

·       Heat and cold

·       Gravity

·       Curved space-time

·       Quantum mechanics

·       Unconscious Mind


Quantum mechanics is of particular interest and relevance to this issue. Numerous experiments have demonstrated that observing something, even if just by a laboratory instrument, can make apparent physical realities we did not know existed. Matter can go from one spot to another without moving through the intervening space (called quantum tunneling). Information moves instantly (faster than the speed of light) across vast distances. Clearly, this does not reflect the kind of reality we ordinarily experience. Yet it exists.

Two explanations are possible. One is that the act of observation actually creates the manifest physical phenomena. Another is that the physical properties were pre-existent in inapparent form. Neither possibility makes sense in terms of our present knowledge. While many physicists can describe quantum phenomena, no one can explain them. Nonetheless, the facts are demonstrable. 

What then is meant by material reality? Real things can seem unreal (immaterial?) under certain circumstances. This  perspective suggests that everything could be material, though sometimes that material reality may not always be apparent. Most likely, things we think of today as immaterial, such as consciousness and soul, are real material phenomena that we think must be immaterial because we have not yet discovered their material nature.

Science, by definition, MUST deal exclusively with material things. It is not possible for things to exist and yet not exist because they are immaterial. Thus, those who cling to immateriality are obliged to defend their position with compelling logic and evidence, if there were any. The rest of us are left with the conclusion that everything is material, though sometimes that material reality may not always be apparent. This surely can apply to consciousness and the soul. Considering consciousness or the soul as immaterial precludes any possibility that science is relevant to these phenomena. On the other hand, if consciousness and the soul have a material reality that is not yet apparent, then science might find evidence to help document and explain those realities.