Be careful when looking for logical fallacies

Right after someone begins to learn about logical fallacies, they start to notice that fallacies can be committed on a daily basis. But something else happens to these people that is not so good…they start seeing logical fallacies when they aren’t there. So what ends up happening is that the person looking to detect fallacies in a person’s argument, ends up attacking a straw man. In other words, the person really hasn’t committed said fallacy. The fallacy detector has just asserted that the person has committed said fallacy.

For example:
Person A: “According to Stephen Hawking, the Universe began to exist 13.7 billion years ago…”
Person B: “Appeal to authority fallacy! The universe isn’t 13.7 billion years old just because Hawking said so!”

As we can see, Person B thinks that Person A has committed the logical fallacy of Appeal to Authority. The appeal to authority in its most basic form is to contend that something is true because X authority said so. In its narrowest form, the fallacy is appealing to an authority who isn’t an authority in the field. For example, appealing to Stephen Hawking as an expert when talking about the field of Philosophy of Religion is a fallacy. However, appealing to Stephen Hawking when talking about the beginning of the universe is obviously not fallacious.

Person B is actually committing the only fallacy. The reason is because he’s attacking a straw man. Person A isn’t committing the appeal to authority fallacy. He’s not asserting that the universe began to exist 13.7 billion years ago because Hawking said so. That’s absurd to attribute that to what Person A said because he didn’t actually say that! All person A did was cite Hawking as a source on the matter. When it comes down to it, we all rely heavily on expert testimony to come to know things. There’s nothing fallacious about that.

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