Today were looking at the red herring or irrelevant thesis fallacy. This is a very common fallacy that is committed by nearly everyone. The red herring fallacy takes an argument away from the issue at hand and focuses on something irrelevant. In other words a red herring is an attempt to “prove a point, but not the point at issue” Jason Lisle Discerning Truth.
The name red herring refers to a legend (not sure if it’s true or not) that a stinky red herring could be used to distract hunting dogs during a fox hunt. The dogs could be on the trail of the fox and then get distracted by the irrelevant stench of a rotting dead fish. Likewise, you may find yourself successfully arguing a point only to get distracted by a stinky red herring argument. Next thing you know, you are completely off track and feeling like something fishy just happened.
Examples of the red herring or irrelevant Thesis fallacy
Red Herrings in the abortion debate
Suppose your convincing someone of the pro-choice (pro-murder) position that the “fetus” inside the woman is in fact a real human being. You’re making good points. Your feeling like this is going well and then suddenly someone whips out a fish. They ask “what about all the women who will die from coat hanger abortions in dark alleys”. That, my friend, is a red herring and is completely irrelevant to the topic at hand.
Perhaps that same person responds with the question “what about all the women who have been raped? Should we force them to live with the guilt by making them have the child? Totally irrelevant. If the fetus is a person, it has rights and should not be punished for its father’s bad behavior.
Bill Nye and his rotting red herring
Bill Nye the Science Guy, recently said in a video that Christians should teach their children to believe in evolution. His reasoning was that if they don’t believe in evolution, America’s ability to produce innovative technologies will be hindered. Whaaaaaa? What does the belief in evolution have to do with producing competitive technology?
Red Herrings and Jehovah’s Witnesses
The red herring is the Jehovah’s Witnesses secret super power. Never underestimate the power of a Jehovah’s Witness to get you off track. It doesn’t matter what you’re arguing for, they are going to stop you in the middle of your offensive and get you distracted with a red herring. Do not follow the fish! Stay on topic and make your point. Use the following tactic to disarm the red herring fallacy.
Refuting a red herring
Everybody wants a slam dunk quick fix argument to stop logical fallacies in their tracks. It’s usually not that easy, but the red herring is simple to refute. Memorize this easy one liner. “True perhaps, but irrelevant”. It’s that easy. They try to get you off track with a well-placed red herring. No problem. Just say “true perhaps, but irrelevant”. Don’t let them get you distracted. Make your point. You can always visit the stinky subject later if you think it deserves attention.
Here is the entire Logical Fallacies series in mp3 format ready for download.