Why are fire engines red?
They have four wheels and eight men;
four plus eight is twelve;
twelve inches make a ruler;
a ruler is Queen Elizabeth;
Queen Elizabeth sails the seven seas;
the seven seas have fish;
the fish have fins; the Finns hate the Russians;
the Russians are red;
fire engines are always rushin’, so they are red.– via D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, p. 87
Where logical fallacies rear their heads, they inhibit understanding and communication. That wonderfully pithy piece above, in case you didn’t take time to digest it, is a pretty extreme example of a fallacious train of thought. What’s more, once you read it a couple of times, it’s almost memorized.
Personally, although I can sometimes recognize the existence of poor logic here & there, I don’t often know the technical reason it is poor. There are so many types and categories, e.g., of faulty syllogisms (not to mention other fallacy types) that I get dizzy. Not being a schooled logician or philosopher, I don’t have anything deep or insightful to offer about thought processes, so I must be an illogical person. (A logical fallacy was present in that last sentence, but the conclusion could still be correct—you decide!)
My son and I were recently discussing whether there were six or seven classes in his grade, at his school. I said one thing, and he said another. I mentioned that we couldn’t both be correct. He thought about that for a moment and responded that we could both be wrong. And right he was! His response struck me as an indication of a logical thought process.
Later in the same chapter of the above-captioned book, D.A. Carson also described a fallacy he labeled the “cavalier dismissal” (p. 118):
Often what is meant by such cavalier dismissal is that the opposing opinion emerges from a matrix of thought so different from a scholar’s own that he finds it strange, weird, and unacceptable.
At times, I’m a perpetrator of that one. I may later be sorry for having committed it . . . or maybe not, depending on my mood and how much effort it’s taken to reach a contrary position in some area and how sure I am of my position.
A few days ago, I checked out a book that discusses things I know next-to-nothing about. Even if it turns out that I seriously question or disagree with some things in the sections I peruse, I’d better not commit the “cavalier dismissal” here. I need to expend effort to stay open-minded. I might just learn something.