Skeptical Wednesday for May 23, 2012: Begging the questionby Don Lacey on May. 23, 2012, under Critical Thinking, Education, Freethougth Quotations, History, Language, Logic, Reason, Science, Skepticism
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Begging_the_question) This is a great logical fallacy. It’s used all the time but the name is confusing and misunderstood and it is rarely identified correctly. When someone asks, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” They are using the begging the question fallacy. The question includes an assumption that may not be true and the answer—either yes or no—doesn’t do anything to refute that assumption. The confusion in the name is caused by the term “begging.” In this case, “begging” actually means “avoiding.” (http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/beg-the-question.html). The term, begging the question, is often misused to mean “raising the question.” Language changes over time with use and now more people are using the term incorrectly. When I point out this fallacy I often end up using more time explaining the fallacy than making my point. Due to the confusion, we need a new name for the “begging the question” fallacy. There are efforts to stop using the term incorrectly (http://atheism.about.com/od/logicalfallacies/a/beggingquestion_4.htm) but it’s probably a losing battle. We definitely need a new name for it that is less confusing. The fallacy is similar to circular reasoning but not quite the same because the assumed premise is not necessarily the same as the conclusion.
Here’s a quote from the Skeptics Guide to the Universe webpage on the subject of logical fallacies (http://www.theskepticsguide.org/resources/logicalfallacies.aspx). This quote refers to Dr. Steven Novella’s appearance on the Dr. Oz show in April 2011 http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/watch-steve-novella-on-the-dr-oz-show-on-tuesday/):
In my appearance on the Dr. Oz show I was asked – what are alternative medicine skeptics (termed “holdouts”) afraid of? This is a double feature of begging the question. By using the term “holdout” the question assumes that acceptance is already become the majority position and is inevitable. But also, Oz begged the question that skeptics are “afraid.” This also created a straw man (see below) of our position, which is rather based on a dedication to reasonable standards of science and evidence.
Here’s an unfair question that an Atheist might ask a believer, “Aside from religion, do you hold any other irrational beliefs?” By asking the question in this way, I get to assume the premise that religious beliefs are irrational without opening it up for discussion. I’ve thus “begged” or “avoided” the question.
Critical thinking (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_thinking) is not a passive activity and goes way beyond common sense. It is a skill that needs to be exercised at every opportunity.
Questions about logical fallacies and other subjects associated with critical thinking are often discussed at meetings of the Skeptics of Tucson (http://www.meetup.com/Skeptics-of-Tucson/) now being held at the Denny’s on Speedway just west of Alveron on the second Monday of the month at 7 PM. Of course, we don’t always talk about logical fallacies. Other topics include conspiracy theories, paranormal claims, UFOs, and alternate medicine, to name a few.