From time to time I examine a particular informal fallacy to see when it is fallacious and when it is not. Today, we will look at appeal to consequence. What is appeal to consequence? Briefly, it is an argument that takes the form “If X, then Y. Y is not desirable. Therefore, not X.” One may note, quite correctly, that this is really just modus tollens, a completely valid and acceptable logical form of inference. What makes it fallacious is often there is no reason to believe the major premise. This is also closely related to the slippery slope fallacy.
Here’s an example: “If you vote to re-elect the President, then this country will cease to exist within the next four years. You do not want this country to cease to exist. Therefore, you should not vote to re-elect the President.” Now, as it may turn out, the major premise may be entirely correct. However, the thrust or force of the argument depends upon a powerful connection to or dislike of the consequence. This typically clouds the issue for the hearer of the argument and can influence them to accept something more readily than they should.
Here’s a recent example from the theological world, paraphrased: “If interpretation and inerrancy are not identical, then simply because the Mormons have a faulty interpretation of the Bible they could not be accused of denying inerrancy! They should be accused of denying inerrancy. Therefore, interpretation and inerrancy are identical.” The problems are multiple here. First, with respect to the major premise, it just doesn’t follow that because the Mormons have a faulty interpretation they are still not denying inerrancy. For what is necessary and sufficient for a belief in inerrancy is: Any agent X believes in inerrancy in general just in the case X believes for any P that the Bible affirms, P is true and not false, and Any X believes in inerrancy specifically just in the case he believes in inerrancy in general and X believes the Bible has affirmed P, and X believes P is true and not false. Mormons tend to believe in places the Bible contradicts other Mormon doctrine, the Bible is in error. Further, inerrancy isn’t the primary concern with Mormonism. Their views of God, the Trinity, man, sin, salvation, Heaven, and Hell are. We don’t reject Mormons because of inerrancy; we reject them for bad theology.
Here’s a final example from the perspective of a skeptic: “If you teach children to have faith in God, then you are stunting their intellectual growth—a form of child abuse. This is bad; therefore, you should not teach your children to have faith in God.” Forms of this abound on the Internet, and are sometimes put forth by people such as Richard Dawkins. The key here is to challenge the idea that a robust intellectual life is incompatible with belief in God. All one has to do is name a few scholars. At this point, the skeptic will be placed in the bad position of either having to admit he was wrong, or simply claim that all of these scholars are really unintelligent.
The appeal to consequence doesn’t rely on much logically for the error, and even is a formally correct way of reasoning. In fact, the primary error here is one of emotions. One must be sure that he is evaluating carefully the premises of an argument, and not merely agreeing out of a psychological response or conditioning.--------------------------------
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