What a fascinating question! To look for fallacies I looked up web
sites for four controversial issues, and I'll present examples from
each side. Then I've thrown in two more food measure just because I
happened to come across them while looking for other things.
By the way, you can find a good summary of the various logical fallacies here:
The Logical Fallacies: Index
Arguments for Atheism
The Freethought Zone is attempting to show that the God of
Christianity/Judaism/Islam does not exist. The page referred to above
lists several arguments. One of them goes as follows:
"Now lets consider the gods of the dominate theistic religions:
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Each of these religions postulate a
god that is concerned with human welfare and that performs miracles.
If such a god exists, there should be ample evidence of the miracles
that he works whenever human suffering is present. But human suffering
certainly exists and there is no evidence of the theists' god. This
constitutes evidence that this god does not exist."
The basic argument here is this: If the God of world monotheism
exists, there should be ample evidence of miracles where there is
human suffering. Since human suffering exists, therefore there is no
evidence that this God exists.
Here are two of the fallacies:
Straw man: The argument basically assumes that the God of world
monotheism, if He exists, would prevent all suffering. But most
monotheistic religions do not make this claim.
Begging the question: The argument assumes that a God concerned with
human welfare and who can perform miracles would not allow human
suffering. If one assumes that, then of course this God cannot exist.
This argument doesn't leave open the possibility that God could be
concerned about human welfare and be able to perform miracles yet
still have a reason consistent with human welfare in allowing
Existence of God: The Argument from Design
This Christian-oriented site is presenting four of the classical
arguments for the existence of God. This argument is the existence of
design. An excerpt:
"The rate of expansion following the big bang, of course, was just
right to allow life to develop; if it weren't then we wouldn't be here
now. That this was the case, though, was either an extraordinary
fluke, or was intended by the big bang's Creator. Had the rate of
expansion been even fractionally slower?one part in a million
million?then the big bang would have been followed by a big crunch
before life could have developed. Had the rate of expansion been even
fractionally faster?one part in a million?then stars and planets could
not have formed. It is highly unlikely that a random big bang would be
such as to allow life to develop, and therefore highly unlikely,
according to the argument from design, that the big bang from which
our universe was formed happened at random. It is far more likely that
it was initiated by a being that intended to create a universe that
could support life."
The basic argument here is that it is extremely unlikely that the
universe would have developed the way it did. The fact that it did
means that there is probably an intelligence behind it.
Here are four fallacies involved:
The fallacy of the hasty generalization and/or of the unrepresentative
sample: The fact that the universe is the way it is proves nothing. We
don't know if there are other universes that turned out differently by
chance. We only know about this universe. We also don't know if there
was a big bang followed by an implosion followed by another big bang
followed by another implosion a million times until it finally turned
There is also a fallacy of untestability involved: We can't test to
see how things would have turned out differently.
There is also the fallacy of subverted support: The argument assumes
that if things had been slightly different, things might have turned
out differently. But we don't know that. In fact, some scientists
believe that there was a big bang and that a collapse will come, but
obviously it hasn't happened yet.
The Rights of Pregnant Women
This site is making arguments against laws restricting access to
abortion. On this page, an argument is made that is intended to
persuade the reader that one particular proposal (one that would
requirer insurers to recognize a fetus as a person for insurance
purposes) would be damaging to women's rights:
"Additionally, the current Administration has demonstrated a lack of
concern for the rights and well being of pregnant women in the name of
anti-choice politics by proposing insuring the fetus as a separate
individual. The classification of a fetus as individual separate from
the woman has a potential to create barriers to health care for
pregnant women with illnesses. For instance, would a pregnant woman
with cancer be able to access potentially life-saving radiation
treatment or chemotherapy, since such treatment could harm the
The argument here (not stated directly) is a syllogism: If a law
recognizes a fetus as an individual, its rights may be regarded as
equal to those of the mother (major premise). The proposed law would
recognize the fetus as an individual (minor premise). Therefore, the
rights of the fetus may be held to be equal to those of the mother.
Here are four fallacies involved:
Attacking the motives of the other side: This argument discounts the
opposite position because it involves "anti-choice politics" and "lack
of concern" for women.
Straw man: Most anti-abortion legislation would probably be written
so a pregnant woman could get cancer treatment. By assuming otherwise,
the argument argues against something not likely to be proposed.
Slippery slope: The slippery slope isn't explicit in this excerpt. But
the suggestion is a slippery-slope argument: If we let them take this
one action, look what might happen.
Misleading major premise: The argument assumes that recognizing the
fetus as an individual for insurance purposes has the same legal
consequences as granting full personhood status to fetuses. That's not
What is the pro-life response to abortionists' arguments?
This is from the National Right to Life's site. The following argument
is designed as a response to those who say a woman should be able to
have an abortion to end a rape-caused pregnancy.
"When a woman has been raped or a victim of incest, she has been the
victim of a terrifying act of violence of which she is a true victim.
Tragically, we are some times faced with a second victim of this
great crime committed by the rapist, a baby. While pregnancy is
extremely rare from rape, it can happen. The cruelest thing that can
happen to the women in question is to now be pitted against her child,
who is the second victim. In several studies done across America,
women who were encouraged to use abortion in such circumstances felt
that they had been put through a second act of violence, the violence
and pain of the mechanical rape of abortion. Worse than that, they
stated feelings of being made into the victimizer of their own child.
They felt that their baby had paid with his/her life for the crime of
Meanwhile, mothers who found support to carry their children to term,
whether they opted for adoption or kept their babies, felt that they'd
turned something horrible into something life-giving. The key here is
support for both victims, mother and child."
Here are four fallacies:
Use of language in appealing to motives: This argument refers to the
fetus as a "child," making the act seem more abhorrent. Then the term
is used in several contexts designed to evoke sympathy: "pitted
against her child," "baby had paid with his/her life for the crime of
the rapist." Similarly, the "child" is called a "victim" of the rape.
Another use of language: Abortion is termed a "mechanical rape" to
make it seem like less of a solution.
Use of anonymous authority: Who performed the studies used to support
the argument? It doesn't say.
Missing the point: A key argument used by the other side is that a
rape-caused pregnancy is, in effect, a continuation of the assault.
This argument doesn't address that issue at all.
Who smokes marijuana?
This is from an FAQ of NORML, a group advocating the legalization of marijuana.
"According to recent statistics provided by the federal government,
nearly 80 million Americans admit having smoked marijuana. Of these,
twenty million Americans smoked marijuana during the past year. The
vast majority of marijuana smokers, like most other Americans, are
good citizens who work hard, raise families, pay taxes and contribute
in a positive way to their communities. They are certainly not part of
the crime problem in this country, and it is terribly unfair to
continue to treat them as criminals.
Many successful business and professional leaders, including many
state and elected federal officials, admit they have smoked marijuana.
We must reflect this reality in our state and federal laws, and put to
rest the myth that marijuana smoking is a fringe or deviant activity
engaged in only by those on the margins of American society. Marijuana
smokers are no different from their non-smoking peers, except for
their marijuana use."
The basic argument is that because responsible people smoke marijuana
it is unfair to have marijuana use be a crime.
Here are four fallacies:
Appeal to popularity: The argument is that because many people do
something it should be recognized as lawful behavior.
Use of unbacked authoritative statements: No evidence is cited to
support blanket statements stating the "vast majority" of marijuana
smokers have certain traits.
Blurring of two different categories to arrive at a non sequitur: The
statement refers to how "normal" the 80 million people who have used
marijuana at one time are, then suggests that "marijuana smokers are
no different from others." Yet there is a difference between the 80
million who have smoked and "marijuana smokers," presumably those who
Begging the question: "We must reflect this reality" is an example of
begging the question.
Drug Legalization Doesn't Work
The following is from an article by Asa Hutchinson, director of the
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. He opposes legalization of
"On a recent summer tour through south London, I saw the future of
drug legalization. A young couple injected heroin inside the filthy
ruins of an abandoned building. In this working-class neighborhood,
residents weave in and out of crowded sidewalks, trying to avoid
making eye contact with dealers who openly push heroin, marijuana and
"...The one-year Lambeth pilot ended Aug. 1, but Britain has announced
it will relax the country's marijuana laws. That move has given fuel
to those in the United States who believe we should follow suit. Some
have called for the outright legalization of marijuana. People could
buy dope over the counter, as they do in the red-light district of
"What these legalization advocates do not talk about are the
disturbing problems that people in Lambeth lived with every day. They
ignore the sad misery of young people addicted to drugs. They ignore
the serious problems that countries such as the Netherlands are
experiencing -- problems that are leading them to reconsider their own
liberal drug laws."
Cause-and-effect fallacy: The writer assumes that the situation at
Lambeth was caused by relaxation of the laws. There may have been
other factors at play.
Slippery slope: The fallacy isn't stated directly. But it's assumed in
the article that legalization of marijuana laws will lead to
legalization of other drugs.
Unrepresentative sample: It appears that the writer used the worst
example he could find. It is not known if the experience at Lambeth is
Fallacy of joint effect: As I understand it, the experiment at Lambeth
involved loosening of criminal sanctions for all drugs. The author
then goes ahead and applies that conclusion to decriminalization of
one drug. (It's interesting that those who ran the experiment came to
a different conclusion based on the same evidence.)
Issue Report: Same-Sex Marriage
This is from the site of the National Organization for Women, which
supports legalization of same-sex marriage:
"Attacks on same-sex marriage have become the leading anti-lesbian and
gay strategy of the radical right. Despite a recent study showing 71
percent of lesbians are in committed relationships, same-sex marriage
is not legal in any state. Nevertheless, radical extremists are using
this issue to divide the country and target lesbians and gay men for
discrimination. Organized opposition to this gratuitous lesbian and
gay bashing is essential to stop religious political extremists from
advancing their hate-filled agenda."
Unspecified authority: No details are given on the "recent study"
showing most lesbians are in a committed relationship.
Prejudicial language: Pretty obvious.
Non sequitur: Even if the 71-percent figure is valid, how does it
follow that same-sex marriage should be legal?
The Case Against Homosexual Marriage
This is an excerpt of an article against same-sex marriage.
"Inevitably, once marriage is redefined as something other than a
heterosexual pair, there is nothing to stop further redefinition but
sheer arbitrariness. Once marriage is no longer "one thing," but now
"another thing" as well, there is nothing to stop marriage from
becoming virtually "everything." Put simply, if marriage can be
redefined so as to allow same-sex pairings, there is nothing in the
logic of this transformation that could justify discrimination against
those who would transform marriage in other ways. Why just two people?
If the consent of all partners is all that is requisite, why laws
against incest, polygamy, or any number of other alternative
arrangements? We can be certain that proponents of these
transformations will be waiting in line for their turn to use the
courts to reverse what they claim to be unlawful discrimination."
I chose this excerpt because it is an excellent example of the
What if ADHD Really Doesn't Exist?
There is a debate in some circles over the legitimacy of
attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder as a legitimate mental
condition. Here's a few from a site opposed to the use of ADHD
"I'd like to know how we got to the point in our advanced culture
where we drug millions of children to combat Attention Deficit
Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) when this alleged disorder has no
whatsoever. No blood tests to prove its existence.
"ADHD is entirely subjectively symptom driven. It has made billions of
dollars in profits for the makers of drugs such as Ritalin, Concerta,
Two of the arguments here are that ADHD is an illegitimate disorder
because there are no objective diagnostic proofs.
Straw man: Those who believe ADHD exists have never claimed there are
blood tests to prove it exists. Similarly, there's a syllogism here
with the faulty premise that if a disease is legitimate, it can be
detected by a blood test.
Attacking the person: In this case, it's the drug companies that are
attacked. The excerpt suggests that if a company makes a lot of money,
then the disease doesn't exist. Huh?
Use of negative language: We "drug millions of children," a statement
that wouldn't be made if the author felt the disease were legitimate.
President Bush: "America did the right thing in Iraq."
Last but not least, here's an except from a speech by President George W. Bush:
The president here is defending his decision to invade Iraq:
"We had a choice: either take the word of a madman [Saddam Hussein],
or take action to defend the American people. Faced with that choice,
I will defend America every time."
The prime fallacy here again is one of the false dilemma. Critics of
the war, at least, would argue that there were plenty of other choices
that could have been made, and that it would have been possible to
defend the U.S. while still disbelieving Hussein.
I hope you find these examples useful.
Best wishes in preparing the communications course!
Search terms used:
"does god exist"
"tough drug laws" marijuana
"same sex marriage"