Old 04-13-2007, 03:59 PM   #1
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Default Logical Fallacy and You!

It occured to me that in the interests of encouraging intelligent discussion, with appropriate discourse, in a way that really fosters intellectual growth it might be helpful to have a sort of primer for critical thinking around.

In formal logic and argumentation, there are a number of types of faulty reasoning that people are often prone to, called the logical fallacies. These are bits of flawed logic that we all fall pray to at times, but being aware of them and how they work can be very helpful in deciding if your post directly contributes to the discussion at hand.

So with that in mind I'm going to run down all the logical fallacies, and provide an example of each. In most cases I'll be using a pretty absurd and over-the-top (potentially offensive) example simply to highlight how the fallacy works, hopefully since this is a collection of ways to -fail- at argument, it won't be held against me if my post contains inappropriate statements.

Logical Fallacies

Biased Sample - This is where you provide statistical data in support of your point, but those sampled misrepresent the subset of people you are proposing to speak for. Example: Pointing out that 85% of people surveyed opposed gay marriage, when you only surveyed practicing christians. Bear in mind that every sample is biased in some small way, and the biased sample fallacy is only a fallacy if you fail to point out any potential biases when presenting your data.

Hasty Generalization - This is where you conclude something far beyond the scope of existing evidence. Example: That Middle Eastern man was rude to me, all Middle Easterns are rude.

Package Deal Fallacy - This is where you group together concepts that are usually but not always grouped together, functionally misusing an "and" in your description. Example: Concluding that because someone is a liberal and supports welfare, that they must also be pro-choice, and anti-gun.

Fallacy of the excluded Middle or False Dilemma - This is when you present an issue as having only two (or three or whatever) possible conclusions when there are in fact more conclusions possible. Example: Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.

Petitio Principii or Begging the question - This is a common fallacy wherein your evidence in support of an argument presupposed that you have already accepted the argument, or requires that you have. Example: The case example of begging the question is arguing the validity of the bible using evidence contained within the bible. In order for the evidence to be acceptable, you have to have already concluded that the bible is valid.

Cum Hoc ergo Propter Hoc or Correlation implies Causation - This fallacy is where you conclude that because two events occur simultaneously, that the two events are necessarily related. Example: When I sneezed, the power went out, therefore my sneeze caused a power outage.

Post Hoc ergo Propter Hoc or False Cause - A similar fallacy to the Cum Hoc fallacy above, in the Post Hoc fallacy you falsely conclude that because two events happened in sequence, the latter was necessarily caused by the former.

Argumentum ad consequentiam or Appeal to consequences - This fallacy is where you conclude that a premise must be right/wrong because the consequences of it being right/wrong are desireable/undesireable. Example: If God didn't exist, life would be meaningless. I desire life to have meaning, therefore God exists.

Argumentum ad Baculum or Appeal to force - This fallacy is where you conclude that a premise is right/wrong because there is a threat of punishment to do otherwise. Example: Believe in God or you will go to hell.

Appeal to probability - A logical fallacy wherein you decide that simply because something is -possible- it is inevitable that it will happen. Example: There are pedophiles on the internet, therefore if you let your child use the internet unsupervised they will encounter a pedophile.

Slippery Slope - A slippery slope fallacy is when you incorrectly (There -are- correct slippery slopes as well) claim that accepting premise A will lead to B->C->D where D is something undesireable, therefore you ought not to accept A. Example: If you legalise marijuana use, more people will start using it, which will make them more likely to use harder drugs.

Ignoratio elenchi or Red Herring - An argument where the conclusion has nothing to do with the premises. Example: I shouldn't get a speeding ticket, there are murderers and rapists out there that the police -should- be chasing. (That there are other criminals has nothing to with the fact that you broke a law and got caught)

Straw Man - The Straw Man fallacy is when you deliberately misrepresent a position in order to make it easier to attack. Examples of this are everywhere: Quoting someone out of context, holding up a weak defender as indicative of all defenders, oversimplifying the other person's argument.

Association Fallacy or Guilt by association - Associating qualities of one thing onto another simply because the two have some kind of link. Example: The Nazis were evil. The Nazis were Germans, therefore Germans are evil.

Argumentum ad Ignorantiam or Appeal to ignorance - The argument that a statement is true simply because it has never been proven false, or that it is false simply because it has never been proven true. NOTE: This does not mean that any time someone points out the lack of proof for something, that they are commiting this fallacy. It is only fallacious to point to lack of evidence if you use that to -CONCLUDE- that the argument is false/true. Pointing out a lack of evidence in general is just good debate.

Appeal to Emotion - An argument where you attempt to convince someone to agree with your argument on emotional grounds rather than on the logical strength of your argument. Example: Any argument that ends with "Think of the children!"

Ad Hominem Attacks- An ad hominem attack is when you direct your argument against the person, rather than their own argument. Example: Why should we listen to you, you're an idiot! (If they're unintelligent, you should be perfectly able to show your disagreement by attacking the point, not the speaker)

Ad Hominem Fallacy- The Ad hominem fallacy is when you use your ad hominem attack to conclude that the person's point is therefore invalid.

Ad populum or Appeal to the Majority - When you present a view such that "everyone knows it is true" to defend your point, rather than actually providing evidence. Example: It's silly for you to claim that Hitler would not have attacked the United States if they hadn't entered World War II. Everyone knows that he planned to conquer the world.

Ad Antiquitatem or Appeal to Tradition - Presenting your view as correct because "It has always been this way" Example: The law has always said that marriage is between a man and a women, there's no reason to change it.

There are a few more, but they are generally minor, or subsets of the larger ones I mentioned above. If I made any glaring omissions, please point them out and I'll add them in, but hopefully even just reading over this will help people draw the distinction between a random conversation or stating of opinion and an actual critical debate or discussion.

Last edited by devonin; 01-4-2009 at 10:09 AM.. Reason: Made better some of the defintions and examples.
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Old 04-13-2007, 04:52 PM   #2
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Default Re: Logical Fallacy and You!

Oh, good. I think it would be good to have a list of these somewhere, certainly.

For more/different descriptions of the same fallacies, here's a good concise list as well: http://www.theskepticsguide.org/logicalfallacies.asp
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Old 04-13-2007, 07:21 PM   #3
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Default Re: Logical Fallacy and You!

This makes me happy.

I'm sure that when you describe, for example, the slippery slope, probability, association... some people start wondering "Well, I didn't realize these were fallacies - what kind of arguments CAN I use that aren't fallacious?" The guide could do with some examples of what TO do, to balance out all the "what not to do".
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Old 04-13-2007, 07:22 PM   #4
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Default Re: Logical Fallacy and You!

I vote for a sticky.
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Old 04-13-2007, 08:44 PM   #5
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Default Re: Logical Fallacy and You!

Quote:
The guide could do with some examples of what TO do, to balance out all the "what not to do".
I'll get on a nice explanation of inductive and deductive logic, some basic argument forms and so on to go alongside this list if that seems like something people want.
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Old 04-13-2007, 11:58 PM   #6
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Default Re: Logical Fallacy and You!

Quote:
Originally Posted by devonin View Post
Ad Hominem - An ad hominem attack is when you direct your argument against the person, rather than their own argument. Example: Why should we listen to you, you're an idiot! (If they're unintelligent, you should be perfectly able to show your disagreement by attacking the point, not the speaker)
I'd like to point out that there is a difference between an Ad Hominem attack and an Ad Hominem fallacy. Although both are poor form, an Ad Hominem attack is not always Argumentum Ad Hominem. Making the statement "person x is unintelligent => person x is wrong about issue y" is an Ad Hominem fallacy. Making the statement "person x is wrong about issue y for reason z & person x is unintelligent" is only an Ad Hominem attack.

Not that this is that important since it would be preferable if neither of these things arose in debate, but since mistaking one for another is often a cheap way to avoid addressing the important content of a post by focusing on the insult, in a way opening the door for more fallacious reasoning, I figured it was worth mention.

More bluntly, try not to make insults but if some slip into the otherwise well formed post of your opponent in a debate, take it in stride or ignore it.

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Old 04-14-2007, 01:18 AM   #7
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Default Re: Logical Fallacy and You!

It would seem to me that an Ad hominem attack is simply each individual instance of Ad Hominem fallacy.
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Old 04-14-2007, 10:40 AM   #8
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Default Re: Logical Fallacy and You!

Not at all. An Ad Hominem fallacy only occurs when an inductive or deductive logical statement is attempted based on the Ad Hominem Attack. If an Ad Hominem attack is isolated from the actual argument it doesn't change the values of the argument. You are familiar with formal logic I understand?
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Old 04-14-2007, 03:33 PM   #9
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Default Re: Logical Fallacy and You!

I'm well aware that if an otherwise valid argument includes an ad hominem attack, you can't invalidate the entire argument simply because the person making it decided to sink to taking a shot as well. Mostly I either ignore the attempt entirely, or I point out what it was and why it has no place in the argument, then cary on as normal.
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Old 04-14-2007, 03:50 PM   #10
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Default Re: Logical Fallacy and You!

devonin, basically,

Ad hominem attack: You're just an idiot, you don't know anything! I'm not listening to you.
Ad hominem fallacy: Nobody should listen to this person because they are an idiot, which obviously invalidates what they are saying.
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Old 04-14-2007, 03:53 PM   #11
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Default Re: Logical Fallacy and You!

I'm not really seeing a difference in content there, just in tone. In the first example, I am attack you rather than your argument with the unspoken addendum that since I'm not listening to you, nobody else should either, and the second just directly tells others to also not listen to you on the same grounds.
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Old 04-14-2007, 03:55 PM   #12
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Default Re: Logical Fallacy and You!

The ad hominem attack is the part where you call the person an idiot. The fallacy is connecting that idiocy to their ability to argue well.

Or at least this is my understanding. I could be wrong.
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Old 04-14-2007, 03:56 PM   #13
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Default Re: Logical Fallacy and You!

Fair enough, at least in my head for Ad Hominem I use 'attack' and 'fallacy' interchangably depending on the context of the sentence I'm mentioning it in. Ought I to edit the post you think?
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Old 06-30-2007, 05:18 PM   #14
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Default Re: Logical Fallacy and You!

I say that this should be stickied.
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Old 06-30-2007, 05:38 PM   #15
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Default Re: Logical Fallacy and You!

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I say that this should be stickied.
I second this. It was a great help to me, and certainly will be to others as well.

Now we can point to this to show what we're talking about if we ever call someone on a logical fallacy. Great work devonin!
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Old 07-1-2007, 01:55 AM   #16
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Default Re: Logical Fallacy and You!

Quote:
Petitio Principii or Begging the question - This is a common fallacy wherein your evidence in support of an argument presupposed that you have already accepted the argument, or requires that you have. Example: The case example of begging the question is arguing the validity of the bible using evidence contained within the bible. In order for the evidence to be acceptable, you have to have already concluded that the bible is valid.
Tangentially, note that due to the rapid nature of attrition in any theoretical argument you quickly will come to a point where there is a boolean answer based on a need for some evidence to prove the seminal statement for the entire theory, and the only human way to support a stance with this answer is to use the Petitio Principii fallacy, or begging the question, or to intentionally not take a stance based on the lack of evidence.

Essentially any argument using the Petitio Principii fallacy is actually just a convoluted statement. It should be noted that statements aren't really "critical thinking." A statement is any claim that is either true of false, and when we cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, develop a method for determining the truth value of the statement, the statement is therefore not worth discussing, because it is simply just a convoluted discussion in which the only real result is a series of complex and superfluous statements which the content only really contains the ideas of "I agree." or "I disagree."

In general, any statement is not really worth discussing in the realm of "critical thinking" because this forum is about arguments (in the technical sense of the word.) It is not really about illuminating to people the mechanics of arguing, it is for those who already wish to argue, and know how.

To simplify for those who do not have the capacity to grasp what I'm explaining, imagine me saying the following statement:

"The UW is the coolest college in Washington."

This statement may have a truth value, but it does not illuminate the ambiguity of the word "coolest," therefore the only true discussion that can follow is based on individual perceptions of what the word "coolest" means, and there can be no true argument made because you cannot argue against someones personal definition of "coolest," because they believe it's cool simply because they believe it's cool. These types of things do not beget arguments, they beget discussion, and this forum infers that it is for arguments, not statements and loosely associated claims.

Essentially what I'm trying to say is that there really is nothing critical about discussing topics such as God, infinity, Eternity, or really any purely philosophical belief. This forum is not the "post-modern feel-goodery club" or the "comparative religion club." The stickies are quite clear about the intent of the forum. To make arguments within a belief set with the determination that everyone arguing will assume statements A, B, and C for arguments sake of statements D, E, and F clearly does not fall under the Petitio Principii problem, as clarification for those who might not think critically about what I said.
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Old 07-1-2007, 03:24 AM   #17
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Default Re: Logical Fallacy and You!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Vendetta21 View Post
A statement is any claim that is either true of false, and when we cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, develop a method for determining the truth value of the statement, the statement is therefore not worth discussing, because it is simply just a convoluted discussion in which the only real result is a series of complex and superfluous statements which the content only really contains the ideas of "I agree." or "I disagree."
This seems to (at least attempt to) throw philosophical discussion out the window entirely, and I hope it is not what you are trying to get at. I don't see anything inherently wrong with discussing life philosophies, at least not that would make doing so not "thinking critically". If people out there that partake in such discussions do not do so beyond "hay me 2" then they will be reprimanded accordingly by those appointed to do so while the rest of us can simply ignore them and move on at no cost to ourselves if we wish. Hopefully some will stick around and learn more about what they believe - perhaps they will even change their mind. The experience may not necessarily be beneficial to the highest thinkers of the forum but nothing in the rules says they're the only ones that should be allowed to benefit.

Besides, reducing allowed topics of discussion to those where truth values can be readily determined by those who partake risks drifting toward the Algebra homework help forum direction, and I don't think any of us want to see that.
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Old 07-1-2007, 07:18 PM   #18
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Default Re: Logical Fallacy and You!

Quote:
Originally Posted by MilfeulleSakuraba View Post
This seems to (at least attempt to) throw philosophical discussion out the window entirely, and I hope it is not what you are trying to get at. I don't see anything inherently wrong with discussing life philosophies, at least not that would make doing so not "thinking critically". If people out there that partake in such discussions do not do so beyond "hay me 2" then they will be reprimanded accordingly by those appointed to do so while the rest of us can simply ignore them and move on at no cost to ourselves if we wish. Hopefully some will stick around and learn more about what they believe - perhaps they will even change their mind. The experience may not necessarily be beneficial to the highest thinkers of the forum but nothing in the rules says they're the only ones that should be allowed to benefit.
It does not throw philosophical discussion out the window. Nothing is thrown out the window. You've misunderstood what I'm saying. For instance, discussing "romanticism" in terms of its truth value is arbitrary, but discussing "romanticism" in terms of other values is fine, such as the impact it would have on a follower of the ideas of "romanticism." If we are to allow people to discuss arbitrary things in terms of truth value, we perpetuate a two-tiered system for this forum in which there are the morons and the teachers. I don't feel like perpetuating this place as the "A concise introduction on why your statement cannot be supported, 101" forum.

Quote:
Besides, reducing allowed topics of discussion to those where truth values can be readily determined by those who partake risks drifting toward the Algebra homework help forum direction, and I don't think any of us want to see that.
I didn't say where truth values can't be "readily determined." Nothing in what I said implies that. I said where truth values CANNOT be determined under any methodology. There is a very, very big difference. If you honestly don't understand the difference I will illuminate it for you.

I think that you are unsure about the types of things that I wish to see less of, and that is an error in my communication. I am trying to get rid of the periodical "Does God Exist?" threads for one, and a lot of the other threads that have the aroma of being brought up by a 14 year old or someone who is sophomoric in their belief set who come in with an agenda to make a claim, and then stick to that claim despite their lack of evidence, rhetoric, fluency, etc. It is one of the things that I think many of us feels plagues this forum, and I'm just trying to develop a concise logical defense against this kind of thing. Critical thinking is not for rampant apologetics, and I think we all commonly agree of that. I know what I am saying is probably a basic statement taken to technical levels, but I'm saying it for the purpose of discussion. This is a thread on logical fallacies, and thus I used the logical fallacy that is akin to this kind of apologetics in general, the Petitio Principii fallacy, to try and show the lack of argumentative value in someone who posts with that sort of aroma.
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Old 07-2-2007, 08:56 AM   #19
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Default Re: Logical Fallacy and You!

Here's a cool new logical fallacy I just randomly thought of... I can't seem to name it well though... seeing as I only speak English and French (not Latin... haha.)

The False Based on Use of Fallacies Fallacy - Believing that what the other debater is saying is wrong, because of their use of logical fallacies or lack of arguing ability.

Example Below:

Idiot: HEY GUYS 2 + 2 = 4 BCUZ IT IS!!!!!! KAY!?

In this situation, Idiot is right despite his immense lack of support behind what he said.
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Old 07-2-2007, 01:45 PM   #20
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Default Re: Logical Fallacy and You!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Vendetta21 View Post
It does not throw philosophical discussion out the window. Nothing is thrown out the window. You've misunderstood what I'm saying. For instance, discussing "romanticism" in terms of its truth value is arbitrary, but discussing "romanticism" in terms of other values is fine, such as the impact it would have on a follower of the ideas of "romanticism." If we are to allow people to discuss arbitrary things in terms of truth value, we perpetuate a two-tiered system for this forum in which there are the morons and the teachers. I don't feel like perpetuating this place as the "A concise introduction on why your statement cannot be supported, 101" forum.
Well, first of all I object to your use of 'morons' in this context. Simply being unfamiliar with how to properly carry out a discussion does not make one a moron. That said, is there something wrong with a subsection of the forum topics following along student/teacher lines? How do you think students stop being students? When they've been taught what they need to know.

If we lock out everyone who isn't up to your stringent standards, how will any of them ever become more reasoning, critical thinkers?


Quote:
I didn't say where truth values can't be "readily determined." Nothing in what I said implies that. I said where truth values CANNOT be determined under any methodology. There is a very, very big difference. If you honestly don't understand the difference I will illuminate it for you.
Philosophy as a field has spent several thousand years discussing the potential ramifications of various theories whose truth values cannot be determined. I'm not sure where you feel justified in saying that such actions are bad or wrong, or that they shoudln't be allowed in this forum.

Quote:
I think that you are unsure about the types of things that I wish to see less of, and that is an error in my communication. I am trying to get rid of the periodical "Does God Exist?" threads for one,
I, and quite a few others in this forum find such discussions interesting and enjoyable to take part in, even knowing full well that no conclusion is going to be reached in such a thread. Sometimes the process and the analysis of other viewpoints is worth doing in itself, even though no solid conclusion will result.

Quote:
and a lot of the other threads that have the aroma of being brought up by a 14 year old or someone who is sophomoric in their belief set who come in with an agenda to make a claim, and then stick to that claim despite their lack of evidence, rhetoric, fluency, etc.
This forum has a lot of 14 year olds. A lot of threads will therefore be started by 14 year olds. It happens. Some of them will stick to their claim. This is not remotely a failing unique to 14 year olds. However, some of them do re-evaluate their beliefs in light of the reasonable evidence that this forum provides. Explain to me how that is not a boon to humanity in general? Many people have improved dramatically their ability to put forward a reasoned argument, and expanded their viewpoint substantially because they were -allowed- even -encouraged- to make their "sophomoric" thread.

Quote:
It is one of the things that I think many of us feels plagues this forum,
Some sort of petition or other source to back up the claim that -many- people would like to see well over half of the kinds of threads made here be completely disallowed would be warranted here, I think.

Quote:
and I'm just trying to develop a concise logical defense against this kind of thing. Critical thinking is not for rampant apologetics, and I think we all commonly agree of that.
Um...apologetics is an integral part of any and every philosophical or critical discourse. Apologetics is the process of addressing objections which have been stated or are likely to be stated in opposition to your point. If nobody practiced apologetics, we'd see a thread go:
I make statement A
I object, on grounds B
Um...I make statement A!

Apologetics is the art of dealing with objection B within the context of statement A, and without the ability to respond to people's objections, CT would stop being about discussion or debate and start being a collection of un-responded to essays.

Quote:
I know what I am saying is probably a basic statement taken to technical levels, but I'm saying it for the purpose of discussion. This is a thread on logical fallacies, and thus I used the logical fallacy that is akin to this kind of apologetics in general, the Petitio Principii fallacy, to try and show the lack of argumentative value in someone who posts with that sort of aroma.
So here it looks like you're trying to forward the claim that "Everybody who practices apologetics begs the question to do so" Which is clearly hogwash. You've practiced apologetics in this very thread, as soon as you said that you were forming "a defense" against "this kind of thing." You were anticipating an objection to your stated point, and then addressed it in advance. That's one of the most common ways to practice apologetics.

You'll forgive my saying so, but this entire post sequence comes across as quite superior and elitist. To claim that some large number of the threads in this forum ought not to be allowed simply because they occasionally -start- speaking to some larger context than you feel they ought to?!

(Further, calling people morons, your line about 'those who do not have the capacity to grasp what I'm explaining', and your dramatic overuse of "hundred-dollar words" doesn't lend you the credibility you seem to think it does. Instead of seperating yourself from the "14 year old aroma" you disdain so much, you instead paint yourself with a "14 year old with a thesaurus" aroma that is pretty unappealing itself.)

A thread entitled "Does God Exist?" implies a question that has no concrete answer. Yes, we know. Presumably the person who made the thread also knows that. If there -were- proof, the answer would already be known.

But please, explain to me how discussion along the lines of "If God -did- exist, what would the ramifications be" and "If God -didn't- exist, what would the ramifications be?" is somehow not worthy of you or this forum.

Last edited by devonin; 07-2-2007 at 01:47 PM..
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