Logical Fallacy #18: Special Pleading

When a faulty argument is noted and objected to, the insertion of fallacious arguments to shore up the falling argument or the subtraction of counter evidence is known as Special Pleading. This is known by several different names – Ad-hoc reasoning, Stacking the Deck, Ignoring the Counter Evidence, Slanting and the One Sided Assessment. It can be seen also by it’s reverse – The God of the Gaps.

There are three variants to this logical fallacy

Additive Special Pleading, or Ad-hoc Reasoning

Ad-hoc literally translates from Latin to English as “and this”, but is used to say “tack this on as well”. These additional explanations are tacked on to the original explanation as an afterthought add on to fix the fault in the original infrastructure of the argument. It fails.

Example –

“Clairvoyance has been demonstrated with large audiences, where the psychic was able to demonstrate knowing things they couldn’t possibly know”

‘Yet when we test them in the laboratory, they score about the same as a random guess’

“That is because the laboratory environment is counter conducive to psychic phenomenon.”

The last statement adds a spurious explanation as to why the counter evidence is faulty. It generally has a flaw in the logic, evidence or makes an untestable claim.

Subtractive Special Pleading

Stacking the Deck, Ignoring the Counter Evidence, Slanting and the One Sided Argument quite literally refers to ignoring evidence that counters the argument made, dismissing vital evidence rather than addressing it. In essence, subtracting from the discussion.

Example 1 –

“All the apples in my orchard are red”

‘what about the green apple tree over there?’

“Ignore that tree, because all of the apples in my orchard are red”.

Example 2 –

“Homeopathy clearly works because all of the testimonies telling us it is so”

‘Yet all of the double blind scientific tests have shown no effect beyond that which can be explained by a placebo – which is to say it is the same as taking nothing’

“Those scientists have an agenda, but here, read these testimonies”

The last statement ignores the additional evidence, dismissing it out of hand and refers back to the first statement as if the objection had never happened, subtracting a point that should be addressed, but isn’t.

The God of the Gaps

This is an argument style that requires further and further details to be provided such that there is no way to provide evidence of each gap in the pattern. I call this a reverse of the Special Pleading because it asks the scientist to provide add on evidence to make the rejected argument better – especially when the argument doesn’t need it. The God of the Gaps technique is to make the argument look bad by asking for evidence that is not needed, and then dismissing the argument when the evidence is not located, or the arguer attempts to educate the individual on how the scientific method works.

Electromagnetic radiation is an excellent example of a spectrum. Look at the bit between red and orange light, and you find a frequency of light all on it’s own (orangey red). Halve the distance between that and your “red” light from earlier, and you will find a frequency between the two (reddish orange). Keep going and you will never stop until you reach the limit of your equipment – but never the limit of the spectrum.

Scientific evidence, if I can use such a misleading term, is often not discovering a perfect spectrum like this. It is finding enough data points that a pattern can be inferred. This inferred pattern is then used to make prediction, which are tested for and if confirmed, adds a level of validity to the inferred pattern, which can be represented as a line or spectrum. Enough confirmation and the pattern is assumed correct until sufficient evidence is found that indicates the pattern is faulty and the spectrum is actually somewhere else. This mechanism has shifted our notions of cosmology from flat Earth, to Terra Centric, to Helio Centric, to Galactic to the Big Bang and from Stuff Falls ya know, to Newtonian Physics, to Einstein’s Relativity and who knows what is next. The new evidence doesn’t delete the previous knowledge, it adds to it, even when the old knowledge was specifically wrong, but generally right.

The God of the Gaps is an attempt to force a scientist to create Special Pleading for the gaps in the evidence that complete the spectrum. If the scientist fails to do so, then the arguer says “aha – it can’t be what you describe, so it must be god/magic/aliens!”

Mostly what this indicates is that the arguer does not understand the principle being debated, or the methods of science. Unfortunately people who tend to use this fallacious technique do not want to learn the methods of science, or the complexity behind the principle, they just want to justify their ignorance and false belief.

A poorly created idea should be tested to see if it stands up. When an idea evolves into a Theory, or is now commonly recognised as a de facto truth by scientists in different fields, it is no longer an idea that should be “tested” by this methodology, especially by the lay person. There is quite an arrogance to the person who says “I have read a bit on the internet about this, and I think thousands of scientists, specialists and researches along with all of their tests are wrong”. Now if that person is a specialist in the field and finds an exception to the Theory and tests for it, publish away, raise a great cry and hue, for others will also want to test your findings and if it is right, you may be the author that updates the entire field.

At some point, I will write more about this God of the Gaps and expand it.