Wisdom Wednesday: What’s a Red Herring?

Photo by: Marcello eM

Photo by: Marcello eM via stock.xchng

Have you ever walked away from an argument wondering, “What just happened?” Have you ever tried to reason with someone and felt like you went around and around in circles? In light of last night’s debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye, I can’t help but address this topic. It was filled with logical fallacies. So the purpose of this post is to offer wisdom in recognizing logical fallacies and avoiding bad arguments.

Proverbs 26: 4, 5 says, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you yourself also be like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own estimation.”

At first glance, there appears to be a contradiction, but there isn’t. What those two verses are basically saying is not to answer a question or topic from a presupposition or logic that is flawed, and not to ignore the question, but rather to answer it from the valid position, using solid evidence and logic.

So what is a red herring? If you have watched crime shows or old B&W mystery movies, you may have heard the term. A red herring is a technique used by throwing in a subject that is not related to the original. It’s like planting false evidence in an attempt to throw someone off the trail to solving a crime.

“Fear not those who argue but those who dodge.” —Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach

One year as part of our homeschooling curriculum, I purchased a book called The Fallacy Detective: Thirty-Eight Lessons on How to Recognize Bad Reasoning. My second son loved it! It was as if a light bulb went off in his head, and he was better equipped to perform critical thinking skills and think logically.

Rhetorical Fallacies is an excellent quick, online guide to recognizing logical fallacies.


About Rene Yoshi

Just a transplanted Okinawan-French Southern girl with a wee bit o' Irish, sharing photography and what I'm learning about spiritual things, including putting off legalism and religious traditions, and embracing God's matchless love, tender mercy, and amazing grace! View all posts by Rene Yoshi

11 responses to “Wisdom Wednesday: What’s a Red Herring?

  • Scott

    “Logic” has very little to do with the rightness or wrongness of an equation; it has everything to do how the answer is reached. 2+2=5, 3+3=7, 4=4=9 are all incorrect arithmetically but seen as a logical ‘string’, they make perfect logic. Too many time believers unwittingly accept a false premise in their argumentation and find themselves backed into an embarassing corner. Instead, as Rene Yoshi suggests, deny the presuppositional premise and get the debate on its real track. Simply because something ‘sounds logical’ doesn’t make it so.

  • Tienny


    Thanks for this resources. Just nice what I need. Does keeping quiet will cause the person to misunderstand me as someone who don’t know anything?

    Best Regards, Tienny The http://tienny.wordpress.com


    • Rene Yoshi

      It very well could, but not saying anything could also leave the person in ignorance yet believing their understanding is true and factual. The person may not be swayed, and we want to avoid endless arguments, so I knowing how to spot logical fallacies can help discern where a person’a heart might be, too.

      • Liberty of Thinking

        I rather reluctantly leave a comment, because as someone who either assisted, or personally debated from a fundamentalist perspective for nearly two decades, I learned the “trade’s” well guarded, dirty tricks, the muddy secrets behind a very lucrative business, where faith is measured on bank account movements, enmity and alliances are forged and betrayed, where the gullible masses of Christians have no idea who their “idols” truly are. “Debates” are never true debates, but carefully prepared presentations with pre-aranged lists of questions, where the last man standing is the one who has learned to NOT reply to the questions, but divert over to sure grounds, and from there to prepare for the final shot aimed at ONE weakness left uncovered by the opponent.
        As for Logic, it can be useful only for factual truths, where neither theistic faith, nor atheistic faith have no place to stand. Logical reasoning deals with verifiable data, which neither can claim. The rest is just philosophical and rethoric sabre rattling.
        It was fact based logical reasoning pursued to the equation’s end which compelled me out this complicated web of lies and hope, called religion, to which theism and atheism are the facets of the same coin called human despair.

      • Rene Yoshi

        Liberty, I have no doubt some events and presentations are very calculated and manipulating for personal or political gain, but I still have ‘faith’ that some are on the up-and-up and done from good motives. As for the recent debate, even if it was well choreographed, I still also believe human nature or the hearts of men reveal themselves. If we are speaking concerning verifiable evidence with regards to our origin and things we have very little or no first-person accounts, then I agree that neither theists nor atheists can claim. That was one of the points to which Ken Ham responded by using the term “prove”. Without having ourselves witnessed and tested something by using the scientific method, we can neither prove nor disprove anything, we can only theorize. And oftentimes, our conclusions are based more on presuppositions and sometimes on emotions than on the evidences. That’s why sometimes I wish I was a Vulcan, but only briefly, because even though I do not relish despair, I can not imagine never feeling giddy. [chuckle]

  • Sandra @ Word HUGS by Sandra

    Thanks, Rene. I just sent this information to my sons.

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