The Fallacy of Equivocation

Posted on Jun 4, 2011 in Logical Fallacies

This is a subcategory of the fallacy of ambiguity and it’s also known as the Bait-and-Switch or the fallacy of four terms. This fallacy is committed when the meaning of a word is shifted in the course of an argument. This is one of the most common fallacies committed by evolutionists when the world “evolution” is used. Evolution simply means “change” in a general sense, or it can refer to the idea that life is descended from a common ancestor. Either meaning is legitimate, but the two should not be mixed within an argument as follows:

Example 1: “Creationists do not believe in evolution. But evolution happens – everyday things change. So it is absurd for creationists to deny evolution”. The word evolution is used twice in this sentence. The first time it’s simply used to mean “change” whilst the 2nd time referred to the common descent. This argument commits the fallacy of equivocation. Clearly, there is nothing contradictory about denying some kinds of alleged change (common descent) while accepting other kinds of change.

Example 2: “Evolution is a fact, we see it in animals as they adapt to their environment !”. The first part of this statement is referring to allegedly idea where animals change from one kind to another (common descent) whilst the 2nd part is referring to the observable small variation within the kind. This is also known as the bait-and-switch fallacy. Evolutionists use a known scientific observation and then later switch to another meaning to promote common descent. This kind of argument is usually presented due to ignorance of the theory or just a dirty trick. Unfortunately, in my experience it’s usually the latter.

Example 3: “Science is a very powerful and reliable tool; it has allowed us to develop technology, and even to put men on the moon. So why would people deny the science of evolution?”. The argument equivocates on the word “science” which can either mean operational science or origins science. Operation science is the reliable, trustworthy tool that is responsible for technology. Origins science is an attempt to understand past events in light of present evidence; it’s much more easily tainted by historical bias than operation science and is not directly testable or repeatable. The two types of science should not be mixed within an argument.

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