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With the question-begging epithet, the arguer uses biased (often emotional) language to persuade people rather than using logic.
One of the most common fallacies committed by evolutionists on the Internet is the fallacy of the question-begging epithet. This could be considered a specific sub-type of begging the question (the fallacy of merely assuming what one is trying to prove).
With the question-begging epithet, the arguer uses biased (often emotional) language to persuade people rather than using logic. For example, if a reporter said,
“This criminal is charged with violently murdering the innocent victim,”
she would be using a question-begging epithet because she has used biased language to make a case that is not yet logically established. It would have been more objective for her to say,
“This suspect is charged with killing the other person.”
Some great examples of question-begging epithets can be found on some evolution internet sites—particularly forums or blogs. I saw one example where an evolutionist wrote,
“Our department is becoming infested with creationists.”
The word infested is emotionally charged and portrays creationists in a bad light without making any argument for this. Another writer stated,
“To be a creationist, you’d have to ignore tons of scientific evidence.”
This remark is the fallacy of the question-begging epithet because it uses biased language (and not logic) to suggest that scientific evidence supports evolution.
There is a place for emotional language. After all, language has other purposes than to make logical arguments. It can be used to inform, to question, to command, and to evoke. However, when people try to evoke an emotional response to persuade others of a point that is logically questionable, the fallacy of the question-begging epithet is committed.
Yelling or vulgar language during a debate is always an example of this fallacy. Many times people will turn up the vocal volume to compensate for a lack of cogency in their argument. Ironically, many of those who use mocking or vulgar language in forums seem to think that their rhetoric constitutes a good argument. Far from it. Such language is an indication of a serious lack of critical thinking skills.1
Question-begging epithets can be subtle. Consider this phrase: “evolution vs. creationism.” By attaching -ism to the end of creation but not to evolution, the person is subtly suggesting that creation is merely a belief, whereas evolution is not. But he or she has made no argument for this.
“Creationists believe that the universe is young, but the best scientists tell us that it is billions of years old.”
By using the adjective to describe those scientists who believe in an old universe, this argument uses biased language rather than logic to persuade. It is fallacious.
Here is another example:
“The Creation ‘Museum’ isn’t about science at all, but is entirely about a peculiar, quirky, very specific interpretation of the Bible.”
The author provided no support for this opinion; it is simply an emotional reaction. He also attempts to deride the Creation Museum by putting the word museum in quotes. His claim is nothing but a fallacious epithet. When people use sarcastic/sardonic statements in place of logic, they commit the fallacy of the question-begging epithet. For example,
“Yeah Tyrannosauridae were herbovirus [sic] too before The Fall [sic]. With razor sharp teeth to kill the tenacious shrubberies!”
Such statements are designed to stir people’s emotions, thereby distracting them from the realization that no logical case has been made.
Another common example is when someone accuses an opponent of committing a logical fallacy when it is not the case. A false accusation of a logical fallacy is itself a logical fallacy. This might happen, for example, after a creationist has politely and cogently pointed out a number of fallacies in an evolutionist’s reasoning, and then makes a good argument for creation. In an attempt to turn the tables, the evolutionist responds by saying,
“Well, that’s a fallacy!”
But he has made no logical case that the creationist has indeed committed a fallacy, which makes the evolutionist’s claim itself an arbitrary question-begging epithet.
In Ephesians 5:6 we read, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” An evolutionist may be very emotionally committed to his position and may use biased (or mocking) language in an attempt to evoke a similar emotion in others. However, this is logically irrelevant to whether or not his belief is true.
When people use mere rhetoric (“empty words”) without providing a logical reason for their position, we must cordially point out that they have not made a logical argument; they are simply being arbitrary. Conversely, Christians are to take the “high ground” and always give a good reason for the confidence within us (1 Peter 3:15).
Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.