This is a simple and self-evidently fallacious technique, yet it would be difficult to find an author who has not, at some stage, indulged it to some degree—largely because all analogies that aren’t actually tautologies are not, strictly speaking, true in logical terms. The following extract, however, shows how important questions of degree are—along with the elusive question of what we judge to be reasonable or unreasonable. In the spirit of a debate currently animating Prospect’s blog and postbag, it is taken from Peter Hitchens’s review in the Daily Mail of his brother Christopher’s God is not Great:
As the serpent promises: “Ye shall be as gods.” These may be the most important words in the whole Bible.
Take the enticing satanic advice, and you arrive, quite quickly, at revolutionary terror, at the invention of the atom bomb, at the torture chamber and the building of concentration camps for those unteachable morons who do not share your vision of a just world.
And also you arrive at the idea, embraced by Christopher, that by invading Iraq, you can make the world a better place.
An astonishing number of assumptions and equivalences are crammed into these three paragraphs, but their besetting error is that of false analogy—lumping together a roll call of items that are, supposedly, similar enough to constitute of themselves a coherent argument.
Peter Hitchens may, of course, truly believe that his brother’s support for the invasion of Iraq is best understood in the light of Satan’s words in the garden of Eden; but the pretence that he can offer a coherent historical argument supporting this claim (as is implied by the words “you arrive at…” ) is dishonest. What we are given is a series of opinionated descriptions pretending to be an argument, underpinned by the demonstrably false assumption that the analogies between a Biblical story, revolutionary terror, the invention of the atom bomb, concentration camps and American foreign policy are so self-evident they need not be spelled out. Analogies there may well be, but unless these are precisely defined and qualified, they can have no force or validity (or utility).
Speciousness-watchers may enjoy combing through Peter’s review for their further edification, furnished as it is with gems like these—”We abolished the gallows… and found we had created an armed police and an epidemic of prison suicides,” or ” If you do not worship God, you end up worshipping power.” It’s enough to make you wonder who the real devil’s advocate is.