A straw man argument is an argument that is set up so that it can easily be defeated. This is a favoured technique of politicians. MediaMatters.org provides some excellent examples of George W. Bush’s use of straw man arguments. (Josh Kalven, “Now they tell us: AP exposed Bush’s use of straw man arguments after years of uncritically reporting them,” Media Matters For America, http://mediamatters.org/research/2006/03/21/now-they-tell-us-ap-exposed-bushs-use-of-straw/135182 (accessed 28 June 2013).
In the article, Bush is criticized for his approach to building up a weak argument, only to knock it down to support his arguments. Here’s the model that Bush used (according to the AP’s Jennifer Loven):
When the president starts a sentence with “some say” or offers up what “some in Washington” believe, as he is doing more often these days, a rhetorical retort almost assuredly follows.
The device usually is code for Democrats or other White House opponents. In describing what they advocate, Bush often omits an important nuance or substitutes an extreme stance that bears little resemblance to their actual position.
He typically then says he “strongly disagrees” — conveniently knocking down a straw man of his own making.
Bush routinely is criticized for dressing up events with a too-rosy glow. But experts in political speech say the straw man device, in which the president makes himself appear entirely reasonable by contrast to supposed “critics,” is just as problematic.
Richard Dawkins employs similar devices in his attacks against religious belief as well.
Richard Dawkins provides several arguments for God’s existence, starting with some serious philosophical justifications for the existence of God. Unfortunately, Dawkins dismisses these arguments without properly addressing them, and he moves on from sophisticated arguments to some extremely weak “proofs” that have little in common with current, philosophically challenging explanations for the existence of God.
Let’s go through Dawkins arguments one by one and see what we’re left with.
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