It’s tempting sometimes to reduce one’s own position in some matter of importance to such a simplistic description that no one could possibly disagree with it. For example, a presidential candidate might say, “Let’s make America great again!” Or—to be fair to all sides—the candidate might offer “Change we can believe in!” In either case, the unthinking voter may respond with, “Hey! That sounds great. Let’s vote for that guy!”
Of course, we’re all shrewd enough to know that these crowd-winning simplisms mean more than they disclose. In Trump’s case, MAGA entails any number of right-wing policies which are hardly as palatable to many voters as the general idea of making America great is. In Obama’s case, the hopey-changey stuff represented leftist policies which were also objectionable to many voters who loved the general ideas of hope and change.
So, why do politicians so often do this? The answer is because it works. It’s much harder to get voters to pull the lever for you when you divulge in detailed statements your actual policy-positions than when you sloganeer in broad and intentionally ambiguous red, white, and blue brush strokes.
As effective as it is though, this rhetorical tactic is really a veiled dishonesty. It’s a kind of a misrepresentation of one’s own position for purposes of winning an argument or a vote—a converse straw-man of sorts. In fact, it is an informal logical fallacy known as the Iron-man Fallacy:
The iron man works like the straw man. You take an argument (or an arguer), distort his argument, pick an unrepresentative feature of his argument, or you invent an argument the person does not make all in order to make the argument the person makes appear to be stronger than it is. This has the related effect of making the critics look unfair, unhinged, or shrill. More importantly, it may serve to cover over the real vices of someone’s position.
Why does this matter for apologetics? Because this tactic isn’t limited to politics. It also crops up in issues of significance for our faith. For example, my daughter was recently taught that “Evolution is just change over time” (hereafter, E = C/T). Now, anyone with the slightest familiarity with evolutionary theory knows that this statement is deceitfully simplistic. Consider the following words from the website of the University of California at Berkeley (of all places!):
Biological evolution is not simply a matter of change over time. Lots of things change over time: trees lose their leaves, mountain ranges rise and erode, but they aren’t examples of biological evolution because they don’t involve descent through genetic inheritance.
The central idea of biological evolution is that all life on Earth shares a common ancestor, just as you and your cousins share a common grandmother.
Through the process of descent with modification, the common ancestor of life on Earth gave rise to the fantastic diversity that we see documented in the fossil record and around us today. Evolution means that we’re all distant cousins: humans and oak trees, hummingbirds and whales.
E = C/T is a powerful oversimplification that amounts to philosophical sleight of hand: “Pay no attention to the enormous metaphysical implications behind the curtain, children! Look! Look at the swimming iguana! Isn’t that neat? By the way, you came from nothing. You’re here for nothing. You will return to nothing.”
Evolution is so much more than “just change over time.” It is a set of philosophical commitments about God, human nature, and the origins of matter, life, consciousness, and morals. It is the sophisticated soul-eliminating, thought-shaping doctrine being taught to your children in public schools.
E ≠ C/T. To say that it does is dishonest. To mindlessly accept that it does is sheepish. To allow your child to believe that it does is exceedingly foolish. So, how can you equip your child to deal with this problem? In my next blog, I will share with you the strategy I use with my child.
 See Mia’s class notes where she summarizes what she was taught.