If you get involved in theological or other logical arguments, you will soon come upon the many logical fallacies that all people engage in unless they have educated themselves. Here are three ways you can represent arguments, and one of them is NOT a fallacy.

The Stick Man

The stick man is a reductionist representation of your or their argument where the argument is drastically reduced, and often, important clarifications  are left out. As an opponent, you may do this to make the opponent’s arguments look weak, underdeveloped, or vulnerable to your attacks on their “unrefined and simplistic” ideas, which is a type of strawman attack. You may also take advantage of the ambiguity of such short statements.

However, this approach is also something a proponent can do to limit exposure to criticism, and to make it look like the critic is making unwarranted assumptions about the position. They can claim that your attempts at defining what their ambiguous phrase means are merely strawmen and that you don’t understand the simple definition or are trying to add to it.

For example, atheists often minimize their definition of atheism to a simple “lack of belief in God.” This ambiguous phrase allows them to dodge criticisms by including both agnosticism and hard disbelief (the latter of which can be attacked as a leap of faith, not a confirmable fact), allowing them to hide in whatever minimal or alternate definition evades criticism.

It also isolates them from the possible assumptions and logical conclusions one might draw from this stance, such as subjective moralism, the lack of ontological grounding for human value and rights, and the logical nihilism and hopelessness that can result from such a lack of belief.

The Straw Man

Most of us are familiar with this logical fallacy. This occurs when the opponent’s position is misrepresented, and then summarily dismantled in debate. The problem is, this fake representation, or “straw man,” is not what they believe at all, so while it looks like their position has been defeated, in truth it has not been presented or defeated.

The Steel Man

When we present our position or our opponent’s, we should present the strongest version of their position, the “steel man.” Not only is this intellectually honest, it shows respect for your opponent, gives credibility to you, and indicates that you are interested in finding truth, not winning arguments.