Using bad math to defeat a strawman

All hail the strawman, that ancient rhetorical trick in which we create an argument superficially similar to the one our opponent’s making, but tweaked just enough to make it trivially easy for us to defeat – a caricature of the real argument. It’s a fantastic way keep your opponent busy enough to stop him from advancing his actual argument, and it can score points with the unattentive. But, it’s still a fallacy – if you defeat an argument nobody is making (and that no knowledgable person would make anyway), what have you really won? Well, that depends on the audience.

For example, if you’re ostensibly trying to present a refutation of evolution, but you’re actually just preaching to the choir by arguing against a strawman version of evolution, while counting on the scientific and mathematical ignorance of your audience to keep them from knowing you’re full of shit, you might get the already-convinced to nod their heads approvingly. And that might be enough to sell some books or generate some ad revenue for your web site. Maybe that’s all you’re trying to do.

But, be careful; there’s always the chance your ‘work’ will turn up in the hands of someone who actually knows what he’s talking about.