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Circular Reasoning

circulus in demonstrando

(also known as: paradoxical thinking, circular argument, circular cause and consequence, reasoning in a circle)

Description: A type of reasoning in which the proposition is supported by the premises, which is supported by the proposition, creating a circle in reasoning where no useful information is being shared.  This fallacy is often quite humorous.

Logical Form:

X is true because of Y.

Y is true because of X.

Example #1:

Pvt. Joe Bowers: What are these electrolytes? Do you even know?

Secretary of State: They're... what they use to make Brawndo!

Pvt. Joe Bowers: But why do they use them to make Brawndo?

Secretary of Defense: [raises hand after a pause] Because Brawndo's got electrolytes.

Explanation: This example is from a favorite movie of mine, Idiocracy, where Pvt. Joe Bowers (played by Luke Wilson) is dealing with a bunch of not-very-smart guys from the future.  Joe is not getting any useful information about electrolytes, no matter how hard he tries.

Example #2:

The Bible is the Word of God because God tells us it is... in the Bible.

Explanation: This is a very serious circular argument on which many people base their entire lives.  This is like getting an e-mail from a Nigerian prince, offering to give you his billion dollar fortune -- but only after you wire him a “good will” offering of $50,000.  Of course, you are skeptical until you read the final line in the e-mail that reads “I, prince Nubadola, assure you that this is my message, and it is legitimate.  You can trust this e-mail and any others that come from me.”  Now you know it is legitimate... because it says so in the e-mail.

Exception: Some philosophies state that we can never escape circular reasoning because the arguments always come back to axioms or first principles, but in those cases, the circles are very large and do manage to share useful information in determining the truth of the proposition.

Tip: Do your best to avoid circular arguments, as it will help you reason better because better reasoning is often a result of avoiding circular arguments.

References:

Fallacies | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.iep.utm.edu/fallacy



Registered User Comments

Andrew Stitt
Monday, November 06, 2017 - 06:01:38 PM
Some have said I think therefore I am is circular reasoning. Is this true?

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Monday, November 06, 2017 - 06:43:09 PM
Only if they followed with "I am therefore I think" perhaps.

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Bean Sprugget
Thursday, November 02, 2017 - 11:27:47 PM
I really love this comments section. The people are seeking for information, and even when they disagree, they ack politely and intellectually. WAY better than any Youtube comments, that's for sure.

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John Wilson
Thursday, May 11, 2017 - 09:24:03 AM
Example 2 maligns the Bible's claim of authority as an example of a circular reasoning fallacy. However, you provide an EXCEPTION "Exception: Some philosophies state that we can never escape circular reasoning because the arguments always come back to axioms or first principles, but in those cases, the circles are very large and do manage to share useful information in determining the truth of the proposition."

What Circle is LARGER than an infinite God who remains outside of Time, Space, and Matter. -- none of which may exist independent of the others (if matter without space, WHERE would you put it? If space and matter without time WHEN would you put it?) The God of the Bible exists outside of the dimensions. Genesis 1:1 "In the beginning (TIME), GOD created the Heavens (SPACE) and the Earth (MATTER). AND it was God's Spiritual Force brought them into existence.

God is the Beginning and the End... "I AM that I AM." He is, was, and always will be outside of the largest circle we can possibly imagine. He IS the source of every First Principle. Ergo, the God Who inspired the Bible is by nature a circular reasoning that reveals more than enough information to explain Immutable unchangeable, transcendent Truth. Without God, there can be no Truth OR Logic.

Therefore, the Bible's appeals to its own authority as God's Word because God said so is another large circle within the greatest Circle of all.

If THIS is not so, then there can be no exceptions to the Rule of Circular Reasoning.

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Thursday, May 11, 2017 - 09:41:57 AM
What Circle is LARGER than an infinite God who remains outside of Time, Space, and Matter.

You are equivocating the word "large." By large, I am referring to the number of connections between each reason; you are using "large" as in importance.

Another problem is, you are asserting "an infinite God who remains outside of Time, Space, and Matter." I can simply assert "magic" that created your god. Or, I can make any claim and assert that "magic" validates my claim. See the problem? Perhaps you are convinced that your brand of god exists, but it provides no explanatory power to those who don't agree that your god exists. "God" is not an axiom—it is an assertion. Likewise, in Islam, they assert that Mohammad is the prophet of God, therefore, the Koran is true. If you understand why you deny this claim, then you will understand why people who don't believe in your god deny your claim that "the Bible is true because God tells us in the Bible."

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MrMatt
Wednesday, July 12, 2017 - 09:33:58 AM
@Bo Bennett, PhD:
Registered an account to say spot on! I have never seen such a clear an apt response to the time old fallacy that is most religions. Circular reasoning is by far and away the very core of most religions. Well put Bo!

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RP
Monday, October 23, 2017 - 12:44:18 PM
@Bo Bennett, PhD:
What about the evidence from the early Church Fathers who knew Jesus' Disciples, the heretics of the faith, and the work Saint Luke did in interviewing eye witnesses? The Disciples didn't entirely believe until Jesus rose from the grave, because they went back to fishing after his crucifixion. Paul the apostle was a great persecutor of Christianity until the Jesus changed him.

Also, what evidence do you require for the Bible not be circular reasoning? In other words, what would make the Bible true for you?

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Monday, October 23, 2017 - 01:32:22 PM
@RP: If you are interested, I have outline all my thoughts on Christianity in my book, The Concept.

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RP
Monday, October 23, 2017 - 01:59:08 PM
@Bo Bennett, PhD:
Thank you for your non-response. That is strange. Maybe my question was too difficult. Here's a simpler question: If Christianity were true would you become a Christian? I think you have not considered what Holiness is. Happy to have an off-line chat through email. Thanks for responding.

I may purchase your book as I'm open to looking at information. However, your first bullet point isn't true. The Bible doesn't literally say it's 6,000 years old. What type narrative genre is the Pentateuch? Could you please cite the verse where the Bible tells us that is 6,000 years old? I understand the Adamic family tree, his ancestor's life expectancy.

• Science tells us that the universe is 13.7 billion years old, but the Bible tells us it's 6,000 years old.

How much has passed from Genesis verse 1-4?

Genesis 1:1-4
1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

• Science tells us life is the result of emergent properties in combined molecules, and we have evolved from a very primitive life form, but the Bible says that God made us, as is, from dust, and blew life in our noses.

Science has yet to use the scientific method to prove this. No one has seen nothing create something let alone all the materials for the entire universe. Then you need to explain how chemicals turned into life. Look up Abiogenesis and nucleosynthesis.

In kindness.

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Monday, October 23, 2017 - 02:13:55 PM
@RP: Your question wasn't too difficult; just not related to logical fallacies. I have spent 3 years of my life researching religion and debating. Unless you have some new arguments (nothing new in your post), then I suggest you call into the Atheist Experience and share your thoughts there.

As for the age of the earth and the bible, see https://answersingenesis.org/age-of-the-earth/how-old-is-the-earth/. Of course, people can use the Bible to "prove" virtually anything. But if you read my book you will know that :)

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RP
Monday, October 23, 2017 - 02:33:27 PM
@Bo Bennett, PhD:
It doesn't matter how long you have been studying something that determines if you are right or wrong. Wouldn't science fall apart if that were true? Or, how many debates you have had. I applaud your engagement in these important questions. Are you being intellectually sincere? You seem to be searching for an authority, even claiming that I should accept your experiences as authority, The Atheist Experience, Ken Ham's ministry, etc. It's true because I someone said so. Isn't that point and case the appeal to authority fallacy?

I've never been able to find an atheist to reasonably answer this simple question. Give it a shot you are a highly decorated scholar:

If Christianity were true would you become a Christian?

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Monday, October 23, 2017 - 02:36:50 PM
@RP: Again, this is not the place for theological debates. Post your question here and I will answer it: https://www.askahumanist.com. And I strongly suggest that you clearly define "Christianity" as well as "Christian".

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RP
Monday, October 23, 2017 - 02:47:56 PM
@Bo Bennett, PhD:
Just purchased your book! :) Don't forget to sign it!

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Monday, October 23, 2017 - 02:48:29 PM
@RP: Thanks! Much appreciated :)

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former student
Thursday, June 15, 2017 - 11:43:23 AM
Aristotle is considered by many as the father of logic...yet he declared the Earth to be the center of the universe which people wrongfully believed for nearly 1900 years if I recall correctly. If logic were always true, it wouldn't need to be called logic - it would simply be called the truth. :)

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former student
Thursday, June 15, 2017 - 11:49:35 AM
The only way for logic to always be true, is for someone to already know everything...which isn't possible. So the question then becomes, do we care more about an argument - or more about the truth? I meet (philosophical) people on occasion who openly declare they're more interested in a valid argument, even if it results in a wrong conclusion...something I suspect even Aristotle would disagree with. :)

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Thursday, June 15, 2017 - 11:55:17 AM
Logic is not the same as truth, it is a method to determine what is or is not true.

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former student
Thursday, June 15, 2017 - 11:55:35 AM
Aristotle wasn't that far off base, the Earth is the center of the universe...but not for physical mass, but rather for life. We have an estimated 8.7 million species living almost effortlessly on Earth...and after maybe 6 decades of space exploration, along with even only 10% of Hubble's deep field range of 10-15 million light years in all radial directions outward - we have zero life found outside of Earth so far. Assuming only 1 million light years of Hubble's deep field, that's 1e6 x 5.879e12 miles of viewing distance (5.879e18 miles).

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former student
Thursday, June 15, 2017 - 11:58:38 AM
@Bo Bennett, PhD: Hi Bo, but unfortunately logic has no way to know when it's wrong...just like Aristotle's problem...we see it all the time in courtrooms, attorneys even block evidence when possible such that they can force a wrong conclusion in order to save a client or convict an opposing defendent.

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Thursday, June 15, 2017 - 11:59:13 AM
@Alan Halac: "logic to always be true" - that really does not make sense, but I get what you are saying. Philosophy is a lot of verbal games - similar to what lawyers use to argue that their guilty client is innocent. Logic, reason, and philosophy are all very different, however.

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former student
Thursday, June 15, 2017 - 12:03:31 PM
@Bo Bennett, PhD: The power behind logic is it's ability to rationalize to any conclusion, even the wrong one. Without knowing everything, you can't necessarily recognize the truth...even if the conclusion looks right or plausible, it may be entirely wrong unknowingly. Just like digital technology which requires a minimum (Nyquist) sampling rate for a correct reproduction, if you under-sample below Nyquist...you'll have a result that even sounds related (when it isn't) b/c of the aliasing that's occurring.

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Thursday, June 15, 2017 - 12:13:04 PM
@Alan Halac: If we use the word "logic" in a casual sense (like "argumentation"), then I would agree that we can make arguments appear to support a false conclusion—but that is exactly what this book is about. Also using REASON to spot those errors/tricks and get to the truth more often.

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former student
Thursday, June 15, 2017 - 12:21:34 PM
It's amazing how many people still believe that life will be found in space, despite most of space being violently against the existence of life. They often declare that the vastness of space would have to include additional life statistically speaking, and then reject the notion that us being the first or the last species would also have a similar statistical likelihood...that we may be here entirely alone. Despite all that is known, people continue to declare that zero (life) is still a non-zero number unfortunately.

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former student
Thursday, June 15, 2017 - 12:34:35 PM
@Bo Bennett, PhD: Sorry Bo, for the conclusion of logic to always be true...

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