In my last post on this subject, I defined the red herring argument as "an argument that looks good, but is actually irrelevant to the content of the discussion." Wikipedia goes farther to say that a red herring argument is a deliberate attempt to digress from the content of the discussion. This is more devious than an innocent, irrelevant response to an argument, although I am not sure if the term "red herring" these days must refer to something deliberate.
A good example of a red herring argument is the "selection effect" in regards to the anthropic principle, which I have discussed in earlier posts. Here is the low down:
Greg: "The universe appears to have a very high degree of design (fine-tuning for the benefit of life), which would be very unlikely to happen by random chance. Therefore, it seems reasonable to conclude that God created this universe with a purpose."
Response: "Well, no, of course this universe appears designed. If it weren't so finely-tuned, we wouldn't even be here to observe it!"
Using an outline of our logic, we can easily see why the response is irrelevant:
- Premise: This universe would never happen by strictly naturalistic means.
- Conclusion: God created the universe.
- Rebuttal: We wouldn't be here if the universe didn't happen the way it did.