Make Your Editor Cry: Raising the question vs. Begging the question

Make Your Editor Cry:  Raising the question vs. Begging the question

In classical logic, begging the question is an informal fallacy similar to circular reasoning, known as a fallacy from relevance, that occurs when an argument’s premises assume the truth of the conclusion instead of supporting it. The origin of the begging the question fallacy can be traced back to the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. His original Greek writing was later translated into Latin, and one of the 13 fallacies listed in De Sophisticis Elenchis (Sophistical Refutations) was phrased as “petitio principii.” This should have been literally translated as “assuming the initial point” or “assuming the conclusion.” But some time in the 16th century the term was translated into English as “begging the question.”

So, at least we know who to blame.

In short, the fallacy of begging the question is committed when a person assumes what he is attempting to prove, or when the premise of an argument actually depends upon its conclusion.

Examples:

Evolution is true because we evolved for millions of years.

God doesn't exist because God performs miracles and miracles violate the laws of nature.

The
Bible cannot be true because it teaches the earth is only thousands of
years old but we know the earth is billions of years old.

The above examples commonly spouted by atheists all commit the fallacy of begging the question because they either assume what they are attempting to prove is established fact or else the premise of the argument actually depends upon its own conclusion. So, it would be correct to say that each of the above examples begs the question.

However, people commonly use “begs the question” to mean “clearly makes you wonder” or “raises a follow-up question.” This is wrong. Better phrases could be, “raised the question” or “leads to the question” because “begs the question” actually means “assumes what it should be proving.”

Incorrect:

John Smith rose two points in the polls last week which begs the question, can he overtake his opponent?

Correct:

Atheists
claim that it makes no sense to deny evolution because we all evolved
from a common ancestor, but this entire argument begs the question.

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