Straw Man

A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position. To "attack a straw man" is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting a superficially similar proposition (the "straw man"), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.

It should be noted that presenting and refuting a weakened form of an opponent's argument can be a part of a valid argument. For example, one can argue that the opposing position implies that at least one of two other statements - both being presumably easier to refute than the original position - must be true. If one refutes both of these weaker propositions, the refutation is valid and does not fit the above definition of a "straw man" argument.

Strictly speaking, there are three ways to deal with a straw man setup. 1. Using the terms of the straw man and refuting the theory itself: Beach debate: "There is no threat to morality with "free" sex. Sex for purposes other than procreation is something that shouldn't be tied to morality, shame, or guilt". Note: A weakness of this retort is that agreeing to use the terminology of the opponent may deflect the debate to a secondary one about the opponent's assumptions). 2. Clarifying the original theory: "I said evolution should be taught, not that I believe in the big bang". This may involve explicitly pointing out the straw man. 3. Questioning the disputation ("Why could it not have been made in six 24-hour days?"). See also Debate