Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 3:19 AM

Maybe it struck me because I just spent several hours reading a logic text. Maybe it is just the fact that I tend to love locating logical fallacies — especially post hoc fallacies. At any rate, the American Family Association gave me another reason to shake my head. According to an e-mail from them that was forwarded to me:

The boycott of Ford Motor Company continues to be effective. Sales in August dropped 11.6%. This follows drops of 5% in March,
7% in April, 2% in May, 6.8% in June and 4.1% in July.

Let's consider this in the form of a logical argument. The AFA has told people to boycott Ford because of its support of homosexuality and Ford's sales are dropping, therefore the boycott is effective. This just screams of the type of propaganda that the AFA normally uses. The letter continues by noting how “stubborn” Ford is for continuing to support “homosexual groups:”

“Rather than save money by cutting financial support to homosexual groups, Ford plans to cut production by 21%, trim the number of
dealers, reportedly is seeking a merger or alliance with another auto
maker, studying taking the company private, and considering selling
their Jaguar, Volvo and Land Rover units.”

Now, if Ford had been doing great when the boycott began, I'd concede maybe the boycott is working. I might even be happy the boycott is working — I am, after all, on the same side as the AFA in rejecting “homosexual rights” such as homosexual marriage. But, the point must be made that all of the American car companies are facing major struggles at the moment, and only Ford is being boycotted. Moreover, Ford's woes go back several years before the AFA decided to boycott the company. All of the strategies the AFA mentions Ford considering are sensible given Ford's situation. Its buying spree of the mid-to-late 90s was ill-advised, lower purchasing necessitates lower production and less dealers, etc. GM is working through a similar set of considerations, and Chrysler already followed through with the idea of merging with another car maker (I guess the AFA missed the “Ask Dr. Z” commercials that remind everyone that Chrysler is a division of DaimlerChrysler).

Now, the AFA may be illogical and prone to hyperbole, but they aren't stupid. They admit this, but only farther down in the e-mail, after some (many?) may have gone off to celebrate the power of their boycotting the Blue Oval. That admission reads:

“While Ford, General Motors and Chrysler had similar financial problems when the AFA boycott began, most analysts see General Motors and Chrysler conditions improving. While not responsible for all of Ford's financial problems, the boycott is not doubt having a major effect. Ford blames it on the cost of gasoline. But General Motors and Chrysler face the same problem of $3 a gallon gas, yet their situation is improving.”

This too draws on logical fallacies. While constant talk of GM teetering on bankruptcy protection does not strike me as much of an improvement, there have been signs maybe — maybe — GM and the Chrysler Group are fighting back (though Chrysler lost market share in the most recent quarter, as I recall, whereas a few quarters ago, it was gaining market share). But, let's say both GM and Chrysler are doing better. The AFA is assuming a domestic car market where all else is equal (_ceteris paribus_). Could GM and Chrysler's “improving fortunes” maybe, possibly, sorta kinda have something to do with the little bitty fact that those two companies have been busy with major product line changes? Look at the Chrysler Group! Dodge has an almost totally redesigned lineup, Jeep is over doubling its variety of models, and the namesake marquee is midway through a similar makeover. On the other hand, Ford's makeover of products has been going on for a little longer, and their styling, features and marketing just seem far less impressive. Just why would I buy a generic looking Ford Five Hundred over a Honda Accord? Does anyone really think the 2006 Ford Freestar looks that much different from a 1999 Ford Windstar?

Why does this bother me so much? Because I think the AFA's actions generally do more to make Christianity look bad than good. “Christians really must hate homosexuals if they are willing to go so far as to decide what $20,000+ vehicle they will buy just because Ford gives to some homosexual charities,” is the type of thing I see people reading into actions like this. Precisely what does that really accomplish? Does it preach the love of Christ to anyone? Does anyone receive the Gospel because I didn't buy a Ford? Does anyone become “straight” because I didn't buy a Ford? Does it even save a life? When the AFA not only does these actions, but then justifies them with questionable analysis of statistics, I just find myself irritated.

Let's find something better to do then make the Church look like its main purpose is to condemn the world, eh? Let's “believe in the future salvation of all people” and then see what useful thing we can do toward this end.

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