Permissible Argument From Authority

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Permissible Argument From Authority

Postby ExTech » Fri Jan 19, 2007 12:35 am

I know this forum isn't, strictly speaking, an evolution board, but I thought I'd float this anyway because, as y'all keep demonstratin' on yer shows, it's repeat-topic with AE's call-ins regardless.

Does anyone (else, since I do think so) think there might be a benefit to creating some kind of argument from authority to respond to evolution's challengers who keep advancing the same old "zingers"?

I can't think of how to phrase it, but basically it boils down to: "Do you really think scientists, who do this stuff for a living, haven't thought of that already?"

I know that it's flawed as formal logic, but it's a common enough real world concern in areas like intellectual property and entrepreneurship. Especially entrepreneurship: you wanna know beforehand that your "brilliant idea" hasn't been tried, unsuccessfully, before you start pouring in all your time, money, blood, sweat and tears.

Now I know that the SPOKEN rebuttal could be something like, "well I guess those scientists aren't so smart after all, are they?" But I have to believe that, for all but the most close-minded among them, it'd cause SOME concern. Maybe even, wishful thinking though it may be, plant a seed of doubt?

I've heard Matt say something like this (many many times), usually as a very well put (and very patiently articulated) rhetorical question.

I just wonder whether (and suspect that actually) it could help to trot out additional authority, like Nobel prize winners, the National Academy, celebrity names like Dawkins, Hawking, etc.

Now, ultimately, this is just a trick (like Matt, I'm a longtime magician, which dovetails nicely with trial law). But I think it could be an effective trick. It won't, of course, work in a formal debate or an online discussion, where (a) it could be called out as faulty logic and/or (b) counter-authorities like Behe and jailbird-Kent could be trotted out. But I have to believe that, at least informally, it could get people thinking.

I mean, do they really think professional scientists haven't thought of and thought past notions that:

(1) explosions only break things so the Big Bang couldn't have made the universe

(2) cats don't turn into dogs

(3) all mutations are harmful

(4) there are still monkeys

and so on ad nauseum.

This only just occurred to me, so I apologize if it seems half-baked. I'll post more once I bake it more.
Last edited by ExTech on Sun Mar 04, 2012 9:48 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Erik » Fri Jan 19, 2007 3:35 pm

I think there is a difference between scientific consensus and argument from authority.

It's one thing to back your argument with one qualified person, but quite another when it is the concensus among many independent qualified persons. If someone doesn't accept consensus, then that leads to the pointless arguments of 'If you've never been to Paris, how can you say it exists'.
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Postby Sans_Deity » Fri Jan 19, 2007 5:57 pm

Arguments from authority are fine. It's only a fallacy if the person (or book) isn't actually an authority on the subject they're discussing.

If my doctor says I'm eating too many carbs - he's (hopefully) not just tossing out a wild-ass guess. If my mom says it, she probably is.

Creationists, and religionists in general, love this notion of "equality" - as if every explanation is equally questionable. "Believing in evolution takes just as much faith as believing god created everything. Where you there? Hmm?!?"

It's nonsense, and it's their way to attempt to discredit experts. They've spent thousands of years listening to people point out that their arguments are fallacious due to an appeal to authority (the Bible) - and instead of understanding it, they're going to try to use that same claim against the opposition.

It's a bit like someone who overhears a nifty new word and then attempts to use it. If they don't understand it, it's amazing what sort of sentences they'll construct.

-Matt
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Postby ExTech » Fri Jan 19, 2007 9:04 pm

Thank you for clarifying that, Matt & Erik. It's always a bit distressing to me when I realize I've bought into one of the fundies' presumptions. Then again, I was once impressed with Pascal's Wager (loooong ago).
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Postby Erik » Fri Jan 19, 2007 11:10 pm

Arguments from authority are fine. It's only a fallacy if the person (or book) isn't actually an authority on the subject they're discussing.


I disagree. Taking the word of someone who appears to be qualified isn't a sufficient argument, there needs to be some facts involved.

If my doctor tells me to eat less carbs, the authority does make me take her more seriously, but I also correlate that with the fact that I'm overweight. If my doctor tells me I need a surgery, I want something to correlate with that like symptoms, test results, or a second opinion.

Frequently, this fallacy appears when you 'shop' for the authority that agrees with you. For example, if I seek out a doctor that says I should eat more carbs even though every other doctor would say I shouldeat less, then I could argue that a doctor says I should eat more carbs. That sounds convincing until you know about all the other doctors and the facts involved. Just having an authority figure that agrees with you isn't a sufficient argument unless you have some facts.
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Postby Sans_Deity » Fri Jan 19, 2007 11:46 pm

I didn't mean to imply:

'just because a recognized authority says it, it's true'.

Anyone, even an expert in a field, can be misguided, mistaken, misunderstood or simply wrong. Simply quoting a recognized expert in a field isn't, in and of itself, proof.

However, we do accept expert testimony in courtrooms, expert opinions carry more weight than non-expert opinions, we routinely accept (provisionally) the word of experts in fields beyond on our understanding.

My point only concerned logical fallacies - not accuracy of information or what counts as evidence.

If, for example Richard Dawkins says something about evolutionary biology, he may or may not be correct - but citing him as an expert does not make your argument fallacious.

Citing Kent Hovind, on the other hand, would make the argument fallacious - whether or not he's actually correct.

Whether or not an argument is fallacious has no bearing on whether the conclusion is accurate. All we can say is that if an argument is sound (not fallacious) and the premises are correct the conclusion MUST be correct. If the argument is fallacious or a premise flawed, the conclusion may or may not be correct - we can't know.

So, in discussing biolty, if we use a quote from Dawkins as a premise, the conclusion is necessarily dependent on the validity of that premise and the argument which follows. While he may be wrong, and our conclusion may be incorrect - citing him does not invoke a logical fallacy.

If, instead, we use a quote from Kent Hovind (or The Bible), we can immediately identify that the argument is fallacious because the source of the premise is suspect. That doesn't mean the conclusion is wrong - but it does mean that the argument is unsound.

Hopefully that's clearer.

-Matt
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Re: Permissible Argument From Authority

Postby billywheaton » Fri Mar 02, 2007 4:04 am

ExTech wrote:I mean, do they really think professional scientists haven't thought of and thought past notions that:

XYZ......

and so on ad nauseum.



I like to call this 'A Few Good Men' argument. Let me explain, in that movie, Tom Cruise was a naval officer and attorney who wanted to call a sitting batallion commander and colonel in the Marines to the witness stand, hoping to discredit him. The military court warns Cruise that he could be in deep trouble if he does not give this colonel deference. He will be given little leaway when questioning this colonel as the court will assume that he has honorably attained his rank and position until proven otherwise. In essence, the bar is set higher, but nonetheless, the bar is not insurmountable.

In my opinion, if you feel scientists should be granted this deference, then you should be willing to grant the same deference to the authority of the Bible. Although you might not have much regard for the Bible, it hardly seems unreasonable to think that the Bible has not, in a sense, 'earned' this respect.

Show your willingness to give the Bible its due deference and your willingness to provide evidence to clear a 'higher' bar and maybe your christian counterpart might be willing to treat your scientists as deserving 'expert witnesses".
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Re: Permissible Argument From Authority

Postby Sans_Deity » Fri Mar 02, 2007 2:19 pm

billywheaton wrote:In my opinion, if you feel scientists should be granted this deference, then you should be willing to grant the same deference to the authority of the Bible. Although you might not have much regard for the Bible, it hardly seems unreasonable to think that the Bible has not, in a sense, 'earned' this respect.


No offense, but this is absurd. You're creating a situation of equivalency where none exists. In what sense has the Bible 'earned' respect?

Has it presented with any great truth or any improved understanding of reality? Is it a demonstrable expert in any field relevant to reality?

I could go on and on, but the point is that there are GOOD reasons to give *some* deference to expert opinions (though they're *never* above questioning)...please provide a GOOD reason that the Bible deserves similar deference.

-Matt
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Postby coloradoatheist » Fri Mar 02, 2007 3:34 pm

Matt,

You bring up a good point that has bugged me for some time and this maybe is better posted in some other part of the forum, but reading your post triggered me.

Why does any religion or religious book "deserve" respect? That's like saying my belief that GM makes better vehicles that Ford "deserves" respect and therefore GM has "earned" worldwide and undeniable respect. I think those that like Ford would think that belief is a bunch of crap.

If anything, the bible deserves the criticism it gets.

Why don't we do with the bible what is done with scientific discoveries, hypotheses, etc before they become tested and proven theories? That being, subject it to critical thinking, peer review, and testing to prove if it could be false.

In other words, do what many of us do with the bible, look at passages and "critically think" about them. That's one of the many reasons I don't give the bible the "respect" that you think it's "earned." If anything, the older I get and more I critically study it, the less I "respect" it.

I "respect" people's individual beliefs, feelings, and positions in humanity as long as they keep their beliefs to generally to themselves and not push them on others. I don't need to hear about religion every day to know it's there and to know I don't believe and to realize how silly it sounds at times.

Take, for instance, the terrible bus crash in Atlanta today where 6 people died, the reporter covering the story made some comment about how "people are calling on their religious faith to pray for those who perished". Don't people realize how silly that sounds?

Anyhow, I hope you see my point. The media, especially, should keep quiet about religion, maybe make a comment like "while some people have tragically lost their lives, let's keep in mind that there are survivors that are currently getting medical attention and are in the hands of great medical professionals."

I'm not interested in granting deference to a person just simply on their religion as I think that's a pretty gross excuse many people use to get away with garbage. The whole hate the sin, love the sinner excuse is petty and unoriginal, what happened to taking responsibility for your own actions and doing what's right because it is simply, well...right. Rather than doing "what's right" because the believer is afraid of a penalty that may or may not be handed down by some "god"?

I like how Dawkins put it in his brief interview on CNN about how the religious have a negative view of life because they don't live this one to the fullest in hopes of a "second, better life".

Anyhow, just my 6 cents.

Scott
“A thorough reading and understanding of the Bible is the surest path to atheismâ€
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Re: Permissible Argument From Authority

Postby billywheaton » Fri Mar 02, 2007 6:40 pm

Sans_Deity wrote:No offense, but this is absurd. You're creating a situation of equivalency where none exists. In what sense has the Bible 'earned' respect?

Has it presented with any great truth or any improved understanding of reality? Is it a demonstrable expert in any field relevant to reality?
I'm sure you are aware that the Bible is the best selling book ever. And, I'm sure that you are aware that many, including many great scholars (past and present), feel the Bible is worthy of a special deference. Even if this opinion is misguided, in your opinion, you only hurt yourself by not understanding that the Bible has 'earned' this respect. If you feel it is sooo obvious that this respect is unjustified, then it should be no problem for you to clear the higher hurdle that granting respect would present. I would also suggest that all current norms of discussion and argumentation would grant the Bible (just like accomplished scientists) special deference. This does not mean insurmountable deference.

Billy Wheaton, p.s. I love your show.
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Re: Permissible Argument From Authority

Postby Sans_Deity » Fri Mar 02, 2007 11:08 pm

billywheaton wrote:
Sans_Deity wrote:No offense, but this is absurd. You're creating a situation of equivalency where none exists. In what sense has the Bible 'earned' respect?

Has it presented with any great truth or any improved understanding of reality? Is it a demonstrable expert in any field relevant to reality?
I'm sure you are aware that the Bible is the best selling book ever.


Completely irrelevant. The number of Bibles produced, sold, read and accepted all carry NO weight toward whether or not the book is true or whether or not it should be afforded respect.

billywheaton wrote:And, I'm sure that you are aware that many, including many great scholars (past and present), feel the Bible is worthy of a special deference.


Your second 'argument ad populum' in as many sentences, this one with a veiled argument from authority.

billywheaton wrote:If you feel it is sooo obvious that this respect is unjustified, then it should be no problem for you to clear the higher hurdle that granting respect would present.


There's no reason to grant that respect in order to clear the hurdle.

billywheaton wrote:Billy Wheaton, p.s. I love your show.


Thanks, but you're still wrong. :)

-Matt
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Postby coloradoatheist » Sat Mar 03, 2007 2:06 am

Billy,

How does an inanimate object "earn" respect?


Frankly, I don't feel at all that the bible deserves any respect or deference. It's a book! Plain and simple.

the actual numbers aside, do the following books "deserve" respect?

- Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong
- Xinhua Zidian
- The Quran

They are 2, 3, and 4 in order of all time best sellers.

Does the movie "Titanic" deserve respect? The number 1 grossing movie of all time in terms of box office receipts.

What about the Toyota Corolla? It's considered the best selling car of all time. Does it deserve respect?

Saying that an inanimate object deserves respect is absolutely silly. Even more so when the reason for it is that it's the "best selling" something of all time.

Anyhow.......I don't respect the bible just like I don't respect the Toyota Corolla.

Now if the "special deference" is to subject it to a higher degree of critical thought and analysis, then fine. But just saying it deserves deference or respect for any other reason is faulty.

Scott
“A thorough reading and understanding of the Bible is the surest path to atheismâ€
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Postby dromedaryhump1 » Sat Mar 03, 2007 4:37 am

How does an inanimate object "earn" respect?


Not to split hairs, since i agree in priciple with everything you said, but we respect ALOT of inanimate objects: The flag of our country; the original copy of The Constitution of the United States, and similar historical documents; the paintings of Lenoardo and the Great Masters.

These objects garner respect for what they represent to us: Man's unique acheivements, his foresight, his creativity and talent.

I'd go so far as to say that the Guttenberg Bible holds a place of special respect, again, for the same reason: as a testament to Man's creativity and invention.

But, Indeed, respect for the mass produced scripture that glorifys (or condemns depending on your perspective) a fictional diety or prophet, or respect for the religious beliefs of those that hold those scriptures dear is absurd. Just as absurd as thinking that the doctrine of the Aztecs and their human sacrifices are due our special respect. Just as absurd as giving deference to the beliefs and culture of Head Hunters.

I'm fed up with this foolish demand that special respect is due to an inane, outdated thought process; a thought proces that enslaves mens minds, promotes injustice and hatred through interpretation, and stiffles independent thought generation after generation.

I'd as soon respect the institution of slavery... afterall, it was universally accepted by millions for a few millenium, and never denounced by the Bible.
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Re: Permissible Argument From Authority

Postby billywheaton » Sat Mar 03, 2007 5:20 am

[quote="Sans_DeityYour second 'argument ad populum' in as many sentences, this one with a veiled argument from authority.

[/quote]I'm truly amazed! I don't think the Bible deserves it's current extremely elevated status, just as you don't. In fact in quite sure I can tear it to shreds far better than you can. But, regardless of how I feel toward the Bible, its influence on our culture is undeniable--after all we are discussing it, right? Amazingly, one must turn to the Bible to understand the IronChariots reference.

As well, without the Bible I wouldn't have read about the unbelievably pathetic Job. Did Job draw the short straw to deserve to be the object of a supernatural feud? Great story, there should be a Job video game: Satan vs god in a match to see who can screw up Job the most. Let's face it, Abraham was lucky. How about Ruth? She basically promised to follow ANY god- it was only by randomness that it happened to be the bible god.

All this to say relax, dude. So, I happen to like the Abraham story better than Karate Kid. I like Pulp Fiction the most- and has just gotta be immoral. Besides, I thought you might actually be interested in a differen approach to the same old issues.

A book could be said to have 'earned' respect in the same way that a classic textbook could be characterized that way. Basically, this implies a respect for the writer/writers/editors, etc of that book.

I'm a physician, so I might say something like "I respect what it says in 'Harrison's' more than I respect what it says in Web MD, Web MD has not earned my respect yet." this is a perfectly reasonable statement and usually conveys the meaning I intend it to convey
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Postby coloradoatheist » Tue Mar 06, 2007 10:31 pm

Dromedaryhump1,

I get what you're saying, but that might be where we get into semantics. For instance, I'm not certain that I "respect" the flag or the other items mentioned. HOWEVER, I fully respect all of those who established the principles on which our constitution is based and respect those who have fought for our freedoms in past generations. I served 8 years in the Air Force, but didn't really think I was doing anything special and while what the flag stands for holds great meaning for me I'm not sure I "respect" it in terms of respect as it's a symbol.

I guess it's hard to explain and I've honestly waited posting this because I've been trying to find a better word to replace respect in this discussion.

I've always been of the opinion that respect is something that a person must earn through their actions, it's not something that's given simply because of their position. For instance, I have absolutely no respect for George W Bush and that certainly doesn't change because he's president.

Anyhow, great points and it really got to me to think this through.

Thanks,
Scott
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