Logical Gal and False Authorities

5 Nov

I recently encountered 2 examples of the same fallacy – appealing to authority to avoid making a case for one’s point of view.

This is the essence of a fallacy – trotting out a false argument that either is irrelevant, claims too much or is a distraction.

Shrinking Polar Caps

The first was anecdotally reported to me. A small aircraft pilot was recounting the time he flew over the polar ice cap and noticed what he considered to be shrinking icebergs. He then reported, “Yep, global warming is for real, I saw it!”

Let’s take a look at his thinking:

  • P1 – If I see diminishing icebergs, then global warming is happening
  • P2 – I saw diminishing icebergs
  • C –  Therefore, global warming is happening

His syllogism is logically valid in that the form of the argument is correct. But are his premises true? There’s the rub.

Our pilot friend has opened himself up to be shot down easily. Some questions one might ask?

  • Have you measured the shrinkage? For how many years?
  • How do you know that the shrinkage is due to global warming? Could there be other reasons?
  • How did you get your scientific expertise in the area of global temperature studies?

He has appealed to himself as an authority RATHER than building a case. This man was an expert pilot, but not a trusted source of scientific analysis.

*

The other example of an appeal to illegitimate authority is found in the Gospel of John.  In Chapter 7, toward the end, the soldiers return to the Pharisees and Chief Priests empty-handed.  They had been sent to arrest Jesus.  When questioned, they explain that ‘this man’ speaks like no one else they have ever heard!  The religious leaders smirk:

 Has any of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in Him? (John 7:48)

The implication is that they don’t need to examine the claims of Jesus to verify if they are true.  It’s enough that THEY have not ‘fallen’ for them.  They are setting themselves up as arbiters of truth.   This is an appeal to an authority and expertise that they don’t have. It’s immaterial to the verification of Jesus’ identity WHO they are.  The claim is either true or false no matter WHO believes it.

20 million Frenchmen can't be wrong

Can a lot of people be be wrong?  YES!

Yesterday many elections were held around the country.  Wildly unsubstantiated claims and accusations were made in all that very expensive advertising.  Today we’re breathing a sigh of relief that THIS season is over.  But campaigning is part of our landscape.  The next time someone makes a claim or an attack on an opponent, use questions to gently guide them back to the claim.  Whoever MAKES a claim needs also to defend his or her case with REASONS.

Yes, it gives one pause to go against a majority, but a majority can be dead wrong!  Think through arguments and look for rational support for the claims made.  That’s how to inoculate oneself against folly, no matter the source.

 

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