Monday, November 7, 2011

Another Logical Fallacy: Argument from Authority

   In researching for my last post, I came across an argument from authority in the comments for the video I linked. The fallacy is actually quite simple, but yet very common. The argument generally breaks down like this:
  1. Person x is really smart.
  2. Person x says that y is true.
  3. Therefore, y is true.
   It is important to note that this sort of argument is not always a fallacy. The places where it is not a fallacy tend to be where multiple people are cited on topics for which those people are experts. For example, when I say that 97% of climate scientists agree that global warming is real, it is pretty safe to say that global warming is indeed real. (It is still true, though, that those scientists could be wrong, so staying skeptical is of course acceptable.) But whenever you see someone cite one or even just a few specific people, be alert for the argument from authority, espcially if the topic is not in the field of expertise of the authority figure(s) or if the authority figure(s) holds a minority position amongst peers.

   Anyway, here is a portion of the YouTube comment in question:
Dr. Collins is a brilliant man who mapped out the human genome consisting of 3.1 billion letters in DNA code creating an instruction manual for the make up of the human being. I'd listen to what he has to say.
So, the first premise should be fairly obvious; the commenter is setting up Dr. Collins' credentials. The second premise is already known from the context of the video, which is related to Dr. Collins' belief in Christianity. Now, the conclusion here is not quite matching with the argument from authority, but it is still close in that it is still suggesting the audience strongly consider Collins ideas because he is smart. And, sure, I'll listen to what he has to say, but if he makes fallacious arguments, I'll point them out.

   Additionally, these arguments seem to be an attempt to get the audience to not think for themselves (or question the authority figure). Sometimes I see arguements like the one above, but the person will add, "Do you think you are smarter than <authority figure>?" It should raise the obvious response question, "What do you do when two people smarter than you have conflicting opinions? Then how do you decide who is correct?" The same can even be applied with Francis Collins. There are other smart people (Neil deGrasse Tyson, Stephen Hawking, and Lawrance Krauss just to name a few) who are atheists and reject Christianity's claims. So how do we decide who is right?

Think for yourself.

   On an additional note, I am not counting this as a preview of IDHEF. I do not recall this argument being brought up much, if at all, in what I have read thus far. I just thought this is a fallacy people should be aware of in general usage.

UPDATE: Actually, upon further reading of IDHEF, this argument has come up a few times. I'll often reference to this post when it comes up in my review.

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