Fallacy Zoo – Appeal To Authority

News24 is a well-known vector for daft claims, perhaps because much of what you get there is user generated and has not been filtered. I came across an article by a chap called Kevin King that is a great example of an appeal to authority.

What is that? OK, quick basic summary

  • Person, book, etc… says that X is true
  • Therefore X is indeed true

The flaw here is that something is only true if there is evidence to confirm it. A claim or concept might indeed be truly beautiful and majestic, it may also have been affirmed as true by many  honest, smart and noble humans, but unless there is evidence to confirm it, then it can be dismissed.

There is however a variation that may be acceptable. It goes like this …

  • Person, book, etc… says that X is true
  • The person or book in question is a legitimate expert on the subject matter
  • The consensus of subject-matter experts agrees with X.
  • You can safely assume that X is indeed true

The basis for the above is that there is an assumption that there is evidence for X. However, if the person or book that is cited is not regarded as a subject matter expert, or if X is not the current consensus, then you can indeed challenge the claim being made, because the assumption cannot be justified.

OK moving on, lets take a quick peek at the News24 article. In it Mr King starts off with the following quote

“Most Christians are illiterate and therefore unable to logically analyse things.” – EddyDeepfield (author of “Christianity in crisis!”)

He then moves on to challenge this, and is quite right to do so because it is complete nonsense. Belief in weird or crazy things does not appear to correlate with a lack of intelligence. Most magicians will advise you that the smarter you are, and the more convinced you are that you cannot be fooled, the easier it becomes to actually fool you.

To demolish the claim that all believers are stupid and idiots, Mr King comments

Unfortunately for Eddy and the horde * of atheists for whom this reasoning applies to, they somehow manage to forget that this world, and indeed this site, are full of literate theists, not only literate ones, but some of the smartest people around. These people include scientists, whom these atheists claim to know what’s going on, if they happen to not believe in God that is. They also manage to imply that the following theists were illogical and brainless: Nicholas Copernicus, Sir Francis Bacon, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Rene Descartes, Blaise Pascal, Robert Boyle, Michael Faraday, Gregor Mendel, William Thomson Kelvin, Max Planck AND my two favourites Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein.

Now that is indeed correct, those named above were all very smart humans, and yet at the same time they also believed completely crazy things as well. Lets take a quick peek at his two favourites.

Isaac Newton was indeed an amazing man and greatly advanced our understanding, yet that intellectual prowess did not make him immune to embracing weird ideas. He was also a fanatically religious man, and held a variation of belief that Mr King would have choked upon because it was quite alien to modern Christian beliefs. For Newton, worshipping Christ as God was idolatry, he spent a great deal of his time looking for hidden messages in the bible, and was also deeply into alchemy and the occult.  John Maynard Keynes, who acquired many of Newton’s writings on alchemy, stated that “Newton was not the first of the age of reason: He was the last of the magicians.”.

Albert Einstein is an interesting example of a believer. Why? well because he never was, so the assertion that he was is not factually correct. When asked about this he wrote … “It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it

So in summary, Mr King’s OP starts out well, by attacking the claim the believers are idiots, but then slips into an Appeal to Authority with his list of famous folks who have believed. The fact that some famous and very smart human believed does not make that belief true, for that you need evidence.

As for idiots, Mr King also asserts (to his great shame) … “the reason why we reject evolution is because it is not scientifically proven through observation” … say what!!!. Yes indeed, while it is factually correct to state that not all believers are idiots, Mr King has provided use with solid irrefutable evidence that he is one.

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