What is the appeal to authority?

Is it wrong to appeal to authority? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I am constantly amazed at the new lows of anti-intellectualism that internet atheists will sink to all the while thinking that they are superior intellects. One of these is complaining about appealing to authority. Here’s the deal. Sometimes appeals to authority are invalid, but for these atheists, any time you cite any authority on any topic, it is a logical fallacy.

Keep in mind what it would mean if you did not believe in any authority. Odds are, you would not believe much of anything. Unless you personally observed through a telescope yourself, you would have to say that you don’t know if some planets or galaxies existed. You could not rely on anything scientific unless you had done the experiment yourself. You could not trust your doctor, dentist, mechanic, electrician, etc. There would be no need to read anything as that is another authority nor listen to a lecture or talk for the same reason. This is just scratching the surface.

Appeals to authority are not always wrong.

But what can make them wrong?

One big problem is talking about something outside of your expertise. A great example of this is celebrity endorsements. If celebrity X endorses the product, it has to be good. Well, unless celebrity X has some specific learning in the field, why should anyone give a rip?

How about people who have learning? Richard Dawkins would be just fine to quote if you were making a point about evolution. When he writes¬†The God Delusion, he’s talking outside of his field as he is not an expert in religion, history, metaphysics, philosophy, or biblical studies.

Let’s go the other way now. If you were talking about the New Testament, it is just fine to quote N.T. Wright. If you are talking about the Big Bang Theory, you need to quote someone else. Wright is an excellent New Testament scholar, but he is not a scientist.

Note that an appeal to authority doesn’t mean that it is true. Authorities can be wrong, but it does mean that you had better have some serious evidence if you’re going to go against the authorities in the field. This especially applies to Jesus mythicists. Good luck finding a professor in New Testament or classical history at an accredited university that gives any credibility whatsoever to Jesus Mythicism. That doesn’t prove that mythicism is false, but it shows that the mythicist¬†side has a whole lot of work to do to show they have a case.

Something interesting about this is that the claim that the appeal to authority is always invalid is self-refuting. When people want to tell me this, they normally show a web link. Ignore the fact that normally in the link there’s an explanation about valid appeals to authority and invalid appeals to authority. Either way, the person is presenting an authority, a web link, to tell me that I should not accept an authority. If not that, they are speaking on their own authority that one should not appeal to authority.

So for internet atheists, I challenge them if they think that any such appeal is always invalid to try to live that way. Be your own doctor and everything else. See how long you function in the world. Then go and learn what the appeal to authority really is and return to reality.

In Christ,
Nick Peters