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

 

Book Plunge: Why There Is No God. Part 3.

Is there any chance we’ll find something good in Navabi’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re moving on to part three of Navabi’s book Why There Is No God. Today, we’re going to deal with arguments 11-15.

Argument #11. If there is no God, where did everything come from? Without God, there is no explanation.

This is a real argument and it is one many of us, including myself, use. Therefore, when we come across a real argument, we know what an atheist fundamentalist will do with it. Put up a straw man and not deal with any of the real authorities in the field.

Much of what was said about the “Who created God?” argument was said in part one on the first argument. It’s interesting that the skeptics always ask who created and not what created. Something to be added this time is that Navabi tells us that cosmological arguments tell us nothing about the nature of the God who created.

On the contrary, (As Aquinas would say) they tell us plenty. If you follow the Aristotelian-Thomistic arguments to their conclusion you get a being who is eternal, immaterial, omnipotent, omniscient, good, immutable, etc. Now maybe those are tiny details to Navabi, but not to real authorities in the field, and of course he cites none.

Argument #12. My religion/God has helped me so much. How could it not be real?

Yes. I know we’ve all seen all those academic works that talk about this argument. How many times have we seen Bill Craig go out to defend theism and present this argument? Oh, wait. That’s right. Never. Still, never deny the ability of atheists to go after the most serious arguments that there are.

There’s not much I need to say about this one, although Navabi does have something on what about the people God doesn’t save? Yes. What about them? Sometimes people suffer through their own means or just because we don’t live in a perfect world nor are we promised one.

Since this is not a serious argument, I have no need to treat the reply seriously.

Argument #13. God is love; God is energy.

This could be a popular argument in New Age circles, but I would agree with Navabi that it’s often a redefinition of terms. When I speak about God, I am specific about what I mean. One would think Navabi is as well since he usually has a Western concept in mind. Again, since this is not really a serious argument, I do not plan on taking it seriously.

Argument #14. The Laws of Logic prove the existence of God.

Finally, Navabi is taking on someone in the apologetics world. For this, his choice is Matt Slick of CARM. I don’t entirely use the TAG argument as it’s known as is, but I would like to consider how it would work with a more Thomistic approach. The argument is pretty much that laws of logic are absolute and immaterial and unchanging and eternal and they need to be in a mind that is like that. That mind is the mind of God.

Navabi is right that these laws are descriptive and not prescriptive, but that doesn’t get him off the hook. Where I’d disagree is with any sort of idea that these laws are something like Platonic forms just floating out there. Of course, many supporters of TAG wouldn’t think that, but the way the argument is described can get one to think that way. Instead, I would see them as naturally the way that being itself behaves. If anything is, we can tell that it is what it is, it does not contradict itself in its nature, and it is either B or non-B but nowhere in between.

What I want someone like Navabi to explain to me is being itself. Where did it come from? It couldn’t come from nothing, because nothing has no power to bring about anything. (Someone please notify Lawrence Krauss of this basic fact.) It would have to come then from something, but then we have the problem of the infinite regress. As far as I’m concerned, the Thomistic arguments answer this. (Those interested in more are encouraged to read Edward Feser’s Aquinas or The Last Superstition.)

Argument #15. Believing in God provides meaning and purpose; without it, life would be meaningless.

The argument from meaning is one that does make sense. Why is everything the way that it is? Are we just an accident, or are we here for a reason? This is a huge question and how you answer it will alter much of how you experience reality.

Of course, Navabi goes with the idea that we can create our own meaning. Sure. The problem is, who is to say one meaning is right and one isn’t? Suppose I think the meaning of life is to have as much sex as possible. Does that mean I can rape if I think I can get away with it? Why or why not? What if I think power is the meaning of life? Can I strive to eliminate anyone who gets in my way? Why or why not? What if I think money is? Can I exploit anyone that I want to on the path of riches? Why or why not?

Now I do agree with Navabi that it’s better to believe an uncomfortable truth than a comfortable lie, but that doesn’t matter really. After all, we don’t ascertain what a truth is by looking at if it’s comfortable or not. I do believe my Christian theism because I’m convinced it’s true. My personal comfort has nothing to do with it. In fact, many of us who are devout Christian theists would say many times our religion is quite uncomfortable for us.

When we return to this book, we’ll conclude it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Some Necessary Areas In Apologetics

What do you study when you study apologetics? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

One of the mistakes that can be made in apologetics is to think you have to be able to answer every objection out there. You can’t. You won’t. There are too many new religious movements rising up and too many scientific discoveries being discussed and too many ethical quandaries and too many philosophical topics that no one can study it all.

It’s okay to not have an answer to something. In fact, many times someone will send me a question and I’ll happily refer them to someone else. It’s not my specialty area. I might give them a little something to tide them over and then say “But if you want a better answer, I recommend you contact XYZ.” If you think otherwise and that you will be able to answer everything, you need to really rethink your position on apologetics.

Still, there are some areas that I think you will definitely need to have at least a basic grounding in even if it isn’t your specialty.

First, you definitely need something on the resurrection of Jesus. This is the central claim of the Christian faith. You need a reason beyond “The Bible says so.” Look into the resurrection of Jesus. Fortunately, there exist books today like Gary Habermas and Mike Licona’s The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.

Second, you need something on basic Biblical reliability. How do you know that the Bible has been handed down accurately? How do you know that the information in there is reliable. You are again fortunate. You have works such as Craig Blomberg’s Can We Still Believe The Bible? and The Historical Reliability of the Gospels.

Third, you need some reason for believing that God exists. Again, there are books that can help you with even this. An excellent recent read that also has the benefit of being incredibly funny is Andy Bannister’s The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist.

Fourth, you need something on the deity of Jesus and why He is unique. Again, I have a recommendation. Get your hands on Bowman and Komoszewski’s Putting Jesus In His Place.

Fifth, you need something that can help you with moral issues. I happen to think the writings of J. Budziszewski are incredibly good at this one. A favorite mine of his on this topic is The Line Through The Heart.

sixth, I recommend that you get something on sound thinking. The rules of logic are quite helpful and there’s an old classic that I still love. I can’t think of a better work now than Peter Kreeft’s Socratic Logic.

Some of you might be wondering about some issues that I did not include in this. Why did I not include anything on creation? That is because creation can become a debate that gets us caught in an idea of science vs. religion all too easily and some people focus so much on the first few chapters of Genesis that they never get to the resurrection.

Of course, in all of this, you will need to definitely do Bible study. Don’t become someone who reads other books so much that you never read the book. It will be important as you go along this path that you come to learn more about the Bible. There are many many issues that are worthy of discussion, but these are major ones that I would make sure I have some basics on.

We’ll be discussing more about apologetics next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Studying Logic

How do you go about studying the topic of logic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’ve been discussing lately with some fellow Christians the study of logic. We’ve often discussed the main ways that people study logic, such as reading the books on logic and listening to great teachers on logic. This is essential to the study and you should do this, but at the same time, I want to point out some fun ways you can put into practice what you are studying.

One place to go to is advertising. Someone is selling you a product. Why should you buy it? What claims do they make? Do they really convince you that this is a worthwhile exchange for your money, or do they do something else, say have a bikini wearing model advertise a burger for you? (And let’s face it, we all know that model never ever eats anything like that.)

Sometimes, businesses are less forward than that and try to sneak in an attitude. When we lived in Tennessee, a local bank would have commercials with a touching country setting emphasizing the goodness of home. Nothing was said about the bank itself, but the feeling you got thinking about the homey atmosphere was meant to carry over to the bank. Car insurance companies have been doing this as well using humor. How many of us laugh at the “Jake from State Farm” commercials or the GEICO commercials about cats, mothers, and the band Europe? You know what? They work, because we talk about these commercials, but many times you don’t really wind up knowing much about the product.

I have also been a stickler for pointing out to my wife Allie what it means when someone is referred to as a liar. Because someone gets a claim wrong does not mean that they are a liar. If that is so, every student who gets a false answer on a math test is a liar. A liar is someone who knows the truth about what they are saying and says the opposite fully intending what they say to be believed as the truth. We have to be clear because someone could say the exact opposite in sarcasm not intending to be believed at all. This kind of thing happens often in politics. It’s too easy to say someone is a liar for providing information that is false. Maybe they are, but it takes more than false information to show that someone is lying.

Speaking of politics, let’s look at the presidential debates we have going on now. This is a great place to go to to study logic because you can look at a question a candidate is asked and then look at the answer and ask “Did they really answer the question?” You can also ask how they did that with a question or challenge they receive from an opponent.

By the way, when you do this, it’s important to try to be as impartial as you can. Let’s say you’re a Ted Cruz supporter in the Republican primary. You might be looking to see what Donald Trump says that is an example of bad logic or an answer that does not follow or dodges the question. That’s fine. Do the same for Cruz also. If you’re a Trump supporter, you will do the opposite. You should also be willing to admit when your opponent does answer the question satisfactorily. You can debate how good the answer is how effective a strategy would be, but does he answer the question?

Humor is also a good place to go to. Comedians don’t try to be logicians, but they do try to point out the humor in our thinking. If you like puns, puns rely on ambiguity largely. That’s what makes them so funny. Much of our humor relies on taking people literally. My wife and I were just seeing someone and getting set to make another appointment and they said we can make it for whenever we want. I replied midnight would work just fine for us. Of course, that wouldn’t work for them, but that was the humor of it. On The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon Cooper regularly does this sort of thing.

Finally, if you’re doing this from an apologetics perspective, consider watching to and listening to debates. One of my favorite programs for debates is Unbelievable? with Justin Brierley. Try to be impartial. Ask and see what side really makes the better case. I have heard debates where I had to say the non-Christian made a better case and some where sadly, the Christian case was just embarrassing in its defense. It does not mean that I think the non-Christian was right, but it does mean that I think they did a better job presenting their case. One mistake it’s easy to make is to think that if an argument agrees with your conclusion, it must be a good one. Christians and atheists both sadly have a habit of going to Google, finding the first thing that they think agrees with them, and sharing it because they think it agrees with what they already believe and so it must be a good argument.

Studying logic in this can be fun and eye-opening and prepare you for a world where people are going to be consistently trying to snow you. Many will do this unintentionally. Some will do it intentionally. If you can learn to think through what people say better, you will be a step ahead of the game. Even if you don’t know a topic well, you can at least see how well conclusions follow.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

False Views On The Appeal To Authority

What is the Appeal to Authority? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I’ve seen it happen way too many times. It’s the kind of mistake I can’t believe that thinking people make, but unfortunately, they do. It is not that they use the Appeal to Authority. It is that they misunderstand what the Appeal to Authority is.

Picture me in a debate and saying “New Testament scholars like Hurtado, Bauckham, Keener, Ehrman, Bird, and others agree.”

What’s the reply? “You’re appealing to authorities which is fallacious.”

Let’s start out with an obvious rejoinder. Do you say that to appeal to an authority on a claim is necessarily fallacious? If so, then upon what authority do I take that claim? Is it not just as fallacious to appeal to your own authority if all appeals to authority are fallacious?

The biggest problem with this type of argument is that it doesn’t realize that the Appeal to Authority deals with appealing to authorities that are not valid authorities. If you want to discuss the fine points of New Testament scholarship, it is just fine to appeal to N.T. Wright or Bart Ehrman. If you want to discuss the fine points of evolution, it is not fine to respond to these men as fine as they may be in their respective fields. It would be fine to appeal to Richard Dawkins. At the same time, Dawkins would not be qualified to speak on the fine points of the New Testament.

We all rely on authorities every day because none of us can learn everything. If you have ever gone to a doctor and taken something at the doctor’s recommendation, unless you are a doctor yourself you accepted a claim because of an authority and if someone asked you “Why are you taking that medication?” you could say “My doctor told me too.”

Now of course, your doctor could be mistaken. The appeal to authority does not mean the authority will get everything right. It means all things being equal, their opinion in their field is of more value than the opinion of the layman in the field.

This is also why it’s important to see what field someone is an authority in. Their field could touch on another, but it’s best to go to the main authorities. Here are some questions you can ask yourself when considering if someone is a valid authority.

Do they have sufficient studies in the field that they’re in? If your person has a Ph.D. from an accredited university, you can be quite sure that they do.

Is the person recognized by others as an authority, including opponents?

Is the person generally shown to be honest in their assessments and seeking to avoid bias?

If the person is a Ph.D. do they teach at an accredited university or have they retired from that position?

Last night, my wife and I were at an event talking about a brand of products meant to help improve one’s health. At the start, I see a reference to a doctor who promotes these products. What am I soon doing? Looking up that doctor’s name on Google and seeing what is being said about him. Are there any harsh criticisms? Is there skepticism? Is this person seen as a kook in the scientific community? Since he is a doctor, what is his doctorate in? (It would not be as impressive to find out that Dr. X is a Dr. of New Testament who is giving this as a great benefit to health. He might know his New Testament well, but that does not make him an authority on health.)

Note with that last point that to say someone is not an authority in a field does not mean that they are ipso facto wrong. It just means that if all you have to go by is their say so, then you are indeed entitled to be skeptical.

Now if this person produces data of some sort, then that data must be interacted with. Someone who is not an authority in a field can present data for a position and then what you are discussing is not so much that person’s opinion, but rather what that data is and how it should be interpreted.

To say that to always appeal to an authority is wrong is a mistake indeed. The problem is when one appeals to an authority that is not a valid authority in the field. All of us rely on authorities as we must as none of us can verify every claim made to us in this life. (Few of us can verify the Earth goes around the sun yet few of us at the same time doubt that.)

If someone tells you that an appeal to authority is always a fallacy, be sure to call them on it. The person who thinks this way will inevitably want to live by their own authority and decide everything that way.

Kind of fallacious isn’t it?

In Christ,
Nick Peters