Creationist Wisdom — Example 72

YOUR Curmudgeon once again brings you the view from Answers in Genesis (AIG), one of the major sources of creationist wisdom. They have a truly bizarre article at their website: Logical Fallacies: Faulty Appeal to Authority. Ponder the title, dear reader, and bear in mind that this comes from a creationist website.

The article is by Jason Lisle, described at that website as a Creationist Astrophysicist — whatever that is. As we’ve noted before, AIG has an entire page devoted to information about this amazing man: Dr. Jason Lisle, Ph.D. Note that a reference to his doctorate appears both before and after his name. That’s how we shall refer to him. We’ve written about the work of Dr. Lisle, Ph.D. before. See, e.g.: Creationist Wisdom — Example 56.

Since then he’s written a few more articles for AIG. We’ve looked at them but they’re not even funny — that’s an insult unique to creationism, commensurate with “not even wrong.”

When we saw the title of today’s article, we avoided reading it for a while, out of fear that our brains would explode. Finally, our fascination with the macabre overcame our discretion and we started reading. Sure enough — Ka-Boom! So we had to bring it to your attention.

But first, considering that this article by Dr. Lisle, Ph.D. is about a logical fallacy, it might be useful to refresh yourself as to just what is meant by an argument from authority. That’s a link to a Wikipedia article, which isn’t bad. Basically, they say that an “appeal to authority is a logical fallacy, where it is argued that a statement is correct because the statement is made by a person or source that is commonly regarded as authoritative.”

Okay, enough introduction. Now you understand our curiosity in wondering why AIG would even mention this fallacy, as their entire enterprise is based upon it. Yet they’ve published an article devoted to this subject. We’ll give you a few excerpts, with bold added by us. Here we go:

In the origins debate, the faulty appeal is often to someone who is considered an expert on a particular topic — a scientist or perhaps a theologian. For example, “Dr. Bill has a PhD in biology, and he believes in evolution.” The unstated conclusion is that evolution must therefore be true or is at least likely to be true. But such an argument is fallacious. After all, we could equally point out that “Dr. Dave also has a PhD in biology, and he believes in biblical creation.” The fact that other experts on the topic draw the opposite conclusion should reveal the vacuous nature of the evolutionist’s argument.

That’s cleverly put, but Dr. Lisle, Ph.D is correct — a mere appeal to authority isn’t a conclusive argument. The fact that experts may sometimes disagree among themselves isn’t what makes it fallacious. Let’s read on:

Not all appeals to authority are faulty appeals to authority. It is legitimate to consider the opinion of an expert on a particular topic. None of us has the time or the ability to verify each and every truth claim that has ever been made. We can and should rely upon the expertise of others at times.

That might seem to contradict what was just discussed, but let’s continue:

So, when does the appeal to authority become a fallacy? It seems there are three common ways in which this occurs:

The three examples provided by Dr. Lisle, Ph.D are a bit slippery. Here they are, and the bold titles are in the original:

1. Appealing to an expert in an area that is not his area of expertise. Our hypothetical Dr. Bill may indeed have a PhD in biology — and that qualifies him to say something about how organisms function today. But does knowledge of how things work today necessarily imply knowledge of how things came to be? This is a separate question. The experiments Dr. Bill has done and the observations he has made have all taken place in the present world. He has no more direct observations of the ancient past than anyone else today. The question of origins is a history question that deals with worldviews.

That’s beyond slippery. It’s slimy. Dr. Lisle, Ph.D is slipping a separate — and totally bogus — argument into a discussion about appeals to authority. We’ve written about AIG’s “nobody can know the past” issue before. See: Creationism and Science. Moving along:

2. Failure to consider the worldview of the expert and how this might affect his interpretation of the data. We all have a world-and-life view — a philosophy that guides our understanding of the universe. … The fact that Dr. Bill believes in evolution means that he is predisposed to interpret the evidence in a particular way. … So, while I may put confidence in what Dr. Bill says about the structure of a particular protein that he has studied under the microscope, his bias against biblical creation means it would be unwise for me to trust his opinions on questions of origins.

More slime. The “worldview issue” isn’t related to the fallacy of an appeal to authority. An expert may be wrong for any of a thousand reasons — or he may be right. It’s still fallacious to accept his opinion as true merely because he’s an an authority. Doesn’t Dr. Lisle, Ph.D. understand this?

Here’s the third example:

3. Treating a fallible expert as infallible. … It would be fallacious to argue that something definitely must be true simply because a (fallible) expert believes it.

Dr. Lisle, Ph.D. had promised us a third illustration of when appeal to authority become a fallacy, but what we just read seems to be nothing but a restatement of the definition of an appeal to authority. Ah, we see what he’s done — he slipped in the word “fallible” to illustrate why an expert’s opinion may be wrong. It appears that Dr. Lisle, Ph.D. truly doesn’t understand this stuff at all.

What makes a naked appeal to authority fallacious is because there’s nothing to it but authority — and authority alone isn’t sufficient. We need verifiable reasons to accept something.

It’s now clear to us that Dr. Lisle, Ph.D. doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and that explains why — as you shall soon see — his article climaxes with a mind-boggling contradiction.

We’re skipping over several examples of appeals to authority. Trust us, they’re not worth reading. Or you may reject our “authority” and decide for yourselves. Anyway, we’re going right to the end of the article, because that’s what exploded our brain:

It is commendable to esteem the opinion of experts, provided that we are discerning and never regard fallible human opinions above (or equal to) the authoritative Word of God.

No appeal to authority there! Well … except for the all-time, galaxy-class, incomparable example of the ultimate use of that fallacy. But that’s okay — we’re dealing with creationists.

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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18 responses to “Creationist Wisdom — Example 72

  1. comradebillyboy

    Perhaps the laws against torture should also apply to tortured logic.

  2. Pot calling kettle black.

  3. Unless you are an M.D., you are not entitled to use “Dr.” as a title.

    Insisting on being addressed as “Dr.” when you are not an M.D. shows, in my experience, that you are either insecure in your intellectual accomplishments, or that you are trying to bully people with your credentials.

  4. Gabriel Hanna says:

    Unless you are an M.D., you are not entitled to use “Dr.” as a title.

    Customs vary. In the UK and the US, it’s generally not done. Stephen Hawking, for example, has a PhD — but I’m not sure whether it’s in physics or astronomy. Anyway, he’s never referred to as Dr. Hawking. I’ve seen it done in the case of PhD holders in Education, but I don’t want to analyze that. In Spanish speaking countries, lawyers are always called “Doctor,” but never in the US. Clergymen use the title, although they also do it in the case of honorary degrees. Dr. Lisle, Ph.D. is unique.

  5. Dr. Lisle, Ph.D. is unique.

    Dr. Dr. William Dembski…

  6. I haven’t really followed Dembski’s career. But “Dr. Dr.” wouldn’t surprise me.

  7. The modern English word “doctor” is just the Latin word for “teacher.” (Cognate: doctrine.) A doctor is a professional teacher. Someone who has a Ph.D. is a “doctor [teacher] of philosophy.” If Ph.D’s aren’t real doctors, then no one is.

  8. A doctor is a professional teacher. Someone who has a Ph.D. is a “doctor [teacher] of philosophy.” If Ph.D’s aren’t real doctors, then no one is.

    Professors teach (usually), but Ph. D.s in general are not teachers.

    It doesn’t matter what the Latin word originally meant. We’re talking about a modern social norm. You might as well say that to be “religious” is to be tied up,

  9. Carl Sachs says: “If Ph.D’s aren’t real doctors, then no one is.”

    Yeah, their doctorates are real. I was talking about usage customs. In the US, the tendency is not to over-emphasize titles. The exceptions are MDs, who always call themselves “Doctor Smith.” Dentists seem to do that too. My impression is that in academia, at least in the sciences, that’s not commonly done — at least not when people introduce themselves. When introducing or writing about someone with a doctorate, it’s not unusual to use the title. In the case of Hawking, there’s just no point to it. He’s Hawking.

  10. http://www.physics.wsu.edu/Personnel/faculty/faculty.htm

    Notice than none of these people have “Dr.” listed by their name, though they are all Ph.D.s.

  11. You might as well say that to be “religious” is to be tied up,

    Hmm. There might be something to being religious after all!

    Of course, I see your point and I accept it. I don’t disagree that creationists who happen to have Ph.D.s tend to inflate their credentials — itself an interesting appeal to authority.

    I use “Dr. Sachs” only in signing off emails to students; I would never dream of using it in something written for public consumption.

  12. I use “Dr. Sachs” only in signing off emails to students; I would never dream of using it in something written for public consumption.

    I’ll call faculty or scientists I don’t know well “Dr.”, because I want to give them respect but they may not be professors or something.

    Just saying they have no right to it. And I’m not trying to say it’s ALWAYS jerks who call themselves that.

  13. How did we forget that Kent Hovind calls himself “Dr. Dino”?

  14. Just saying they have no right to it.

    …and who, then, has a right to it?

  15. …and who, then, has a right to it?

    Medical doctors. See above.

  16. Curmudgeon: “It’s now clear to us that Dr. Lisle, Ph.D. doesn’t know what he’s talking about,…”

    That may well be the case, but it is not clear to me. Not until I can rule out that he is merely acting clueless in order to tell the “masses” what he thinks they need to hear. If anyone has a method (more accurate than a lie detector) to rule it out, please let me know.

  17. Maine Operative

    As un undergraduate (now many years ago), unless I was told otherwise, I always referred to my professors as “doctor.” At my own university, we have folk holding masters and doctorates teaching, so I indicate to my freshmen that a safe label (unless told otherwise) is “professor.” I believe the British used to generally term “professor” anyone who researched or taught in connection with a university and reserved the title “doctor” for those involved in the various medical fields.

    Of course, as several commentators have pointed out on this thread, the Creationists are more interested in puffing up their authority (and ironically appealing to it) since to the average person on the street, “doctor” = “smart.” Of course, that in itself is a great irony, considering the vacuity of much of Creationist thought.

  18. Now that I think about it, I’ve pretty much lived a title-free life. In fact, I’m rarely even addressed as “Mr.” except by cold-call salesman who imagine that a show of artificial respect will get them somewhere. It just makes me suspicious.