Logical Errors: Argument from Authority

From advertising to politics to everyday conversation, many people lack the ability to spot logical errors. This week we’ll cover one of the more common mistakes, the argument from authority.

It’s rather simple, and works like this:

  1. Person “X” is an expert in “Y”
  2. Person “X” says “Z”
  3. Therefore, “Z” must be true since “X” is an expert.

Of course, this is absurd, as it should be the argument, not the person presenting it, which convinces you. Where the argument comes from remains irrelevant, the only question should be is it true.

So-called “experts” gave us Piltdown man, a belief the world was flat, man-caused global warming, and more. Many of the justifications came down to simply “the experts say so, thus it must be true”, and those turned out later to be incorrect.

Perhaps the best known of these are the Dr. Pepper commercials spoofing this logical error. What’s the tag line? “Trust me, I’m a doctor” (if you recall the Camel cigarette ads from looooong ago, you remember “What cigarette do you smoke, Doctor?… more doctors smoke Camels, than any other cigarette).

For this reason, Christians should always check out what their pastor or “Bible expert” proclaims. Don’t take someone’s word for it, do your own homework and check things for yourself, as the Bible encourages you to do. If everyone did their own homework, cults would have fewer members and the church would be stronger to combat heresy abounding today (for example spotting the counterfeit Gospel or in the political realm, the surplus myth, both survive because people either refuse to do their own research, or fall victim to the argument from authority.

Don’t fall for the argument from authority as it’s quite common. A corollary is the genetic fallacy where a person rejects an argument simply because they don’t like where it came from. The only question must be is it true?

Buzzword: also known by the Latin “argumentum ad potentiam”, meaning argument from power.

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