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The Creation Answers Book
by Various

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By Design
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati

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The fallacy of arguing from authority

Another e-mail from Dr Richard Meiss, Speedway, IN, who gave permission for his full name to be used. His letter is first printed, then reprinted with point-by-point responses by Dr Jonathan Sarfati.


Thank you for your prompt reply to my recent comments, and for the posting of a previous submission to your web site. My comments now have to do with remarks that have been made repeatedly to me by Drs Wieland, Sarfati, and Batten in response to my feedback items. I am a biologist, broadly familiar with physiology and medicine and the fields (biology, chemistry, bioengineering, etc.) with which these disciplines overlap. Whenever I make a comment outside the narrow area of muscle physiology (my research area), each of these gentlemen has chided me for speaking in areas in which I am not qualified, or my remarks are dismissed as an ‘appeal to authority’.
How about some reciprocity here? Dr Wieland is a medical doctor; Dr Sarfati is a physical chemist and chess master; Dr Batten is a plant physiologist. Yet one or other of these people feel qualified to hold forth in areas as diverse as geology, radioactive dating, cosmology, genetics, paleontology, ancient languages, and a host of others. If you take other people to task for speaking outside their presumed area of expertise, why do you think it proper for your staff members to speak outside of their areas? If you are tempted to respond that these men have educated themselves in other areas, that is very commendable, but by their own criteria, it does not make them qualified in those areas.
I once posed (in person) a question on astronomy to Dr John Morris of ICR. He had the good grace to say that since astronomy was out of his field, he could not answer the question. Why are your staff people not willing to do the same? Why must [CMI] maintain a dual standard for who is qualified to speak on what topic?
Sincerely,
Richard A. Meiss
Indiana, USA


Thank you for your prompt reply to my recent comments, and for the posting of a previous submission to your web site. My comments now have to do with remarks that have been made repeatedly to me by Drs. Wieland, Sarfati, and Batten in response to my feedback items. I am a biologist, broadly familiar with physiology and medicine and the fields (biology, chemistry, bioengineering, etc.) with which these disciplines overlap. Whenever I make a comment outside the narrow area of muscle physiology (my research area), each of these gentlemen has chided me for speaking in areas in which I am not qualified, or my remarks are dismissed as an ‘appeal to authority’.

Here’s the difference: you really WERE committing the fallacy of arguing from authority (in logic, argumentum ad verecundiam). We have always tried to avoid saying or implying ‘believe me because I’m a scientist trained in such and such a field’, therefore we were not guilty of this fallacy. Rather, we try to rely on the strengths of our arguments, the soundness or unsoundness of which are independent of who is making them. Hopefully, the only time we appeal to our qualifications is defensively, to refute the charge that ‘no intelligent person/no real scientist believes creation/doubts goo-to-you evolution, or to point out to ‘professional biologists’ resorting to that fallacy that we also have ‘professional biologists’ on staff.

You should find my logic article helpful.

How about some reciprocity here? Dr Wieland is a medical doctor; Dr Sarfati is a physical chemist and chess master; Dr Batten is a plant physiologist. Yet one or other of these people feel qualified to hold forth in areas as diverse as geology, radioactive dating, cosmology, genetics, paleontology, ancient languages, and a host of others. If you take other people to task for speaking outside their presumed area of expertise, …

We don’t. We take them to task for arguing from authority at the same time as speaking outside their fields. For example, Nobel laureate Murray Gell-Mann has been cited as an authority to support the claim that evolution and billions of years are facts, but why should the man who co-discovered quarks have any credence in an area totally unrelated to his expertise? How often do we hear ‘evolution must be true because most scientists believe it’?

… why do you think it proper for your staff members to speak outside of their areas? If you are tempted to respond that these men have educated themselves in other areas, that is very commendable, but by their own criteria, it does not make them qualified in those areas.

It is proper if what we say is true, and we are not using argumentum ad vericundiam to bluff/cudgel people into accepting our argument. And I note that you have not proven otherwise.

I once posed (in person) a question on astronomy to Dr John Morris of ICR. He had the good grace to say that since astronomy was out of his field, he could not answer the question. Why are your staff people not willing to do the same?

We would, and we have on many occasions. However for a web response as opposed to being caught on the hop, we have the opportunity to consult those knowledgeable in the field. In fact, not only our peer reviewed journal Journal of Creation but even our popular-level Creation magazine has articles checked by specialists in the field. E.g. I always run my astronomy articles by Dr Danny Faulkner—you know, the one whose anti-geocentrist paper you praised?

Why must [CMI] maintain a dual standard for who is qualified to speak on what topic?
Sincerely,
Richard A. Meiss
Indiana, USA

Sincerely
Jonathan Sarfati
CMI–Brisbane, Australia

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