Feedback archive Feedback 2013

Arguing about authority

Published: 13 July 2013 (GMT+10)

Today’s feedback features two correspondents who pose questions about the use and abuse of credentials in argumentation. CMI’s and respond.

stockxchng arguing

John H. from Canada writes:

My question is-HOW CAN THE INFORMATION YOUR SITE OFFERS in contrast to reputable scientific authority from individuals that hold Ph.D’s, Doctorates and and have obtained Nobel Laureate’s, schooled by established University’s such Harvard, Cambridge, M.I.T., etc, be refuted and compare to person’s such as limited schooled as : Lita Sanders obtained a B.A. (Summa Cum Laude (= First Class Honours)) in Biblical Studies from Oklahoma Wesleyan University in 2008, where she won the Koinē Greek Scholar Award. She is now completing her M.A. New Testament thesis at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, which awarded her the Carl F.H. Henry Scholarship, “Trinity’s highest award”, as well as the Helga Henry Scholarship, “given to outstanding women who desire to pursue a theological education”

CMI’s Dr Carl Wieland responds:

Dear Sir,

I don’t exactly concur with your reasoning.

Firstly, when it comes to the science, isn’t the issue supposed to be the facts and the arguments themselves, rather than the qualifications of the person presenting them? All around the world there are intelligent, skilled writers who take information provided by qualified scientists and put it into a form that communicates well, and Lita is no exception (with the proviso that she is actually far more intelligent than most such journalists, and has a better grasp of the science than many science teachers I have known, but that is an aside here). I am sure you have never written to complain when evolution-promoting information by such persons is published.

Note that not only does the information in this case come from CMI, which employs a number of Ph.D. scientists worldwide who have obtained their qualifications in recognized, world-class institutions, but they also act as checkers and referees, in effect, of the information that is published. This seems to be a classic case of not just the informal logical fallacy of argument from authority, but also argumentum ad hominem, playing the man (in this case woman) and not the ball.

If I may say so, your approach suggests that the real problem is that the issues are presented in a framework that conflicts with your philosophical preferences. It may be no coincidence that your chosen email address contains ‘liberty’ in relation to ‘lifestyles’. If so, I would point you to the true liberty obtainable in Jesus Christ.

Dr Carl Wieland

John T. from Canada writes in response to An unconvincing Shroud story:

“It may seem like a cheap shot to ask what right someone has to pontificate about matters like these, but particularly when an individual makes claims that would overturn decades and even centuries of research by specialists in the field, we have a right to ask on what authority he makes these claims.” Yes, it is a cheap shot. Issues such as this must be settled by the facts adduced, and not by the academic qualifications of the person making the argument. After all, you will always find scientists who believe in evolution who are even more highly credentialed than the CMI staff. De Wesselow’s case fails because of his lack of evidence, not because he is an art historian.

CMI’s Lita Sanders responds:

Dear John,

Please note that de Wesselow’s lack of credentials was not the only mitigating factor. His claims were ludicrous and went against all the evidence, and contradicted the biblical text as well as centuries worth of NT scholarship. Furthermore, the science behind what he was claiming about the Shroud is likely even more of a sham than I was able to cover in the review. When someone sets himself up as an authority, and uses his credentials to establish his authority on the subject, it is perfectly valid to point out that his credentials are worthless for the debate in question. To drive the point home, I spent literally the rest of the review showing exactly in what ways the claims were not valid.


Lita Sanders

Helpful Resources

Christianity for Skeptics
by Drs Steve Kumar, Jonathan D Sarfati
US $17.00
Soft Cover