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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.

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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 Cosner 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 Cosner 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 Cosner

Helpful Resources

Christianity for Skeptics
by Drs Steve Kumar, Jonathan D Sarfati
US $10.00
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

Josef L.
I wonder what John H. would think of someone like Bill Nye who has become vocal as of late in promoting evolutionism. Mr. Nye has a B.S. in mechanical engineering. Who is he to contradict CMI staff who have earned doctorates in fields that are more related to the topic of evolution, such as Dr. Don Batten?
Bob S.
Evolutionists rely on fabricated stories, well filtered facts, irrationality, rationalizations, and arbitrary assumptions. It's amazing anyone could believe such things that are built on vapor. There is no foundation for their thinking. They may use the word, science, but if you probe until they finally tell you the basis of their belief, you will be amazed to know that they have nothing there. Most of them don't seem to understand science, especially if they have been trained in science by the Secular Humanist universities, which includes all publicly funded universities. There is a lot of hocus pokus, flimflam, and shifty deception, but no substance. The starting point of their logic is a handful of dogmatically believed assumptions: naturalism (God doesn't speak or do anything), materialism (God doesn't exist), and uniformitarianism (there was no 6-day creation or catastrophic worldwide flood). Then they use those assumptions to prove that God doesn't speak or do anything else, God doesn't exist, and there was no 6-day creation or worldwide flood. That is circular. They have rationalizations to support their assumptions, but no matter how carefully they rationalize their assumptions, assumptions are by nature arbitrary and thus it is irrational to become dogmatic about an assumption.
Donald M.
Interesting co-incidence. My wife and I were just watching the Martin Luther movie from the '50s in which Luther retorts to John Eck, "It doesn't matter who said it, it is still the truth!" Our thanks to CMI for staying on topic and IDing erroneous arguments.
Errol B.
John H. I understand why you might think the biblical position is wrong... but only if you restrict your reasoning to ‘pure naturalism’ as science cannot directly deal with any hint of ‘super-naturalism’. Indeed biblical creationists are subject to biblical truth while atheists see themselves as free thinkers. If you think about it, biblical creationists are not against the scientific method which uses pure naturalism in the empirical sense, but to restrict your thinking to hypotheses and conclusions of a purely naturalistic nature once probabilities are calculated means it is you who is restricting your science, not the creationist scientists- who permit both naturalistic and non or ‘super’-naturalistic conclusions. Who are more subjective and who are the free thinkers?
Creationists do not deny evolutionists the right to debate- based on qualifications; see The Great Dothan Creation/Evolution Debate DVD featuring Mr R Pierson (evolutionist) vs. Dr R Carter (biblical creationist). Although Mr Pierson struggled, he still had a firm grasp of the current evolutionary arguments. I suggest the key is to understand what you are in disagreement with. Simply the observed adaptive changes (via Biological Advantageous Degeneration B.A.D) or the non-observed theoretical changes which require the adding of new genetic information? Research the mechanisms in operation allowing natural selection to operate, e.g. antibiotic resistant bacteria, sickle cell anaemia etc.
Joe F.
PhDs are a great asset, and it would be nice to have more of them. They are not, however, worthy of the worship modern society too often grants them. Their contributions are important, but their credentials are no guarantee that their conclusions are accurate. And their academic prowess is no indication of their ability to communicate clearly what they have to say. Cosner, on the other hand, does have the skills as a writer to make difficult explanations understandable, coupled with adequate education to comprehend those issues. That is what truly matters.
Cowboy Bob S.
On many occasions, I have encountered a short form of this "complaint": "What are your credentials?" People go on to indicate that if we do not have the proper credentials (arbitrarily assigned, based on the questioner), then we have no business doubting evolution. Ironically, many of the "proofs" these people offer are bad logic based on outdated science!

This appeal to authority is not only silly, but a transparent attempt to bully Darwin doubters into silence. Also, such an attitude has chilling implications for free speech and for Scientism.

But it works both ways. Often, I will hear or read excuses why they hate God, the Bible, Christians, creationists and so on. "So...where is your degree in theology? If you do not have one, you should not voice your objections." Fortunately, I do not know any Christians who take that attitude, except to show the absurdity of demanding credentials.

One last point way to illustrate absurdity, and I'll go away (since I am not producing my credentials, heh): What are *their* credentials to argue *for* evolution?
David G.
John H from Canada might note that there is no call for an apostrophe in "Nobel Laureate’s". His usage is a plural, not a possessive. Now, let's see, what else doesn't add up in his comment....
George C.
I have found Lita Cosner's articles very informative , clear and more importantly containing sound logic. We judge people on what they SAY, not on their qualifications or who they are. Keep up the good work Lita .
James T.
I actually love Lita's articles and find them to be really helpful.Especially the ones that help Christians with doubt.Those articles really restored my faith.=)
Steve B.
Hi John H. Evolutionists, regardless of their qualifications, continue to avoid the major problems with their theory. It is the greatest hoax on earth and poor science. Despite the criticisms of their own eg. Jonathon Wells in his book 'The Design of Life' they continue with the deception. You notice how well they suppress the truth when you see Craig Venter, a reputable geneticist, call Darwin's 'Tree of Life' an 'artefact' that wasn't holding up to current genome research then see him retracting from that position when harassed by Richard Dawkins. Why do they do it? Firstly, to avoid damaging their reputation in the 'scientific' community. Secondly, to avoid losing research funding and sadly, to avoid their Creator.
D. K.
Romans chapter one.
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful;
but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.

The "foolish" Ad Hominem writer needs to "see clearly that, which should be inexcusably obvious to him" he may then greatly appreciate the efforts of Lita Cosner, CMI and others in making the glory of the invisible creator redeemer visible to the dark imperiled human heart. The understandings imparted by the worlds finest universities are far more notable for perversely slandering and denying God than glorifying him. Render unto Caesar the things of Caesar and to God the things of God.
graham P.
The correspondent reminds me of Sheldon Cooper (Big Bang Theory), who said to his girlfriend "I'm a physicist, I know everything!".
It might impress the babes, but the idea that qualifications mean anything at all is strictly for initiates, newbies and those seeking their own glory.
Einstein wrote his best papers whilst still a patent clerk, for example, and nobody refers to Newton as 'Dr Newton'.
William S.
Lita Cosner is an incredible asset to CMI The fact she is being attacked like this is a sign that she is making a huge impact on the evolutionary lie. Keep up the good work Lita.

Matt. 5-11; "Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me."
David L.
The articles I have read on this site are either from FACTS found by research of the author or based on FACTS researched by evolution promoting intellectuals (PhD scholars, Expert in their field, etc). Either way-- FACTS. Conclusions drawn by the authors are conclusive and REASONable to one of basic intelligence.

Dear John H. please be very very careful putting your total trust in someones Authority just because they have been GIVEN that authority. Men (and Women) lie. They lie to make themselves look better in others eyes but more importantly in their own eyes. This is basic human instinct. (survival of the fittest???) Look at others that require respect of their opinion. They lie often and often get caught out for it.
eg: our law officers, councilmen, parliamentarians(congressmen) JUDGES!! Lets look at history. Kings, Nobles, Priests, religious leaders, scout leaders........ the list is endless.

Should I place my trust in just the authority of someone. No I have a brain to use REASON to look at the FACTS and make up my own mind.

John H. this is my testimony to you. I have spent years researching this God and Bible thing. The FACTS I have collected over the years from ALL views point consistently to a creator position. Actually if you could just dump all your points of view for a week and carefully comb over all the FACTS available to us today. Have no preconceived viewpoints. The evidence on today's information is overwhelmingly pointing to a creator. Maybe an alien??? Well you are right there. We are alien to the God of the Bible. BUT he wants to change that and be in relationship with us. Read it for yourself. The storyline is all through the 66 books of what is known as the Bible.
Hyeseung J.
I am doing my PhD in applied linguistics, and I spend most of my time on grappling with academic materials written by PhD-obtained scholars.

I've been always amazed by Lisa Cosner's knowledge, wisdom and insight, and by her clear, consistent and coherent argument. This is a quality that I, unfortunately, do not often find from the writings of numerous PhDs that I have read.

As a reader of CMI, I would like to acknowledge Lisa Cosner (and other non-PhD authors) is an excellent and competent academic writer.

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