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Author Topic:   Science is based on a logical fallacy - II (re: Appeal to Authority)
Modulous
Member (Idle past 181 days)
Posts: 7789
From: Manchester, UK
Joined: 05-01-2005


Message 16 of 30 (448388)
01-13-2008 9:07 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by subbie
01-12-2008 6:32 PM


Generally speaking, Appeal to Authority is simply saying that something is true based on the fact of someone else saying so. For example, "The world can't be millions of years old, because the bible says it's only a few thousand years old."

Science itself, however, would grind to a halt without the ability to rely on what others say.

The scientific method doesn't rely on statements like "X says Y, therefore Y is true". It is more like "If Y, as X says, is true, then my observation of Z implies my hypothesis regarding A is true."

The argument then can be falsified by showing X was wrong about Y or it can be weakened by showing that X did not say Y.

This is in fact the true basis for nearly every cdesign proponentist objection to science. "Sure, all you guys claim to have shown that this evilushun stuff is true, but I've never seen it. And my authority says it ain't so." And, while the cdesign proponentist's claim for support for his position is certainly vulnerable to attack based on it being an Appeal to Authority, the interesting thing is that so is the science position.

cdesign proponentist's arguments can be show false in the same way. Usually because ultimately X did not say Y, but sometimes because X has been subsequently shown to be wrong. Sometimes the error in logic comes in the claim that their hypothesis is implied to be true as a result of Y.

Also, cdesign proponentist's often appeal to authorities who are not actually authorities in the field under question, they are often dentists, urologists and engineers making statements about genetics and the like.

In the final analysis, science is really nothing more than a popularity contest. When the number of people who claim to have confirmed a given proposition reaches a certain critical mass, the proposition is generally accepted.

It is a contest of ideas, the ideas with the most merit and evidence become more and more accepted. When many experts independently agree with a proposition, non-experts can be assured that the proposition represents the best knowledge available. Tentativity, as always, is present making sure the argument is never "The consensus of experts of field X says Y and Y is a proposition under the field X, therefore Y is true", but rather "The consensus of experts of field X says Y and Y is a proposition under the field X, therefore Y is the best proposition we have. Given Y, then....".

If two historians who specialis in 11th Century warfare say that such a Battle occurred in 1065, then that is more likely to be true than any contradictory statement by an economist and a carpenter. All human knowledge builds off standing on the shoulders of giants, not just science, and it is not fallacious to do so. As long as it is always borne in mind that the experts should continually test the foundations, the shoulders, for their reliability. Otherwise dogma and orthodoxy rear their ugly heads.

Edited by Modulous, : No reason given.


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Straggler
Member
Posts: 10284
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


Message 17 of 30 (448402)
01-13-2008 10:38 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by subbie
01-12-2008 6:32 PM


I could not disagree more
Science at the fundamental level is about revealing objective truth about the natural world based on physical evidence.
Although necessarily imperfect the methods of science involving prediction, repeatability etc. etc. etc. are the best means we have constructed of ensuring the MOST objective and MOST accuarate conclusions possible.
Science is more than prescriptive method. It is about the best means of evaluating theories given the different kinds of physical evidence available.

Any reliance on authority is for the purely practical reason of not reinventing the wheel at every turn and the history of science is littered with absolute disregard for authority at any point that authority and nature seem to be at odds with each other.

In a contest between established thinking (i.e. authority) and reliable repeatable experimental evidence, evidence will (and has) won at every turn.
Purely because evidence is more reliable than authority in achieving the aims of science.

What you are describing is not science as I know it. It is however the very essence of unprovable faith based thinking.
That is the difference between the two and your misappreciation of the way science works is why you are confusing the two.

Edited by Straggler, : No reason given.


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RAZD
Member
Posts: 19756
From: the other end of the sidewalk
Joined: 03-14-2004
Member Rating: 5.5


Message 18 of 30 (448403)
01-13-2008 10:47 AM
Reply to: Message 17 by Straggler
01-13-2008 10:38 AM


Re: I could not disagree more
What you are describing is not science as I know it. It is however the very essence of unprovable faith based thinking.
That is the difference between the two and your misappreciation of the way science works is why you are confusing the two.

It's intentional. See his previous thread:

quote:
Just thought I'd give the creos a little ammunition for their arguments since this place seems to have gotten a bit slow lately.

Enjoy.


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This message is a reply to:
 Message 17 by Straggler, posted 01-13-2008 10:38 AM Straggler has responded

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Straggler
Member
Posts: 10284
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


Message 19 of 30 (448407)
01-13-2008 10:56 AM
Reply to: Message 18 by RAZD
01-13-2008 10:47 AM


Re: I could not disagree more
Aha!

It is a sad fact that we often have to make the creationist arguments for them as they are a) so few on the ground and b) so unable to make their own case in any properly debatable format.

I would say in respone to the original post you link to that the question "why is prediction so key to evaluating scientific theories" needs to be asked.
The answer is that it is one of the most difficult and objective tests that a theory can undergo.
It is not applicable to all evidence but as a method of objectively evaluating the 'truth' of a theory measurable prediction is second to none.

Constructing logical fallacy arguements based on the method rather than the reasons for the method misses the big picture 'nature of science' point entirely.


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Percy
Member
Posts: 18309
From: New Hampshire
Joined: 12-23-2000
Member Rating: 2.7


Message 20 of 30 (448424)
01-13-2008 12:02 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by subbie
01-12-2008 6:32 PM


subbie writes:

Now, surely the objection to this position is that science doesn't rely on what another person says. Science relies on repeatability, the fact that no proposition is accepted as accurate unless and until others can do the same work that the initial proponent of the proposition did and come to the same conclusion.

However, repeatability doesn't eliminate the problem of appeal to authority. It simply means that we are relying on the authority of not just one person, but many.

In the final analysis, science is really nothing more than a popularity contest. When the number of people who claim to have confirmed a given proposition reaches a certain critical mass, the proposition is generally accepted.

While you've described the portion of the scientific process related to replication and acceptance in a manner designed to cast it in a negative light, it is largely correct, but it isn't the argument from authority. The argument from authority is, "John Smith is a respected authority, he's says this is so, therefore it's so."

As your own description of the process makes clear, scientifically verified theories are not arguments from authority because they are supported by an intense process of experiment, observation, analysis, replication and prediction validation.

--Percy


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Taz
Member (Idle past 1368 days)
Posts: 5069
From: Zerus
Joined: 07-18-2006


Message 21 of 30 (449429)
01-17-2008 9:54 PM
Reply to: Message 6 by nwr
01-12-2008 9:28 PM


Re: I can't stand it anymore.
This is a reply to all of you, not just nwr.

After you guys made me doubt myself about informal fallacies, I decided to seek out an old aquaintance of mine who by pure coincidence happens to teach logic and philosophy of science at a university. After I kidnapped him and did some torture, he finally agreed with me. Since he couldn't stand the pain, he graciously let me borrowed one of his books on fallacies. I will type out the section about appeal to authority so you guys can judge it yourself.

Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric: The Use of Reason in Everyday Life

By Howard Kahane and Nancy Cavender

1. Appeal To Authority

One of the most serious errors in reasoning is to accept the word of someone, in particular an alleged authority, when we should be suspicious. We all have to appeal to experts for information or advice--only fools don't do so with some regularity. In this technological age we all are nonexperts in most fields. Accepting the word of an authority, alleged or genuine, when we shouldn't makes us guilty of the fallacy called appeal to authority.

But which appeals are proper and which fallacious (hint hint). Clearly, it isn't a good idea to believe that an authority is reliable without having good reason for doing so. Some alleged authorities don't have the expertise they claim; others can't be relied on to tell it to us straight rather than feed us something more self-serving. Anyway, in some cases we need to do some of our own thinking and research.

So when seeking expert advice, three basic questions need to be addressed if we want to avoid committing the fallacy of appeal to authority:

1. IS the source likely to have the information or good judgment we need?
2. If so, can we trust the authority to tell it to us straight?
3. Do we have the time, desire, and ability to reason the matter out for ourselves (or to understand the expert's reasoning, so that we don't have to rely merely on the authority's word)?

We usually know right away whether we have the needed time and inclination, but the other questions often are rather difficult to answer. However, a few rules of thumb should prove helpful.

Some Authorities Are More Trust Sorthy than Others

INdividuals who are regarded as authorities or experts are not created equal. Some are smart, others stupid; some are well trained in their field, some not; some are more or less honest (a completely honest person being a rarity in any case), others pretty much untrustworthy.

Characters who are less than completely ethical are found in every profession, but some fields attract this type more than others. The fields of law, financial advising, and politics, for instance, notoriously attract sharp operators, but even the ministry is not without its Elmer Gantrys and Jim Bakkers, and doctors who prescribe unneeded surgery are not unknown in the history of medicine.

Blah blah blah...

Authorities in One Field Aren't Necessarily Experts in Another

Famous athletes and movie stars who endorse all sorts of products in television commercials are good examples of professionals speaking outside their fields of expertise. There's no reason to suppose that someone who knows how to act, or to hit home runs, knows any more about washing machines, or shaving cream, than anyone else. Blah blah blah...

Learn How Best to Appeal to Authorities

It generally is easy to know which sorts of experts to appeal to. Sick people need to consult doctors; someone sued for divorce, a lawyer. It's a lot more difficult to find experts in a particular profession who know their stuff and can be relied on. But even after finding them, we need to become adept at picking their brains. Experts often throw up roadblocks to understanding, especially by overwhelming us with professional lingo. They frequently find it tedious to explain complicated matters to laypeople, and anyway, they may not want to spend the time and effort necessary to do so.

It also is true that laypeople often are unable to follow the complicated reasonings of trained professionals, medical specialists being a case in point. But it usually is possible to get at least a rough idea of what authorities are up to if we are persistent and if we insist that they translate their professional lingo into ordinary discourse. It's hard not to be intimidated by professional jargon or by an authoritarian aura, but it is well worth the effort to resist that sort of intimidation.

blah blah blah...

And it goes on and on.

The point is appeal to authority is not always fallacious. It can be, but not always. Informal fallacies are only fallacies when they are.

You can read about Howard Kahane this NYTimes article.

Nancy Cavender is a retired English/Humanities professor of College of Marin.

Don't argue with me on this. Argue with those 2 who wrote the damn book.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 6 by nwr, posted 01-12-2008 9:28 PM nwr has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 22 by nwr, posted 01-17-2008 10:17 PM Taz has responded

  
nwr
Member
Posts: 5585
From: Geneva, Illinois
Joined: 08-08-2005


Message 22 of 30 (449443)
01-17-2008 10:17 PM
Reply to: Message 21 by Taz
01-17-2008 9:54 PM


Re: I can't stand it anymore.
After you guys made me doubt myself about informal fallacies, I decided to seek out an old aquaintance of mine who by pure coincidence happens to teach logic and philosophy of science at a university. After I kidnapped him and did some torture, he finally agreed with me.

I hope you won't mind my pointing out that you just make an appeal to authority :laugh:


Let's end the political smears
This message is a reply to:
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Replies to this message:
 Message 23 by subbie, posted 01-17-2008 10:19 PM nwr has acknowledged this reply
 Message 24 by Taz, posted 01-17-2008 10:22 PM nwr has responded

  
subbie
Member (Idle past 36 days)
Posts: 3508
Joined: 02-26-2006


Message 23 of 30 (449444)
01-17-2008 10:19 PM
Reply to: Message 22 by nwr
01-17-2008 10:17 PM


Re: I can't stand it anymore.
I was going to make the same point, but since he's already at the point where he can't stand it anymore, I didn't want to be responsible for pushing him over the edge.


Those who would sacrifice an essential liberty for a temporary security will lose both, and deserve neither. -- Benjamin Franklin

We see monsters where science shows us windmills. -- Phat


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Taz
Member (Idle past 1368 days)
Posts: 5069
From: Zerus
Joined: 07-18-2006


Message 24 of 30 (449446)
01-17-2008 10:22 PM
Reply to: Message 22 by nwr
01-17-2008 10:17 PM


Re: I can't stand it anymore.
I've already kidnapped and tortured a logician. Don't make me kidnap and torture a mathematician like yourself.

But seriously, I can't believe I got hung up on this issue so much that I actually drove an hour out of my way to meet this guy to have a nice long talk with him on informal fallacies. Now you know I'm nuts.

Edited by Taz, : No reason given.


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Replies to this message:
 Message 25 by nwr, posted 01-17-2008 10:37 PM Taz has responded

  
nwr
Member
Posts: 5585
From: Geneva, Illinois
Joined: 08-08-2005


Message 25 of 30 (449455)
01-17-2008 10:37 PM
Reply to: Message 24 by Taz
01-17-2008 10:22 PM


Re: I can't stand it anymore.
The term "fallacy" is sometimes thrown around too loosely.

The proper way to use logic it to start with agreed premises, then use logic in reaching conclusions. One might well cite authorities to provide support for the premises. But techically, that's not part of the logic. As long as a debate opponent is allowed to challenge your premises, there really isn't a fallacy involved. Appeal to authority is a problem when it is hauled in later, after the premises should have been established.

If you say "I'm right, and authority X agrees with me", that's an appeal to authority. You tried to close off the debate with your use of an authority.

If you say "I believe I am right, and authority X also believes that" you are not really appealing to authority, because you are still allowing room for disagreement. You cited the authority for support, but did not assert that the authority settles the issue.


Let's end the political smears
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Replies to this message:
 Message 26 by Taz, posted 01-17-2008 10:47 PM nwr has responded

  
Taz
Member (Idle past 1368 days)
Posts: 5069
From: Zerus
Joined: 07-18-2006


Message 26 of 30 (449458)
01-17-2008 10:47 PM
Reply to: Message 25 by nwr
01-17-2008 10:37 PM


Re: I can't stand it anymore.
nwr writes:

You cited the authority for support, but did not assert that the authority settles the issue.


Well, the issue that I am concern with is whether appeal to authority is always a fallacy or not. Other logicians on here can comment if they want. The aquaintance I talked to assured me that not only is every logician and philosopher he knows and know of agrees that appeal to authority not always a fallacy, it is common sense that appeal to authority is not always a fallacy.

Appealing to authority in science is not fallacious because not only are the results of scientists making the claims are checked over and over but that the results must be repeatable by anyone/everyone else who chooses to investigate. It is not fallacious because we are talking about real experts who have dedicated their entire lives in researching the issue.

Again, is consulting your doctor (who happens to specialize in brain tumor) about that brain tumor you have fallacious?

Anyway, I've already stressed myself too much on this little issue. Time to take my blood pressure medication...


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nwr
Member
Posts: 5585
From: Geneva, Illinois
Joined: 08-08-2005


Message 27 of 30 (449463)
01-17-2008 10:58 PM
Reply to: Message 26 by Taz
01-17-2008 10:47 PM


Re: I can't stand it anymore.
I think we are having a semantic disagreement here. I am using the expression "appeal to authority" more narrowly than you want to use it. As I use the term, a citation is not an appeal to authority.

I guess I could put it this way. Citing an authority in an attempt to persuade your your opponent is not an appeal to authority. It is simply a citation of supporting evidence.

Citing an authority in an attempt to compel agreement is an appeal to authority.

I don't have a problem with consulting your doctor about that brain tumor. That's not an appeal to authority. However, if that Doctor insists that you accept his advice without seeking a second opinion, then that is an appeal to his own authority, and it should give you great cause for concern.


Let's end the political smears
This message is a reply to:
 Message 26 by Taz, posted 01-17-2008 10:47 PM Taz has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 28 by Taz, posted 01-17-2008 11:02 PM nwr has responded

  
Taz
Member (Idle past 1368 days)
Posts: 5069
From: Zerus
Joined: 07-18-2006


Message 28 of 30 (449464)
01-17-2008 11:02 PM
Reply to: Message 27 by nwr
01-17-2008 10:58 PM


Re: I can't stand it anymore.
The issue is about whether appeal to authority is always fallacious. The fact remains that the several logic classes I took in college all taught me that not all appeal to authority are fallacious. The fact remains that a logician who teaches logic and philosophy of science at a university told me the same thing. The fact remains that a book written by a prominent logician also says the same thing.

So, do you or do you not agree that appeal to authority is not always a fallacy?


This message is a reply to:
 Message 27 by nwr, posted 01-17-2008 10:58 PM nwr has responded

Replies to this message:
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nwr
Member
Posts: 5585
From: Geneva, Illinois
Joined: 08-08-2005


Message 29 of 30 (449466)
01-17-2008 11:17 PM
Reply to: Message 28 by Taz
01-17-2008 11:02 PM


Re: I can't stand it anymore.
So, do you or do you not agree that appeal to authority is not always a fallacy?

Does it even matter whether I agree?

I'm responsible for keeping the logic straight in my own arguments. I make no claims to be an authority on logic fallacies.

In the unlikely event that I ever wrote a book on logic, it would probably say very little about fallacies. It's the philosophers who make a big deal over fallacies, not the mathematicians. Hmm, come to think of it, that even makes sense. After all it is in the philosophy literature that you can find the committing of fallacy after fallacy. You will rarely find that in the mathematics literature.


Let's end the political smears
This message is a reply to:
 Message 28 by Taz, posted 01-17-2008 11:02 PM Taz has responded

Replies to this message:
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Taz
Member (Idle past 1368 days)
Posts: 5069
From: Zerus
Joined: 07-18-2006


Message 30 of 30 (449468)
01-17-2008 11:26 PM
Reply to: Message 29 by nwr
01-17-2008 11:17 PM


Re: I can't stand it anymore.
nwr post 29 writes:

I'm responsible for keeping the logic straight in my own arguments. I make no claims to be an authority on logic fallacies.

In the unlikely event that I ever wrote a book on logic, it would probably say very little about fallacies. It's the philosophers who make a big deal over fallacies, not the mathematicians.

Anyway, in conclusion, I'd like to go back to something you said earlier.

nwr post 6 writes:

Again, I disagree. Appeal to authority is a logical fallacy. The result of an appeal to authority might well be correct. But you did not reach that result using logic. You might have good reason th accept authority in this particular case. But your decision to accept authority is outside of logic.

It looks clear to me that you made a broad statement about logic, not just your own logic.

Anyway, I've wasted enough time on this insignificant trivial thing.


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