A logical fallacy is the use of faulty reasoning in the construction of an argument. It’s usually the rule, rather than the exception, that logical fallacies come into play in modern discourse. It’s far too common. Few people care to be internally consistent, form their statements properly, or in some cases use basic logic at all. It’s much better to copy the beliefs you think you’re supposed to have from the people you’ve been told are in the right, right?
No. That’s what today’s fallacy is about. I’ll be going through a bunch of these, but first on the agenda is the appeal to authority.
Appeal to Authority
It’s a very popular tactic to appeal to an authority figure (on the subject at hand, hopefully) when making a point. If the authority figure agrees with you, then it’s settled, right? After all, they must know better than us because they’re an expert on the matter. Maybe, but not necessarily.
When making an appeal, we argue that our position is the correct one. We claim it’s rooted in truth. But truth doesn’t care about authority. Truth stands alone, available for anyone of any status, any fame, any ability, any age, any gender, any location, any appearance, or any wealth to possess it. It cannot be held captive by any one person or group.
Truth in the Bible
“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'”John 8:31-32 (ESV)
God is the only one who has an unequivocal claim to truth.
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”John 17:17 (ESV)
In John 17, we read that God’s word is truth. It doesn’t say God’s word is “true.” It says God’s word is literally “truth” itself. We ought to read the Scriptures if we desire to align ourselves with truth.
“Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.”Psalm 25:5 (ESV)
God speaks the truth, but people in authority are just people. They’re fallible and imperfect. Sometimes they’re right, but other times they’re wrong. What makes them valuable, then? Well, that depends on the authority.
The Value of Authority
Some authority figures are experts, meaning we trust them because they’ve done the research or have the experience to back up their claims. Others are leaders, meaning they know how to effectively direct people to action. The former is more likely to offer valuable insight on a given topic than the latter, but many still trust leaders because they inspire us on an emotional level.
Either kind of authority figure may know better than us, but they won’t always. This is why experts meet together on a regular basis to exchange ideas and information. If they were already individually perfect, there would be no need for this. But even after doing the research and discussing it with other professionals, authority figures in the same field still disagree with one another on a regular basis.
The problem with appealing to authority is that truth is not inherent in any authority apart from the divine. Not even the apostles claimed to be perfect.
“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”1 Corinthians 1:10-13 (ESV)
In 1 Corinthians, Paul rebukes the people for aligning themselves with specific authority figures and forming divisions among themselves. This passage is primarily about church unity, but there’s also a lesson to be learned about human authority. Paul asks, “Was Paul crucified for you?” No, of course not. Jesus was crucified for us. Rather than align ourselves with Paul, we should align ourselves with Jesus.
This fallacy betrays that the person using it probably doesn’t have an argument of their own. They either don’t have the truth or they don’t know how to express it. Pointing at someone else to do the job for them is irresponsible, ignorant, and risky. At best, the authority figure is correct and the person committing the fallacy is revealed to have taken a shortcut to truth with little to no idea why they believe what they believe. At worst, the authority figure is wrong and the person committing the fallacy is revealed to be incorrect, using confirmation bias to recklessly latch on to a claim they find attractive while forgoing an honest search for truth.
What then should we do? If an authority figure claims something to be true, our goal should be to discover that truth for ourselves so we can understand it and make our own arguments based on it. Truth should be our appeal, not the person we hope possesses it.
“Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”Acts 17:11 (ESV)
Only by doing our due diligence will we be able to argue aright, with educated opinions of our own rather than appealing to someone else. By doing our own research, we learn so much more about the subject at hand. We’ll be better equipped to argue our position and we’ll be arguing from an informed perspective.
And guess what? If, after looking into something, you find yourself disagreeing with the opinion you previously had from an authority figure, so much the better! That’s called thinking for yourself and it’s a good thing. Don’t let your biases constrain you. Pursue truth relentlessly, holding God’s truth above all. In doing so, you’ll strengthen your worldview and ensure its foundations are solid.
That’s all for now. I’ll write about more logical fallacies in the future. Let me know which fallacy you want to see next by commenting below. Enter your email if you want to be notified when my next post goes live. Thanks for reading. Godspeed.