As I discussed in Logical Fallacies Part I, the rhetorical device employed by Intelligent design proponents is the Logical Fallacy of the False dichotomy. Once I get agreement that a false dichotomy was improperly employed, we can discuss the real issues.
First we can address the question, “Is Intelligent Design
science?” Here, a second problem surfaces. For every PZ Myers, there is a
Michael Behe. For every William Dembski there is a Jason Rodenhouse or Mark
Perakh. For every Robert Pennock there is a David
Berlinski. For every Gary Hurd, there
is a Fritz Schroeder. And then there’s
James Shapiro, in a class by himself. In short, upon superficial observation,
there are apparent “experts” on both sides of this scientific question. That
is, there are people with a doctoral degree in the field or in an apparently related field, or perhaps a scientific field or perhaps with a general interest in science,
expressing an opinion on the subject. All these people claim the mantle, "expert."
That’s not all. Many of the so called experts, such as Phillip E. Johnson, Jonathan Witt, Denyse O’Leary or any number of evangelical and religious apologists, also hold forth some claimed expertise on evolutionary biology. I’m sure the biologists are more amazed than I am that people with little or no training in biology can pontificate so confidently on a subject despite their lack of qualifications. When they do so they rely on Johnson (who has the same qualifications I do) or one of the usual characters. When I point out that these people are simply not experts in the field I am accused of the Logical Fallacy of Appeal to Authority.
Should I plead guilty?
No, I should not. I am correctly relying on authority! This “Appeal to Authority" fallacy has to be one of the most frequently misunderstood and misused ideas since people started believing that Einstein said, “Everything is relative."
The Fallacy of the Appeal to Authority is something I happen
to know quite a lot about because I work with some version of it every day.
It’s perfectly legitimate to appeal to appropriate authority. Most people don’t
realize that the full name of the fallacy is Appeal to Inappropriate Authority
The Fallacy of the Appeal to Authority is something I happen to know quite a lot about because I work with some version of it every day. It’s perfectly legitimate to appeal to appropriate authority. Most people don’t realize that the full name of the fallacy is Appeal to Inappropriate Authority
I call this the "Advertiser’s Fallacy" because it’s so prevalent in commercials, such as the one where a famous baseball slugger gives medical advice on erectile dysfunction (that should pick up the hit count!). No. See a properly qualified doctor for ED, see Rafael Palmiero only if you want to improve your baseball swing.
An appeal to Authority is improper if any of the following
An appeal to Authority is improper if any of the following are true:
- The matter is one that can’t be decided by recourse to an “authority.” What’s better, opera or country music?” Experts really can’t resolve some things and everyman’s opinion is just as valid as that of any claimed “authority.” (Country.)
- The “authority” doesn’t’ have sufficient expertise to be relied upon. I’ve had people correct my California legal interpretation because they once took a business law class and, besides, their cousin is a paralegal in Texas and told them something different. Well, pardner, we’re not in Texas, here, and one business law class is just a start on the road to expertise, not the destination. The minimum requirement to practice law in California is a bar ticket. Mine is # 114001.
- The “authority” doesn’t have any expertise in the field. Phillip E. Johnson, Denyse O’Leary, and Jonathan Witt are all examples of people with no qualifications in biology, evolution or science. An appeal to any of them or the entire combination for an opinion on evolution can only be mocked and ridiculed. Nevertheless, each could be a recognized authority in criminal law (Johnson) journalism (O’Leary) and beauty in literature (Witt). All are probably authorities, to a greater or lesser extent, on the beliefs of fundamentalist Christians.
- The “authority” is affected by bias. We see this in court all the time. Mold testing experts, not surprisingly, always seem to come down in favor of extensive testing. Chiropractors always seem to require months of adjustments for an indefinite length of time, while the orthopedic surgeons can solve the same problem on the same person with a few swipes of a surgical knife in one afternoon, often for about the same amount of money.
- The “authority” is not consistent with other authorities in the same field. Authorities such as Behe are not consistent with the great weight of authority in biology. This can best be demonstrated, ironically, by examination of theological discussions. There are several streams of opinion by experts in biblical interpretation, for example. There is often no consensus of experts in such cases and an appeal to authority is, therefore, misplaced. I also consider an appeal to authority when you know that authority is a minority position to be dishonest. Publishing a list of ID books as representative of current thinking in biology, for example, is deceptive.
- The field of expertise for the authority is not legitimate. It’s pretty obvious that an appeal to authority on UFO abductions to prove the existence of UFO’s would not be valid. The Psychic Stock picker is not a good authority for future stock market trends. The field of expertise has to meet a threshold of establishing that it is somehow a legitimate discipline. So far, Intelligent Design has not been able to meet this test. For example, what is the Intelligent Design position on the age of the earth? If it pretends to be science, the answer should be concise and brief. The truth is ID doesn’t have an answer to that question.
- The authority is unidentified. It is invalid to appeal to the authority of “Time Magazine” because we cannot evaluate whether the authority is actually an authority or has any expertise at all.
In summary, an appeal to authority is a valid method of
argument and of making decisions. It recognizes the obvious fact that we cannot all be experts in everything. It
would be a mistake to have your neurosurgeon change the brakes on your car and
your car mechanic to operate on your brain tumor. If you see a neurosurgeon for your brain tumors and a car mechanic for your disc brake adjustments and you don't know much about either, you are essentially betting your life on an appeal to authority. We all reasonably do that every day.
Analyzing Intelligent Design under the appeal to authority fallacy immediately presents several problems.
- This is a matter that can be decided by expertise. The study of biology, including evolution, is a coherent scientific field that also uses elements of physics, chemistry and mathematics, confirming its overall validity.
- Public figures pontificating on Intelligent Design such as Phillip Johnson, Denyse O’Leary and Jonathan Witt are not authorities. They have no expertise, qualifications or training. Fritz Schroeder, although he has a degree in chemistry also is unqualified. He is an “expert in something else”-- the biological equivalent of reliance on a proctologist for neurology questions. Pennock, Miller, PZ Myers and any number of biologists are authorities whose opinions simply eclipse those of non-scientists and scientists who don’t deal with biology in their day to day work.
- Behe should be judged by his peer-reviewed output on the subject in contrast to the peer-reviewed work of, for example Miller, Mayr, Myers or any number of biologists. Otherwise, we must conclude he does not have sufficient expertise in the field to give weight to his opinions. Certainly a psychiatrist who gets the facts bluntly wrong is an authority, but not on evolution.
- Anyone connected with the Discovery Institute is biased. Here’s how you can tell. Compare the links and bibliography of talkorigins to that of the Discovery Institute, or here and here. Despite the claims of the Discovery Institute and its fellow travelers to teach the controversy, none of them have any interest whatsoever in teaching or even acknowledging any other viewpoint but its own. That’s intellectually dishonest. Yes that's right, it's lying. When they put up a bibliography like this maybe they can claim to be unbiased with a straight face.
- The overwhelming majority of biologists and scientists recognize that evolution is essentially correct. That’s why Project Steve is relevant and not an Argument ad populam fallacy.
- There’s a real question as to what is even meant by Intelligent Design. Does it exclude Young earth creationism? We can’t be sure. Does it even exclude evolution? We can’t be sure. What claims about the physical world does it make? What actual research is ID performing? Any at all? Apparently not. This has all the hallmarks of a UFO hunt. Come to think of it, ID doesn’t even exclude UFO’s either. So what does it do? Whatever it does, it's not science.
We can reasonably and safely rely on the combined authorities of Darwin, Gould, Mayr, Myers Rodenhouse, Miller, Pennock, Hurd and Perach when deciding whether Intelligent design is science. they unanimously conclude it is not.