Tag Archives: argument from authority

Theological pretzel twisting

I guess we should not be surprised that theological arguments often fall back on authority –  after all they have invented the biggest authority ever. The answer to everything (and you don’t have to be able to count to 42 – 3 will do).

Their god!

But it does provide them a useful cop-out whenever they run into problems during discussion with others – especially non-theists. Appeal to authority!

Usually they are savvy enough to use a more worldly authority – often themselves but usually other theologians, or philosophers of religion, who have “destroyed” the argument presented many times over. And because it is an appeal to authority you must take their word for it. Your argument has been destroyed, and so thoroughly they are not going to bother with the details.

So it was nice to see another philosopher dealing them some of their own medicine (see God fails triple morality test). And on a specific argument I referred to previously in my post The argument from authority (or lack thereof). In that I mentioned how a local blogger advocating a religious divine command morality had “destroyed” the Euthyphro Dilemma:

“Applied to this situation the dilemma for “divine command” ethicists is – are “moral truths” ” good and just because God wills it.” Or does “God wills it because it is good and just.” Inevitably in any real situation such an ethicist is making her moral decision for her god by appealing to some other outside source of morality. Or they talk themselves into the silly position the apologist W. L. Craig did recently when he ended up justifying biblical infanticide, genocide and ethnic cleansing – because it was commanded by his god (see Concern over William Lane Craig’s justification of biblical genocide).

The blogger resorted to an argument from authority by declaring “Euthyphro Dilemma has been well and truly dealt with by divine command meta-ethics. This has been done so many times I find it incredible that anyone still brings it up!” As far as he was concerned that was the end of it. No details were going to be discussed under his watch.”

Well, here is what Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York, thinks of such “destruction.” Referring to the “popular idea that morality comes from God” he says:

That was soundly refuted by Plato in the Euthyphro, and despite thousands of years of desperate theological pretzel twisting the refutation stands.

Nicely put!

I must remember that term – “pretzel twisting.”

via Rationally Speaking: God fails triple morality test.

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The argument from authority (or lack thereof)

In the natural sciences arguing from authority is frowned on. Sure, we do have to give credence to authorities when attempting to understand subjects outside our field. But, in our own areas (and in the end with any scientific subject) authority counts for nothing. After all the best test of any scientific idea is to measure it against reality. Evidence counts more than authority.

So I always find arguments from authority  weak. And when the arguer uses only that approach, maybe even using the argument from authority as a way of ignoring evidence (or even details of the argument itself), I suspect that argument from authority has become a way of avoiding the issue completely. One can end up debating at length the importance of authority, or the rights of others to have opinions, and never once deal with the real issue which sparked the debate.

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