The Appeal to Authority Resort

Have you ever had this done to you before?

It starts like this. We offer some fact or argument, and note that it was offered by a certain credentialed scholar in the field of the argument subject.

The critic shoots back that we are committing a fallacious “appeal to authority” and therefore refuses to answer the argument, which should (they say) stand on its own merits.

Of course, this is clearly an evasion that is as much an admission that the critic can’t answer the argument and needs a way out. If the argument or fact had been presented without reference to the scholar, then the critic would never know that was the source and be left without any way to claim a fallacious appeal to authority was being made. (Of course, too, they would then demand to know where we got our information, as though we just made it up.)

But that’s not the main problem. The main problem is that “appeal to authority” as done above isn’t a fallacy at all. This is an abuse and misunderstanding of what that fallacy actually is.

If the critic is right, and this is a fallacy as stated, then the implications are rather drastic. Academic journal articles and books littered with supporting notes are nothing but long-winded fallacies. Expert witnesses in court settings should be dispensed with, as the use of them is fallacious. Not even a nightly news program can be believed, since we believe what they say based on the authority of the reporter as a witness and as a (supposedly) intelligent human being with competent powers of observation and analysis.

The reality is that the fallacy of appeal to authority does NOT apply to citations of genuine authorities. The main expression of this fallacy is when an irrelevant authority is cited – eg, to deliver some point on nuclear physics by quoting Michael Jordan. Here are representative explanations, one from the nizkor website which collects information on logical fallacies:

This fallacy is committed when the person in question is not a legitimate authority on the subject. More formally, if person A is not qualified to make reliable claims in subject S, then the argument will be fallacious.

So likewise, the Skeptic’s Dictionary online says, approaching the matter from the other direction and explaining what the real fallacy of appeal to authority is:


The appeal to authority is a fallacy of irrelevance when the authority being cited is not really an authority. E.g., to appeal to Einstein to support a point in religion would be to make an irrelevant appeal to authority.


These are representative of many other online and print resources on the subject.

Of course, I am not saying that there is not any discernment involved when an authority is used; these reference sites give plenty of caveats as well, and I’m aware of these in my work. So for example, when I use an authority, I do so having already figured out that the person is a credible authority who deserves attention, that they are not biased to the point of distorting information and arguments, and that their views are solid enough to challenge or overcome opposing views. At such points, the burden is on the critic to meet the challenge – and merely yelling, “argument from authority” isn’t meeting that challenge.

I used the example of an expert witness above. It’s a good one: Use of scholarly sources is, in effect, a testimony by an expert witness in the court (though in this case, the court of reader opinion). Under such circumstances, the critic needs to call their own witness, as it were, if they can’t answer the point made. It will not be sufficient to offer, “Objection! Fallacious appeal to authority!” Rather, in court, it is the responsibility of opposing attorneys to either provide their own expert witness, or by some means try to discredit the opposite side’s expert witness.


Of course, whether they might try to do so legitimately, or dishonestly, is another step in the process. For critics, it is often enough (for their audience!) to simply say that a person is religious, so they must be biased and therefore untrustworthy. Or, it may be broadly suggested that because religion is so controversial, no expert witness can be accepted. (The Skeptic’s Dictionary above offers this tactic.) That’s not a serious evaluation, though, because it is just as easy to reply that an irreligious person is biased, or that atheism is controversial as a worldview. Stance alone does not indicate bias; nor does controversy alone disqualify authority. Unfair treatment of fact and argument is what matters. Other than that, I don’t see that critics are much into digging up curriculum vitae, or looking up publication records, to decide if a scholar is a credible authority. The easy way out is, well….easier!


Bottom line – the critic who throws out “appeal to authority fallacy” and does no more than that is just showing that they can’t handle what you have to offer – and using that throw-out line as a way to avoid engaging the actual argument or fact presented.

Be Sociable, Share!

39 Comments

  1. Brett Strong - June 7, 2013, 9:52 am

    Hmmmm, are you talking about any so called Jesus ‘facts’ or so called god ‘facts’? Or are you just letting off some steam?

    Brett Strong….just a question

    • Profile photo of J. P. Holding

      J. P. Holding - June 7, 2013, 10:26 am

      Any facts whatsoever. This would be the same even if the subject were plumbing, Renaissance history, or laundering techniques.

      • Brett Strong - June 7, 2013, 10:46 am

        Hi JP…its Brett Strong

        …I hope you do know there are no Jesus ‘facts’ or god ‘facts’ 🙂

        …hint JP in case you don’t know: there are only hypothesis’ concerning Jesus and god 🙂

        Brett Strong…the next wave is here and I am he!

        PS: just trying to keep you informed, that’s all 🙂

        • Profile photo of J. P. Holding

          J. P. Holding - June 7, 2013, 11:23 am

          Hi Brett Strong…its JP

          …I hope you know I am not impressed by vacuous slogan-declarations

          …hint Brett in case you don’t know: I have taken down far better than you in debates

          Your “next wave” just goes splish splash in educated ears like mine!

          PS: Come see me on theologyweb.com — we could use the entertainment, and we keep breaking our atheists.

  2. Brett Strong - June 7, 2013, 6:47 pm

    Hi JP…why all the drama? Just stating FACT my friend 🙂

    So I’ll repeat it to you AGAIN before the entire forum and blogosphere:…there are no Jesus or god facts (a big fat 0!) 🙂 ….there are only hypothesis’ about the STORYBOOK Jesus (of the NT) and the STORYBOOK god (of the NT & OT)…

    I taught that to Greg Koukl & J Warner live on radio and so now I’ll teach it to you 🙂

    Question JP: why do you think the great William Lane Craig must say in debates “the god hypothesis” & “the Jesus Resurrection hypothesis”?

    Hmmmmm JP, honestly answer that before the awesome Kurt and the people of this forum and you will have the truth that will set you free my friend 🙂

    Brett Strong…the next wave is here and I am he

    PS: JP, please answer the question above (don’t avoid it!) 🙂 …so every can see the wow truth that I speak….

    …and as always have a great day JP and Mr awesome Kurt thanks for letting me post here…and JP keep the your Jesus faith, just lose the dogma

    • Profile photo of J. P. Holding

      J. P. Holding - June 7, 2013, 7:06 pm

      (Yawn)…..more from your collection of vacuous slogans? Let me know if you find an argument somewhere….then come see us on the forum.

      I honestly don’t care what WLC’s personal linguistic habits are. They’re not an argument. But if picking nits about word choices is the best you have, we’ll definitely have a taxidermist ready for you at TheologyWeb. Surely the “next wave” if it as tidal as it claims would relish the chance to deconvert a host of the most intelligent Christians online? hmmm?

      Or is the next wave just too busy going down the drain after a good dose of Liquid Plumb’r? 😉 Hee hee….

    • Profile photo of Kurt Jaros

      Kurt Jaros - June 8, 2013, 3:00 pm

      Brett, I think WLC uses “hypothesis” because before someone makes a decision about which hypothesis is true, they look at various, alternative hypotheses regarding a matter. Then, once they determine which hypothesis is more likely to be true than the others, they assent to that hypothesis and act as if it is true.

      For example, I think the “I’ll be struck by a meteor in five minutes” hypothesis is unlikely compared to the “I won’t be struck by a meteor in five minutes” hypothesis. So, I’ll act in accordance with the latter hypothesis and continue to sit at my desk.

      Hope that helps! 🙂

      By the way, I’m glad your posting here. Various views within civil dialogue is great.

      • Brett Strong - June 8, 2013, 4:10 pm

        Hey Kurt…thanks for letting me post here! Big ups to you! May your Jesus faith serve you well all the days of your life!

        The Christian community needs more opened minded people like you!

        Brett Strong! 🙂

        Hey, how was your London trip? Did you learn anything new like from Amy Orr or my bud Justin Breierly?

  3. Brett Strong - June 7, 2013, 7:30 pm

    JP…you are avoiding the direct question I asked you! So I’ll ask you AGAIN; tell me and the forum any Jesus or god facts you know of?

    I’m about to show the world that you have no idea what you are talking about when you broach upon these subjects!

    So JP: stick on point and answer the question! (stop all this childish talking and answer the question)

    Brett Strong!

    PS: JP (to help you out): the last time I checked there are only hypothesis’ about the storybook Jesus and god!

    • Profile photo of J. P. Holding

      J. P. Holding - June 8, 2013, 8:47 am

      You never asked such a thing as a “direct question” in these postings. You only made an assertion. Please try to keep track of your commentary; it is not fair to burden others with your lack of attention to detail.

      In any event, I know of many facts. I have 1500+ articles and multiple books relating them. Let me know when you have addressed all of them.

      The last time you checked? Indeed? When was the last time the children’s section of the public library in your area was open, exactly? 🙂

      That’s how many posts of vacuous sloganeering and no arguments, now?

      • Brett Strong - June 8, 2013, 4:24 pm

        Last time JP (…stop dancing around…): state any Jesus (historical facts) or god or hell brute FACTS…not opinions or probabilities or likelihoods or personal feelings but brute facts…we’re all waiting…

        Surely if you have over 1,500 articles then surely you can list a few brute facts of Jesus, god, and hell 🙂 for all to see

        Now note…and if you reply again with a non-answer then I will have to assume you have nothing to offer…and we’ll leave it at that 🙂

        Brett Strong…the next wave is here and I am he!

        JP: You claim to be a super intellectual, you and your crew–then lets see….

        I’ve debated Greg Koukl & J Warner Wallace on STR (w/J Warner I was a special call in guest!); I’ve dialogued with Dr Paul Copan, Mary Jo Sharp, Sean McDowell, and others…so JP and crew bring what you have

        • Profile photo of Kurt Jaros

          Kurt Jaros - June 8, 2013, 5:22 pm

          Brett, could you define for me what you mean by “fact” contrasted to an “opinion”?

          So, do you think humans can know any “facts” regarding anything from, say, the first century?

          • Brett Strong - June 8, 2013, 5:50 pm

            Hi Kurt and everyone else, this Brett Strong, have to leave now to attend to my beautiful wife and kids, family time now, AWESOME! … but I’ll check everyone’s message latter on tonight…and JP lets do an audio debate/ASAP/lets work out the details…but I’m not into laptop debates…sorry…this format here is confusing enough…w/so many people going at once…

            Brett Strong…gotta go for now but its been fun–wife and kids are calling 🙂

            • Nick Peters - June 8, 2013, 5:52 pm

              Looks like the Wave of the Future thinks he can type here but somehow can’t figure out how to do that in a longer sustainable format. Oh well. Not like I was expecting we’d get an actual argument from someone who’s an entirely emotional fundy.

          • Profile photo of J. P. Holding

            J. P. Holding - June 10, 2013, 5:21 am

            Kurt:

            Have you observed at of Brett’s efforts on other blogs?

            I checked a few of them, and I do not see that he has any sort of epistemology that would allow him to answer your question. I believe he is merely copying the conclusions of a collection of atheist writers without having contemplated or digested them. In other words, I do not think he has ever thought through and conceived of a process whereby one acquires historical knowledge.

        • Profile photo of J. P. Holding

          J. P. Holding - June 10, 2013, 5:14 am

          No, Brett. I don’t do “audio” debates. I do written debates. Where you MUST provide details.

          Do not tell me you do not do “laptop” debates….you are doing one here in the comments. Right now. 😉

          You find it confusing???! Come now! Surely the “new wave” is intellectual enough to handle himself in such situations. Surely the brave, strong Brett is powerful enough to handle himself. He’s read so many scholarly books and all…like A. A. Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day”.

          Come now, new wave. Stop by and see us! I started a thread just for you:

          http://www.theologyweb.com/campus/showthread.php?156250

          I’ll be answering you there from now on…see you there!!!

  4. Brett Strong - June 8, 2013, 3:05 am

    Hey JP, while you’re at it–is “HELL” a fact too?

    So that’s three things JP: show us any Jesus or god or Hell facts!

    …not hypothesis’ or beliefs or probabilities or likelihoods JP but brute facts!

    Brett Strong!

    PS: JP just answer the questions 🙂 Fair enough? You brag about how smart you are and your group being a bunch of intellectuals–fine; then just answer the 3 questions above…thanks JP; and thanks Kurt thanks for letting me post here–have a great day!

    • Profile photo of J. P. Holding

      J. P. Holding - June 8, 2013, 8:52 am

      As I said, you never stated such matters as questions until now. Please keep track of your slogans — it is not courteous to burden others with your indolence and indifference to detail.

      I have an entire e-book on hell…feel free to address and refute it. Let me know when you are done. The basis answer is “yes” it is a fact.

      And now it is my turn to ask questions, as is only fair, no?

      1) What academic or scholarly credentials do you possess?
      2) What three Biblical scholars do you consider must influential in your studies?
      3) Based on the answers to the above, why are you the “next wave” that will wash away everything?
      4) When was the last time you actually made an argument?

      • Brett Strong - June 8, 2013, 5:20 pm

        Wow, JP! For a fact HELL is real? Hmmm? And you’ve proven it? Wow again! Then where is it, JP? Seriously! …I assure you JP, you’ve bitten off more than you can chew my friend 🙂

        Look JP–lets be reasonable about this (I thought we were having a reasonable discourse?): …you and I both know you can’t prove hell is real any level! A big fat 0! So why you would make such a statement is baffling!

        Do you believe your own hype that much? About JP and crew being super-intellectuals?

        Well JP, lets see this hell; show us all! In fact, just record it and post it on Youtube and we’ll all check it out

        Brett Strong….the next wave is here and I am he!

        JP, you have clearly overstepped your boundaries…Christianity like all religions are all ultimately faith based not fact based…cool, no problem…but since you say hell is a fact then back it my friend…that’s a simple request… and if you can’t back your verbal claims then I will have to say the obvious: that you have some mental issues…

        • Nick Peters - June 8, 2013, 5:22 pm

          If B Weak is the wave of the future, then the church is in good hands if that’s where our opposition is going.

          Poor widdle B Weak. Too scared to come to TheologyWeb for a former debate. Guess the wave of the future is cowardly hubris!

          • Brett Strong - June 8, 2013, 5:35 pm

            Hi Nick! I have no idea who you are? Anyways as I just told JP…lets do a Skype debate or phone call in debate, asap, that would be great! Just let me know fellas!

            We could post it on our own sites!

            Brett Strong…the next wave is here and I am he!

            • Nick Peters - June 8, 2013, 5:37 pm

              I’m JPH’s ministry partner and as far as I know, JPH doesn’t even have Skype. He prefers written debate. Why are you frightened of it?

              And yes, Mike wouldn’t bother giving you the time of day unless you had some actual credentials.

        • Gara the Thoughtful Alincolnist - June 9, 2013, 1:23 am

          Hey, Brett! I usually scour sites looking for GREAT comments that we could post on our “Did Abe Lincoln Really Exist?” Facebook page, and yours is one I might pass off to my peeps. As I said before, you would make a GREAT Alincolnist and should join our ranks. Here is your “lincolnized” comment that may get posted on our wall in the future.

          “Wow, Lincoonists! For a fact ‘abe lincoln was real? Hmmm? And you’ve proven it? Wow again! Then where is he, lincolnists? Seriously! …I assure you lincolnists, you’ve bitten off more than you can chew my friends!

          Look lincolnists- lets be reasonable about this (I thought we were having a reasonable discourse?): …you and I both know you can’t prove lincoln was real at any level! A big fat 0! So why you guys would make such a statement is baffling!

          Do you believe your own hype that much? About lincoln and crew being super-intellectuals?

          Well lincolnists, lets see this abe lincoln; show us all! In fact, just record it and post it on Youtube and we’ll all check it out

          (This is my favorite part) Gara the Thoughtful Alincolnist….the next wave is here and I am she!

          Lincolnists, you have clearly overstepped your boundaries…Lincolnism like all beliefs are all ultimately faith based not fact based…cool, no problem…but since you say Lincoln existed is a fact then back it my friend…that’s a simple request… and if you can’t back your verbal claims then I will have to say the obvious: that you have some mental issues…”

          What do you think, Brett?

        • Gara the Thoughtful Alincolnist - June 9, 2013, 1:26 am

          Oh, and if you want to keep checking to see if your lincolnized statement made it, click on the link http://www.facebook.com/alincolnism.

        • Profile photo of J. P. Holding

          J. P. Holding - June 10, 2013, 5:17 am

          I counted at least 6 vacuous slogans, and 0 arguments in that last posting, Brett.

          Please bring some arguments to the thread indicated. Thanks!! We look forward to it! 🙂

        • Profile photo of J. P. Holding

          J. P. Holding - June 10, 2013, 5:32 am

          “Christianity like all religions are all ultimately faith based not fact based”

          But Brett! Surely a proficient “new wave” scholar like you is aware that the Greek word pistis means, in our terms, “loyalty,” and that in turn it was granted to those who, in factual terms, demonstrated their worthiness of it!

          I am shattered. I was under the impression that you were highly familiar with the most recent scholarship on this and other very important topics. I apologize profusely!

          But yes, I do agree with Grace. Please do produce a YouTube video of Lincoln. I’ll even highlight it on my channel if you do! 🙂

    • Profile photo of J. P. Holding

      J. P. Holding - June 8, 2013, 9:40 am

      Oh and by the way….you once said on another blog:

      “One last thing: …I’m still waiting for Brett Kunkle or Mike Licona to debate me on: “is the NT Jesus fact or myth”….come on Brett Kunkle, you have my e-mail; contact me about doing a debate on radio, Skype, podcast, live in person or whatever way you would like: internet skeptic (Brett Strong) vs. Christian apologists (Brett Kunkle)…awesome…lets see who owns who? Surely you are not shy or too timid? Later my friend! Have a great day! Look forward to hearing from you! I’ve debated Greg Koukl and J Warner (and his buddy Al) several times on the str.org live radio show; not its time for you to stop hiding behind them and debate me…and I hope you realize that I’m saying this in a fun loving way!”

      Well then.

      One last thing: …I’m still waiting for Brett Strong to debate me on: any issue…come on Brett Strong, you have me here; say something about doing a debate on TheologyWeb: internet skeptic (Brett Strong) vs. Christian apologist (JP Holding)…awesome…lets see who owns who? Surely you are not shy or too timid? Later my friend! Have a great day! Look forward to hearing from you! I’ve debated countless atheists and others on that forum; now its time for you to stop hiding behind them and debate me…and I hope you realize that I’m saying this in a fun loving way! 😉

      I linked to this post from the forum so that everyone will see your answer. Ta ta!

      • Brett Strong - June 8, 2013, 5:31 pm

        Hey JP, Brett Kunkl happens to be an email buddy of mines! it was kind of a running joke between me and him…heck he even mentions me at the end of his video’s sometimes…so once again JP, you’re being a sensationalist! No problem though…

        Brett Strong….the next wave is here and I am he!

        PS: I would absolutely enjoy debating you JP…lets do an audio debate on Skype and you can post it on your site and I’ll post it on my MrBrettStrong Youtube site…seriously…or we can do a call in audio debate….both sound great…just give the details and the subject matter and its on! ASAP! Can’t wait!

        • Nick Peters - June 8, 2013, 5:32 pm

          JPH only debates at TheologyWeb. If you think you can actually do something, then go to TheologyWeb.com and sign up and put your challenge in the registration area. The rest of us will get the popcorn and enjoy watching you be massacred.

          • Brett Strong - June 8, 2013, 5:44 pm

            Hey Nick…you using the word “massacred” (especially in todays environment) is a not a gentleman thing to say…I don’t appreciate that kind of language and I’m sure Mr Kurt doesn’t either…in fact Kurt assured me that that kind of tone and language does not happen here!

            Kurt makes Christianity look great; but you, Nick Peters, whoever you are, make Christianity seem harsh, bitter and evil–seriously!

            Non-Christians come against people like you Nick and rejoice in people like Kurt…

            Brett Strong!

            Lets keep the tone civil…you say you guys can prove Jesus, god, and hell, with brute facts, then just do it…enough with the ad hominine childish attacks…the very fact you and JP yell and scream shows everyone the obvious, that you don’t have the goods! thus you guys are reduced to smear tactics! you guys maybe should get out of Christianity and get into politics!

  5. Nick Peters - June 8, 2013, 9:06 am

    JPH. I think you’re dealing with someone who was on Unbelievable? one time who went by the name “B Strong.” He’s doing just as hideous here as he did there. Even atheists emailed in to the program and said “Don’t get this guy on there again. He’s an embarrassment.” He puts the fundy in fundy atheist. I certainly hope he comes to TheologyWeb.com. It’d be great to see him publicly humiliated there.

  6. Nick Peters - June 8, 2013, 4:11 pm

    Oh B Strong wants to debate Mike? This is too rich. Sorry. You need to have actual credentials before Mike would consider giving you the time of day for debate.

    • Profile photo of Kurt Jaros

      Kurt Jaros - June 8, 2013, 4:36 pm

      Nick, it’s not even so much credentials. Prior to Brett’s finding my website, I had never heard of him. If he didn’t have the credentials but has spent time and energy getting his name out there, maybe in ten years he’ll be more well known and that might make Mike interested in debating.

      • Nick Peters - June 8, 2013, 4:41 pm

        No. You still have to have actual credentials. That would mean a PH.D. most often. It doesn’t matter how many Master’s you have. A PH.D. in Gym trumps all of them.

        But little B Wussy here won’t come to TheologyWeb and debate JPH because he’s too insecure. He needs to know the facts JPH will use before he’s wiling to debate him because the arguments aren’t on his side and emotional rhetoric just won’t work.

        Remember, B Strong was the one guest on Unbelievable that atheists and Christians both agreed on in their assessment of him. Most obnoxious ever.

      • Brett Strong - June 8, 2013, 5:23 pm

        Praise the lord Kurt! Took the words right out of my mouth!

        Brett Strong! 🙂

  7. Gara the Thoughtful Alincolnist - June 8, 2013, 4:11 pm

    Brett, what a coincidence! You and I share much in common. Just like you, we are a small minority group, and we believe that “There are no ‘Abe Lincoln’ facts” (see here http://www.facebook.com/alincolnism). We, too, feel obligated to educate everyone on the internet and show them the truth- that their belief in Abe Lincoln is a myth, and we arrogantly challenge everyone to debate and try convince us that Abe Lincoln did in fact exist. We believe everyone who tries will ultimately fail. Your hyper skeptical, militant fundy attitude would fit in perfectly with our group, Join us alincolnists today!

    • Nick Peters - June 8, 2013, 4:42 pm

      Gara. There were some 1,500 witnesses at the event of Lincoln’s supposed assassination. None of them agree on what really happened. You would think for such an event like that, there would be great agreement on it, but alas, there isn’t. That just shows the whole thing is fake. Heck. We know today that more and more legendary material has been built up around him. Is it any shock that modern scholars today think he was a vampire hunter?

      • Gara the Thoughtful Alincolnist - June 8, 2013, 5:33 pm

        Any disagreement will always lead to the conclusion that all the accounts did not occur. Therefore, Lincoln did not exist. 1,500 witnesses? I must educate you just like I teach everyone else out there about what really happened in only three words: mass hallucination theory. See, we our logic and reasoning is superior to all. No one can win against us alincolnists.

  8. A-jfk - June 8, 2013, 10:43 pm

    Have any of you heard of all the similarities between the myth Abe Lincoln and JFK? I mean, there are dozens of them. It is obvious that the whole thing was a conspiracy Just because a few reporters told stories about how great a guy Abe was, well, that doesn’t mean its true. In fact, maybe BOTH of them are myths. Many of us have seen video and photos of someone labeled JFK, but do you know anyone who actually met JFK in person? If not, I cry “appeal to authority fallacy!”

Leave a Reply