Scientific Authority and Logical Fallacies

In response to one of my pieces related to climate change, my persistent commenter had this to say:

My impression is that “you people think science is a religion” is an accusation made against the secular by a small segment of the religious, that tiny sub-group who think of themselves as “the religious.” I’d think your own post, in the part I quote here, is a good example of the troll at work.

The secular, by contrast, spend a great deal of time thinking about and debating what are legitimate methods, conclusions, degrees of sureness, and so forth of science. There is a good deal of criticism of “scientism” by the secular, but this vile illness is, imho, generally thought to be part and partial of dogmatic politics.

Which secularists do you have in mind?

Thanks to James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal, he’s about to find out.  While discussing Sen. Marco Rubio’s denial of human activity in climate change, he notes the following:

Nonscientist Ruth Marcus, writing for the Washington Post, declared that Rubio’s words “undermine his other assertion,” namely “that he is prepared to be president.” Juliet Lapidos, also lacking in scientific expertise, went so far as to assert, in a New York Times blog post, that Rubio had “disqualified himself” from the presidency.

Stuff like this is why my commenter’s idealised concept that secularists “spend a great deal of time thinking about and debating what are legitimate methods, conclusions, degrees of sureness, and so forth of science” is wide of the mark.  Far from that, what we usually get are two logical fallacies beaten to death: appeals to authority and ad hominem attacks.

Taranto, for his part, is ready to allow that appeals to authority are not fallacious except in a narrow sense.  I don’t: appeals to authority ultimately don’t prove anything.  They may give greater weight to what you are arguing, but ultimately they don’t really prove what you’re trying to show.

But, as I noted here, “greater weight” isn’t the end game in the climate change debate: absolute certainty is.  With relation to that there are two things to be noted here.

The first is that one of secularists’ criticism of religion is that it is based solely on faith (the greatest appeal to authority) and not on reason.  But if they considered things carefully they would see their own fallacy.  What secularists are really trying to do is to replace the authority of God with their own, which may make their victorious in some cases but which shows them to be intellectually dishonest.  That’s a big part of what I mean when I say that people make science into a religion.

The second is that, when convinced that they are right and their opponents wrong, they try ad hominem attacks, almost always morally loaded.  These too are fallacious and don’t prove anything.

It would be nice if public debate proceeded along the lines my commenter thinks it does.  But it doesn’t.  As I noted, the freaks get all the publicity; it’s time to live in reality.

Note: I realise that I, in the preceding, equate the secularists with climate change advocates.  That’s not entirely correct; there are certainly secularists who oppose climate change advocacy, and there are religious people who support it.  (And the latter are usually as scientifically uninformed as their secular counterparts).  I think it’s fair to say, however, that most people in the upper reaches of our society are secular to a high degree, as are their sycophants down the line.  It’s a lot easier to have control over things and people when you don’t have God to compete with, isn’t it?

6 Replies to “Scientific Authority and Logical Fallacies”

  1. Don,

    I thought they taught Latin at your school. “Ad” means to, not at.

    An ad hominem is an argument *to* the biases, preconceptions, or even specific valid knowledge of the person, hominem. (Is that an ablative? I never did figure out what “ablate” was supposed to mean in this context.)

    An attack on a person, the accusation it looks as though you are trying to launch, might be an anti-homines, maybe? I’d be happy to have a correction from anyone whose Latin has lasted beyond “arma virumque cano…”

    #################

    “What secularists are really trying to do is to replace the authority of God with their own…”

    I see you’ve moved things right along by adding the accusation of blasphemy to all the other things your imagined dogmatic faith-filled secularists are guilty of. At least I take “attributing the works of man to God” to be the most common form of blasphemy.

    This misses the mark, it seems to me. In the view of many Orthodox and Haredi Jews God has withdrawn for this corner of the Multiverse, in order to leave us that greatest of all sets of gifts, free will, and with it responsibility and judgement.

    Your mileage may differ.

    Cheers,

    -dlj.

    1. Ad hominem is short for argumentum ad hominem. It’s the converse of an appeal to authority. Instead of saying that “you should believe this person because they are authoritative”, you say that “you should never believe this person because of _________”. Or, if it’s directed at you, it’s saying “I don’t believe anything you say because you ___________”. All of these are logically fallacious.

      “In the view of many Orthodox and Haredi Jews God has withdrawn for this corner of the Multiverse, in order to leave us that greatest of all sets of gifts, free will, and with it responsibility and judgement.”

      That strikes me as a study hall master who has left the room, and the bullies and troublemakers take over.

      I think I grew up in a tougher neighbourhood than you.

      1. “That strikes me as a study hall master who has left the room, and the bullies and troublemakers take over.”

        My observation would be that most bullies and troublemakers prosper by convincing people that they are the prefects, just doing what the hall master would do.

        “I think I grew up in a tougher neighbourhood than you.”

        Don,

        It’s really a surprise to get this bit of self pity from you. It makes you sound as though you’ve been hanging out with too many political wingnuts, whose style that is.

        OK, you have my pity for your horrible childhood.

        -dlj.

        1. I neither ask for nor want your pity.

          What I would like every now and then is a willingness for you to think for yourself and not be the porte-parole of those who currently hold court. But I guess that’s too much to expect.

          Personally I, having grown up with the top of our society, find it impossible to follow their idea, let alone them. You obviously have another plan in place.

          1. Don,

            That little “-dlj.” at the bottom is my net-signature. I do think for myself, and sign to that effect.

            If you think there are numbers of people who agree with me, and I’m their porte parole, so be it. Looks like some sort of schoolyard insult to me, but since you had such a tough upbringing I forgive you.

            Be nice to know who all those people are. Got a spare blueprint for that “plan” I’m following? Can’t seem to find mine.

            -dlj.

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