Sunday, April 2, 2017

Getting the fallacies wrong

The YouTube fun continues--I pointed out there (i.e., at the Matt Dillahunty post) that the appeal to authority fallacy (I forget its formal name) is something completely different than what they are suggesting.  It's not something that happens anytime one cites an authority in an argument; it's more like citing a false authority.  For instance, nine of out ten birdwatchers recommend a particular brand of truck tire--are birdwatchers, as a group, qualified to do so?  Are they experts in that area?  Some wold be, certainly, but as a group, of course not.

Or, here's what Einstein says about camera lenses.  Einstein was one of our species' smartest humans, but I'm not aware he had any expertise in that area.  Appeal to authority is a kind of empty name-dropping.  Like, nine out of ten Hollywood actors believe global warming is, to a significant extent, caused by humans.  I happen to believe that, too, but not because actors push it.  I believe it because it's the general consensus of climate experts.

Bogus authority.  Or, what the hell did Arthur Godfrey know about laundry detergent?  When we cite a legit authority, we're committing no fallacy.  None.  Zero.  Zilch.  Nada.

I'm glad we cleared that up.

I wanted to clarify, btw, that my sarcastic and not always nice comments about the various logic-and-reason celebs are that way because the folks in question are pretending to be experts on subjects they are not expert in.  (Philosophy, for one big example.)  Hence, they have some sharp retorts coming--knowingly or not, they're scamming their listeners and followers.  Pretending to be something you're not isn't the greatest crime in the world (unless, of course, you're taking people to the cleaners, money-wise, and I don't think any of these folks is doing that), but the logic'n'reason celebs have certainly harmed the cause of promoting logic in cyberspace, given the drivel they post.  Want a bogus definition of the No True Scotsman fallacy?  No problem; just go to some source other than Wikipedia or Standford, and you may very well get your wish.  Their behavior comes down to spreading nonsense in the name of combating nonsense.

The "skeptic" movement was in trouble from the start, what with a brilliant but uneducated magician the main star, media-wise, of the show (we're talking James Randi).  You push the idea that just anyone can practice scientific skepticism, and, before you know it, just anyone is.  Never mind that scientific skepticism is a highly specialized application of critical thinking, one that requires expert knowledge in a specialized area.  Never mind the reality.  Just hype it as something anyone can do, and, before you know it, anyone is.  And so we have a blogosphere packed with bogus definitions of elementary logical fallacies and essays which falsely accuse believers of committing an affront to reason simply by believing in a higher power.  And, craziest of all, we have atheists who apparently object to all of the "if/then" stuff that goes on in philosophy.  No one is allowed to imagine that something could be true; one has to know whether or not it's so.  One needs proof--conclusive proof.  What would philosophy look and feel like without the intellectual license of "If A is so, then..."?


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