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Monday, February 22, 2010

Weekly Trivia Files: #6, Questioning Authority

I've been covering these "trivia" topics about false or misleading debate techniques for the past few weeks because I've seen how often they are used to mislead Christians in sermons.  I've heard the unsaved talk about how Christians try to trick them and tangle them up in words, and how they question the authority Christianity claims because of that.  I know that it's to be expected that some people will not be convinced of the truth with the most effective debate techniques, but it upsets me to hear a lousy presentation that makes the truth look like lies.  I wouldn't be convinced if I felt I was being tricked, so why should I ask others to accept the gospel on those terms?

I missed posting this last week, so this week I'm posting two, similar fallacies rather than the usual one.  Sit back and enjoy!

Doubtful Authority

For bad debaters, sometimes any authority they can reference on their topic is as good as another.  Good debate technique, however, calls for authorities who specialize in the topic being discussed.  My instructor also noted that we should doubt the authority of testimony that isn't directly related to the topic.

Example: A famous football player is an authority on all things football, but his star status doesn't automatically make him an authority on U.S. law, world economics, or astrophysics (unless, of course, he also has a college degree in those things).

Example 2: "Moses and Aaron did just as the LORD had commanded. He raised his staff in the presence of Pharaoh and his officials and struck the water of the Nile, and all the water was changed into blood.  The fish in the Nile died, and the river smelled so bad that the Egyptians could not drink its water. Blood was everywhere in Egypt.   But the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts, and Pharaoh's heart became hard; he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said.  Instead, he turned and went into his palace, and did not take even this to heart." (Exodus 7: 20-23 NIV)

Example 2 needs a little explanation: Pharaoh's magicians were authorities on "their secret arts," but they did not claim to know the God of Israel or to derive their power from Him.  Their ability to copy the plague does not invest them with authority in this area, since they were still not authorities on the topic of the God of Israel (comparing apples to oranges). Who gave them the authority to testify on this matter, clearly outside their area of expertise, except Pharaoh himself?  He based his argument (in his own mind) that the God of Israel was not real or powerful, on the supporting testimony of these magicians.

Christians are especially susceptible to this fallacy.  Modern psychologists and leaders of other religions may end up being quoted as authorities on Christian principles, but they have no real authority on matters of the Christian religion, even if their statements seem to relate to the topic.  We can test the validity of what they say against a backdrop of scripture, since scripture claims authority from God over all things, but we should base our religious beliefs on God's authority, not man's.  God is the best authority on Himself, since He knows Himself better than we do, and He has given us the Bible as His testimony about Himself.