"Proof" that Does Not Prove
The law of rationality insists that a person should accept only those propositions and ideas for which there is adequate evidence. This law of thought is so general and ubiquitous in its application that few people even realize they actually use it on a regular basis. For instance, if a man shows up at his office late for work with a torn shirt and a black eye, claiming that he was attacked by killer fairies from Sherwood Forest, the man’s boss does not have to think very long before reprimanding the tardy employee. On the other hand, if an employee shows up claiming to have been in a car accident, and he bolsters his claim with the evidence of a dent in his car and a police-written ticket verifying that an automobile accident occurred, then the boss most likely would believe the employee. We see, then, that the law of rationality is used by most people on a regular basis.
Sometimes, however, a certain idea or philosophy will present itself that does not have the adequate, verifiable evidence necessary to demand acceptance. Because of this lack of evidence, the proponents of this idea appeal to certain “proofs” that, on the surface, seem to be legitimate, but in reality are not evidence at all. For example, suppose that a salesman is selling medallions that are supposed to keep elephants away from the owner of such a medallion. And suppose that the salesman happens to be selling these amazing contraptions to the citizens of Alaska. When one suspicious customer asks if the medallions really work, the salesman replies, “Sure they work, you don’t see an elephant within 100 miles of here, do you?” Looking at the salesman’s statement, it is easy to see that something is amiss, but exactly what is it? In short, the salesman has committed a logical fallacy known as argumentum ad ignorantiam (argument from ignorance). The argument from ignorance basically says, “You cannot prove that my elephant medallions are not the reason why there are no elephants here.” The essence of this fallacy is the claim that a person accepts a proposition because it cannot be proven untrue. The problem with this line of reasoning is that it does not present any positive proof, therefore, in reality, it presents no proof (see Geisler and Brooks, 1990, pp. 95-96). The above example is just one of a plethora of logical fallacies—i.e., appeals to as proof that, in reality, offer no proof at all.
The primary logical fallacy with which the remainder of this article will deal is known as argumentum ad verencundiam (appeal to authority). This faulty line of reasoning suggests that a certain idea or proposition should be accepted because all the “authorities” accept it. And, while it is true that legitimate authorities can be trusted to supply real evidence, it is not true that a person should accept a conclusion solely because “an authority” says that such is the case, without that authority giving proper evidence for the conclusion (Geisler and Brooks, pp. 98-99).
One classic biblical example of a faulty appeal to authority is found in John 7. In verse 32, Jesus had defied the Jewish leaders to such an extent that they commissioned officers to take Him by force. The officers, however, after listening to Jesus teach boldly, returned to the chief priests and Pharisees without apprehending Jesus. When asked why they did not arrest Jesus, the officers stated: “No man ever spoke like this Man!” They were, in essence, making the argument that Jesus should not be arrested because He spoke things that no ordinary man could have known or spoken. Yet, instead of dealing with the actual evidence of the case (i.e., the things Jesus actually said), the Pharisees made a false appeal to authority when they said, “Are you also deceived? Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him? But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed” (vss. 47-49). Notice that the Pharisees did not expound on the parts of the law that Jesus allegedly was breaking, nor did they offer any rebuttal to Christ’s statements. Instead, they “proved” their argument by suggesting, “We know more than you and this ignorant crowd, therefore you should believe what we tell you, even without proper evidence.” After being made aware of the logical fallacy of an appeal to false authority, it is evident that these Jewish leaders were guilty of offering “proof ” that proved nothing.
Even today, the false appeal to authority is a common ploy used to bolster ideas or conclusions that lack sufficient evidence. This logical fallacy finds a welcome seat at the table of many books and papers that purport to “prove” the theory of organic evolution. The following sampling of statements goes a long way toward showing how this appeal to authority (without supporting evidence) is used in evolutionary circles.
- Richard Dawkins wrote: “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid, or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that)” (1989, p. 34, parenthetical item in orig.).
- B.B. Vance and D.F. Miller quipped: “All reputable biologists have agreed that evolution of life on earth is an established fact” (1958, p. 520, emp. added).
- Richard Goldschmidt declared: “Evolution of the animal and plant world is considered by all those entitled to a judgment to be a fact for which no further proof is needed” (1952, p. 84, emp. added).
As one can see, statements that purport to show what all “reputable” biologists believe, or what all those “entitled to a judgment” say, are clearly designed to appeal to a sense of intellectual authority for which supporting evidence is not deemed necessary. In fact, J. Savage is on record as stating, “No serious biologist today doubts the fact of evolution…. The fact of evolution is amply clear. We do not need a listing of evidences to demonstrate the fact of evolution any more than we need to demonstrate the existence of mountain ranges” (1965, preface, emp. added).
Of course, showing that the “intellectually” elite sometimes use the logical fallacy of appealing to false authority in their attempt to prove evolution, does not disprove the theory of evolution. It does, however, manifest the fact that this “proof ” of the theory frequently is offered instead of actual evidence. Could it be that sufficient, verifiable evidence does not exist to prove rationally the theory of organic evolution. H.S. Lipson, an evolutionist himself, wrote: “In fact, evolution became in a sense a scientific religion; almost all scientists have accepted it and many are prepared to ‘bend’ their observations to fit in with it” (1980, p. 138). If many of today’s scientists maintain a belief in the theory of evolution because they have been taught that “serious,” “reputable,” educated scientists believe in evolution, is it not time to dismiss this false appeal to authority and go in search of actual evidence? If this ever happened on a grand scale, I believe that the bulk of scientists, like the officers of the Pharisees, would become increasingly skeptical of the establishment’s pseudo-evidence. In fact, with enough honesty and diligence, I believe they inevitably would arrive at creationism as presented in the Bible, declaring that, “No book ever spoke like this one.”
Dawkins, Richard (1989), “Book Review” (of Donald Johanson and Maitland Edey’s Blueprint), The New York Times, April 9, section 7, p. 34.
Geisler, Norman L. and Ronald M. Brooks (1990), Come Let Us Reason: An Introduction to Logical Thinking (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Goldschmidt, Richard (1952), American Scientist, 49:84.
Lipson, H.S. (1980), “A Physicist Looks at Evolution” Physics Bulletin, 31:138, May.
Savage, J. (1965), Evolution (New York: Holt, Rinehart, Winston).
Vance, B.B. and D.F. Miller (1958), Biology for You, (Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott).
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