Your logical fallacy of the day – Appeal to/Argument from authority

English: Painting, 1856, by Junius Brutus Stea...
English: Painting, 1856, by Junius Brutus Stearns, Washington at Constitutional Convention of 1787, signing of U.S. Constitution. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  1. Person A is (claimed to be) an authority on subject S.
  2. Person A makes claim C about subject S.
  3. Therefore, C is true.

That’s about it. Case in point.

In speaking with person x about subject G, as in Gay marriaGe, I noticed a lot of this. His appeal is to a person outside of his particular faith tradition, or to Scripture, or to, at one point, the Founding Fathers. This (appealed to) person is not known for his factual based stances. Scripture is arguably not the best to decide the question of homosexuality (unless you are a Catholic, the only faith group with the only consistent approach to this entire topic). The Founders… well…

But, beyond that, when speaking about the legality of gay marriage in the United States, people often appeal to Scripture. Is Scripture a necessary authority on the U.S. Constitution? We were not established as a theocracy and while Scripture helped to shape certain viewpoints, so did the Qu’ran and several prophets of the Enlightenment. Allowing for a cultural document acting as a molding force to then be considered the quintessential authority even above that which is the recognized governing letter is a fallacy of a different kind.

As a Christian, Scripture is sufficient for all matters of faith (although as a Wesleyan I add three legs to interpret it); however, as an American, the Constitution and the hermeneutic of Common Law (of the English Tradition) is the only authority to appeal to.

How can we appeal to either Scripture or theological statements about Scripture to decide the legality of propositions? Is there a higher source of authority in deciding what is constitutional or unconstitutional than the Supreme Court invested with such power by the Constitution?

Or am I missing something here?

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Joel L. Watts
Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

One thought on “Your logical fallacy of the day – Appeal to/Argument from authority

  1. I know I’m a little late to the game in commenting on this post. I would suggest that revisionist historians and the mention of God in our founding documents are what enable the fallacy of Judeo-Christian theocracy to survive. Without mention of a deity in the Declaration or the Preamble, there would be but one leg for the argument to stand upon, and little basis upon which “originalists” could credibly base their adoration of the document. As is, and despite a total lack of endorsement of Christianity in specific, the mere mention of God in a secular document written by priviliged White European males of the 18th Century seems to give similarly situated persons of our era the (erroneous) justification to believe that those men were in agreement with modern Fundamentalist thinking.

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