Appeal To Tradition

Today’s Logical Fallacy: Appeal To Tradition

This is borrowed from http://www.nikzor.org

Appeal to Tradition is a fallacy that occurs when it is assumed that something is better or correct simply because it is older, traditional, or “always has been done.” This sort of “reasoning” has the following form:

  1. X is old or traditional
  2. Therefore X is correct or better.

This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because the age of something does not automatically make it correct or better than something newer. This is made quite obvious by the following example: The theory that witches and demons cause disease is far older than the theory that microrganisms cause diseases. Therefore, the theory about witches and demons must be true.

This sort of “reasoning” is appealing for a variety of reasons. First, people often prefer to stick with what is older or traditional. This is a fairly common psychological characteristic of people which may stem from the fact that people feel more comfortable about what has been around longer. Second, sticking with things that are older or traditional is often easier than testing new things. Hence, people often prefer older and traditional things out of laziness. Hence, Appeal to Tradition is a somewhat common fallacy.

It should not be assumed that new things must be better than old things (see the fallacy Appeal to Novelty) any more than it should be assumed that old things are better than new things. The age of something does not, in general, have any bearing on its quality or correctness (in this context). In the case of tradition, assuming that something is correct just because it is considered a tradition is poor reasoning. For example, if the belief that 1+1 = 56 were a tradition of a group of people it would hardly follow that it is true.

Obviously, age does have a bearing in some contexts. For example, if a person concluded that aged wine would be better than brand new wine, he would not be committing an Appeal to Tradition. This is because, in such cases the age of the thing is relevant to its quality. Thus, the fallacy is committed only when the age is not, in and of itself, relevant to the claim.

One final issue that must be considered is the “test of time.” In some cases people might be assuming that because something has lasted as a tradition or has been around a long time that it is true because it has “passed the test of time.” If a person assumes that something must be correct or true simply because it has persisted a long time, then he has committed an Appeal to Tradition. After all, as history has shown people can persist in accepting false claims for centuries.

However, if a person argues that the claim or thing in question has successfully stood up to challenges and tests for a long period of time then they would not be committing a fallacy. In such cases the claim would be backed by evidence. As an example, the theory that matter is made of subatomic particles has survived numerous tests and challenges over the years so there is a weight of evidence in its favor. The claim is reasonable to accept because of the weight of this evidence and not because the claim is old. Thus, a claim’s surviving legitimate challenges and passing valid tests for a long period of time can justify the acceptance of a claim. But mere age or persistance does not warrant accepting a claim.

Examples of Appeal to Tradition

  1. Sure I believe in God. People have believed in God for thousands of years so it seems clear that God must exist. After all, why else would the belief last so long?
  2. Gunthar is the father of Connan. They live on a small island and in their culture women are treated as property to be exchanged at will by men.Connan: “You know father, when I was going to school in the United States I saw that American women are not treated as property. In fact, I read a book by this person named Mill in which he argued for women’s rights.”
    Gunthar: “So, what is your point son?”
    Connan: “Well, I think that it might be wrong to trade my sisters for cattle. They are human beings and should have a right to be masters of their own fate.”
    Gunthar: “What a strange and new-fangled notion you picked up in America. That country must be even more barbaric then I imagined. Now think about this son. We have been trading women for cattle for as long as ourpeople have lived on this island. It is a tradition that goes back into the mists of time. ”
    Connan: “But I still think there is something wrong with it.”
    Gunthar: “Nonsense my boy. A tradition this old must be endorsed by the gods and must be right.”
  3. Of course this mode of government is the best. We have had this government for over 200 years and no one has talked about changing it in all that time. So, it has got to be good.
  4. A reporter is interviewing the head of a family that has been involved with a feud with another family.Reporter: “Mr. Hatfield, why are you still fighting it out with the Mcoys?”
    Hatfield: “Well you see young man, my father feuded with the Mcoys and his father feuded with them and so did my great grandfather.”
    Reporter: “But why? What started all this?”
    Hatfield: “I don’t rightly know. I’m sure it was the Mcoys who started it all, though.”
    Reporter: “If you don’t know why you’re fighting, why don’t you just stop?”
    Hatfield: “Stop? What are you crazy? This feud has been going on for generations so I’m sure there is a darn good reason why it started. So I aim to keep it going. It has got to be the right thing to do. Hand me my shooting iron boy, I see one of those Mcoy skunks sneaking in the cornfield.”
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Expelled: Intelligence Not Allowed

This morning I saw the last 10 minutes of Ben Stein’s documentary ‘Expelled: Intelligence Not Allowed”. I had heard nothing about this until now and I have plans to record a showing on the morning of the 20th so that I can review it in full.

In the few minutes I saw, Stein uses the imagery of the Berlin Wall as being the barrier between scientists and intelligent design. He proposes that more be done to investigate the notion that if not some kind of god, then some sort of greater intelligence is responsible for the beginnings of life on this planet and the Universe as a whole. Of course this has been done with an additional emotional appeal to the ideals of freedom.

He even interviews Richard Dawkins. You can see that Mr. Dawkins is trying very hard to be kind and patient with Mr. Stein in answering his questions. I do wish that Dawkins would have explained that his lack of belief in a god has to do with a lack of testable evidence.

At one point Stein brought up the quote about the god of the old testament. Dawkins read the complete quote about that god being a blood thirsty misogynistic ethnic cleanser, etc. Then Stein asked if he believed in a kind, loving, gentle god. That would be the god of the new testament if I’m not mistaken.

Isn’t Ben Stein Jewish? My understanding, and please kindly correct me if I’m wrong, is that the Jewish people follow the old testament and the Torah, a book I am not familiar with. My reading of the old testament shows precisely what Mr. Dawkins says.

I’m looking forward to watching the entire documentary and I’ll post a review soon.

Just For Spite

Today’s Logical Fallacy is called The Appeal to Spite. This is another emotion-based fallacy wherein spite is used in place of actual evidence.

Since some of you are still skittish about X’s, today’s X will be portrayed by Tribbles. Yes, I’m a Star Trek geek but they ARE cute, fuzzy and non-threatening. Unless you’re a Romulan. If you ARE Romulan then you have my sincere apologies for the offense.

Appeal to Spite has the following format:

1) Claim Tribbles (x) is presented with the goal of generating spite

2) Therefor Claim C is true (or false dependent on the desired result of Tribbles)

Again, an emotion is not evidence. Evidence must be testable and the same result must be shown within the statistical  limits of the experiment. This is generally plus or minus a fraction of one percent if I am remembering correctly from my psychological statistics course.

A real world example would look something like this:

Boss: “Dave has been doing an excellent job lately. We’re talking about promoting him”.

Person Who Wants The Promotion (Presenting Claim Tribbles): Wow. A promotion? After Dave flubbed that presentation a few months back and cost you a multi-million dollar contract?”

Boss: Well, I guess we shouldn’t promote Dave after all.

In this example The Claimant Presenting Tribbles (x) is inspiring spite in order to undermine Dave’s promotion so he can have it for himself. Dave may or may not have flubbed a presentation and the client may or may not have declined the contract because of it There is no definitive evidence to support Claim Tribbles. The Claimant is simply throwing something out to undermine Dave.

Pat Robertson Persists

This morning Pat Robertson continued to insist that the reason for Haiti’s troubles is the supposed pact with the Devil that we discussed yesterday. He claims here http://bit.ly/5XeL7L that since the Dominican Republic is prosperous that this supposed “pact” MUST be the reason that Haiti is the most impoverished nation in the world.

Obviously Mr. Robertson’s research team failed to mention to him that, although there are resorts, the Dominican Republic is still a third world country. There is also a difference ing governmental styles. Haiti is a socialist nation run by a dictator. The Dominican Republic stopped being a dictatorship in 1961.

Because of the governmental style, Reagan levied heavy import tariffs against Haiti. That also contributed to the impoverished state of the country. Add to that the weather-related issues and the drug issues and it’s no wonder Haiti has problems.

And yet, Robertson continues to attribute these troubles to a being that no one has been able to prove even exists. Anecdotal evidence is not evidence because a story cannot be tested repeatedly to get the same results. An anecdote is the result of human observation. Personal biases color those observations. When someone like Pat Robertson observes the world, he sees demons and the Devil as the reason for worldly woes. A scientific, skeptical approach shows us that weather and politics are largely contributing factors.

Not the Boogeyman.

Pat Robertsons on Haiti

This morning on the Christian Broadcast Network Pat Robertson made a claim about the reason Haiti has had so many troubles. He states it is because they made a deal with the Devil in the 19th century for their freedom from France.

It’s times like this when it is very hard not to be a cynic. A cynic would have followed that claim up with something like “WTF Pat? Are you stupid?? What kind of crack are you smokin’??”

Haiti should be very proud of its history. In 1791, their ancestors started the only successful slave revolt in human history. It was the first black-run country. They have a rich heritage that deserves to be celebrated. Their revolution is considered a defining moment in African history in the New World.

Pat Robertson isn’t necessarily full of crap though. At least not from certain perspectives. According to the Wikipedia entry on the Haitian revolution (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haitian_Revolution), “Historians traditionally identify the catalyst to revolution as a particular Vodou ceremony in August 1791 performed at Bois Caïman by Dutty Boukman, a priest.”.”

At one point in my life I was a Fundamentalist Christian so I understand the “logic” behind Pat Robertson’s claim. From his perspective Vodou is devil worship. The priest, Dutty Boukman, called on demons and the Devil, by fundamentalist reasoning, to free his country. When an entire country is given over into the hands of the Devil, no good can ever come of it.

This is, of course, no longer my perspective. This is an observation and explanation on Robertson’s reasoning. It in no way is meant to support his argument by Appeal To Widespread Belief.

This logical fallacy states that because something is widely believed, that makes it factual evidence. This reasoning is fallacious. We used to believe the world was flat. We know better now because evidence has shown otherwise. A belief is not necessarily factual. In this case, there is no scientific, testable evidence of a Devil. There is no scientific, testable evidence that Vodou has been effective.

Haiti has simply had to deal with unfortunate circumstances.  The recent earthquake is one more instance in a string of natural occurrences. There is nothing paranormal about it. This country has simply been victim to a host of natural disasters ranging from flooding and hurricanes to disease and drug trafficking. These, along with a public that lacks education, are the things that keep Haiti impoverished.

I would urge you to go to redcross.com and contribute to the Haitian relief effort if you haven’t already.

The Amazing Adventure 5

The JREF’s Amazing Adventure 5: Skeptics of the Caribbean is fast approaching. The cruise leaves Fort Lauderdale March 6 and returns on the 14th. So far there are 85 skeptics set to sail. Provided his health allows, the Amazing One himself, James Randi, will be joining us on the cruise!

Here is a link to the itinerary and information about the cruise http://bit.ly/EZb4I During the lovely sun-filled, rum-sodden days, talks will be offered on a myriad of topics. I’m scheduled to give one on skepticism in daily life. As if going to the Caribbean, hanging out with like minded people and spending time with The Amazing One wasn’t enough of a thrill…you get ME!

What I would like to know is this: What would you like to hear about in a talk/discussion about skepticism in daily life? Leave a comment here or email me at fledgelingskeptic@atheist.com

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