The Appeal to Authority

John Frame:

The appeal to authority also is known as ad verecundiam. In general, appeal to authority is a fallacy in the sense that it does not necessitate the conclusion being argued for. As a matter of fact, however, in our everyday reasoning, appeals to authority are indispensible. We believe many propositions important to our thinking that we have personally verified. Most of our knowledge of history, science, and indeed of theology we have learned from others more knowledgeable than we, and we have accepted it on their authority.

There are numerous appeals to authority in theology. There are appeals to Scripture, of course, but also to creeds and confessions, to philosophers (Aquinas’s citation of Aristotle, Bultmann’s attitude toward Heidegger), and to other theologians and theological traditions. Sometimes, even famous athletes take on the role of religious authorities, seeking to win people to Christ just as they might otherwise be selling cereal or beer.

Scripture’s authority alone is decisive. An appeal to Scripture’s authority is not fallacious but is the most fundamental argument of orthodox theology, an argument that underlies all others. In other types of thought, other presuppositions are thought to have a similar authoritative status. So the argument ad verecundiam is unavoidable at a very basic level. Like circularity, appeal to authority is inevitable at the presuppositional level, and it indirectly influences every argument, since it supplies the most fundamental criterion of truth in any system. but it need not always be explicit. And of course, appeals to less-than-ultimate authorities are always fallible and often unavoidable.

- John Frame, The Doctrine of God, p. 290.