Ex 7.3 Answer

The following notes apply to the post 7.3 Resisting scientism.

This is a subtle form of an argument from authority. In its most obvious form, an argument from authority is one in which one or more of the premises of the argument rely on the authority of a source credible to (some part) of the audience. The purpose of argument from authority is to persuade people who don’t believe you by appealing to someone they do believe.

In this case, no actual authority is cited, but the author nevertheless relies on the general social credibility of the idea of “relativity theory” (something most people don’t understand but have been taught to believe is standard – and therefore credible – science).

What is the claim?

The claim is that time is relative, or that there is no independent or absolute reference point from which to measure time. The passage also claims that space and time are not independent dimensions.

Is it a good or bad argument?

This is most definitely a bad argument! That doesn’t mean the claims aren’t true. It means that this passage does not offer any reason to believe them. There are no premises to support either of the two claims at all. Rather, these are assertions. What the author provides is not an argument but an illustration of the idea of a time lag between an event happening in one place and someone seeing that event from another place. In other words, the author is merely explaining what relativity means or implies, but that does not tell us that relativity is true, or why there can be no independent time reference. In order to believe these claims, we have to first trust that relativity theory is correct.

Insofar as a passage like this makes its purpose of being an explanation clear, it is fine. However, we have to be on guard against writers that attempt to convince us that science has all the answers (a view known as ‘scientism’) just by dazzling us with explanations, illustrations, interesting models and thought experiments. Some scientific theories are so complex that just by understanding them, some people will be persuaded to believe them. Others will claim that sceptics only deny certain scientific claims because the sceptic doesn’t fully understand the theory (“if only you could understand it properly, you would see the truth!”). However, an explanation of a theory is not an argument for its truth.

In all this, we should keep in mind that weighing the claims of science is a separate issue from understanding the claims that science makes. As was mentioned back in post 1 ‘What is an argument?‘, language has many functions and we need to clearly separate descriptions, definitions, explanations, illustrations and other language functions from arguments.

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