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Rhodes Scholar.

The Rhodes Scholar tactic arises out of a particularly sneaky problem often seen in magazines, news articles/television, or on the college campus. The problem is the appeal to a scholarly authority without providing a good reason to do so. This is also otherwise known as the “fallacy of expert witness.”[1] Author Greg Koukl writes, “There is nothing wrong with appealing to authority, but it must be done in the right way.”[2] In other words, it is not enough to simply quote a scholar’s opinion; we need to know how the scholar has come to his particular conclusion. Oftentimes, Christians will get caught up with a challenge because they assume a quoted scholar’s opinion is true. But we should never make this assumption, Koukl says. “[S]cholars can be wrong, and often are. Their reasoning can be weak, their facts can be mistaken, and bias can distort their judgment.”[3] Therefore, despite a scholar’s reputation or credentials, “always ask for reasons. Don’t settle for opinions.”[4] This is Rhodes Scholar in a nutshell.

There are two ways to assess a scholar’s opinion:

  1. What are his reasons for his opinion; that is, if his opinion is rooted in evidence and/or facts, let’s hear them! The burden of proof is still on the scholar to make the case.
  2. Are there any hidden presuppositions in his opinion? For example, if a scholar begins with the presupposition that miracles could never happen, then he will find it difficult to conclude that a miracle has taken place even if plenty of evidence for it exists.[5]

Always ask the Rhodes Scholar question: Why should I believe this person’s opinion? Remember, Koukl writes, “It is axiomatic that the most intelligent people—college professors, doctors, lawyers, Ph.D.s, bright folks of all stripes—make foolish and elementary mistakes in thinking when it comes to spiritual things.”[6] Therefore, whenever you come across someone’s appeal to scholarly authority, you must always ask for good reasons to believe it.

Check back next week for Chapter 13: Just the Facts, Ma’am.

*Greg Koukl is Founder and President of Stand to Reason. Please do yourself a favor and buy his excellent book here!

[1] Greg Koukl, Tactics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 168.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid, 169.

[6] Ibid, 106.