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Appeal to Tradition

by Hans Bluedorn

The following is from an article on the "No Answers In Genesis" website (, a website devoted to refuting the claims of special creationism and supporting the theory of evolution. The article was entitled "Creationists and Scientific Logic" by Scott Anderson

Quote: "...Creationists still have to show that science is, in fact, wrong. This must first occur before they can begin postulating how the errors (as they must call them) persisted for so long...

...To replace evolution with creationism would dictate that we throw out all the data we have about the age of the universe (all of it points to billions of years, not thousands). We would have to throw away the psychological data gained from testing on, for instance, lab rats. How could the data from rats relate in any way to the inspired, specially created souls of human beings? Anthropology would have to be dispensed with. Archaeology would find itself in the trash bin. Biology books would be so much toilet paper. In short, a thousand different independent but strangely cohesive facts and theories _ a million tidbits of knowledge about ourselves and our world _ would have to be destroyed in favor of magic and mysticism.

We've been through that before _ it was called the Dark Ages. I see no logical reason why we should return to them." End quote.

To accurately assess this quote, first we need to ask two questions. What is his point? And, what are his reasons for believing this point?

His point is that special creationism must be wrong. He believes this because all the conclusions that have been drawn thus far (that support evolution) would have to be thrown out. One hundred and forty years of evolutionary theory could not be wrong.

Sound convincing? This reminds me of those advertising slogans you see when businesses promote themselves. "Established in 1919" or "we've been in business for over 100 years." They are trying to get you to buy because they've been around for a long time.

Mr. Anderson is using the fallacy of an Appeal to Tradition. This is where past customs, or the fact that something has been around for a long time, are made to justify it continuing in the present. When you hear things like: "we've always done it this way" or "this is a time honored...." or possibly "When I was a kid," it's probably an Appeal to Tradition. An Appeal to Tradition is similar to an Appeal to Popularity (it's been popular a long time).

One good example – usually given in refutation of Appeal to Tradition and also many other fallacies – concerns the belief in a flat Earth. Some people in the late fifteenth century thought Columbus would simply fall over the edge when he sailed the ocean blue because, "everybody has always known that the Earth is flat." "Always," is the key word. There are many historical examples of an Appeal to Tradition turning out false.

Another curious example is of the woman who would always, when cooking a turkey, cut off a certain part and place it next to the rest in the pan before cooking. When asked why she did this she claimed that she had seen her mother do it. When the mother was questioned about this she also cited a maternal example (I may be getting some of these details wrong – at least from the version I heard). It was eventually discovered that some grandmother down the line had initiated this practice because her pan was too small.

Now concerning our quote: It is true that evolution has been around for quite a while and most respected scientists rely on it for interpretation of data. And, yes, it would be awkward to throw out all of those conclusions. But the same could have been said about the models for the solar system in Galileo's time. If evolution has been around for a long time, does that offer actual proof of whether it is right or wrong? When proof is claimed solely on the basis of something lasting for a long time, that is an Appeal to Tradition.

Well, to balance things off, I had to give another example from the other side.

This is from Campus Journal (Sept, Oct, Nov, 1999) in an article titled: "Ten Reasons To Believe In The Bible."

Here is reason number 9. 

"Its Survival. The books of Moses were written 500 years before the earliest Hindu Scriptures. Moses wrote Genesis 2,000 years before Muhammad penned the Koran. During that long history, no other book has been as loved as the Bible."

Quite clearly another Appeal to Tradition. The prize for truthfulness does not automatically go to the oldest competitor. This is a case of having the right conclusion, but taking the wrong route to get there.

But now the question is: How do you deal with this fallacy?

If you can show what the contradictions are in an Appeal to Tradition, then you can demonstrate that faulty logic is being used. How many times in history has man's traditions turned out to be false. The important thing to know is that appealing solely to customs of the past is totally irrelevant to the truth.

Matthew 15:6. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.

Copyright September 15, 2000, all rights reserved. 15118 views

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