I pointed out that she was using an argument from authority fallacy (technically, it's an argument from an anonymous authority), but as I've mentioned before, pointing out logical fallacies only has an effect if you're talking to somebody who's playing by the rules of logic in the first place. It's not too hard to figure out why this is a fallacy. What if I got another guy from the C.I.A. who said that it wasn't happening? (He's part of the cover-up, obviously!) Sure, it very well may be possible that it is happening, but I need some actual evidence if I'm going to believe something so incredible. Simply having some guy with some insider government information (that he's rather reckless about spilling to the average person) claim that it's so doesn't make it so.
Essentially, the argument from authority is the adult version of: "My mom said (x) is true!" I remember that I once had a student tell me that Catholics weren't Christians because her grandmother said that they weren't. I had to gently tell her that her grandmother was wrong. As we get older, we tend to give automatic credence to doctors, scientists, etc. without necessarily checking to see what their specific credentials are or if they actually have evidence to back up their claims. Nothing is true simply because an authority figure says it's true.
I can imagine that somebody might object here and point out that I often point out the scientific consensus when it comes to things like evolution, climate change, and GMOs in order to make my point, and thus, I make the argument from authority fallacy. While I do point out the consensus, I'm not guilty of making the fallacy as I'm not trying to make the case that evolution is true, climate change is happening, and GMOs are safe because the scientific consensus says so. In the case of each of those, the evidence speaks for itself, and you don't need expert opinions to figure that out.
Then why bring it up at all? I do so because it's an interesting challenge, and when I refer to the scientific consensus, I refer to a consensus of scientists who are experts in those particular fields because ultimately the person who is arguing the opposing side is asserting that they have an understanding that the experts don't. For instance, if somebody denies anthropogenic climate change, they're implying that they understand the science better than the vast majority of climate scientists. It very well may be the case that they do, but when I bring it up, I'm asking them to explain what it is that they get that the experts don't get. Usually in this case, you can expect an evasion.
I once got into a conversation with a creationists about a TV special featuring Stephen Hawking. In it, Hawking gave his reasons for why the universe doesn't need a creator in order for it to exist. The creationist called Hawking's conclusion "laughable". My response was to ask what, exactly, did Hawking get wrong as far as the science was concerned. He brought up the fact that Hawking didn't mention things like "evidence from design", which still doesn't address the question. Did he really think that Hawking had never heard that before? Same goes with people when I talk about GMOs; they will express that more testing needs to be done, but that implies that they understand something about the process that the majority of geneticists understand, since they are saying that they're safe. Again, the critics might be right, but if they are, they should be able to explain why their understanding is better - preferably with an actual geneticist in the room.
Bringing up what the experts say isn't a logical fallacy so long as you're not using it as the reason as to why something is true. It's simply a way of getting people to address the specific arguments and offer any evidence to the contrary. The problem comes in when people use the opinion of an authority figure as evidence, their authority figures aren't even experts on the particular subject, or the authority figure isn't even named in the first place (like our mysterious C.I.A. official).
A big problem that comes up with this fallacy is that often the people who constantly use it will assume that you're doing it as well. To be specific, I have had on more than one occasion Christians bringing up the philosopher Friederich Nietzsche to me. Nietzsche is understood to be an atheist, and he was the one who is often quoted as saying that "God is dead". From what I understand, and I very well could be getting this completely wrong as I'm no philosophy expert, his point was that as society moves away from religious faith, humans will struggle to find some sort of intrinsic value to life, as that's what they had with a belief in God. Essentially, the Christian is trying to tell me that since Nietzsche is an atheist, and I'm an atheist, that I should accept his premise and feel that life has no inherent meaning (ultimately as a way of demonstrating that their worldview is superior to mine).
What they don't seem to understand is that if this I don't give a crap what Nietzsche had to say. If he says things with which I agree, then I agree. But if he says something with which I disagree, then I disagree. I'm not going to agree with the guy on everything just because I agree with many of his critiques of religion. More importantly, if I am understanding his premise correctly, I think that it's a false one, as I don't think that people derive intrinsic value from religion. Rather, I think that they have their values and then wind up ascribing them, after the fact, to their religious faith.
This doesn't just happen with Nietzsche. I've had a theist tell me that Richard Dawkins thinks that atheists should embrace the idea of being "militant" after I said that was a ridiculous thing to do. I suppose the person thought that I was going to find myself in some sort of difficult position of sticking with what I said and contradicting Richard Dawkins. Fortunately for me, I have no problem disagreeing with the man. (I personally think that calling ourselves "brights" is pretentious as all hell, for instance.) I guess what many theists don't seem to understand is that atheists - or to be more specific - skeptics don't have any authority figures. We might have people we admire, but if Lawrence Krauss (another atheist I admire) started talking tomorrow about how we need to wear tinfoil hats to protect us from alien mindreaders, then I'll have no problem saying that Krauss is off his nut. (That is, of course, unless he provides objective and verifiable evidence.)
An even better example of this misunderstanding comes up in the movie God's Not Dead. The setup for the film is a Christian student takes a philosophy class with a professor who insists that the kids sign a statement declaring that "God is dead" in order to pass the class. (Something which has never happened and would be criticized by even some of the most strident atheists.) During the film, he debates his professor on the existence of God, only to get the professor to admit that the problem is that he's mad at God, which makes him not an atheist at all (but I digress).
I hesitate to give this movie any publicity, even if it's the 30-100 hits my blog posts get. I also must admit that I haven't seen it, but a friend told me about it, and I've read so many reviews of it that my point still stands. If anybody has seen it, and it turns out that I'm getting something wrong, please let me know. (And if you want a very thorough analysis of the film, check out what the Camels with Hammers blog, written by an actual atheist philosophy professor, has to say.)
From what I've read, the arguments that the two throw at each other consist of little more than arguments from authority. The professor quotes the likes of Dawkins and Hawking, and then he's dumbfounded that the student (the hero of the film) isn't impressed by the credentials of those he quotes. In other words, he is unable to make any arguments of his own. He can't even seem to paraphrase what others have said.
Perhaps there are atheists out there who only parrot what prominent nonbelievers have said, but that's not the way most of the ones I know come to their conclusions. I was an atheist long before I ever heard of Richard Dawkins or many of today's prominent nonbelievers. Sometimes I will quote one of them, not as a way of providing what I think is evidence, but because I think that they have made a true statement in as clear a manner as possible, and for me to use my own words would be to run the risk of being less articulate. A prime example includes Christopher Hitchens, who said: "That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence."
It's not true because he said it. It's true because it simply makes sense. Why should I have to go digging for evidence to disprove something for which no evidence has been provided? A basic tenet of logic is that the person making a claim about something is the one who has the burden of proof to provide evidence, not the other way around. (I guess I ought to write my next logical fallacy post on the burden of proof.) In other words, Kermit the frikken' Frog could have said it, and I'd still quote it. Shoot, I bet you could easily compile a list of Hitchens quotes with which I do NOT agree, but that has no impact on the fact that I like what he said that one particular time.
I suppose that I can understand why I run into this problem with so many theists in particular. Their entire belief structure is based on the words of an authority, so naturally they assume that I must be doing something similar. Even when people get away from theism though, they run the danger of replacing one authority (The Bible - or somebody's interpretation of it) with another (like the Food Babe or some other mountebank).
The good news is that it's very possible to not fall into this particular line of fallacious thinking. As Lawrence Krauss said, when speaking of the scientific method:
There are no scientific authorities. That's a key point. There are scientific experts. But there's no one whose views are not subject to question. And that's the key point. And there's no student that should ever be afraid of saying to a professor in a science class, "You're wrong and here's why."