Friday, May 15, 2009

Carrie Prejean…or…We Have Gone Mad?

Let me see if I have this straight. We have a Beauty pageant contestant. A person whose primary requirement (whether we admit this out loud or not) is to look pretty. Ms. Prejean wisely desired to improve her chances in the contest. Does she study a new language? No. Does she increase her work-out routine? Perhaps. But most certainly what we DO know will increase her chances is to get breast implants!

Do you get that? We are discussing on the national stage the opinion regarding gay marriage from a woman who, in order to improve in her chosen profession thought, “Hmmm…the best way for me to excel here is to get breast implants!

And we have Perez Hilton. A blogger. Who has occasionally appeared on such weighty Television shows as hosting “The Bad Girls Club Season 3” according to Wikipedia. I did not know there WAS a “The Bad Girls Club” show let alone one warranting a second or third season or a host. And this D-List celebrity asks Ms. Breast Implants an obvious question.

Now the world is all a-flutter over the question and the answer.

And Ms. Prejean has become a spokesperson for the National Organization for Marriage. How stupid have we become?

Is she qualified on Marriage because she is…well…married? Nope.
Because she has studied psychology and counseled married people? Nope
Done anthropological research on marriage? Nope.

She’s qualified because she got Breast Implants and bumbled through an answer in a Beauty Contest. Ow, Ow—my brain hurts writing that!

Or Bristol Palin. A spokesperson for Abstinence. What are Ms. Palin’s qualifications? Well…she hopes to finish High school….she is the daughter of a Governor and Vice-Presidential candidate…and…she…oh—she got pregnant for NOT doing what she recommends the rest of us do!

Seriously, if any of the 1000’s of “Bristol Palins” out there—the high school students who became pregnant--indicated they wanted to become a spokesperson for Abstinence Education we would chuckle up our sleeves and reply, “Why don’t you finish High School, first?” And think to ourselves, “…and maybe practice what you preach.”

But because Bristol is the daughter of Sarah, we ooh and aah at the idea. We debate it on the national forum. Because Bristol is a celebrity.

So, too, is Ms. Prejean. And Mr. Perez.

We have reduced ourselves to an age where “being a celebrity” is considered the ONLY qualification to do…well…anything! Do we want to know what anthropologists or scientists or economists indicate regarding providing help to African nations? Not really…what does Bono say? Does Liberty College invite psychologists and marriage counselors and experts in the field of homosexuality and marriage to speak? Who are they?...they get chest-endowed Carrie Prejean!

Richard Dawkins is a bright scientist. But they are a dime a dozen. Write a few books, do a few lectures, and for whatever reason fate smiles on some—he became a celebrity. Now, every single Christian apologist seems to think Dawkins is the full, final and sole word on atheism. Because he is so knowledgeable? Nope—because he has reached celebrity status and everyone knows being a celebrity is THE qualification to know anything.

America is obsessed with who Paris Hilton is voting for. What Harrison Ford has to say about the environment. Charles Bronson’s take on values. A woman has eight kids, and all-of-a-sudden I am supposed to be engrossed with every facet of her life—what car she drives, what food she eats, etc. Why? Because she is a celebrity. The singers who make it into the top Ten spot on American Idol play to throngs of 1000’s during their season. And in a few short months are asking the more relevant question, “Do you want fries with that?”

Worse, we watch people compromise their values, simply to be near and see a celebrity. Liberty College teaches people to be content with their physical selves. If some female told them how she had gotten implants to become the runner-up on a Beauty Contest, and she is a Christian, so can she speak to the student body—they would say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” But make her a celebrity…

Why do we care? The proper response to Carrie Prejean should have been, “So what?” A beauty contestant has an opinion. Big deal. Frankly her answer should have been lampooned as a hilarity. (“opposite marriage”??)

I’ll bet Mr. Perez regrets slamming her for that question. It made her a celebrity. It made her an “expert” in the eyes of the Public on the question of marriage. It gave her the ultimate qualification—being well-known.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Interview with an Atheist

The Barefoot Bum pointed out this person’s interview questions for non-theists and, of course, The Barefoot Bum’s response.

These aren’t questions intended to learn about the other person—they are talking points intended to argue about theism, and for that they are sufficient. But if you want to understand the other position—you have to first learn what it is saying. Live in their skin for a bit.

Why Can’t Christians get this right? Why must they always assume their own view of the world when asking these repetitive, boring questions?

“How can you impose morals on others?”
“Where did we get Free Will?”
“How does life have purpose?”
“If Christianity were true…”
“Is the most difficult thing about becoming a Christian the moral demands?”

Have we not answered these one or two (million) times?

What questions do you wish Christians would ask in these “Questions for Atheists?” Here’s a few off the top of my head:

1. You are in a High-School debate on the pro-theism team. What argument for God do you think is the strongest to put forward?

2. In America, non-theists are a distinct minority. Why do you think that is? Why do you think the percentage of non-theists is growing?

3. Why do you think atheists are distrusted in American culture?

4. As a Christian, we sometimes cringe when we hear another Christian say something. Like Pat Robertson. Or Fred Phelps. Is there an atheist who makes you cringe when you hear them speak? If so—why?

5. What do you think Christians “get right.”? What do you think they get wrong?

6. If you could have a Christian read three (3) books—what would they be?

7. Is there anything a local church could do that would make you want to attend at least twice a month?

8. What surprises you the most about Christians? The least?

Monday, May 11, 2009

When you saw only one set of footprints--I was off helping someone else

One Small Step recently wrote on How Far do you Trust God? This brings to mind something itching on my brain.

Last November, I was having some pain in my chest, so I scheduled an appointment with a doctor. (Which, for me, means I’m fairly concerned. I hate doctor visits.) They did an EKG, the doctor rushed in and said, “Take this aspirin. Chew it so it gets into your system faster. And here’s nitroglycerin, let it dissolve under your tongue.”

“Uh…sure. Doc, what’s up?”
“There was an irregularity on the EKG, and we recommend you go to the Emergency Room immediately.”
“O.K. It’s just an ‘irregularity’—right? Not like it’s an inverted T or anything.”
“Actually, it IS an inverted-T.”

This raised my concern level, of course. But only mildly.

“Fine. I’ll drive right over.”
“Frankly, we recommend an ambulance.”
“Well…I CAN drive, right?”
“Sure, but if you leave now, I want you to sign a form saying I recommended an ambulance, and you went against my orders.”

As lawyers, we do the same thing when we think clients are doing something pretty stupid and we want it in writing so when they come back and complain we can point out it was against our advice. A CYA letter, as it is called.

I got the message and received a quick trip in a siren-screaming ambulance.

Once at the hospital, though, the ER staff didn’t seem very concerned. We started Emergency Room Time—where minutes stretch to hours and nothing seems to happen. Occasionally a white-suited individual (could be a janitor for all I knew) would look at my EKG and grunt. I asked about the inverted-T, and they didn’t seem very concerned.

I felt like just another guy who ate a bad bean burrito and the nurses were secretly rolling their eyes at me. “Wimp…thinks he’s having a heart attack…” Started to plan my escape.

All of a sudden the room starting filling up with people.

Nurse One: We want him up to the Cath lab NOW!
Nurse Two: But we have to give him this medicine first—
Nurse One: No time, no time! We will give it on the way up.

Me: [a little meekly] Uh…what’s up?
Nurse One: The blood test came back. You had a heart attack. We are going to do a heart catheterization right now!

Now they were rushing me out of the room as quickly as possible. I liked the slow, “nothing happening” medical pace better than “Get out of the way, we need to get this guy somewhere RIGHT NOW” frenzy.

Once in the cath lab, the Doctor told me what he was going to do, and the staff was helpful. They looked like they knew what they were doing. I didn’t have time to google out “Catheterization” or look up my choices. I had to rely upon the medical personnel to be competent. They looked like they had done it before—it was reassuring.

I am informed of all the things that might happen—may have a stint put in, perhaps an angioplasty. Maybe even surgery if it is determined to be necessary. Yet I find myself curiously unconcerned. Detached, even. This was out of my hands, so I left it to the professionals to do what they felt was necessary.

As it turns out, while there is some blockage (due to age and genetics), nothing terrible was happening. The inverted-T was probably a bad read on the pad. The blood test was a false-positive. No big deal—discharged the next day.

The cardiologist started me on a course of medication (unnecessary, in my opinion) that I weaned off in a few months. Given a clean bill of health, and back on my way…

I can understand, going through that, how comforting the God-idea is. Life throws us some curve balls. Some unexpecteds. Some bad circumstances. Things out of our control. It is immensely encouraging to think, “No matter how bad this is, ‘someone, somewhere’ is in control, and is working to correct the situation. Make it better.” No one wants to see that puzzled look on their Doctors’ face. No one wants to hear, “WOW! That’s a new one on me!” We want, “Oh, I have seen that. Do this and that and your problem is solved.”

It is comforting to think, when you lose your job, “God” will help you find a new one. That “God” did this for some reason. Or when your child hurts, or when a loved one dies—that there is some Great Comforter who has YOUR interest at heart, and is doing everything in their power to improve the situation.

That’s nice. Makes funerals more pleasant.

But there is an undiscussed down-side. It becomes permeated in your being. “God loves you.” “God wants what is best for you.” “God has a purpose for your life.” “God has a will for you.” “God will give you direction.” And you hear story after story from other people how God found them the perfect job, the great opportunity, the wonderful mate, the career, the house, the pet, the cure, the friend, the…whatever it was the person was looking for.

You begin to believe the creator of the universe has you on his mind 24 hours a day. Good and bad. And what is a source of comfort in bad times becomes a lack of direction in good times.

I know a fellow who has not held a steady job for decades. Waiting for “God” to give him the “right job.” And why shouldn’t he? Doesn’t “God” look out for his needs? Doesn’t “God” have his best interests at heart? If there is a God who is concerned about your every thought, and your every deed, certainly He is equally concerned about your career. Right?

This being the graduation season, I am seeing notes from Christian graduates along the lines of “I don’t know what God wants me to do with me life.” “I am looking for God’s direction.” See, we were so immersed in God the Comforter, we believed in God the Life-Plan Director. And yet God becomes silent.

We end up doing…what? Think about it—we ended up doing what we felt was best. God didn’t come down with golden plates, telling us what college to go to! Just like every non-believer, we wrestled with some personal choices and eventually chose one. Or two. Or more. The difference being, afterwards if we felt good about our choice, as a Christian we said, “That must be what God wanted.” A non-believer doesn’t bother.

We picked our careers, our spouses, our locations on the same meter. If it failed—as a Christian we figured with 20-20 hindsight, it must not be what God wanted. We even became good at retro-inserting justification! “Oh, I knew at the time that was not what God wanted, but I did it anyway.”

As I read these statements from students, my heart breaks. Oh to be free of God-approval! To understand we make our own choices and savor our own responsibility. There is no “God-plan” for their life. No grandiose scheme the human can only hope to follow or sit around waiting to be revealed.

The concept of God the comforter comes at a terrible price—becoming God the Cruise Director.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Argument by Parable

I’ve been involved in a discussion at Pensees regarding the cosmological argument and Paul penned out this parable:

Long, long ago in a land far, far away there were two friends named Matt and Theo. One day while hiking through the forest they happened upon a clearing. In that clearing, to their utter amazement, was a shiny red machine, which we moderns would know as a corvette.

Upon inspection Theo's reaction was to appeal to some sort of magic to explain the machine. Matt, however, held out for a further look and managed to find and work the door handle. Viola! It had seats in there! It must be a carriage of some sort. Matt then proceeded to discover the key and started it up. He discovered the pedals, the steering wheel, the gearshift: soon he could drive it!

Matt's confidence grew even while Theo invoked sorcery to explain each feature and effect. Matt even found the hood and began to unravel something of the workings of the engine. Theo was mystified and skeptical at every turn that a mechanical explanation could be found. Matt spent the next week reverse-engineering the car. He was quite pleased with himself and equally annoyed with Theo.

By this time Theo's skepticism had lost all credibility — so much so that Matt failed to see the gravity of his final concern. Asked Theo, "By what natural means did such a finely crafted machine arrive here? Surely there must be some creator, beyond the simple means of this world, that brought it here." But Matt dismissively offered all kinds of explanations, from popping out of nothing, to growing from a heretofore unknown seed, to the forces of nature randomly forming it. In Theo's mind some of the explanations seemed no less objectionable than the sorcery that Matt was hoping to avoid.

In the end, Matt was completely unconcerned with the question. He had been so successful in explaining the magical workings of the corvette that his faith was strong that he should never have to appeal to sorcery or fairies. Surely there is some natural explanation out there, even if he never finds it. On the other hand, Theo is humbled by all the wondrous knowledge and possibilities opened up by Matt's investigation, but he can't help thinking that there's actually something to his last question.

I admit…upon reading it, I thought, “THAT is supposed to be an argument FOR theism?” Am I missing something here? Do you notice how many times Matt turned out to have the correct answer using his methodology? Every time! Do you notice how many times Theo turned out to have the correct answer using his method? Not once!

Is the theist arguing, “Gee, I have been wrong in every other instance in the past, but surely this time I have it right when faced with the same question, using the same method to find a solution”? Would you accept this concept in any other facet of your life?

Imagine going to a doctor who says, “I am not sure what you have. So I will prescribe Medicine Theos. Now, I should let you know, every single time in the past when faced with an unknown ailment, I prescribed Theos, and it later turned out Medicine Matt was the proper medicine. But this time I think I may have it right.”

I don’t know about you, but I would be saying, “How about we try Medicine Matt first!”

Or if your lawyer said, “Not sure how the judge will rule. I am going to try relying upon People v Theos. Now every time I have relied upon Theos the judge has told me I should have used People v Matt. But this time, maybe Theos will work.”

Would you have any confidence in such a lawyer?

Can anyone point out anywhere else in their life where using the same method, getting the same wrong answer, means the next time they use the same method, it will work?

I understand why the parable might work on a theist who already believes in a god (trying to convince them there is a god is like convincing me chocolate tastes good!) but how is this parable supposed to convince a non-theist? How is it supposed to generate any reliance on a method with such a poor track record?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

“You have the Burden of Proof” doesn’t work

It is important to lay some definitional groundwork to ensure we are all on the same page. “Burden of Proof” answers the question “Who?” whereas “Standard of Proof” answers the question “How much?” [There is a third and even more important question I will address in a moment.]

In a legal setting, we allocate burden of proof by declaring who must present sufficient evidence to substantiate what is at issue. In a trial, it is the prosecutor or plaintiff. (For hyper-critical lawyers reading this—yes, I know there are some issues the burden “shifts” to the defendants.) In a legal motion—it is the moving party who has the burden. On appeal, it is the Appellant who has the burden.

In a formal debate, it is the person who defends the Affirmative. Although I am not as familiar with scientific presentations, I would imagine it would rest on the person presenting the article or speech. On the person defending their doctoral thesis.

In these situations, it is easy to determine burden of proof. We can point directly at the person and say, “They have the burden of proof.” It answers “Who?” In more informal settings, this gets a bit murkier. Before we move on, though, we need to understand not only the “who?” but the “how?” as well. Just knowing who has the burden is not enough; we need to know what they need to do with it.

“Standard of Proof” answers the question as to how much evidence does the person need to present to sustain their claim. Looking at a gradual scale, from least to most proof necessary:

1. No proof at all. (0%)
2. An iota or scintilla or any proof. (1%)
3. Possible.
4. Probable.
5. More likely than not or preponderance of the evidence (51%)
6. Clear and convincing.
7. Beyond a reasonable doubt.
8. Absolute. (100%)

The percentages are given as an indication. There are no hard-and-fast percentages as to how much greater “probable” is than “possible” or “beyond a reasonable doubt” is than “preponderance of the evidence.” Again, in legal situations, we can easily answer this question. A preliminary examination determines whether it is probable a crime was committed, and probable the accused did it. A personal injury Plaintiff must prove his/her case by preponderance of the evidence. A prosecutor must prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Again, in informal situations, this is not as clearly defined.

The O.J. Simpson case gives an excellent example of the inter-working between burden of proof and standard of proof. In the criminal trial, the prosecutor had the burden of proof; in the civil trial the Plaintiff had the burden of proof. O.J. Simpson never had the burden of proof. So in comparing the two trials—the burden of proof was on the same person. However, in the criminal trial, the prosecutor was unable to meet the standard of proof—“beyond a reasonable doubt” whereas the plaintiff was able to meet the standard of proof—“preponderance of the evidence” that O.J. Simpson killed Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman.

Same burden of proof. Different standard of proof. Different results. (Don’t get confused by the common vernacular of “She met her burden of proof.” This is technically incorrect, as it should be “She provided sufficient evidence to meet the standard of proof” since burden of proof answers “who?” not “how.” But we commonly use the phrase anyway.)

And so in forums and blogs and chatrooms we banter about these terms when debating on theism or politics or economics of just about anything. These are not formal debates; these are not courtrooms. There are no set determinations as to burden of proof or standard of proof. This is just us discussing.

If you cannot agree on a Standard of Proof with an opposing position, there is no reason to bother discussing Burden of Proof. Answering “who” will not further the conversation one bit, if you cannot agree on the “how.”

Let’s use inerrancy, since it is about the brightest line in the otherwise foggy world of Christian debate. Often times, you will see an inerrantist declare a contradiction is when two writings logically contradict each other. “A is an apple.” “A is not an apple” would be a simplistic example of this. The inerrantist demands those claiming a contradiction within the Bible demonstrate a contradiction using this Standard of Proof. Maybe not quite an absolute Standard of Proof-- No. 8 on the DagoodS Scale above—but pretty close.

Yet when defending proposed resolutions, we hear claims of “it is possible…” “it is possible…” It is possible Peter denied Jesus 52 times, and different gospels records different instances of the many occasions. That Mark and Luke knew of, but didn’t include things Matthew did. That the Gospel of John uses a “possibly” completely different measure of time that is unrecorded, unheard of and unknown in any contemporary history.

Do you see what happened? Do you see how the Standard of Proof changed? To prove a contradiction—it must be absolute. (An 8 on the DagoodS scale.) Yet to prove a resolution—it must only be possible. (A mere 3 on the DagoodS scale.) Do you see why this disagreement makes “burden of Proof” irrelevant?

To the inerrantist, if the burden of proof is on them—the standard of proof is “possible.” If the burden of proof is on those claiming a contradiction—the standard of proof is “absolute.” It is the standard of proof controlling the problem—not the burden of proof.

In the evolution debate, the scientist believes the evidence preponderates to evolution. Or even is clear and convincing. The creationist believes the evidence fails because it is not absolute. Or above “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Determining who has the burden here would be useless, since each would say the other failed, because they are using different standards of proof.

Before we go any further--as this will have bearing on why “burden of proof” doesn’t work—we should look at the third and most important question. Even having the burden of proof, and having the standard of proof—the third question is whether the evidence is sufficient. Burden answers “who?” Standard answers “how much?” We would need a determinate to figure out whether the standard was met. Answering the question “to whom?”

Again, in the legal field this is easy. A judge or jury makes the determination. In a formal debate, there are judges as well. Again, in informal situations such as the Internet, there are no judges. No juries. The same discussions go ‘round and ‘round. Even knowing who has the Burden of Proof, and agreement on the Standard of Proof, there is so rarely agreement the standard was met. Even knowing She has the burden of proof, and agreeing the burden is preponderance of the evidence—who decides she presented evidence that preponderates over the opposition?

Again, making “burden of proof” pretty useless, since we cannot agree (even agreeing on burden and standard) whether it was met. The inerrantist, even agreeing they have the burden, and the standard is “possible resolution” is met by those holding to contradictions saying they didn’t sustain the standard of proof. (Realistically, because the contradictionist is using “preponderance of the evidence” as the standard of proof.)

And this is in a simplistic example. Get into historicity of Jesus, or documents using other writings, or authorship or dating and it gets worse. Then get into events of the Tanakh and find even less distinction and greater difficulties determining standard of proof, burden of proof and determinate.

O.K., now let’s go back to the top of the circle, having seen the bubbling problems festering in the background…who, in these informal Internet discussions, has the burden of proof?

Normally, we fall back on the notion, “The person making the claim has the burden of proof.” If the theist claims there is a God—they have the burden of proof to demonstrate there is a God. If an atheist claims there is no god—they have the burden of proof to demonstrate there is no god. If a person claims Matthew the disciple wrote the Gospel of Matthew—they have the burden of proof. If a person claims Matthew the disciple did not write the Gospel—they have the burden. And so on.

At first blush, this seems reasonable. But upon further inspection, it begins to fragment and fall apart. See, we make claims where we presume the nature of the claim is so obvious, no proof is necessary. We often see the use of “2+2=4” in theistic debates, as analogy or example. But how many people go on to prove 2+2=4? They are making a claim, true? Don’t they have the burden of proof? Yet if we start to apply this persistently, conversation becomes impossible.

“The Disciple Matthew wrote the Gospel of Matthew.”
“Prove it.”

“The first attribution of the Gospel was that it was Matthew’s”
“Prove it.”

“Here is the manuscript.”
“Prove that is the manuscript”

“Here are photos, translations, documents.”
“Prove they made manuscripts.”

See, each evidence to support one’s claim, requires another claim. And that claim requires another claim. Here is one minor point regarding a proof of Matthew and we can almost have infinite retrograde as to “prove it” upon each point used to prove the previous one! Let alone starting to look at other proofs of Matthew writing the Gospel. Or refutations against his writing the Gospel.

If we rigidly applied, “The person who makes the claim has the burden”—the conversation would disintegrate. And we would rightly be hounded from every blog, forum and group for being a troll. We reach a point in reviewing claims, where the premise becomes so basic, we agree the other side no longer has to “prove” the claim. We no longer use terms like burden of proof, standard of proof and so on.

In practice, the notion “The person making the claim has the burden of proof” becomes, “The person making a claim outside our everyday experience and knowledge has the burden of proof” which is actually, “The person making a claim outside MY everyday experience and knowledge has the burden of proof.”

Have you ever seen a theist tell another theist they have the “burden of proof” regarding whether there is a god? Of course not! To them, this is such a basic claim, “burden of proof” is not necessary. Like having a mathematician demand another mathematician prove 2+2=4.

Have you seen a fundamentalist Baptist tell another fundamentalist Baptist they have the “burden of proof” that the 66 books of the Protestant Bible are inspired? Of course not! Again, this is a basic claim. Yet when those two Baptists reach a point of disagreement—such as freewill vs. predestination—all of a sudden we hear cries of “burden of proof”!

The notion, “the person making the claim has the burden of proof” really only comes into play when we reach a claim where we disagree. Yet the only way we know we disagree—is by making competing claims! And by virtue of making claims that compete with other people’s claims—each has just gained a burden of proof…right? So why are we stating the other person has the burden of proof by making a claim, when by virtue of our disagreement, we are making a claim ourselves, thus obtaining the burden of proof by our own methodology!

I see it as a sheer waste of time claiming the opposing position has the burden of proof. I find the notion the Bible is anything more than human writing to be outside my experience and knowledge. A fantastical, unsupported claim. To ME—any person who claims it has God-influence would have the burden of proving it. Of differentiating it from all the other writings out there.

But to Christians, the Bible is a superior, unique, transcendent literature of such impossibility that it could not possibly be merely human made. To THEM—any person claiming it is solely human would have the burden of proving it. It is outside their experience and knowledge.

So what are we going to do—spend hours pointing out to the other how “they” have the burden of proof because “they” have the more extraordinary claim? And then, once that is (not) settled, we are still left with standard of proof, and the determinate?

If you can agree with your opposing position as to the standard of proof (a near impossibility in these discussions) you may find you have gone a long way to negating the issue regarding burden of proof.

On a personal note…

When attorneys negotiate with each other, we very rarely use the concept of who has the burden of proof. We know who does (which helps)—but more importantly we attempt to convince the other attorney on proofs. Evidence. What that jury will likely do on the standard of proof.

If I can convince opposing counsel they will lose, on the evidence, I don’t have to worry about convincing a judge or jury. The attorney is much, MUCH harder to persuade. Due to the nature of the beast, very rarely does opposing counsel concede. We are lawyers—we live to find reasons, excuses and loopholes as to why we will prevail.

My focus, however, is on persuading the other side. If I can present enough argument to convince them—persuading a judge that is neutral to my position will be a cake walk.

I approach my Internet conversations with Christians much the same way. I focus on having enough facts and argument to convince them. I want my position to be presented clear enough and strong enough to cause them to concede my point; how much more would it convince a lurker? Of course, just as in the case of opposing counsel, while this is my goal, I do not expect a Christian to do so. If they did, it would surprise me to no end! It is how I want to present myself more than a need to deconvert—if that makes sense.

I think my position has enough strength in the facts and arguments,--it doesn’t matter who has the burden of proof--it will prevail as obvious. That is why, while I understand the point being made, I don’t think “You have the burden of proof” is ever an effective statement. Maybe they do; maybe they don’t.

Be knowledgeable enough in the field it doesn’t matter.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Convincing those who know better

To become a lawyer in my state, you must first obtain a bachelor’s degree. Then you attend law school for 3-4 years to receive a juris doctorate. (and the pretentious title of “Esquire” that only the pretentious use.) Take the bar, pass the character/fitness committee and you are licensed to practice law.

There is no further specialization. My license allows me to appear in Immigration Court, or Tax Court. I can practice in the field of family law, criminal law, personal injury, transactional law. You name it--my license “allows” me to practice that type of law.

Realistically what happens is that after law school you obtain a job and eventually narrow your focus. You become a divorce lawyer. Or a criminal lawyer. Or a personal injury lawyer. Frankly, I have absolutely no business dispensing tax advice, as I have no knowledge in the field. We see, on occasion, a lawyer attempt to go outside his/her field. They may be a personal injury lawyer, and decide to help a family member out for a criminal matter. Generally they make a complete balls-up of it, since they don’t know what they are doing. If I was giving tax advice or patent advice, I would likewise screw it up—I don’t know those areas of law.

I do, however, happen to know Landlord/Tenant law. I have represented Landlords, Tenants, and sat as a Case Evaluator and Arbitrator in Landlord/Tenant disputes. I have performed numerous jury trials, even more judge-trials and countless hearings within this area of law. All over the course of the past 15 years or so. I have practiced in almost every jurisdiction within 100 miles of my office.

A few years ago, I was at a family affair when a relative-in-law piped up with a statement regarding a Landlord’s legal obligation. Thinking she would actually be helped by understanding the nature of the law, and a few points she was in error, I politely stated what the law was.

I, of course, was wrong. Not only wrong in thinking she may be interested in the law, but quite terribly wrong in what the law was. She went on and on, berating me for not knowing the law (“and you are a lawyer?”) and how SHE was right and SHE knew the law, and who was I to dare question HER? I diplomatically kept my mouth shut to keep the peace and moved on.

Of course I wanted to point out my experience in the field, and as a disinterested person (not my landlord or tenant)—I was merely stating what was, not what I wanted it to be. There would be no gain.

This is not unusual. Often tenants are unrepresented, and when we meet in court, they will tell me what the law is. “A landlord has to replace the carpet after each tenant.” [No—they don’t.] “A landlord can’t kick me out, and then sue for rent to the end of the lease” [Yes—they can.] “I told them my new address, and that was enough.” [No—it wasn’t.] I try to explain the law, in the hopes of resolving it. They don’t listen. We go before the Judge. I win. They feel “cheated”—I feel nothing. The law is what the law is.

I do think--if you are trying to convince me of what the law is in a field I know very well--you ought to know the statutes. You ought to know the case law. You ought to know how judges rule, why they rule that way. You ought to know the Court rules and the Rules of Evidence.

In the same vein, why aren’t cosmologists convinced by Kalaam’s Cosmological Argument? If this was such a great and impenetrable argument—shouldn’t every cosmologist say, “Why, clearly the universe has a cause?” Why is it that only Christian apologists, using it on Christian audiences, find it effective?

Why aren’t scientists convinced by Intelligent Design? Why is it only Christian apologists, using it on Christian audiences, find it effective?

Look, I don’t mind the minority view. We can all recall minority positions that eventually prevailed over the then-majority position. (*cough, cough* “Geocentricism, anyone?”) But at least recognize you are promulgating the minority position within the field, and recognize the up-hill battle you face!

I understand the frustration of Christians when faced with Christ-mythers. I deplore the tactic of saying those who claim Christ as historical have the burden of proof. Look, like it or spike it, Christ-myth is a minority position amongst historians. I am not sure I am over-stating it by claiming it is an extreme minority position.

This does not mean it is wrong, per se—but it does mean you should have your ducks in a row and be prepared to fight an up-hill battle against the prevailing view. You should know the strongest arguments for a historical Jesus. You should be able to respond to them. Your hypothesis needs to answer what facts we have better than the claim of a historical Jesus.

Yet often, the very people who are aghast against Christ-myth, employ the same (and worse) method when it comes to evolution. Amongst scientists it is NOT over-stating it to say non-evolution is an extreme minority position. Less than 1% when you take into account all the scientists in the world.

Do creationists (including intelligent design) likewise treat their own position as a minority position? Do they understand the up-hill battle? Do they know the arguments for evolution? Are they able to respond to them? Does a non-evolution hypothesis answer all the facts we have better than an evolution hypothesis?

Please understand, I am NOT saying “Majority opinion is correct.” What I am saying is, when you are trying to convince a lawyer—know the law. If you are trying to convince a cosmologist—know cosmology. If you are trying to convince a scientist—know science.