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.


  1. I think I get what you are saying, but I must disagree that the Christ-myth advocates shouldn't use the burden of proof against the people who claim Christ's biblical existence. And while I should generally know the best points of their arguments and how to rebut them, I don't feel I should have to know all of them or present my case in a particularly heavy fashion just because I am the minority.

    If I may use an analogy from the law in your story above, if your relative said that the law you claimed was incorrect, and tons of lawyers sided with you, the burden of proof is still not on her because she would have an awful time proving a negative; she can't look everywhere! You are making the claim, however, so you should be able to cite a legal source that shows the law does what you say. Even though she is an extreme minority, it is not incorrect of her to require you to back up your claim just because you side with a heavy majority opinion of other experts. (and if I screw this up in the semantics please overlook it as long as my point is valid, I have very cursory knowledge of law).

    To put this in context, I have read your blog for quite some time, and I'm really pleased to actually disagree with you because it is a chance to figure out where I might be wrong on this.

    Thanks for writing,

    I just thought of something else, just because a vast majority thought OJ was guilty, that didn't absolve the prosecution from the burden of proof, right? Maybe it did in popular culture, but not the court; not where actual truth was concerned.

  2. Yazbec,

    I agree you do not have to know the every point—but what I see from those arguing against evolution, is they don’t have even the basic knowledge. Look, if you don’t know what an endogenous retro-virus is--you shouldn’t be arguing against evolution! If you claim cosmologists “know” our universe came from nothing--frankly, you shouldn’t be arguing cosmology. In the same way, if a Christ-myther was not familiar with the arguments both pro and con for the Testimonium Flavium (both sections), I would equally say they shouldn’t be arguing regarding Christ-myth.

    It is not every argument—it is some arguments are so basic and integral that by not knowing both the negative and positive aspects of the arguments, one displays the really do not have any credibility in the argument.

    Much the same way if I told you I thought O.J. was guilty, and if you asked how I resolved the glove issue and I responded, “What glove?”—you might believe I didn’t really have a handle on the evidence, but rather was grabbing on to a popular opinion without basis.

    By the way, the O.J. situation demonstrates why “burden of proof” is not nearly as important as “standard of proof.” O.J. WAS found responsible for the deaths of his Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman. The Prosecutor could not prove it by a higher standard (“beyond a reasonable doubt”) whereas the plaintiff could prove it by a lower standard (“preponderance of the evidence”) while each still had the burden of proof.

    I agree with you we cannot rely upon majority opinion as sufficient evidence. However, I do think one reaches a point where there is such a large majority, the minority position should at least recognize there is a reason it is majority, and be prepared to be better at arguing the position. Shouldn’t we reach the point of saying, “Why is it—do you think—that some many people believe the earth orbits the sun? Perhaps they have some reason for thinking so? Should I study it first and THEN be prepared to argue why they are wrong, or should I just blabber out whatever comes from my gut and see how it plays out…”

    In the case of my relative-in-law, if she thinks she knows the law, shouldn’t she at least listen to a countering position and see what they have to say, look at the arguments, do a little research before flatly declaring it wrong?

    Honestly, in the Christ-myth arena, I see the “burden of proof” argument as a non-starter and not compelling to Christians. While I get what the Christ-myther is saying, I doubt many Christians would. I would tend to focus more on standard of proof—what is sufficient proof for the Christian that a miracle occurred, for example, and move from there.

  3. I deplore the tactic of saying those who claim Christ as historical have the burden of proof. -

    This is not quite correct. Those who claim Christ as historical do indeed have the burden of proof. The majority opinion is not that they do not have the burden of proof, but rather that they have adequately met that burden.

  4. Naturally, in line with your main thesis, anyone arguing the mythicist position must understand the evidence used to support the historicist position.

  5. I, always more interested in people's motivations and reactions than in science, detect frustration on your post.

    If would be funny if it weren't so true that your ignorant tenant clients frustrate you as much as the evangelical apologists.

    Oh, I hear you. And I do love the analogy. Priceless!

  6. I wonder how much of this is driven by our culture, in a way. The Western world is rather individually oriented, with the idea that we are all equal, regardless of birth, education, social class (in theory. Not so much in reality).

    And because we're all equal, many people might assume that they can be equally equipped to debate matters of law, science, theology, as much as those who have studied years in those degrees? So perhaps it's not a deliberate ignorance of the majority/minority position so much as it's the idea that a learned position cannot be superior to someone who took a few high school classes on the topic.

    To use an example of what I'm saying, look at the reaction to Sarah Palin when she became the Republican VP candidate. Those who flocked to her were thrilled to have "someone like us."

    I'm sorry, but the thought of having someone like me that close to being the US leader terrifies me. I am absolutely ignorant in the matter of foreign relations, the economy, healthcare, energy ... I wouldn't even qualify for a basic understanding. And when you have someone dealing that high up, who has our country's future at stake ... why on earth do you want someone like you in office? You want someone who has the knowledge or someone who has the experience.

    There almost seems to be a lack of ability to recognize qualifications in that area. They almost think they do understand the issues, and they are qualified to discuss areas that have long-term educational qualifications for a reason.

  7. Yes, Lorena you are correct. There is frustration in my post for the very reasons stated by One Small Step.

    One Small Step—Exactly! I tire of talking to a Christian who argues as if s/he is an expert in language (“I know Greek better than the Greeks did by reading Strong’s Concordance”), anthropology, (“In ancient times, slavery was different”), Biology (evolution), geology (how dating is inaccurate), cosmology and astrophysics (“the Big Bang came from nothing”), archeology (just mention “Exodus”), and of course authorship, culture, writing, travel, etc. of any particular Biblical time.

    No one is an expert in all those.

    Now, I don’t think just because you are an “expert” you get free reign and everything you say is Gospel truth. [pun intended]. I certainly believe a layperson can study, research and become qualified to discuss points with an expert. And prove the expert wrong. The idea is--you should know the material at least as well as the expert, if not better if you are going to do this!

    To give an example, going back to my relative-in-law, once she declared what the law was, what would have happened if I asked, “Is that a statute, a case, a court rule, a regulation, a contractual agreement, or an obligation imposed by common law?” She wouldn’t know. She doesn’t know the difference! This is a very basic differentiation in the law that even a lay person can discover and understand. Yet if one is going to contend with a lawyer—they really should at least know the very…extremely…basic concepts regarding the law.

  8. DagoodS,

    **Exactly! I tire of talking to a Christian who argues as if s/he is an expert**

    I certainly share this frustration with you. When I was younger, I would say I was guilty of behaving like an "expert" on the Jewish religion, because I based all my knowledge on the New Testament, and the interpretation from the New Testament. In actually dialoguing and reading on the Jewish religion, I'm finding just how two-dimensional that perspective was.

    Another reason why I'm wondering if expertise is somewhat dismissed is because of how the Bible is treated. A big idea one sees in Christian circles is that God structured the Bible so that the layman today can understand it with the help of the Holy Spirit -- you don't need the degree in how the culture or theology or any of that operated so long ago. If you did, the Bible would be somewhat useless because everyone would have to go to a university or something.

    So if they don't need any training in the area that is most important in their lives, and can understand it perfectly just by reading it with our cultural blinders, then why would any training or learning be required for the lesser areas?

    And yet, even this is selective. You don't need the higher knowledge so long as the interpretation is favorable. If discussing slavery or women or certain God-ordered acts in the Tanakh, then suddenly you have to understand how different the culture was back then and can't apply today's standards to back then.

  9. OSS:
    "A big idea one sees in Christian circles is that God structured the Bible so that the layman today can understand it with the help of the Holy Spirit -- you don't need the degree in how the culture or theology or any of that operated so long ago."

    I think that is very true, and yes, because of the way the bible is treated. I have found that if I make points in a discussion about the bible, where I know more about the subject than the person I am talking to, they can fall back on, "You must have faith like a child." Because to them, if the knowledge I have gained is not leading me to greater faith in Jesus, their kind of faith in Jesus, it is not helpful knowledge. And therefore the knowledge they have of the bible, or their perspective on the issue we are discussing, is more valid, more correct, and more important that what I know. And you are right, it is a selective standard.

  10. Read this today in "God's Word in Human Words" by Kenton Sparks, made me think of this post. Not typical fare from an evangelical Christian:

    ...historical-critical judgments are products of academic expertise, in which intellectually gifted scholars apply their respective trades to every complex linguistic and archaeological data from the ancient world. This means of course, that in most cases the average person is in no position to evaluate, let alone criticize, the results of critical scholarship. Such a dictum applies not only to Assyriology but also to every academic discipline, both of the sciences and the humanities. Consequently, a certain humility is warranted when those outside a scholarly discipline wish to inquire about and evaluate the tried and tested conclusions of scholars in that discipline.