LOGIC #16 --- WEIGHING THE EVIDENCE --- EXPERT OPINION
We are continuing our examination of evidence. We have covered definitions, facts, statistics, and examples. The last form of evidence that is usually used to support an argument is EXPERT OPINION.
What is EXPERT OPINION? Very simply, it is the considered judgments formed by those who are widely acknowledged as the authorities on a particular subject. It is the comclusions and reasonings of those who have the highest levels of education and perience in the area under discussion.
For example -- when we discuss scripture, we often refer to the "opinions" of experts in Greek or Hebrew, or in linguistics, or in history. In a discussion of the medical issues, we refer to experts in that field. We have in our midst several experts on human lactation, and several experts on other topics.
Then there's Metochoi the Gadfly -- the world's all-time champion authority on -- um, er -- I'll get back to you on that one! Actually -- if everyone promises not to test me TOO vigorously on this claim , I will confess that I could be considered a sorta-kinda bona fide "expert" in grammar. Ain't that a kick in the teeth!
But -- using myself as an example -- if I were to quote an authority with even more expertise than my own , all the better. The same goes for any of us. Experts are ALWAYS referring to the opinions of other experts, and they use each other's research and insights constantly. By definition, experts are concerned with "knowing" the most about a subject, and they argue, debate, and research endlessly in their quest to "know." This is how they arrived at the status of "expert."
Expert opinion is one of the most important forms of evidence, because the other forms of evidence often need interpreting before being applied to the case. Those who have been more highly educated in a certain field, and who have much more experience in that field, are presumed to have the advantage over "amateurs" in their ability to interpret the other forms of evidence accurately and logically. This does not denigrate the contributions of the talented amateur, by any means .
We may have our definitions and our facts right, but we can still misinterpret the significance of those facts and render our arguments invalid. In addition, in any controversial area, there will be those who choose to manipulate the facts and deliberately interpret them in ways that do not legitimately reflect the truth, but which DO make their arguments look better to the undiscerning and the naïve. This is where expert opinion becomes valuable - as a test of the conclusions and reasoning of those who do NOT "know" as much.
OTOH -- just quoting the experts does not "win" anything, nor does it necessarily support one's argument. If the issue is one about which there is a great deal of disagreement AMONG the experts, then all sides in the argument could quote experts to support their positions, and we would not get very far. Expert opinion is the most powerful when it reflects the consensus among the overwhelming majority of those who are the authorities in a subject.
What about the non-expert? What about HIS opinions? They are NOT automatically to be dismissed simply because he is not an acknowledged expert in the field. A couple of years ago in here, I had to laugh long and hard when I read one person telling another that his opinion about a Hebrew word was "irrelevant" because he was not a Hebrew scholar.
That is total nonsense! It is true that, all other things being equal, a non-expert's opinion carries much less weight than does that of an expert, but it is NOT automatically "irrelevant." No one's opinion is AUTOMATICALLY irrelevant, as long as we have at least SOME knowledge in the field and SOME evidence to bring to bear on the discussion.
HOWEVER - if someone has little or no knowledge in a subject, and NO access to those who DO possess that knowledge -- then THAT person's opinions SHOULD be rightly dismissed by anyone really interested in the truth. The odds that such a person will have truth to impart that the experts have missed are slim indeed.
The first question to ask yourself before evaluating expert opinion is: Is there a consensus in this field, or is it still a matter of much controversy? If there IS a consensus, then the one who is standing AGAINST that consensus is STILL not to be automatically dismissed -- but the burden is on that person to support his opposition. If the experts have given their evidence, then the one who is in disagreement is obligated to refute their evidence and present his.
If his evidence is compelling, he will change minds. But -- if he were to misdefine well-established and widely accepted terms, misstate the evidence, and mischaracterize the arguments of the experts with whom he is disagreeing, he is likely to get nowhere -- at least with anyone but the most ignorant .
I believe that this is exactly the situation we find with respect to many of the claims of Ezzo. Is there a consensus among the experts concerning the definitions of "demand feeding," for example -- or concerning the issue of "scheduled feedings"? Yes, there is. Have the "experts" given the evidence for that consensus? Yes, they have.
Does Ezzo stand against that consensus? Yes, he does. Has he given any credible evidence for his stance? IMO -- No, he hasn't. He has redefined terms, misstated the facts, dismissed evidence that doesn't fit his claims, and even resorted to dishonesty when confronted with his own words.
It's very simple, logically. IF the experts are wrong , then Ezzo should be able to present the evidence that they are wrong -- fairly and accurately -- without having to resort to dishonesty and manipulation of the evidence. What has he done? IF Ezzo is right, then he should be able to present the evidence that he is right -- fairly and accurately. What has he done?
Just a couple more points: Many people do not even understand HOW to present expert opinion. When presenting such evidence, one must be scrupulously careful to quote it exactly, in context, or paraphrase it accurately. But the most important rule is to present it WITH THE ORIGINAL INTENDED MEANING INTACT.
It won't do to quote an expert, and then re-interpret what that expert is saying, in order to bolster your case. No - what the expert MEANT -- in context -- is the key to accurate evaluation of the evidence. And it is very careless -- or downright dishonest -- to violate that meaning by twisting it around to make it say something different from what the person intended. This is DOUBLY troubling when we "catch" someone doing this kind of thing to the scriptures.
Secondly -- many people -- when confronted with expert opinion that refutes their argument -- resort to dismissing of ALL experts as biased. Just the other day, on another forum, someone responded to me with, "Well, we can all find experts to back up whatever we want to say." That is not necessarily true. If it is an issue about which there is widespread consensus, then you will NOT be able to find experts to support your argument -- if your argument has no evidence behind it.
Remember -- the opinion of the non-expert is not to be dismissed out of hand, but the burden is on that person to demonstrate, with actual evidence, WHY he is standing against the consensus of the experts. I have stood with those who have done so, and I have not been afraid to confront the consensus myself -- IF I thought I had the evidence to support my position.
Expert opinion is a very important form of evidence in an argument such as this one. It is NOT more important than the facts -- but it often helps us SEE the real significance OF those facts.
Next = Questions to ask about evidence
LOGIC #17 --- TWO QUESTIONS TO ASK ABOUT EVIDENCE
To recap briefly, there are six kinds of evidence to evaluate in Ezzo's arguments: definitions, facts, statistics, examples , expert opinions, and citations from the Bible. I have devoted a separate post to each of the first five of those kinds of evidence, and I have already written a series of posts concerning biblical interpretation.
This post concludes my discussion of evidence. Concerning each area of evidence, there are four main questions that the critical thinker must ask and attempt to answer: Is it accurate? Is it relevant? Is it representative? And -- Is it adequate? This post "fleshes out" these four questions, so you can apply them to your evaluation of Ezzo's - -- his critics' and defenders' -- arguments.
1) IS IT ACCURATE?
Accurate evidence has two primary characteristics, and without these two characteristics, it is NOT accurate! First, it is either quoted exactly or paraphrased accurately. Second, it is presented with the ORIGINAL MEANING and INTENT UNCHANGED. It is not enough to have quoted it exactly, if in the process, enough context is left out so as to distort the original meaning.
For example, suppose I were to say that I can PROVE that the Bible actually advocates atheism. You say, "Prove it, Logic-boy!"
Okay -- here is my proof: PSALM 14:1 says, "There is no god." And that statement is repeated in PSALM 53:1. I have quoted the Bible exactly, word-for word, thus proving that it teaches atheism.
But -- as a critical thinker with some common sense, you are suspicious of my claim. So what should you do? You should CHECK on it. Hey -- even if you are NOT suspicious, you should check on it! You should look up those verses to see if I have accurately reported their words.
And if you do that, you will find that I have, indeed, quoted the words correctly, but that I have LEFT OUT the CONTEXT of those words -- which changes everything! What do those verses REALLY say? "The FOOL has said
in his heart, 'There is no god.'" Quite a difference, no?
Now -- how would that discovery affect your confidence in my reliability and truthfulness? What if I were in the habit of doing such things in my arguments? Remember -- it is not just expert opinions or biblical references that can be distorted or mischaracterized -- the same can be done to facts, statistics, and examples -- even
If the person making the argument shows a penchant for distorting the evidence by presenting it in such a way as to change the original meaning -- either by misquoting, paraphrasing inaccurately, or leaving out context -- then that person has shown himself to be an unreliable source of truth, and a reasonable person would be justified in questioning his entire argument.
In terms of Ezzo's arguments -- what have we shown in our discussions in here? Are his definitions accurate? What about his facts? His statistics? His examples? His citations of expert opinion? His biblical citations?
Do his assertions disagree with the experts' opinions, and if so, does he give any credible evidence for those assertions? Is he usually right, and when wrong, willing and eager to be corrected? Or is he usually wrong, and when corrected, resistant and even dishonest?
If the answer to ANY of these questions is NO -- then we should be extremely cautious about accepting Ezzo's assertions as valid. If the answers to ALL of them are NO -- then we would be wise to reject his argument entirely until he DOES come up with some accurate evidence.
In practical terms, if the answer to this first question is NO -- then there is no need to even consider the next three questions. But -- just in case we DO find something accurate in Ezzo's evidence, we then need to go to question number two:
2) IS IT RELEVANT?
Relevant evidence has two primary characteristics, and without these two characteristics, it is NOT relevant. First, it comes from sources with authority on the topic. Second, it relates directly to the point being made.
For example, I am not an expert on, nor am I even knowledgeable about, tailoring . Therefore, my bare opinion about tailoring cannot be considered as evidence.
OTOH, if I had enough knowledge, and if I used the experts accurately, my opinion could very well be relevant, even though it would still carry much less weight than that of an expert on tailoring -- such as my wife.
Concerning Ezzo's evidence -- if you can find some that is ACCURATE -- ask yourself: Is it RELEVANT? Is it drawn from authoritative sources, and does it relate directly to the point being made? If the answer to this second question is YES -- then we move to question three:
LESSON #18 = TWO MORE QUESTIONS TO ASK ABOUT EVIDENCE
3) IS IT REPRESENTATIVE?
Representative evidence has one primary characteristic, and without this characteristic, it is NOT representative. That is, it reflects the full range of the sample from which it is said to be drawn.
For example, if I were to claim that Alabamans hate New Yorkers, you should ask: How many Alabamans did you ask? How were the questions worded? And -- what were ALL the answers?
If it turns out that I had only asked about ten Alabamans, then -- even if 100% of my "sample" said, "Yes, I hate them damnyankees!" -- my evidence, while accurate and relevant, cannot be said to be representative of the opinion of Alabamans!
I think the most obvious piece of "Ezzo evidence" that illustrates this problem is his characterization of "demand fed" children in the form of the fictitious child with all those problems. Even if he happened to know a few children like that -- would that "evidence" really be representative?
Recall that the overwhelming majority of children throughout history have been "demand fed" -- of necessity. Recall that most children in most other cultures are "demand fed" today. And realize that most children of the mid-20th century in America were NOT "demand fed." Now -- look at the behavior of those modern generations of "schedule fed" Americans and tell me you really believe Ezzo's characterizations.
Another example: Ezzo and some of his defenders are in the habit of attacking the integrity and the motives of his critics. They "poison the well" by name-calling and inuendo, and expect people to dismiss the criticisms out of hand, based on Ezzo's characterization of the critics' character. But many of Ezzo's defenders refuse to give up on HIS claims when HIS character problems are pointed out.
More important than that -- let us assume, for the sake of argument, that some of Ezzo's critics really ARE big jerks with wrong motives. EVEN IF they could find someone who actually WAS like this -- is that really REPRESENTATIVE of the critics? What do Ezzo defenders really KNOW about Rebecca Prewett, Steve Rein, Kathleen Terner, Bill Sears? I mean -- what do they really know about these people that they did NOT "get" from Ezzo or some Ezzo defenders?
And finally -- EVEN IF ALL THE CRITICS were big jerks with bad motives -- WHAT ABOUT THE EVIDENCE? Let's assume, for the sake of argument,that Ezzo and all his defenders are pure as the driven snow, and that all his critics are Satan's minions? WHAT ABOUT THE ACTUAL EVIDENCE?
If you have made it this far -- if Ezzo's evidence is, indeed, accurate, and relevant, and representative -- then you have one more question to ask:
4) IS IT ADEQUATE?
Adequate evidence has two primary characteristics, and without these two characteristics, it is NOT adequate. First -- it is PLENTIFUL enough to support the claim. Second -- it is SPECIFIC enough to support the claim.
For example -- were I to claim that football players are more stupid than computer geeks, you should insist that I give the evidence by citing facts, statistics, examples and expert opinions in such quantity, and with enough specificity, to support my claim.
With respect to Ezzo's evidence -- his facts, his statistics, his examples, his citations of expert opinion, and his biblical references -- HOW MUCH of this evidence is there really? Is it ADEQUATE to support his claims? That is -- is it PLENTIFUL enough and SPECIFIC enough to provide convincing evidence of the truth and validity of his arguments?
Examine each and every assertion of fact. Examine the basis for each and every opinion. Examine each and every statistic. Examine each and every definition. Examine each and every example. Examine each and every citation of expert opinion. And most important of all -- examine each and every scriptural prooftext.
Are they ACCURATE? Are they RELEVANT? Are they REPRESENTATIVE? And are
I wonder how many of Ezzo's defenders actually examine ANY of his claims? If so -- why can they not give us ANY of the evidence that we have been asking for in here for FIVE YEARS? Why is it that all they have ever been able to give us are: "It blessed me," "it worked for me," and "You're just bashing a good man"?
End of logic lessons -- FOR NOW!