Legal vs. Scientific Arguments

Marty Hamrick
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Legal vs. Scientific Arguments

I've noticed that most of the arguments coming from theists,particularly fundamentalists are more about the rationality of the argument itself rather than evidence vs. faith. I've grown very bored with this, but it's easy to understand why so many choose this path. Many theists, particulary Bible Belt fundamentalists come from legalistic backgrounds. Many pastors I know were former lawyers and judges and many seminaries offer some classes in law. That's one reason why the "good Reverend Phelps" from Westboro Baptist Church (godhatesfags.com) and his ilk aren't in prison for some of their shenanigans, many of them are lawyers and know how to wiggle out of charges.

The biggest difference between arguing science in a lab and arguing law in a courtroom is the purpose and methodologies. A lawyer just has to convict or exonerate based on the rules of constitutional law and presented evidence. This is not the same as say, defending evolution vs. creationsim and ID or the supernatural aspects of Christianity( such as the resurrection). For one thing, eyewitness accounts count for a lot in a courtroom, but they don't count for much in a scientific argument. If 4 people saw someone commit a crime and all the testimony agrees, the chances are good that the defendant is guilty. However if 10,20 or 1000 people saw a UFO, a ghost or Bigfoot, and they all agree that's what they saw, the claim is still suspect because there's no proof that what they thought they was in reality what they saw.     

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jeffreyalex
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 This is a question about

 This is a question about how science is practiced versus how law is practiced. Allegedly, discussions regarding faith tend to follow one paradigm more closely than the other. So we should ask How is law practiced? and How is science practiced?

A law, in the legal sense, is a rule which prescribes how members of a community (whether local, state, or national) can or cannot behave. To be effective, laws must be enforceable. Because breaking the law subjects a law-breaker to punishment, people are discouraged from doing so. Nonetheless, laws are broken everyday, and people are taken to court. What happens in court?

The law-breaker is charged with the crime he is suspected of. If he readily admits to the crime, and offers no mitigating circumstances into consideration, he is given the prescribed sentence. If he, the defendant, denies the crime (misdemeanor, etc.) he is charged with, the plaintiff presents a case based on its evidence, in order to convince a judge or jury. In effect, a legal trial begins like the introduction to a good concise essay. First comes a thesis statement, followed by the support. For example, it is charged that Mister A has committed homicide, murdering Miss B. Evidence is presented. A case could be strong or weak. Here is a strong case: Miss B's body was found dead (stabbed), Mister A famously detested Miss B, a knife with her blood on it was found in Mister A's car, a surveillance video shows him stabbing her. Here is a weaker case: Miss B is found dead, a witness testifies that he heard Mister A and Miss B arguing the day before, Mister A was seen visiting Miss B's apartment and leaving in a hurry. Notice, that not only are there two cases, one strong and one weak, but within each case there is strong evidence (such as the surveillance video) and weak evidence (like the fact that Mister A didn't like Miss B). 

We judge whether the evidence supports the charge in question, in this case: Mister A murdered Miss B. Some evidence is subjectively weighed. For example, it may be a little more convincing to one person that Mister A and Miss B argued than it is to another. Other evidence is unequivocal, like the video of the murder. 

Of course, Mister A can present evidence to the contrary, for example, an alibi. If he can establish that he was in Turkmenistan at the time of the murder, that's strong evidence that he did not commit the crime. 

We seek not only the best explanation that fits the facts of the crime. For example, we find Miss B murdered and we learn that just about everyone loved her, except Mister A, who disliked her. Given no other evidence, the best explanation is that Mister B killed her, given that everyone else seemed to like her. This does not do. We seek a greater degree of certainty. We want to demonstrate that Mister B killed her beyond a reasonable doubt. One good piece of evidence would be finding the  murder weapon in Mister A's possession. Very rarely do people take our knives, murder someone else, and return the knives to us. It seems more probable that this did not happen in Mister A's case either. It becomes more likely that he is the perpetrator. 

So, here we see that in the practice of law, we present evidence of different weight to build a case that supports a charge, or theory, such as, "Mister A killed Miss B", or "Mr. D raped Ms. C", or "Mr. Y embezzled $1000 dollars from company X".

Would you agree that this is an accurate (if simplified) characterization of the legal process?

 


A_Nony_Mouse
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Marty Hamrick wrote:
For one thing, eyewitness accounts count for a lot in a courtroom, but they don't count for much in a scientific argument. If 4 people saw someone commit a crime and all the testimony agrees, the chances are good that the defendant is guilty. However if 10,20 or 1000 people saw a UFO, a ghost or Bigfoot, and they all agree that's what they saw, the claim is still suspect because there's no proof that what they thought they was in reality what they saw.

This is a fallacy largely coming from TV courtrooms. In a court no one, not even eyewitnesses, are permitted to testify to a fact that is not in evidence. If there is no evidence A is dead there can be no testimony to witnessing B killing A. This issue is addressed in the CSI procedurals but they are so involved in cleverly establishing a cause of death that the essence of the death is not emphasized.

Meaning an experiment is the evidence. The interpretation of the evidence can and is debated just as in a court. However in this case the eyewitness is the one who carried out the experiment. Generallly it is a team so the publication is analogous to the testimony.

And this is what believers want to ignore. They want testimony without physical evidence as is required in both science and law. But the common perception of law does not include the importance of the primary physical evidence. Even on jury duty this sort of thing is usually relegated to pre-trial stipulations.

The deviation of science from religion is religion has a primary assumption that physical evidence is usually not possible therefore unnecessary. Skipping that they argue the witness statements only but use the same tools of rhetoric as used by lawyers. Thus we have science and law governed by physical evidence and law but not sharing rhetoric. Law and religion share rhetoric.

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