Contemporary Moral Dilemmas:
Appeal to Experts Example
Here is an illustration of how you should go about doing the “appeal to experts” assignment given in class. A couple of things to note here: (1) Use some standard method of bibliographic reference, but make it very easy for me to find the original source, and cite it after every sentence in which you refer to it. (2) It need not be pretty. It’s not an essay. Just present the information as clearly as you can. (3) Your assignment may differ slightly from this one. You need not do any portion of what is below that is not required for your assignment.
Did creatures evolve from other forms of life?
Construct an appeal to experts argument answering this question that meets all of the three criteria given in class. Document your findings as follows:
1. Present at least three sources to support your claim. Use at least two of the three methods given in class (i.e., an article in a professional journal, a textbook, a professional organization). For each source, document how it meets the criteria given in class. For example, for a professional journal, explain how you know it is a professional journal using the criteria given in class; for a professional organization, describe its membership; etc. Be sure to specify where you got each piece of information, including URL and/or a photocopy of the relevant page with the relevant information highlighted.
2. Present a source that reaches the opposite conclusion. Explain why it fails to meet one or more of the criteria for an appeal to experts.
The conclusion of my argument is that creatures evolved from other forms of life. Three sources in support of this claim are:
1. The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). FASEB represents 22 professional societies and 84,000 scientists (as stated on their web page at http://www.fasebj.org/content/20/3/408.full). FASEB published an official statement that reads, in part, “While there may be some disagreement about the details of evolution, it is not a controversial theory among scientists. Rather, there is overwhelming scientific consensus that evolution is a valid explanation for the development of species” (http://www.fasebj.org/content/20/3/408.full). This statement is recent (having been published in 2006).
2. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has over 120,000 members, and is the world’s largest scientific association, according to their website (http://membercentral.aaas.org/about). AAAS issued a statement on Feb. 16, 2006 stating that, “Evolution is one of the most robust and widely accepted principles of modern science. It is the foundation for research in a wide array of scientific fields and, accordingly, a core element in science education” and “… there is no significant controversy within the scientific community about the validity of the theory of evolution. The current controversy surrounding the teaching of evolution is not a scientific one” (Statement on the Teaching of Evolution, Board of Directors, AAAS, Feb. 16, 2006, linked from http://www.aaas.org/about-aaas#field-call-to-action-tab-2).
3. Charles A. Bleckmann, “Evolution and Creationism in Science: 1880-2000,” Bioscience, vol. 56, no. 2, Feb. 2006, p. 151-158. Bleckmann is a biologist at the Air Force Institute of Technology. Bleckmann states that, “A 1996 survey of people who were listed in American Men and Women of Science showed that only 5 percent of the scientists agreed with a statement that humans were created in their present form 10,000 years ago, whereas in a 1997 survey of the American public, 47 percent agreed with such a statements. Similar questions about evolution showed that an overwhelming majority of US scientists accepted evolution, while less than half of the US general public did— among the lowest rates of acceptance for evolution in the developed countries” (p. 158).
According to its web site, Bioscience is “A peer-reviewed, heavily cited, monthly journal with content written and edited for accessibility to researchers, educators, and students alike…” and is published by The American Institute of Biological Sciences (http://www.aibs.org/about-aibs/index.html).
How the above meets the three criteria for an appeal to experts:
The first criterion was that the persons appealed to must be experts in the field(s) in question. The experts will include biologists, anthropologists, botanists, and many others in the life sciences. FASEB is an organization of such individuals. While AAAS and the survey reported by Bleckmann are aimed more generally at scientists, the fact that evolution is foundational for a wide array of scientific fields (as noted in the statement from AAAS) suggests that these sources will also be relevant.
The second criterion was that there be a consensus of experts in the field. All three sources indicate that the consensus of experts in the field is that evolution occurred.
The third criterion was that the experts be reliable and credible. While a few of those polled in the larger surveys might lack such credibility, it would be unreasonable to believe that such large numbers of experts are all lying for the sake of some ulterior motive. Such conspiracy theories are unlikely to be true.
I conclude that the above appeal to experts is a good argument, and thus that it is likely true that evolution occurred.
A source that reaches the opposite conclusion is Creation Ministries International (CMI) (creation.com). CMI’s official position is that evolution cannot occur among kinds of creatures, that the universe was recently created, that the Bible is inerrant, and that no claim can be correct if it contradicts the Bible (http://creation.com/about-us#what_we_believe). Its list of public speakers and scientists numbers 35 people, of whom only 7 have credentials relevant to evolutionary biology (e.g., degrees in botany or biology). The rest have degrees in things like engineering, physics and theology (http://creation.com/about-us#who_we_are).
An appeal to experts relying solely on CMI would fail the three criteria for appeal to experts. It would fail the criterion that the people appealed to be experts in the field in question because, as noted above, most of them are not experts in biology or a related field. It would fail the second criterion because the consensus of experts is that evolution occurred. It would likely fail the third criterion regarding reliability and credibility because any scientific inquiry undertaken by CMI members is apparently restricted by the prior assumption that their interpretation of the Bible is inerrant. Such a restriction would apparently force the automatic rejection of some scientific evidence, thereby preventing a complete scientific evaluation of the issue on the basis of all the relevant scientific evidence.