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Experts and Knowledge

Karl Giberson wrote an interesting piece a couple of weeks ago entitled Is Accepting Evolution 'Optional' For Christians?
The title itself is intriguing. It sounds like something a hardcore fundamentalist would ask about the virgin birth or the divinity of Christ. Giberson asks it about a scientific belief.

The gist of his article is that evolution is an established scientific fact, and that Christians should accept it. I don't have a big problem with that. I have a little bit of a problem with the title's implication that accepting evolution is an essential part of being a good Christian, but I can let that slide.

If he had stuck with this narrow point, I wouldn't be writing about his article. But he was after all writing for the Huffington Post, so he had to go after all the standard conservative villains. He cannot resist bashing Glenn Beck as "America's leading anti-intellectual". In addition to evolution, he criticizes those who disagree with conventional liberal wisdom about supply-side economics and global warming.

Giberson starts off making the persuasive argument that opinions of experts should be given more weight than those of laymen. That's fair enough. But later  he makes a subtle shift, saying that the majority of experts should always be heeded, even when there are experts that disagree. He points out that

A small percentage of climatologists reject global warming; a few historians think the founding fathers were evangelicals or the holocaust never happened;

Never mind the unfair inclusion of holocaust denial. Are we to say to any scientist  or other expert  who introduces  evidence or arguments contrary to conventional wisdom "sorry, we've already voted?". If we'd said that to Michelson and Morley, we'd all still believe in luminous ether.

He goes on to argue

We do ourselves -- and our poor high school students -- no favors when we juxtapose the conventional wisdom of an entire community of scholars with that of a few fringe voices and invite people to choose which idea they like the best.

He creates a straw man here. Telling people to choose which position they like, as if it were merely a personal whim, is of course absurd. But objectively evaluating arguments on both sides is perfectly sound, even if one side is outnumbered.