Evidence and Examples

Evidence and Examples support your argument

The evidence that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatsoever that it is not utterly absurd. — Bertrand Russell

The ability to find and use evidence and examples is important in many areas. When we are speaking, (discussion, debate or argument) we are probably trying to persuade someone to change their opinion, to believe what we believe, to support our cause, or to vote for the political candidate that we support.

In a formal debate, the speakers pay somewhat greater attention to using facts because they know someone will be checking what you say. A speaker using a large number of agreed-upon facts may gain the respect of the listeners.US Presidential Candidate gestures as he speaks.

But the speaker who generally wins the heart of the listeners often shares many highly emotional examples (like the death of a child who had no health care, or the death of many children because there wasn’t enough food) and generally promises a grand solution to all the problems. The listeners often believe because they want to believe.

In the picture, US Presidential Candidate,  John McCain (2008) is speaking to a crowd.  He was respected and trusted by listeners, both Republicans and Democrats. He won this respect with his reputation for saying exactly what he believed, and doing what he said he would do. Unlike many presidential candidates he didn’t promise he could solve all the problems and make everyone happy.

Bill Clinton wasn’t talking about McCain when he made this comment about Republicans:

I like that about Republicans: the evidence doesn’t faze them, they are not bothered at all about the facts.                                                              —  Bill Clinton

And I would add that I’ve met plenty of people who were not Republicans who argue passionately about a topic, totally ignoring the facts. The next two statements could have been written to describe the speech of so many of our politicians. There were actually written long before.

The most savage controversies are about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way.                                                                         —  Bertrand Russell

Most men make little use of their speech other than to give evidence against their own understanding.                                                                 —   George Savile

Written Argument or Debate requires facts, strong evidence and logical reasoning

Isaac Asimov, a popular science fiction writer, as asked again and again if he believed in flying saucers, mental telepathy, or the Bermuda Triangle. When he kept telling them no, a listener asked if he believed in anything. Asimov answered the question this way:

Yes. I believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers. I’ll believe in anything, no matter how wild and ridiculous, if there is evidence for it.  The wilder, more ridiculous something is, however, the firmer and more solid the evidence will have to be.

Students are often asked to write a paper or respond to an essay question that persuades or argues a certain point. This means that you will need to:

1. take a clear position
2. State relevant facts to support your position
3. Provide additional evidence to support your position
4. Give examples from personal or trusted sources that illustrate your evidence.
5. Quote experts in the field who agree with your position.

Different levels of evidence or proof are required in different fields of study.

1. In Mathematics, they look for mathematical proofs. This is the one area where an absolute proof is expected. You might also give examples of  a formula that appears to work every time but that you have not yet been able to prove.

2. In the sciences, it is generally accepted that while you can prove a theory based on experimental and observed data. But scientists are aware that a single example that doesn’t fit, can prove the theory false. To argue your position in science, you would use facts and the results of experiments. You would need to argue that the experiments had been duplicated, that there had been a large enough sample tested, that it had been compared to a similar control group, and that this result cannot be explained in any other way. When possible, you would want to explain the how one event caused another.

The essence of a Liberal outlook lies not in what opinions are held; instead of being held dogmatically, they are held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may, at any moment, lead to their abandonment.  —   Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell a British philosopher and  logician uses the word Liberal in a different way that we use the word today. I think you might say instead, a scientist, a logical person, or an educated person. He describes the way scientists look at evidence.

3. In social sciences, there is sometimes experimental evidence but they often rely on other kinds of evidence and examples.

4. In the humanities, it is rarely possible to use experimental evidence. If asked to describe the reasons the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, you might survey thousands of Japanese people. Their responses might provide evidence for one reason rather than another, but it doesn’t prove anything.

You might study Primary Sources like Japanese documents and letters from that time. You could rely on secondary sources (those where an author has interpreted the primary sources. You might interview children of people involved in the decision. This would give you excellent evidence for your viewpoint. But you still cannot prove it.

One man is standing. He is trying to convince a man seated at a table.Or you might check your textbook, look at several sites on the internet, and try to imagine why they might have done this. Your friends might be interested in your reasoning, but your professor wouldn’t think much of your actual evidence.

5. If you study public speaking or need to make a presentation to a class, you will be able to use the same structure. You will decide what the main point is that you want to make. You will open your speech with something to catch the interest of your listeners. It could be examples. It could be a startling statistic. Then you might make your main point. You could end with evidence and explain how this is important to our listeners.  Or, as an alternative, you could save your main point for your conclusion.

In the picture on the left, Leo is making a presentation in class. Arnold, who is seating raises an objection. He disagree’s with Leo’s opinion. Leo, who is well-prepared, adds statistical and other evidence. He provides several additional examples. He quotes an expert on the topic. He shows how the evidence supports his position. Leo will not only make a good grade in class, he will use these skills when he gets a job.

Continue to look at Uncovering evidence and examples as a Verbal Strategy.  This includes two example of people who should have known better but used statistical evidence poorly in order to support their racist views.

Leave a Reply