The Nature Of Evidence

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Calilasseia's picture
The Nature Of Evidence

Like Sheldon and several others here, I'm interested in constructing a rigorous view of what constitutes evidence. Though of course, one doesn't have to stray far into the realms of analytic philosophy, before realising that this is another of those famous Hard Questions™.

But, in the interest of providing the regulars with useful discoursive ordnance, so to speak, I'll start the ball rolling with a suggestion. Namely, that evidence can be defined as a suitable body of relevant data, that imposes constraints upon the likely truth-value of postulates under test.

I consider this suggested definition useful as a starting point, because it immediately allows the diligent to deal at source with mere fabrication, in tandem with that central axiom of proper discourse, that assertions do not constitute data for this purpose.

Of course, if anyone can provide me with advances on the above, this will be welcome, especially if those advances fortuitously approach the standard set by Willard Van Ormand Quine in his seminal work Two Dogmas Of Empiricism, which, despite the title, was actually a critique of logical positivism.

I suspect Sheldon and several other regulars here will be most interested in taking this thread further.

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Cognostic's picture
@Calilasseia: Okay, that

@Calilasseia: Okay, that sent me to the books. For those, like myself, in need of a refresher course or just some interesting reading....

It appears I am stuck in the "Evidence is that which justifies belief" category. Interestingly, there are other apparently useful ways of looking at what we call evidence.
I am then stuck with evidence can lead to wrong conclusions and so "rationality" must be employed. Hmmmm? Is there a way to gather the sum total of all evidence. All? Probably not possible.... Is it a cop out to say that "We just do the best we can?"

Sheldon's picture
I liked this from Hume, "the

I liked this from Hume, "the principle of evidence"

"the only way that we can judge between two empirical claims is by weighing the evidence. The degree to which we believe one claim over another is proportional to the degree by which the evidence for one outweighs the evidence for the other."

the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid.

So like Cognostic, I agree that evidence is what justifies belief, and the most compelling evidence is that which can be objectively tested, and validated to always produce identical results or conclusions.

However it is late, and I am drunk, and I have not seen another living human in ten days, so bear with me. This might be an interesting thread idea...not merely asking for evidence, but asking how we define evidence.

Cognostic's picture

I fear you will have to play Devil's Advocate to further the discussion. I live in a world of phenomena. Were I a mind in a vat, this would not change. I respond to the world around me as if it is real. This works. Until such time as I can demonstrate to myself that this reality is not the reality in which I reside, most likely by finding something else that works just as effectively that is not a part of this reality, (Which creates a conundrum for if I find it, it is automatically included in this reality.) I am sufficiently stuck using and doing what I know works.

LogicFTW's picture
I think I have a more

I think I have a more simplistic view. Please feel free to tear this apart, I like my ideas/philosophy/etc being critiqued.

Is it all talk or is not?

Add in: what I call the "human test." To help clarify if it is all talk or not:
If all humans disappeared tomorrow would a "god/religion idea" still affect the remaining life on this planet in any measurable way?

Let's take any particular god idea along with the accompanying religion and holy books. If humans disappeared tomorrow, certainly the holy books would be all "talk" no other living creature could even hope to comprehend on any signficant level a book, written by humans for humans. The religion? That would be gone too. Sure churches will be still standing, just like many other human structures, but would any creature be remotely affected by a religious building differently from a non religious building of similar age? After structures, but no humans what is left for religion? I can't think of anything. Then we have god it self. All humans are gone, many animals will start flourishing again, with other animals (mostly livestock/feedstock) will face massive die offs. I do not see how a single animal or even inanimate object has anything change with sudden lack of a god idea, even a little with religion being gone, (because humans disappeared.)

The god idea disappears with humans, beyond a few well built structures. What does that remind me of? The great pyramids. Very few people still believe in that particular religion/god idea. All that is left of once the mightiest religious organizations of all time with its gods is some decaying tourist spots. There is zero reason to think this would not be the fate of all religions and accompanying god ideas if humans were to disappear tomorrow (Minus the tourist trap aspect.)

To me, the religion/god ideas fail my "human test" which to me, means it is all just talk. The god idea dies when the humans necessary for the god idea disappear. Just like the thousands of major religions that have all but been forgotten in our history as those people have died and the old religious ideas failed to fend off the newer more aggressive religion ideas.

Now lets take well established theories, like the theory of evolution. Do the human test, what do you get? Animals/living things still being VERY MUCH effected by evolution. Regardless if humans were here or not.

Calilasseia's picture
At this point I'll step back

At this point I'll step back in.

I want to avoid scrupulously anyuse of the word "belief", for obvious reasons. I regard that word as so utterly tainted with duplicity by mythology fanboys, that it should be extirpated from any rigorous discourse on the subject of treatment of postulates. My view is that belief should be reserved for the fatuous mythology fanboy practice of uncritical acceptance of unsupported assertions, and that a different term should be used to cover the proper contemplation of postulates or observational data.

Hence my concentrating on the relationship between evidence and postulates.

Cognostic's picture
@Calilasseia: I tend to

@Calilasseia: I tend to solve that very problem for myself by using "belief" in several ways. Broadly, anything we assert to be true is belief. All superstitions, all God beliefs, and any other flight of fancy a person might have.

This is followed by justified belief. Belief is allocated to the degree of evidence available. I put belief on a scale. 0 to 100 As the universe is a big place and we have experience about a grain of sand's worth of it, I have no idea what might be possible so ZERO is simply ruled out as almost anything could be possible. Similarly with 100. I just don't know anything 100%. Knowledge is a subset of belief. The closer I get to 100% the more likely I am to consider a bit of information KNOWLEDGE. That knowledge that I hold to be true, that may be life altering should it be proved to be wrong, I term as Justified True Belief. The Earth Orbits the Sun. I need air to live. I am fully aware that a map of the universe can be constructed that demonstrates the Earth as the center of the universe. It is cumbersome and complex but it can be done. The simple model we have is better. (It may not be correct. Well..... that's a big "may" but there certainly is an outside chance that our perception of the entire universe could one day be altered by some new bit of information.) The same could hold true for my life. What if I don't need oxygen to survive. What if science finds a way to allow us to live on another gas, or we find another gas that we can breath just like oxygen? Okay, science fiction fantasy but who knows what is out there. 100% belief may just not be an option. So, for me, I believe according to the evidence and my ability to understand the evidence.

I am in full agreement that the single word "belief" may not do that concept justice. Still it can not be denied that people "believe" (Hold things to be true) for all sorts of silly reasons.

David Killens's picture
IMO we do not need to use the

IMO we do not need to use the word" belief" but instead refer to level of confidence, repeatability, or consistency.

Too many times I witness a dishonest theist attempting the "but you must have faith (or belief)". While my response is that I have zero faith, but my level of confidence on any object is reliant on it's consistency.

One more thing. The data and observations must drive the conclusion.

Marishaananas's picture
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