Saturday, December 20, 2014

Evidence and corollaries.

So, bearing in mind the things we discussed in the last post, let's move forward a bit.  The story of Noah is a great one, but I think I've made my case reasonably.  Also, lots of other people have handled this one anyway, so lets work on something rather more productive.

Let's start with the various complaints that theists tend to levy against atheists.  And since we're talking evidence, we'll take it from a straightforward evidence standpoint.  This will be mostly slanted toward Christianity since it happens to be the religion I'm most familiar with.  Though, I'm actually at home for this post, so I can do rather more research if need be.  These are just going to be logical points, however, so it shouldn't require much.

Also, I think I'm going to do a series of these in a row, one post for each sort of thing I happen to run into.  STAY TUNED!

First fallacy: You weren't there, so you can't know what happened.

 Let's break this down.  Absolutely correct, first sentence portion. I wasn't there, you were not there, no one alive today was there.  

Second sentence portion, you disappoint me.  It's like you didn't even read the former blog post.  It's similarly as though you've never witnessed the after-effects of something.  Fires are simple, and we'll stick with them.

Let's run a thought experiment here.  Imagine you've come upon a pile of ashes in the woods.  You know there's approximately one way to make ashes, by burning things.  The ashes are in a neat pile that looks rather like it was the remainder of something that happened in this particular spot.  The pattern of the ashes is such that the coloration is variegated.  These are all pretty clearly signs of something.  It's entirely possible someone carried some ashes, that were produced in the absence of fire, to this very location.  It's possible also that someone artfully and masterfully made the whites and blacks of the ashes look like sticks of wood had burned.  It is much more likely, however, that a fire was here and someone left the remainder of it thus.  The evidence supports both conclusions, but the explanation that requires the least extraordinary thing to be true tends to be true. 

Let's go one more round here.  I'm wearing a shirt.  This is pretty clear evidence that I (or at least someone) put the shirt on at some point.  It is also evidence that perhaps the shirt simply wove its fabric together around my torso, but that takes rather more explanation.  Also, a machine that makes shirts on the torso every morning would be pretty neat.

It is through logic this way we can sort out the likeliest of scenarios.  This also has a corollary: it is this way we can also sort out the least likely of scenarios.

But back to the argument, now that we've our basic ideas laid forth.  You're absolutely correct, we weren't there when the fire burned.  It's entirely possible the ashes popped into existence.  The evidence is much stronger that there was simply a fire here.  Just saying I wasn't there isn't evidence that there was no fire, in exactly the same way me saying you weren't there isn't evidence that there was a fire.  Man, that sentence was hard to think about - logical fallacies are hard to weave.

So let's say you take the opinion that there was no fire.  That's absolutely wonderful skepticism.  Now, you need only provide evidence.  Remember, evidence has to be testable.  So I show you a stick.  I light it on fire.  It burns and produces ashes strikingly similar to the ashes in the pile.  We'll keep this one simple and halt there for our methods.  Logically, I now ask you to produce evidence.  You take a stick, and can do nothing to it that produces ashes, least of all bearing any resemblance to the pile before us (in this simplistic argument, fire makes ashes of this nature - lightning strikes produce much different patterns of ashes, say, which are inconsistent with this pile in front of us). 

To say that I simply wasn't there, that's fine.  You weren't either.

Also, whilst we are on this topic, one important tangent.  Saying that evidence is faulty, or that there isn't evidence (while ignoring actual evidence or simply not knowing of it, and then denying it when it's presented), but not producing counter-evidence to support the (in)validity of the evidence you are rebutting, is not evidence.  Just disagreeing isn't evidence.  Creating a testable observation is.

It is these testable observations for which all of science operates.  Evidence is not just direct and indirect, though you could simply call inductive logic (and evidence) either one, depending on it.  For example, we also 'see' directly the evidence of fires that didn't happen by things that haven't burned down.  The tree in my back yard that's still standing is evidence that someone hasn't burnt it down (or cut it down or any number of other things that leave various signs as to what happened), in exactly the same way as ashes are evidence of a fire.

Putting this in evolutionary perspective, for example, we can test strata, see what lives in them, and equally importantly what doesn't, and both are evidence.  The evidence of absence is not the absence of evidence (don't run that backward all the time though, you're bound to get false causality fallacies sometimes) as Colin Powell once tried to say, but ended up with a horrible fallacy all his own...

See you all on the next one!

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