Evidently it’s Evidence Part II

Part I, probably doesn’t provide too much pause for thought, but hopefully this one will.  I’ve been told my posts are long, so I’m trying to shorten things up. 🙂

Perhaps I should also preface before I begin that almost anything can count as evidence.  However it seems that people with little understanding of scientific investigation often make the mistake of delineating good evidence from bad.  Or being able to determine why one source of evidence is weaker than another.  Because after all I could argue that it is faith that I believe the sun will come up tomorrow, when the truth is I don’t really know for sure.  The fact that it has come up all the days of my life, is some pretty good evidence.  It’s even better evidence that it has come up for others.  And it seems as I look through historical evidence from before I was born it has been coming up pretty regularly.  And then there is the evidence that the Earth is rotating and that we are revolving around the sun.  It may be that all that changes tomorrow, but it seems unlikely. So at the very least, I can say that my faith has some pretty solid substance to it. (Also please be aware that I do know that the sun actually doesn’t come up, it is the Earth’s rotation that gives it the appearance of rising. lol)

Here are some of the things that many people seem to think of as evidence:

  • anecdotal evidence
  • a contrary opinion
  • a book
  • a “gut feeling”
  • a low probability event (a coincidence)
  • celebrities or other famous people
  • a documentary
  • a movie
  • media
  • even worse  – social media
  • the number of hits you search for something on the internet

There are probably more things that could be added but these are some of my favorite.  Part of the problem is that any one of these could be right.  I am not going to address each one, but there are times when your “gut” tells you, you are in danger and you are right.

From hm.dinofly.com

Anecdotal evidence can also be correct.  I could say “In my experience the sun comes up every morning” and I would be right.  Sometimes celebrities are correct, and documentaries are accurate.  Someone who is disagreeing with you may actually be doing so for good reason.  Because he/she knows more than you do. And occasionally a news story might even report actual information. 🙂

I am a fairly big food snob.  I’ll admit it.  I’m probably even more proud of that fact than I should, but tasty food is an important pleasure in life to me.  Not to mention sitting down to a good meal, can be romantic, social, and/or cultural.  One of my favorite things is to

Pad thai from myrecipes.com

introduce people to new food and new culinary experiences.  It has often been the case that someone will say they really don’t like a certain food.  Upon further investigation you find that the one time they tried it, the person didn’t know how to cook it properly so they had a bad experience, and then never tried it again.  Often if I get them to give what I have prepared a try, they find that they actually like it.  The point is that our own experiences are often flawed.  I am sure the person when they first tried badly cooked spinach they had no intentions on hating spinach, they simply didn’t like what they had, and assumed it was the fault of the spinach and not the cook.

While it is not surprising from an evolutionary standpoint why we would take our own experiences as truth, it is clear that as individuals we are prone to many biases.  If you know nothing about snakes, it is ALWAYS safer to stay away from snakes since a few can be deadly.  Surviving and being safe represents 99% of our evolution as a species, but if civilization has any true advantages, it is the ability to break free from the fearful uncertainty of the wild and to give us time for reflection and thought.  The lack of detailed knowledge about something is the birthplace of beliefs that are based on little or poor evidence.  This is why education is so important.  This is why understanding of science is important.  This is why critical thinking is important.

More importantly this is why humility is important.  One lifetime, at the very least in the length it is now, is never enough time to know all there is to know (if that is even possible).  But when you have true humility, not just humility before God, but humility before all existence, you accept that you don’t have all the answers.  You accept that there is still more for you to know, and to learn.  You can accept that you can be mistaken.  When you accept this, then you can delve into the next set of questions.  How is it that we can come to know things?  What are different ways of knowing?  How do they work?  What is their reliability?

from http://www.jasonwhowe.com

How boring would life be if you just decided on how everything works at the age of 30 and then just criticized everyone else the rest of your days? Keep asking yourself questions, and enjoy the experience of enlightenment that comes from a lifetime of learning.  The feeling of enlightenment is euphoric and is an edge that never dulls, no matter the age.

11 thoughts on “Evidently it’s Evidence Part II

  1. I’m not sure splitting your posts into multiple parts qualifies as shortening. 🙂

    Something that stood out to me is your claim that more science education is needed. I think for the purpose of critical thinking high school curriculum would be better served to swap out a science class for one in logic. If we consider the issue of global warming, I have no desire or intention of becoming proficient in climate science in order to draw my own conclusion on what’s happening. Rather, I have to decide who am I going to believe. There are scientists, corporations, international organizations, and many others, all presenting evidence, much of which is beyond my ability to adequately evaluate. I need to evaluate qualifications and motivations and at the end of the day, for the non-expert, it’s a question of faith, not evidence.


    1. Logic is an important class to take, no question. Learning what arguments are logically valid, or are fallacious is an extremely important part of critical thinking. That being said, there is no way to dissect an argument for whether it is fallacious or sound if you actually don’t know what it means. Because as I’ve argue in a previous post, understanding the logic behind:

      All A are B,
      All B are C,
      Therefore all A or C.

      doesn’t help you at all if, once we put in actual concepts for A, B, and C, you don’t know what those things mean. Because even logical statements can sound correct, but are simply built on faulty premises.

      The fact is we could do a much better job teaching science earlier in a student’s education by getting them involved in inquiry style teaching and learning. When you look at scientific literacy rates in other countries they surpass North America by quite a bit. That being said if you don’t want to learn about climate science then wouldn’t it be best to rely on the findings from experts in the field? I mean when I go to the doctor, if I don’t want to learn all the biology I would need to understand what the doctor is telling me either I have to trust him, or go to another doctor for a second opinion. Well that’s fine. But eventually I will default to the opinion of the expert. If I go to 100 doctors and 97 of them tell me I have cancer, then I should probably believe that I have cancer. But when 97% of all atmospheric scientists are saying climate change is happening, that’s a lot of consensus. You can argue that you are still taking it personally on faith, that you have cancer, or that anthropogenic climate change is happening, but your faith is built on a lot of people that are using evidence. But more to the point, you could choose to gain the knowledge yourself and thus not need faith at all. You could evaluate the evidence and reach your own conclusion. So it takes education to actually understand what evidence is, and certainly a logic class can help you understand for instance, why anecdotal evidence is not evidence. But so can science and math classes that teach research methods and statistics.


      1. Also in my experience, people make up the motivations that they want in order to support what they believe, rather than use evidence, or rely on people who are actually looking at the evidence. In the climate change debate, the oil companies, nor their conservative media outlets are actually looking at the evidence, and when they do, they actually misinterpret it, because they don’t understanding the science.


      2. I don’t disagree that improved scientific literacy is a good thing, I’m just not convinced that it would lead to more reasonable or rational people. A couple years ago in the PEG (magazine for Alberta professional engineers, geologists, and geophysicists) there were many articles related to climate change and many strongly worded letters to the editor claiming that global warming wasn’t a big deal, wasn’t caused by human activity, and so forth. There were enough of these letters to give me pause and reconsider my own stance. In the end I decided that these professionals were not being particularly professional in their analysis, and were more concerned about how public policy could affect their employment. But these were highly educated, scientific literate (albeit not scientists) professionals that should have been able to acquiesce to actual experts but were unwilling.

        Many of them were experts in some area and would talk about something within their own area of expertise that didn’t match up with the latest IPCC report and conclude the whole thing was useless. Of course, this is only anecdotal evidence, but I do think that greater scientific literacy will not keep people from cherry picking whatever “evidence” supports the belief they already have.


      3. Well if you understand how the atmosphere works for example, then you have a basis for having an argument about climate change. If you want to poke holes in the theory you need to present evidence that is counter to what the theory says. Without knowledge of atmospheric physics that is not possible. But of course, yes, then you also need to make logical arguments as well. You need to present arguments that demonstrate your understanding of cause-effect, premise and conclusion. Scientific literacy isn’t only about learning facts about science, but actually gaining experience in the process of inquiry. How science tries to solve problems, how all good scientists are actually skeptics themselves, and recognizing what a substantial really do it. And if they were engineers writing in, I wouldn’t trust engineers with a 10ft pole to understand scientific inquiry (present company excluded. lol). But seriously many undergraduate curriculums simply teach engineers the what and how, but not the why. But that aside, if someone can’t argue intelligently about the subject then we shouldn’t be giving them air time, or articles in the media etc. If as an atmospheric scientist I have found with my research that temperatures are actually cooling, then I need to actually address what others have found previously and present at least a possible reason why their calculations are off and that mine are right, and other people need to be able to repeat my work independently. How can this be possible without an intimate knowledge of how the climate system works and the mathematical and statistical tools needed to try and solve the problem?

        The most common arguments made against anthropogenic climate change present logical fallacies like “Well the Earth has been warmer before when man wasn’t around so this is natural.” Well just because temperatures have been warmer for natural reasons, doesn’t mean that things can’t get unnaturally warm. So not only has this person made an unreasonable argument, but if they understood how the greenhouse effect works they should at least be able to understand that the atmosphere doesn’t care where the carbon comes from for the greenhouse effect to operate. There are plenty of others like this argument that fool the general public, because they simply aren’t science literate. Of course there are always people with personal motivations, and the master manipulators of knowledge are usually quite clever themselves and take advantage of the ignorance of others. But if don’t have enough knowledge to combat them, they have the ability to sway public opinion away from an actual problem. For scientific education includes critical thinking skills which includes recognizing logical fallacies in argumentation. When you combine this with an adequate knowledge base, both are important, and much of the ignorance I see also seems to just be a misunderstanding about what science is and how it works. Is it only cultural that Europeans seem to have much less of a problem accepting things like evolution or climate change? Or is a testament to their science education? All I know is when I debate with people about a scientific issue like climate change, they truly don’t seem to get what actual evidence is and to me that seems like a failure in the education system. Perhaps it is all just willful ignorance.


  2. “How boring would life be if you just decided on how everything works at the age of 30 and then just criticized everyone else the rest of your days?”

    Almost as boring as living for eternity worshiping a narcissistic deity.

    “Keep asking yourself questions, and enjoy the experience of enlightenment that comes from a lifetime of learning. The feeling of enlightenment is euphoric and is an edge that never dulls, no matter the age.”

    Hear, hear.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: What Makes A Good Human?: Faith | Cloak Unfurled

  4. Pingback: Is It All A Matter of Faith? – Cloak Unfurled

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