Since I’ll be revisiting the following four concepts in various epistemological arguments in the future, especially those pertaining to alleged miracles, I thought it would be good to introduce them now.
Though partly tongue-in-cheek and meant to convey a humorous little insight I occasionally chuckle at, there is an element of seriousness behind today’s question. Simply put: if water covers over 70% of Earth’s surface to this day, what are we to make of the skeptic’s demand for “evidence” of a worldwide deluge? I can’t help but return to the humorous proposition implied in Asteroids, Cathode Rays and Requisite Knowledge, wherein a skeptic standing in Tin Bider mocks Aristotle’s hypothetical claim about “huge, flying rocks in space.”
Atheists and others prone to scientism often endorse an ethics of belief that is roughly the view articulated by W.K. Clifford in his famous essay, The Ethics of Belief:
…it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.
Clifford clearly seems to be making a normative claim. Do you agree or disagree? How about the converse of Clifford’s statement? Would you say it is right always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon sufficient evidence? Why or why not?
I’ve noticed this thing where uber-rational people judge others as “irrational” based exclusively on whether or not the belief in question has **unassailable scientific evidence. When the uber-rationalist makes that move, they misapply a legitimate but isolated truth-criterion without consideration for the full context in which the “irrational” person holds their belief. I say “misapply” because I generally disfavor a myopic approach to reality and I believe truth is best demonstrated through multiple criteria.
I recently stopped by DD’s blog to see what sort of arguments are on offer, as I usually do every few months or so. Today, I’d like to raise some questions relating to DD’s standard of evidence as delineated in his post, Alan Roebuck and the Covert Materialism. DD writes:
…if there is some evidence that is better than the rest, believers could and would bring that evidence to the forefront. This fact invalidates the Courtier’s Reply because if there were good evidence, then the dialog between believers and unbelievers ought to focus on that. If good evidence does exist, then there’s no point in complaining that skeptics have failed to study the bad stuff. Bring out the good stuff, and let’s see how they deal with that. And conversely, if it’s all equally bad, then an exhaustive study of all the bad evidence would be merely a waste of time.
First off, we seem to have differing opinions about why people use the so-called Courtier’s Reply. I’ve never been of the opinion that the Courtier’s Reply is for skeptics who haven’t studied the bad stuff. Rather, any so-called Courtier’s Reply I’ve given is usually towards skeptics who’ve failed to study the good stuff.
Is there anybody out there who hasn't heard some debater quip, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence?"
I'm betting not.
How many people actually stop and consider the rhetorical device they're using?
I'm betting not that many, else we'd hear it much less!
At any rate, I've got a very simple and straight-forward example of an instance where the claim, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" can easily be shown false.
Jim of Reason vs. Apologetics offers a series of thought experiments titled Proof of God’s Existence to explore the epistemic parameters of what he calls “common sense inquiry.” He identifies they ways people assess evidence and probability in everyday affairs and suggests that common sense inquiry is grounds for skepticism.
I’ve fallen behind in my responses to jim’s series Proof of God’s Existence, but that’s okay. In fact, I’d say it’s even preferred. After all, his series is a thought experiment, which means the more we think about it, the more mental heavy lifting we’re doing. Mental heavy lifting is a good thing.
Although Scene 4: The Newspaper is pretty short, volumes could be written in response to it, especially the opening paragraph:
What is evidence? What does someone mean when they say there’s ‘no evidence’ for any particular claim? Is a claim, itself, evidence all on it’s own? Can something be rightly called evidence one day, and not the next? Is evidence automatically strengthened on the basis of multiple claimants?
–jim, Reason vs. Apologetics
Those are definitely meaningful questions, but I must confess to a certain sense of mixed emotion when I hear jim ask them. On the one hand, I believe (a)theists should ask them. In fact, I’d say if (a)theists want to get anywhere in their discussions, they’re obligated to start from common ground. Otherwise, without firmly cemented goalposts that clarify what is and is not acceptable as evidence, (a)theist discussion often descends into an unproductive shell game.
On the other hand, both jim and other atheists have sharply criticized me for similar inquiry, which makes this newfound interest in it seem a little backhanded. After all, I’ve asked jim and countless other atheists these same exact questions, only to be met with accusations of sophistry and insult!
All the while the questions remain: what is evidence? What do people mean when they say there’s no evidence for any given claim? Is a claim evidence all on its own?
This is my sixth response to jim's series, Proof of God's Existence.
jim spent the first few paragraphs of The Party arguing that science arose from our need to perceive the world as it really is. For example,
All of us want to be objective. That is, we all want to see the world for what it truly is. … This is why we have science. Science is that small part of us that wants to get a handle on how the world REALLY operates. To garner a bird’s eye viewpoint unclouded by ignorance, or purely emotional concerns, or simply by the unwieldiness of way too much information. Science is a process by which we seek to see more clearly and completely.
I would agree with jim there, and would add that granted the methodologies are different, I believe that's why we have philosophy and religion, too. jim went on to create what I saw as a meaningful distinction between the commonplace "little science" normal people use every day, and the not-so-commonplace "Big Science" that professional scientists engage in under controlled circumstances. I took jim's "little science" to be categorically analogous to the "common sense inquiry" he alluded to in the Introduction, and all of this built to the following question:
I’ve been slowly digesting jim’s series Proof Of God’s Existence for the past month or so. I hope he keeps it going.
We ended 4 with a provisional definition of justified belief as, “conservatively-stated beliefs or conclusions that correspond to face value observation and are not sufficiently challenged by anomalous data.” We also discussed an hypothetical auto accident and noted that since drivers don’t normally crash into each other intentionally, most people refer generically to most traffic collisions as automobile accidents.
If we see a Mazda t-bone a parts truck at noon on some weekday, our justified belief conservatively stated is that we saw a collision between a Mazda and a parts truck at noon on some weekday. That’s it. We could responsibly paraphrase that by saying we saw some sedan slam into a truck, or that a work-truck got hit by some car, but any description that adds unconfirmed assumptions or omits confirmed facts exhibits some degree of inaccuracy. In the everyday world where pragmatism overrides commitment to technical accuracy, I wouldn’t take issue, but in philosophy and logic such laxity can be lethal.
Some might be tempted to say that since most traffic collisions are in fact accidents that we’re justified to begin with that assumption. While there is certainly enough of an argument there that I wouldn’t call that assumption irrational, at the same time I would not consider the assumption conservatively-stated. Although most likely true (because most traffic collisions are in fact accidents), that we saw an accident between a Mazda and a parts truck is not conservatively stated. It adds the unconfirmed assumption that the collision was accidental. In everyday or pragmatic usage reasonable speakers understand what is meant, but imagine the catastrophe oversight like that might cause in some nuanced philosophical discourse. We should be responsible interlocutors and say no more or no less than statements or data permit. Anything less is a disservice to clarity.
That being said, let’s get back to The Boxes.