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What Is Your Standard Of Proof?

At work, I’ve got a lot of time on my hands. That’s not to say that I’m not busy. I should say I’ve got a lot of “thinking time” on my hands. Recently, as my mind’s been wandering, I’d been pondering… perseverating, maybe, on standards of proof.

What is your standard of proof? This could apply to anything. What is your standard of proof for accepting any particular proposition? Do you have a high standard of proof? Low? Any standard? Does it depend on the proposition?

I suppose the reason I pose this question is because I get frustrated when people use false logic in order to add steam to nonsensical beliefs. They may not even realize they are doing it. I think my pet peeve, as far as logical fallacies are concerned, is the post hoc ergo propter hoc argument. Basically, it’s when an event (A) occurs, followed by another event (B), and it is assumed that A is the cause of B. There are examples of these types of fallacies if you follow the link. They are excellent examples, but there’s one in particular that really gets my goat…

Let’s just say, for example, someone gets injured. Hypothetically speaking, that is. Let us also suppose that, again hypothetically, this person visits the doctor and the news is given that surgery is not required. The injury should heal on its own.

Now let’s suppose, again hypothetically, that a separate party, upon hearing this news, says, “I was praying for you.” Suppose this other party claims that surgery was not required because of the prayers they had previously offered up to God. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc. After it, therefore, because of it. Because B happened after A, it is assumed that A  was caused by B. It is automatically assumed that the prayers were the reason for not needing surgery.

Here’s another example from Infidels.org:

“I was healed from cancer.”

“Praise the Lord, then. He is your healer.”

“So, will He heal others who have cancer?”

“Er… The ways of God are mysterious.”

It makes absolutely no sense, whatsoever. If you were to follow this line of logic consistently, you could arbitrarily apply random causes to anything, and it would make just as much sense.

This thermometer goes up to 100 degrees Celsius, therefore water will boil at 100 degrees Celsius. Why does the light turn on when I flip the switch? Oh, because the sun went down first. And for a final example, why hasn’t God ever healed an amputee? Because, since the beginning of the Earth, the sun has always risen in the East and set in the West.

Here’s an important point to be made about this logic from Why Won’t God Heal Amputees:

No matter how many people pray, no matter how often they pray, no matter how sincere they are, no matter how much they believe, no matter how deserving the amputee, what we know is that prayers do not inspire God to regenerate amputated legs. This happens despite what Jesus promises us in Matthew 21:21, John 14:14, Mark 11:24, etc.

The bottom line is in the question what is your standard of proof? Would you accept an ad hoc logical fallacy as genuine proof of something? Do you simply accept anecdotes as proof? Stories and personal accounts? If this is your standard of proof, then you probably do not have a truly firm grasp of reality. You would find yourself in a constant state of delusion. You would find yourself constantly rationalizing your beliefs in the face of evidence to the contrary of those beliefs. Constantly seeking ways to discount or ignore that evidence. Arguing emotionally instead of rationally or scientifically.

Again, I stress the importance of science. And even more than that, simple logic and reason. There are ideas in this world that persist despite being completely unsubstantiated. In fact, they persist despite evidence proving the exact opposite of what these ideas claim. ESP, telekinesis, homeopathy, psychic powers, dowsing, ghosts, etc. All of these, and many more, have contradicting evidence that would, to a rational thinking person, completely disprove them all. Yet, the standard of proof for most people is very low.

In many cases, all it takes is someone to simply make the claim that they are psychic in order for people to believe and completely accept it. If the average person exercised even a modest amount of critical thinking concerning these claims, they would no longer proliferate in our society. Montel Williams wouldn’t make Sylvia Browne a permanent guest on his program each week. Wouldn’t it be awesome to see someone with a scientific education on a talk show once in a while?

I think that, for the most part, people accept things based on how it makes them feel. If an idea makes them feel good, then they “believe in it.” The thought of ghosts existing makes people feel good about there being an afterlife. The idea of God makes people feel good about having a purpose or goal in life. Critical thinking is simply tossed out the window.

Sincerity is another basis for proof for a lot of people. Does the person who’s telling the story seem honest? Sincere? Then it must be true.

I respond to this by asking how much more precious is life without God? To know that this is the only life we’ve got? Wouldn’t you want to make the best of it? Doesn’t it make you feel lucky to be alive? Scientifically speaking, the odds of you existing in this point and time (or at all, at any point in time) are astronomically small. And yet, here you are. What more hope, joy and inspiration do you need?

God cheapens the deal. According to basically any religion, this life doesn’t matter. In fact, the Bible tells us that this life is something we have to live through until we get to “Heaven.” We are taught, as Christians, to revile this life, our bodies of filth and sin. We are taught that we are worthless and have nothing to look forward to except death. Only then will we see “Heaven.” How wretched…

Anyone who’s ever gazed through a telescope can testify that they’ve seen “Heaven.” Even looking up at the night sky with the naked eye is awe inspiring. To know that the light you’re seeing from those distant stars is thousands, if not millions, of years old is enough to fill one with awe and wonder. To realize how small of a piece of space we occupy. It is more humbling than any Bible verse telling me that God created me out of sand, or a blood clot, or any other nonsense.

I didn’t really want to get too deep into this just because I’d never stop writing. The basic point I wanted to make was that we need to up our standard of proof. We need to exercise critical thinking. To stop thinking of science as a bad thing, or that it’s just another way out of a myriad of ways you can “prove” something (it’s the only way). Or, thinking that it’s too hard to look for evidence of something. To think that it’s easier instead to just accept it.

I’ve come to revile the word “Faith.” When someone says, “Just have faith,” all I hear is, “Stop thinking about it and just accept it, regardless of the evidence to the contrary. You won’t get anywhere in this life by thinking. You need to just believe everything you’re told… especially if it’s in the Bible. Just believe any kind of woo-woo nonsense people throw at you.”

I usually end with the standard “Read a book,” but this time I’d just like to close with a quote from one of the greatest teachers of all time, the late Dr. Carl Sagan…

“For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”

  1. 99ppp
    Wednesday March 26, 2008 at 12:27 PM

    It’s proven if I believe it! ;)

    Many believe what they didn’t directly experience. Anything not directly experienced can be questioned sufficiently to elicit doubt.

  2. Wednesday March 26, 2008 at 6:29 PM

    My point isn’t whether or not there is doubt, although doubt is a part of a healthy skeptical attitude. If there is sufficient evidence for a certain phenomenon, then I have no problem accepting it. Peer-reviewed proof.

    I wouldn’t deny any specific phenomenon which had evidence in support of it. Reasonable proof. It would be intellectually dishonest.

    Anyone can elicit doubt in anything if they’re dishonest enough, and cleverly deceptive enough. Critical thinking skills are the key to separating the wheat from the chaff.

  3. 99ppp
    Wednesday March 26, 2008 at 11:14 PM

    My point is that the burden of proof varies according to each individual. In other words, what may seem sufficient evidence to one, may not be sufficient to another and vice versa.

  4. Thursday March 27, 2008 at 4:54 AM

    What you’re saying sort of implies that “the truth” is somehow subjective. That the truth is somehow different for everyone.

    I know that’s not what you mean. But I think what’s important is to realize that there are certain methods of searching for the truth which are absolutely incorrect and are incapable of obtaining truth. Logical fallacies are one of those methods. They are deceptive and lack reason. So is the complete acceptance of anecdotes and stories.

    Yes, I agree that what may seem sufficient for one person may be insufficient for another. But, that doesn’t mean that either is “correct.” Truth, in as far as human experience is concerned, can only be found through the scientific method. Any other method is more or less based on emotion and ideology.

  5. 99ppp
    Thursday March 27, 2008 at 9:23 AM

    Well, my blog’s subheader is “The Truth is Volatile” ;)

    Reason and rationalization are analogous. I can answer a “Why”, but not to another’s satisfaction.

    The best analogy I can think of is two people getting served the same meal. One may think it’s too salty while the other is fine with it. The meal came out of the same pot, but each are unique receptors of sense data.

    Empiricism is a fine way to navigate the world, but I’d be highly hesistant to declare some “universal Truth”.. I rather deal with small “t” truth. :)


  6. Thursday March 27, 2008 at 2:50 PM

    I think maybe your analogy could help me explain my point a little more clearly. One person may think the food is too salty, while the other is fine with it. BUT, science tells us that there are 250 parts per million of sodium content in the meal.

    From there, we can base our opinion on whether or not we should, in the future, put more or less salt on the food. Using science as our compass, we can absolutely come to the truth. Maybe it’s our perception of the truth, how much we like or dislike it, that is in question?

    Science is not “equal opportunity.” One side is right, and one is wrong. There is correct information, and there is incorrect information. In the context of scientific information, there is clearly only one truth. 250 parts per million of sodium, whether it tastes good or not. Science will not say that there is both 250 PPM and 500 PPM of sodium in the food in order to accommodate everyone. It will state the truth, regardless of opinion.

    You wouldn’t say that it is true that the Earth revolves around the Sun, while at the same time, saying it’s also true that the Sun revolves around the Earth – in order to accommodate Bronze Age Christian thought. Science doesn’t take both sides.

  7. 99ppp
    Thursday March 27, 2008 at 5:23 PM

    “Truth” is often a model agreed upon, as even scientific measurement standards were revised (the meter and the kilogram for example). I don’t believe in disassociating the observer and the observed, the interpreted and the interpreter.

    The scientific method is a wonderful conceptual tool to gain understanding of what’s around us and how we relate to it. Different hypotheses allows us to see nature from a myriad of perspectives.

    And about faith, I think we all use a bit of it. It takes faith to open a savings account, one never knows how long one is going to live. ;)

    Faith in oneself is confidence, faith in another- trust.

    Oh.. and I’ve got faith in my doubt, and doubt in my faith.. ;)

  8. transientreporter
    Tuesday April 29, 2008 at 8:06 PM

    That was quick…

  1. Tuesday April 29, 2008 at 7:02 PM

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