Evidence is in the Eye of the Beholder

(Version 1.1)

Been having a lively discussion (when actual discussion is able to be had) with some atheist Tweeples and I realized I made a pretty significant error: I didn’t clearly define “evidence” or rather how I see it. (This is why it is always sage advice to define terms clearly before debating with people. You can easily end up talking past each other.) I believe (know?) that when we humans apprehend reality, we ultimately perceive only a limited sliver of it in our waking conscious state. First, our sensory organs detect only so much. Next, our evolved brains organize that raw input into an intelligible perception of the world. Finally, our conscious thinking minds take those perceptions and makes decisions upon them.

The last part is key because that is where philosophy comes in. Materialism and empiricism, for example, make important truth claims on our perceptions of the world and the world itself. So someone with a different worldview, e.g. myself who adheres to the Jesuit worldview, will necessarily have some points of departure when perceiving the same “evidence.” A worldview is just that: a view of the world not some unmediated apprehension of the world or specifically, “evidence.” What’s worrisome for me is when people fail to see this distinction for whatever reason. If a person feels strongly their worldview is True, capital ‘t’, then they can even be hostile to this relativizing fact. And that’s sad because it opens one up to self-delusion and error needlessly. Truth is hard enough to find in this world.

St. Augustine 1500 1600 years ago had choice words Christians, esp. those anti-science Christians of today, who make this error.

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these [scientific] topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.

And just in case you atheists out there think you’re off the hook, check this out from atheist cosmologist Chris Impey.

Rebutting the third proposition [that we are all living within a simulation] is surprisingly difficult. Any simulation constructed by a far superior race wouldn’t be glitchy, as it was in the movie The Matrix. There’s no reason we’d know we’re simulated unless the creators wanted us to. Your conviction that you’re made of flesh and blood and free will is part of the simulation. Since it’s easier and cheaper to create computational life-forms than biological organisms, by the Copernican Principle there are many more simulated than real creatures. OK, this argument is more of a provocation than a serious suggestion, but it’s no more unfounded or illogical than the multiverse or hidden space-time dimensions.

Impey, Chris (2012-03-19). How It Began: A Time-Traveler’s Guide to the Universe (Kindle Locations 5601-5606). Norton. Kindle Edition.

So folks, slow down when crying “Evidence!” A little humility goes a long way to understanding.