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.

Is It Real Son, Is It Really Real Son

Is it real son, is it really real son
Let me know it’s real son, if it’s really real
Something I could feel son, load it up and kill one
Want it raw deal son, if it’s really real.

–Method Man, Bring the Pain

“The senses deceive from time to time, and it is prudent never to trust wholly those who have deceived us even once.”

–Rene Descartes

I get a lot of crap on Twitter from atheists who like to assume that they know reality and of course I as a Christian do not. “Trust your senses.” “You have belief and I have reality.” “Reality doesn’t require faith.” (That one’s my favorite!) And so on and so on, etc., etc. ad nauseum. It’s deeply ironic because they cover up for a distinct and clear lack of evidence for their claims. (I ignore specious “burden of proof” gambits designed to relieve themselves of their burden because opinions stated as fact require evidence. Period.) To illustrate why such a believe is a step out in faith, I quote from Chris Impey, atheist and cosmologist, writing in his wonderful book How It Began.

[Nick] Bostrom [futurist and philosopher] frames a logical argument based on three propositions, at least one of which must be correct. One: Almost all civilizations go extinct or destroy themselves before gaining the capability to create simulated creatures like us. That’s a gloomy option because we’re approaching that stage. Two: Almost all civilizations choose not to create simulated creatures, even though they could. That’s possible, but the $50 billion a year gaming market on this planet indicates a strong desire of humans to create and manipulate artificial entities. Three: Nothing is real, everything is an illusion, and we actually live inside a simulation.

Rebutting the third proposition 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 [from theoretical physics and quantum mechanics].

Impey, Chris (2012-03-19). How It Began: A Time-Traveler’s Guide to the Universe (Kindle Locations 5596-5606). Norton. Kindle Edition.

I came to the same extremely disturbing conclusion after watching The Matrix. There would be no way to prove I wasn’t in one myself. Any “evidence” I employed to rebut the possibility could also be used to support the proposition that I am in fact in a power plant somewhere!  It didn’t matter whether we are or aren’t actually in some power plant. What matters is that the standard rules of scientific evidence are powerless to get us out of this quandary. Repeated “physical” demonstrations within a simulation simply reveal the simulation performs as expected.

Materialist atheists make an ironic choice in faith to believe no simulation or Matrix or Dream exists, and God bless ’em for it! Ironic because they have absolutely no evidence with which to support that belief. And that’s what many such fideisitc atheists can’t admit to: their faith.  And why I always have an impish little smile on my face when I read their quips on Twitter!

Let he who has ears to hear, let him hear…

Prove It

(Version 1.1)

[This post has been updated to reflect how people abuse the idea of “burden of proof” and for clarity.]

Evidence is powerful in our society. We live in a postmodern world that practically worships it. We exalt science, where material evidence is the sine qua non, as a major source of truth in our world. It is necessary, more or less, in our American justice system to convict a person of a crime.  But evidence is not the equivalent of truth. It points to truth.

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