What makes ‘good’ evidence?

It is impossible to resolve differences of opinion without a rational universe.  Indeed, opinion is only a meaningful concept if the universe is rational.  However, even if both of the participants in a conversation believe in a rational universe, this doesn’t mean that they will be able to resolve their differences (surprising I’m sure.)  Most of us believe in a rational universe (though I don’t think everyone is cognizant of all of implications of a rational universe – hence why I thought it would be useful to more closely examine burden of proof).  However, there is no universal standard for the weight of evidence.  To put the problem another way, its hard to make people agree on what makes evidence good evidence.  How ‘good’ we take evidence to be is a factor is a product of our world view (our belief collection).

Global warming is a classic example of the vast discrepancy that can exist in the way that we perceive evidence.  Climate scientists are almost unanimous in their belief that global warming is happening and that it is caused by humans.  The evidence that they present however is not that comprehensible (and therefore not that persuasive) to the general public.  Evidence that the climate scientists would immediately say supports the idea of global warming is not persuasive to many people.  I think it is fair to say in fact that it is hardly the same evidence that the two parties are reviewing.  The evidence simply doesn’t have the same meaning given the difference between the two parties’ world view.

Where does this leave us in resolving differences?  It may not at first seem that hopeful.  I think that if our goal is to make our world views match then we will mostly fail.  I believe that we should place our focus differently.  I think our goal should be to resolve ideas into our own world view to the best of our ability.  This does not mean that we cannot challenge weaknesses that we perceive in the arguments of others, it just means that we shouldn’t expect at the end of the day for our world for the world views of our debate partners to match with our views.  A successful conversation I would say is one where both participants have seriously considered the points raised, not one where consensus has been reached.

Thank you for reading,

Ryan Workman


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