Monday, October 26, 2015

The Claim and the Evidence

Lately, I have noticed that some people have either never been taught the difference, or they have simply forgotten their definitions.  Therefore, I decided to review some basic concepts behind critical thought and skepticism.

First, let's review what usually activates the critical mind - the claim.  In this context, a claim is a statement of fact, or an assertion.  These can be things like:
There is a basilisk living in my chimney. 
Samsung phones sell better than iPhones. 
The Earth's orbit is so perfect that if it moved 100 miles in either direction, we would either freeze or burn.
Some claims are so grandiose that it's difficult to comprehend.  Others seem wrong, but only if taken from your perspective.  And of course, some claims are so outlandish that it is just too wild to take seriously.  For example, take my first claim.  I'm quite sure that as a reader, it would take me actually producing said basilisk before you would ever consider my claim.  As a matter of fact, I think you would assume I had lost my mind (and rightly so.)  If I did produce a basilisk, however, remember not to look that sucker in the eye...

Now take the second.  In the United States, many people would probably think that claim about Samsung was false.  That is, until they're shown the actual sales figures where in fact, Samsung outsells everyone when it comes to smartphones.

The third claim might seem plausible to those who know that the Earth is a very long way away from the Sun; and that our planet orbits in the "Goldilocks" or habitable zone of the Sun; and that 100 miles is a really long way, too.  But this claim is not just wildly incorrect, it's downright silly.  The Earth's orbit varies throughout the year by approximately 5 million miles, so 100 miles is just a drop in the orbital bucket.  But the unwitting human can easily comprehend 100 miles, and since it sounds really far, then it's easy for some to believe.

Now that we've covered the claim, let's review the evidence.  This is generally easy for most people to understand - it's anything that can be used to prove or disprove something.  And yes, contrary to popular opinion, even statistics are a completely valid means of providing proof of a claim.

Why is all of this important?

It seems that many people have forgotten that the claim cannot also be used as evidence.  For example, I cannot use the Harry Potter series as evidence for my claim that I have a basilisk in my chimney.  The Harry Potter series does contain some nonfictional castles and cities in the UK, and it also mentions that basilisks exist, but that doesn't mean that the series can be used as a valid source of my claim.

The exact same thing can be said for the Bible.  Try to remember that a book which makes a claim cannot be used to provide evidence that the original claim is true.  Far too many people use this type of circular reasoning to argue a Biblical point of view without realizing the fallacy.

What you choose to believe is your own business.  But please... please do the rest of us a favor and realize that your book, read independent of personal bias, is nothing more than a long list of unsubstantiated, supernatural claims.

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