I have read and often heard it said that there is a requirement for proof to either falsify or corroborate a theory. This seems a sensible approach to any matter worth debating. My question is where should one draw the line? If we ‘Russell’s Tea Pot’ for a moment it can still be said that there is no way that anybody can completely disprove the famed teapots existence yet I feel that I may be justified in drawing a line. I am not agnostic relative to the teapot (I cannot prove its nonexistence) and I claim that it does not exist. Surely this is a defendable duality in my personality?

This same approach is one I endorse when thinking about deism or debating theists. When discussing Noah’s Ark or other such biblical nonsense I do not want to resort to Ad Hominem attacks but it is at times irresistible. From a deists perspective I guess he is not agnostic relative to God since he claims this existence is fact. Now, as nobody can completely disprove this deity’s existence can the deist be equally justified in drawing a line? After all, he just draws it at the other end of the spectrum.

I would be interested in hearing views on the burden of proof and when we might be justified in drawing a line; wherever that may be on the spectrum.

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A scientific theory must subsume ALL the known facts.  If a different fact arises, the theory must be modified.  People who say, "the exception proves the rule" are extraordinarily fatuous. ONE exception, in fact, disproves the rule ("proves" in the exception statement is an old usage meaning "tests," as in "proving ground."  Something has met my burden of proof when there is not a single exception.  Otherwise, it's trash.

Well actually, that's a very idealistic way of thinking. In actuality, the theories we currently have are simply the models which represent our best understanding at this point in time. That also means that none of our theories are able to explain "ALL the known facts", and it certainly doesn't mean that all our theories are free of contradictions.

 

Hell, even gravity has (plenty of) contradictions and unexplained phenomena. That doesn't mean we discard it (because it is still our best current understanding and explains a great amount of data quite parsimoniously), it just means we are aware of its limitations and keep searching for better alternatives.

If we discarded every theory when we found "a single exception" we wouldn't have a single theory left.

Most theists unwittingly place themselves on the burden of proof "spectrum" as it were not realizing that they don't have evidence (even though they claim they do), when they only ever had faith. They can't draw a line anywhere on this spectrum by default when they claim evidence or proof. They either have to meet this burden or jump off this scale because they're using an appeal to faith.

 

When they claim evidence, it is a case of mistaken identity where a theist offers up something that can only be believed on faith as evidence, or faith itself as evidence. An example is when they think telling someone they have to pray and believe in god, and by doing so somehow counts as evidence for god by the person doing the praying and make believing. (I’ve seen this many times). They also demand negative proof (which is a fallacy) when they think they can turn the tables after failing to meet the burden of proof.



Getting a theist to admit this reality after you've ironed out their falsehoods, fallacies and misconceptions on this issue is tantamount to them admitting utter defeat, and is a virtual impossibility. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a theist admit they believe what they do for no good reason. Who the hell could and still believe? Not many I bet.

It's actually quite simply. 

"Disproving" something completely is often impossible (you bring up Russel's Tea Pot which is a good example, but the same applies to any number of alleged supernatural entities).

In the same way, "proving" something completely is impossible as well. It cannot be done, because you can always come up with other explanations (though that might be less "good" according to scientific parameters, but hey, other explanations nonetheless).

 

This is why all we can do is provide sufficient evidence for certain claims. If we deem the evidence sufficient enough and plausible enough, then we will (provisionally) accept the conclusion that we can draw from it.

 

So the idea that we need to "prove" or "disprove" everything is a nice one, but it's not how we go about things in our daily lives -and not even in science. If my friend tells me that he's had lunch today, I'm not even going to ask for "proof"; I will deem the general reliability of my friend's account (especially on such trivial matters) sufficient evidence for my belief that this is true.

 

I don't, as Dustin does, make a difference between "evidence that relies on faith" and "evidence". All evidence relies on certain assumptions.

Theists do have evidence for their God claim. To shift definitions and pretend like it's something else is absurd. They do. It is evidence like "I feel a connection with God when a pray" and "Sometimes when I pray God seems to help me" and a reliance on the miracles of ancient texts. That is indeed evidence.

We can, however, note that this is particularly bad evidence because it relies on far more assumptions than -say- laboratry experiments and does not have the characteristics of what good evidence usually looks like (consistency, plausibility, passes Ockham's Razor, can be observed by other people, etcetera).

 

So because this evidence is so bad, we don't believe the proposition.

I'd like to see an exception to evolution. ..."fact" doesn't mean "absolute certainty"; there ain't no such animal in an exciting and complex world. The final proofs of logic and mathematics flow deductively from stated premises and achieve certainty only because they are not about the empirical world. Evolutionists make no claim for perpetual truth, though creationists often do (and then attack us falsely for a style of argument that they themselves favor). In science "fact" can only mean "confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional consent." I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.  (Stephen Gould, "Evolution as Fact and Theory", Discover, May 1981)

Hi Brian,

 

"I'd like to see an exception to evolution. ..."

 

Exceptions are just unanswered questiosn that have gone without an answer for a very long time. And there's plenty of unanswered questions in evolutionairy biology as I'm sure you are aware. In fact, just because there are so many species alive today on this planet and just because we have an (in comparison) paltry fossil record, it is absolutely certain that there will be some questions we will never be able to answer. There are some evolutionairy lineages that will always remain incomplete.

 

Does this mean you do not accept evolution because it does not (and will not) account for all the facts we can find about the natural world?

 

And as I said, there's plenty of exceptions to gravity (as a cursory google search will tell you). Does this mean you regard the theory of gravity as trash?

 

"fact" doesn't mean "absolute certainty"; there ain't no such animal in an exciting and complex world."

 

I understand that. And in the same way, we do not have any theories which subsume ALL the facts or which do not contain exceptions, contradictions and/or plenty of unanswered questions. Our world is too complex for that.

 

Kind regards,

 

Matt

Every single fact we know about biology is subsumed in evolution theory.  Every single fact.  There are no exceptions.  If there were, we'd change the theory, but there are none.  An evolutionary biologist was asked what might disprove evolution. He said something like, "A rabbit fossil found underneath a dinosaur fossil." 

O.K., I got unlazy and looked it up.  J. B. S. Haldane: "Fossil rabbits in the pre-Cambrian."

A Haldane quote I love: “The Creator, if He exists, has a special preference for beetles.”

There are 350,000 species of beetles, only one of humans.  Go figure.

Hi Brian

 

"Every single fact we know about biology is subsumed in evolution theory.  Every single fact.  There are no exceptions.  If there were, we'd change the theory, but there are none. (...) There are 350,000 species of beetles, only one of humans."

 

And do we have the complete evolutionairy lineages of these 350,000 species of beetles and the biological evidence required to prove these lineages? Nope, not by a long shot (and we most likely never will). So objectively speaking, these are facts about the natural world ("there are 350,000 species of beetles") which are currently not explained by evolutionairy theory. That's data that is yet to be explained.

 

Does this mean the theory of evolution is "trash"? Of course not. It is still the best theory we have because it explains the largest amount of data with the most parsimonious framework, and that's why we accept it.

And given that we have a large amount of evidence in favour of evolution, it is more likely that we can't find the evolutionairy lineages for all 350,000 beetles because our resources are limited and the fossil record is paltry, than that we couldn't explain it in theory.

 

That's why your absolutist statements don't work. It's simply not how we can go about determining the value of our theories. It's far too simplistic, which is why you're also having to dodge the questions about gravity.

 

Kind regards,

 

Matt

I repeat, every single fact we know about biology is subsumed in evolutionary theory.  If a single fact is discovered in future which contradicts the theory, we'll have to change the theory.

 

Now gravity is a puzzlement.  We don't know how it works.  We know its effects, and can predict what happens to objects of mass and motion, but we haven't really a clue as to what it is.  "Spooky action at a distance" would seem to cover it.

"I repeat, every single fact we know about biology is subsumed in evolutionary theory."

 

And again I'll repeat that I think that's a simplistic interpretation. But you've agreed to me other example so let's pursue that one:

 

"Now gravity is a puzzlement.  We don't know how it works.  We know its effects, and can predict what happens to objects of mass and motion, but we haven't really a clue as to what it is.  "Spooky action at a distance" would seem to cover it."

 

It's worse than that: we can predict what happens to some objects of mass and motion, but there are plenty of exceptions for which our models simply do not work. 

Does this mean the theory of gravity or its models are "trash" because there are exceptions? No, of course not. They are still the best explanations we currently have and so we hold them until a better theory arises. We don't just throw them in the garbage bin based on idealistic criteria.

 

As I've been saying all along.

Burden of proof , Now there's a subject I want to avoid as the Plague ! Taboo subject

I really do not mean to be condescending or otherwise treat "believers" different than any other people  but draw the line at burden of proof. So, I generally tend to avoid  discussing the subject  with theists because it is an utter waste of my time to talk to somebody entrenched in theism.( exhausting)

Theist do not make up part of my circle of intimate friends, who needs the hullabaloo (...), right?

As Atheists we have a responsibility to show unimpeded living." life with the breaks off" if you will .

When you're traveling @80 miles/hr to go somewhere do you stop to pick up litter from the interstate?

Aaah , come ON, THAT would be ridiculous( from my perspective)

 I have seriously limited patience in that respect and my life has become very happy indeed.

Theism and other horrorstories will collapse on their own , stop this  "helping" because  it usually entrenches theists more and  Not everyone is "ready "

So forget /purposely avoid .

Save yourself the headache (...)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let me put you in touch with wiser folk than I:

In the American vernacular, "theory" often means "imperfect fact"--part of a hierarchy of confidence running downhill from fact to theory to hypothesis to guess. Thus the power of the creationist argument: evolution is "only" a theory and intense debate now rages about many aspects of the theory. If evolution is worse than a fact, and scientists can't even make up their minds about the theory, then what confidence can we have in it? Indeed, President Reagan echoed this argument before an evangelical group in Dallas when he said (in what I devoutly hope was campaign rhetoric): "Well, it is a theory. It is a scientific theory only, and it has in recent years been challenged in the world of science--that is, not believed in the scientific community to be as infallible as it once was."

Well evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts don't go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's in this century, but apples didn't suspend themselves in midair, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from ape-like ancestors whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or by some other yet to be discovered.

Moreover, "fact" doesn't mean "absolute certainty"; there ain't no such animal in an exciting and complex world. The final proofs of logic and mathematics flow deductively from stated premises and achieve certainty only because they are not about the empirical world. Evolutionists make no claim for perpetual truth, though creationists often do (and then attack us falsely for a style of argument that they themselves favor). In science "fact" can only mean "confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional consent." I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.

Evolutionists have been very clear about this distinction of fact and theory from the very beginning, if only because we have always acknowledged how far we are from completely understanding the mechanisms (theory) by which evolution (fact) occurred. Darwin continually emphasized the difference between his two great and separate accomplishments: establishing the fact of evolution, and proposing a theory--natural selection--to explain the mechanism of evolution.

- Stephen J. Gould, " Evolution as Fact and Theory"; Discover, May 1981

Gould is stating the prevailing view of the scientific community. In other words, the experts on evolution consider it to be a fact. This is not an idea that originated with Gould as the following quotations indicate:
Let me try to make crystal clear what is established beyond reasonable doubt, and what needs further study, about evolution. Evolution as a process that has always gone on in the history of the earth can be doubted only by those who are ignorant of the evidence or are resistant to evidence, owing to emotional blocks or to plain bigotry. By contrast, the mechanisms that bring evolution about certainly need study and clarification. There are no alternatives to evolution as history that can withstand critical examination. Yet we are constantly learning new and important facts about evolutionary mechanisms.

- Theodosius Dobzhansky "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution",American Biology Teacher vol. 35 (March 1973) reprinted in Evolution versus Creationism, J. Peter Zetterberg ed., ORYX Press, Phoenix AZ 1983

Also:
It is time for students of the evolutionary process, especially those who have been misquoted and used by the creationists, to state clearly that evolution is afact, not theory, and that what is at issue within biology are questions of details of the process and the relative importance of different mechanisms of evolution. It is afact that the earth with liquid water, is more than 3.6 billion years old. It is a fact that cellular life has been around for at least half of that period and that organized multicellular life is at least 800 million years old. It is a fact that major life forms now on earth were not at all represented in the past. There were no birds or mammals 250 million years ago. It is a fact that major life forms of the past are no longer living. There used to be dinosaurs and Pithecanthropus, and there are none now. It is a factthat all living forms come from previous living forms. Therefore, all present forms of life arose from ancestral forms that were different. Birds arose from nonbirds and humans from nonhumans. No person who pretends to any understanding of the natural world can deny these facts any more than she or he can deny that the earth is round, rotates on its axis, and revolves around the sun.

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