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Entry 545, on 2007-06-01 at 21:04:03 (Rating 3, Comments)
I often debate with people who have what I might summarise as "alternative" views. These include belief in: 9/11 conspiracies, creationism and ID, alternative medicine, and global warming denial. There are many other subjects I get into arguments (oops, I mean debates) about, but those have been the significant ones recently.
Often what it comes down to in the end is that the person I am debating with has a different standard of evidence. I require evidence of a scientific nature (I'll explain my interpretation of that soon) and they require evidence in some other form (I'll list a few of those later too). The point is, how do we decide what's a valid form of evidence, and what isn't?
I think I have an answer. We just ask the person to imagine the consequences of applying his form of evidential proof to other areas of investigation. For example, creationists believe evidence which supports the teachings of a book (the Bible), they don't require scientific review, and they don't require repeatability. So by that standard I could prove that ancient Greek myths are true because many of the places mentioned there really existed, I could present the evidence without the criticism of independent experts, and I could quote the testimony of people who had "real experiences" involving Greek gods without providing sufficient detail to replicate the experiment.
Clearly there is a requirement for a tighter form of proof. What about this: we only believe things which have evidence supporting them, the evidence should result from tests which are documented well enough that someone else could repeat them, the conclusions of these tests would be open to scrutiny from independent experts, and every belief should be open to change if the evidence changes.
By pure common sense that sounds reasonable, I think. And guess what, that's fairly close to the scientific method. Science isn't really a set of obscure methods and esoteric knowledge, its just the application of common sense to investigating phenomena, and the subsequent collection of knowledge.
So if we are prepared to accept this common sense technique what do we find? We find that the alternative beliefs I mentioned above have no merit: the conspiracies are easily explained after skeptical examination, creationism is revealed as completely and clearly untrue, almost all alternative medicine is ineffective, and global warming is real and human activity makes a significant contribution.
So next time someone wants to prove a belief which is contrary to the scientific mainstream they should try applying the same type of proof to a similar phenomenon and see what the result is. If intelligent design is a realistic alternative to evolution then intelligent falling must be a fair alternative to gravitation. reductio ad absurdum!
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