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An Evidence-Based Life

magnifying-glassSo what’s most important to you in life? When you think about it, what’s the most important thing. For me, it’s the truth. Is the truth important to you?

In my opinion, there’s no religion higher than truth. Truth, what is truth? That is a famous quote from Pontius Pilate, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Philosophy’s been struggling with this for years. And the best definition I’ve ever heard is that truth is the correspondence between thought and reality. When what you think matches what is, you have truth.

 

The Problem of Truth

The problem is, everybody claims to have the truth. Christianity claims to have the truth, Islam claims to have the truth, the Republicans claim to have the truth, and the Democrats claim to have the truth. Everybody’s claiming the truth. How do you know who’s right?

There are far too many claims for all of them to be right, and they are contradictory. I mean, atheism says that God does not exist and Theism says that God does exist. Both statements can’t be true. How do you decide which statement is true? This is where evidence comes.

 

An Evidence-Based Life

I want the advocate an evidence-based life. Evidence is a set of facts that support a claim, also known as a truth claim. A claim is simply a statement that is either true or false. You have three options when someone makes a claim: you can accept it, reject it, or suspend judgment about it. How do you know which option to choose? You follow the evidence.

If, after evaluating the evidence, it shows that the claim is probably true, you should accept the claim. If there is little or no evidence for a claim, your should reject the claim as probably not true. And if the evidence for the claim is balanced by evidence against it, or by evidence for a different claim, then you should suspend judgment about the claim.

 

Appeal to Authority

Throughout your life, you’ll hear many different claims, some of them will be true, but many of them will be false. If you are not an expert in the area under question, how do you determine whether a claim is true or false?

You can just trust a particular person and say, “Well, whatever so and so says, must be true.” That’s an appeal to authority. And if the authority is reliable and correctly reporting the evidence, then you can trust that authority. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the problem is, on many issues, there is no real authority.

For example, who is an authority on the existence of god, or the lack of existence of god? There is no authority on that. Because the question is too big. It’s asking ultimate questions and in ultimate questions, the philosopher is the most qualified person to answer those. And the philosophers disagree.

 

Back to the Evidence

However, if you go back and you say, “I’m living an evidence-based life, now what is the evidence?” The evidence, once you research it, and think it through impartially, without confirmation bias, you will come to the same conclusion I did. There is no real evidence that God exists.

Also, remember that the importance of the question that you’re asking determines the amount of evidence. So if the question is very important, you need a good amount of evidence. As Carl Sagan said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

If the question is more trivial, like should I go to a particular restaurant, you don’t need much evidence. You can very quickly weigh the pros and cons in your head. It’s not a big deal. But the existence of God is a big deal, and so it requires a good amount of evidence.

And the subject of the question determines the source of the evidence. If it’s a scientific question, then we could turn to science. We don’t turn to scripture. Scripture has to be verified before we can turn to scripture. You have to find out if the Bible, or the Koran, or the Rigveda, or whatever it is that you’re appealing to as an authoritative holy book, is true. Because there are hundreds of holy books. Who’s to say that yours is right? So you first have to turn to the evidence to support it or to disconfirm it.

So truth is found through following the evidence. If you value truth, you must value of the evidence. And, if you value truth, you’ll deal with the evidence objectively. Don’t approach the evidence trying to confirm your belief system. This with set you up for confirmation bias, where you become blind to evidence contrary to your beliefs. Just look at the evidence impartially, and live an evidence-based Life.

 

The Problem of Certainty

Certainty about most matters is impossible. There is just no way to be certain without being all-knowing. There will always be the possibility that you are wrong. That is why we should not cling to our views. Attachment to our opinions closes the door to new evidence. There is no place for dogmatism in the real world.

But if we follow the evidence, always remaining open to new evidence, we can arrive at a place where we are probably right. Sorry, but that is the best we can get in the real world. All we can do is move from what is possibly true to that which is probably true. So there is no way to be certain that we know the truth, even though what we believe may actually be true.

Being comfortable with uncertainty is not something we humans are good at. But it is the way things are, like it or not. Accepting the reality of uncertainty allows us to loosen our grip on our beliefs and help us listen to others better. We must be open to evidence no matter where it comes from, no matter where it leads us.

An evidence-based life approaches claims with an understanding of their uncertainty. It does not aim for to find a claim that is certain, but a claim that is probably correct. Probability is determined by the strength of the evidence. Many things are possible, but only a few are probable. An evidence-based life follows the evidence and accepts the claim that is the most plausible.

 

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One Comment

  1. Jay,

    Being able to weigh evidence and judge the most plausible statement is certainly a valuable skill for all the reasons you give. An evidence based approach has proven to be the best approach to understanding what the world, and such an understanding is part of the human genius.

    But another part of the human genius is to visualize what does not exist — and then bring it into existence. This is creativity. And some of us prefer an imaginative, creative life, to one that simply seeks correctness among facts. (And others prefer a life from the heart over one from either the intellectual or creative part of the brain, and I have great respect for them.)

    On your statement about the credibility of statements about God, to the extent that one defines a God with definite characteristics, I agree with you. From the imaginative point of view, however, the word God points to myths, and myths are neither true or false, they are windows unto the mystery of being.

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