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Thread: Do extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence?

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    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ruby sparks View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Politesse View Post
    Asking for verification that someone's assertion is true before believing it is just good sense.
    Now you're getting warm.

    The next step is to agree (hopefully) that unusual or unlikely claims require unusual evidence (in terms of quality and/or amount) before they are to be believed.

    In the normal course of things, I mean. Not necessarily in terms of religious beliefs.
    That's a fat load of horse shit. Evidence is evidence. Not only does it not matter what your personal bias might lead you consider plausible, applying different standards of evidence to something you already believe as opposed to something you don't is flatly antithetical to the scientific method. If you don't bother to subject "ordinary" claims to skepticism, and/or apply unreasonably high standards to things that seem remarkable to you personally, you will spend your life as a willing dupe to any passing huckster who knows how to phrase an argument that sounds "ordinary" to you.

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    Super Moderator ruby sparks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Politesse View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by ruby sparks View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Politesse View Post
    Asking for verification that someone's assertion is true before believing it is just good sense.
    Now you're getting warm.

    The next step is to agree (hopefully) that unusual or unlikely claims require unusual evidence (in terms of quality and/or amount) before they are to be believed.

    In the normal course of things, I mean. Not necessarily in terms of religious beliefs.
    That's a fat load of horse shit. Evidence is evidence. Not only does it not matter what your personal bias might lead you consider plausible, applying different standards of evidence to something you already believe as opposed to something you don't is flatly antithetical to the scientific method. If you don't bother to subject "ordinary" claims to skepticism, and/or apply unreasonably high standards to things that seem remarkable to you personally, you will spend your life as a willing dupe to any passing huckster who knows how to phrase an argument that sounds "ordinary" to you.
    That is now suddenly all very convincing. No, I'm not joking. It is. What happened, you see, was that, well, I've just woken up after the operation to save my leg, after the triceratops attack, and it seems the surgeon accidentally removed my brain.

    The good news is that I'm going to church tomorrow. Every cloud has a silver lining, I guess, and probably an angel too. And tonight, when I'm communicating with the spirits of the dead via prayer, something that seems eminently plausible to me now, I'm going to speak to Carl Sagan and tell him that a man on the internet claims (to me, extraordinarily) that he was talking horse shit. I bet he probably wasn't even a proper scientist like what you are.

  3. Top | #43
    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ruby sparks View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Politesse View Post

    That's a fat load of horse shit. Evidence is evidence. Not only does it not matter what your personal bias might lead you consider plausible, applying different standards of evidence to something you already believe as opposed to something you don't is flatly antithetical to the scientific method. If you don't bother to subject "ordinary" claims to skepticism, and/or apply unreasonably high standards to things that seem remarkable to you personally, you will spend your life as a willing dupe to any passing huckster who knows how to phrase an argument that sounds "ordinary" to you.
    That is now suddenly all very convincing. No, I'm not joking. It is. What happened, you see, was that, well, I've just woken up after the operation to save my leg, after the triceratops attack, and it seems the surgeon accidentally removed my brain.

    The good news is that I'm going to church tomorrow. Every cloud has a silver lining, I guess, and probably an angel too. And tonight, when I'm communicating with the spirits of the dead via prayer, something that seems eminently plausible to me now, I'm going to speak to Carl Sagan and tell him that a man on the internet claims (to me, extraordinarily) that he was talking horse shit. I bet he probably wasn't even a proper scientist like what you are.
    Sagan was a brilliant scientist, no one would ever deny that. But are you trying to add an argument from authority to the top of your pile of fallacies?

  4. Top | #44
    Veteran Member Wiploc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Politesse View Post
    What is "extraordinary evidence"? ??
    A lot of evidence, an extraordinary amount. Or, some otherwise unusually persuasive evidence.

    The less plausible the claim, the stronger the evidence will have to be before we can believe the claim.




    This adage has never made any sense to me. How do you decide what kind of claim is which?
    We have theories that try to make sense of the world. Call that our intellectual scaffolding.

    Some claims ("I have thirty-five cents in my pocket") are easy to believe. They fit with our existing theories.

    Others can't be believed unless we tear down some of our scaffolding and erect replacements. Consider Einstein's relativity theory. That couldn't be accepted without a terrific amount of tearing down and rebuilding. But the evidence was compelling, so we tore down and rebuilt. The claim was extraordinary, and the evidence was extraordinary too. We now have to look at the world in a different way.




    How do those terms make sense at the same time? If "extraordinary" claims is a code word for "supernatural" claims, it seems like "extraordinary" evidence would be supernatural evidence.
    It has nothing to do with natural or supernatural. A fossil rabbit in the cretaceous would be extraordinary, but it wouldn't be magical.




    So for instance, perhaps the spectral evidence introduced at the Salem Witch Trials to prove the extraordinary accusations of witchcraft might qualify. But most people do not think of the Salem Witch Trials as a crowning moment in the history of rationality. I don't see that a rational person ought to include their personal judgements of how extraordinary the claim is into their consideration at all, and would simply hold everything to the same standard of ordinary evidence. What do the facts care whether you are personally incredulous about them or not?
    Personal incredulity is not the test. Making sense of a claim in light of what we already know about the world is the test.

    I used to have a scale of plausibility. Maybe I can reproduce it here, or come up with something similar:

    -

    1. Regular claims: "I have 35 cents in my pocket."

    Easy to believe. If you tell people this, most reasonable people will believe you just based on your claim."

    2. Harder claims: "I have $100,000 in my pocket."

    Most reasonable people would take this with a grain of salt. It could, in some sense, be true, but we hesitate to believe without support.

    3. Implausible claims: "I have three billion dollars in my pocket, in pennies."

    Reasonable people would dismiss this as presumptively false. We might wonder whether this could be made true in some bar-bet form, by redefining "penny," or "pocket," or "three billion dollars," but we assume the claim is false.

    This is an extraordinary claim. We aren't closed to the possibility that it is true, but, unless strong evidence is provided, reasonable people will assume that it is false.

    4. Wacko claims: "I have been to Mars sixteen times. On one trip, I met the reincarnation of Abraham Lincoln who used the Vulcan mind meld to teach me how to travel faster than light."

    This is false, right? It's not impossible, but it couldn't be true unless so much of what we already thought we knew was wrong. Think how much scaffolding we'd have to tear down and rebuild. How would one even begin to prove such a claim?

    And yet, we would still entertain the claim, if the supporting evidence was strong enough.

    I believe the claim is false. I can't imagine what evidence would support it. But the falseness of the claim is presumptive.

    5. Self contradiction: "A married bachelor gave me a square circle. An omnipotent god couldn't defeat iron chariots."

    Such claims aren't just presumptively false; they are false, period. No evidence, no matter how strong, can support a contradiction.

    -

    So there we have a range of types of claims, from the mundane to the impossible. The further down the list you go, the stronger the evidence would have to be before we could believe the claim--until we reach the final category, contradictions, which cannot be supported by any evidence at all.

    The more extraordinary the claim is, the more extraordinary the evidence has to be.

    I hope this helps.

    Suppose you encounter the claim that Colorado doesn't exist, that it appears on maps due to a conspiracy of cartographers, and that people who claim to have been to Colorado do so because they have been bribed or coerced.

    You dismiss that claim as false, right? Because it contradicts things that you think you know, about maps, about people, about conspiracies, about Google, about Pikes Peak, about marijuana laws. So many things thought to be true would have to be reexamined, and discarded, in order for this claim to be true.

    It's an extraordinary claim. Category 3 at least, right?

    And yet if it were true, you'd want to know about it. You would examine the evidence if the evidence seemed strong enough to be worth examining. You don't know what the evidence would be. You assume that the evidence doesn't exist. But, if someone presented you with evidence that seemed strong enough, you'd consider it with an open mind.

    But it would have to be huge. The evidence would have to be extraordinary.

    And, in the absence of such evidence, reasonable people get to presume the claim is false.

    Because extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

  5. Top | #45
    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wiploc View Post

    The more extraordinary the claim is, the more extraordinary the evidence has to be.

    I hope this helps.

    Suppose you encounter the claim that Colorado doesn't exist, that it appears on maps due to a conspiracy of cartographers, and that people who claim to have been to Colorado do so because they have been bribed or coerced.

    You dismiss that claim as false, right? Because it contradicts things that you think you know, about maps, about people, about conspiracies, about Google, about Pikes Peak, about marijuana laws. So many things thought to be true would have to be reexamined, and discarded, in order for this claim to be true.

    It's an extraordinary claim. Category 3 at least, right?

    And yet if it were true, you'd want to know about it. You would examine the evidence if the evidence seemed strong enough to be worth examining. You don't know what the evidence would be. You assume that the evidence doesn't exist. But, if someone presented you with evidence that seemed strong enough, you'd consider it with an open mind.

    But it would have to be huge. The evidence would have to be extraordinary.

    And, in the absence of such evidence, reasonable people get to presume the claim is false.

    Because extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
    Okay, this is a lengthy post, but let's focus on your Colorado case study.

    I fail to see what is "extraordinary" about the evidence that establishes Colorado as existent. Maps, photographs, testimony, etc are exactly what you would expect to find if a place exists. It is that exact same sort of "ordinary" evidence that I would expect to find if it did not. I would not ask anyone for "extraordinary" evidence of Colorado's existence or non-existence. If Colorado does not exist, the same kind of ordinary everyday evidence ought to be available to establish this, as if it did. Indeed, the more complex and arcane the evidence offered in support of the claim became, the less convinced I would be that the person knew what they were talking about.

    It's not the "extraordinariness" of their claim that makes it wrong. Extraordinary things happen all the time. An observer in 1726 would never have been able to predict the truly bizarre chain of events that unseated the seemingly unassailable Uutah from power and replaced their eastern territories with an imperial State managed by an as-yet-nonexistent revolutionary post-British confederacy ruled from an as yet unbuilt capital city on the Potomac merely 150 years later, or that a newspaper account of soldier shooting a man for trying to force a boy to plant corn in a horse corral would form the bulwark of the European legal argument against indigenous control of the Western Rockies. They would, initially, find your claim extraordinary to the point of being ludicrous. But all they would need to see are a few maps, a photo of the state house, and perhaps a "Welcome to Colorado" sign before the claim started to seem a lot more credible very quickly. Not because the evidence is extraordinary, but because it is exactly the sort of evidence you would expect to find if the claim is true.

    And all claims should be subject to more or less the same standard of evidence. The claim that Colorado exists is not "ordinary" to me because it has a high degree of inherent "ordinariness" but because I happen to be acquainted with the plethora of perfectly evidence surrounding its existence. A claim that Colorado didn't exist isn't extraordinary, it's just inaccurate, and this would not change if someone came up with an extraordinary argument for why I should discount the ordinary, everyday evidence that establishes Colorado as a functioning social entity.

  6. Top | #46
    Super Moderator ruby sparks's Avatar
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    Here's a commonly-cited example:

    Basic claim 1: the fossil of a dinosaur was found in a rock formed in the Jurassic period.
    Basic claim 2: the fossil of a stromatolite was found in a rock formed in the Pre-Cambrian era
    Basic claim 3: the fossil of a dinosaur was found in a rock formed in the Pre-Cambrian era.

    The first two are 'ordinary' and could readily be believed. The third is 'extraordinary' (so much so that if true it could threaten the theory of evolution).

    As such, a report involving basic claim 3 arguably requires stronger, more thorough checking and comprehensive evidential support before being readily accepted as genuine (to eliminate the possibility of a mistake or hoax for example).

    Even beyond what we might call the basic ('stage 1') claim, establishing that the basic fact of the mere existence of the (genuine) dinosaur fossil in a rock genuinely formed in the Pre-Cambrian era is true, subsequent ('stage 2') claims involving alternative or extraordinary explanations for why it is there would also arguably require stronger evidence than 'ordinary' explanations.

    An 'ordinary' stage 2 explanation (which might gain plausibility as a result of the additional search for evidences for the basic claim) might involve some natural, even if extremely uncommon geological process not as yet appreciated or understood, by which genuine fossils from the Jurassic can genuinely get into rocks of the Pre-Cambrian.

    An 'extraordinary' stage 2 explanation would be for example that it was moved there by telekinesis (or god for that matter).

    Thus we could think of 4 categories:

    A. Ordinary claim that has an ordinary explanation (dinosaur fossil in a Jurassic rock because of natural processes).
    B. Ordinary claim that has an extraordinary explanation (dinosaur fossil in a Jurassic rock because of telekinesis).
    C. Extraordinary claim that has an ordinary explanation (dinosaur fossil in a Pre-Cambrian rock because of natural processes).
    D. Extraordinary claim that has an extraordinary explanation (dinosaur fossil in a Pre-Cambrian rock because of telekinesis).

    It could easily be argued that even the 'ordinary' explanation in category C could nonetheless be required to have stronger or more comprehensive evidence than for category A, because the processes, although 'ordinary', would be extremely unusual.
    Last edited by ruby sparks; 07-26-2019 at 11:27 AM.

  7. Top | #47
    Super Moderator ruby sparks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Politesse View Post
    Sagan was a brilliant scientist, no one would ever deny that. But are you trying to add an argument from authority to the top of your pile of fallacies?
    If, after all the years you've been discussing such things on the internet and elsewhere, you haven't worked out that citing a brilliant scientist on this is not an argument from authority fallacy, that's extraordinary.

  8. Top | #48
    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ruby sparks View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Politesse View Post
    Sagan was a brilliant scientist, no one would ever deny that. But are you trying to add an argument from authority to the top of your pile of fallacies?
    If, after all the years you've been discussing such things on the internet and elsewhere, you haven't worked out that citing a brilliant scientist on this is not an argument from authority fallacy, that's extraordinary.
    And you've never met a scientist apparently. We don't go around citing each other's reputations, we ask about the data that supports the conclusion. We're querents, not priests.

  9. Top | #49
    Super Moderator ruby sparks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Politesse View Post
    And you've never met a scientist apparently. We don't go around citing each other's reputations, we ask about the data that supports the conclusion. We're querents, not priests.
    Nice try, but whatever way you slice it, and however scientists talk about each other or don't, it's not an argument from authority fallacy. That's the point. It might loosely be called a 'fallacy' on your part to claim that it is, but I'll let that slide.

    In any case, do carry on explaining why he was talking unsupportable bullshit. A fairly extraordinary claim, imo, not least for giving yourself such a high bar for you to get your case over. I don't think you're going to get there.
    Last edited by ruby sparks; 07-26-2019 at 02:22 PM.

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    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ruby sparks View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Politesse View Post
    And you've never met a scientist apparently. We don't go around citing each other's reputations, we ask about the data that supports the conclusion. We're querents, not priests.
    Nice try, but whatever way you slice it, and however scientists talk about each other or don't, it's not an argument from authority fallacy. That's the point. It might loosely be called a 'fallacy' on your part to claim that it is, but I'll let that slide.

    In any case, do carry on explaining why he was talking a load of horse shit. A fairly extraordinary claim, imo, not least for being such a high bar for you to get your case over.
    I've explained abovd already. Applying different standards of evidence in different cases based on your subjective bias concerning the "ordinariness" of the claim is irrational, unscientific, and an obvious prelude to being taken advantage of by a skilled rhetorician.

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