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Thread: Is “good evidence” a subjective or objective determination?

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    Veteran Member Brian63's Avatar
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    Is “good evidence” a subjective or objective determination?

    Different groups of people can look at the exact same data and infer different conclusions from it. In religion, a Christian can point to nature and sincerely believe it is “good evidence” for God. I can sincerely believe it is not. Is that disagreement because what constitutes sufficient evidence or good evidence is subjective to each individual? Or is there an objective standard that neither of us are able to explicitly state? Different members of a jury can each subjectively agree that the evidence is good or not good enough to warrant convicting the defendant of the crime.

    However, are there ever cases where what is “good evidence” is indeed an objective matter? Or is it inherently subjective? It may be intersubjective. A group of medical experts can come to agreement that a certain drug will be effective on 90% of patients. Whether 90% constitutes “good evidence” that the drug works is a subjective determination still.

    Is this right? We can objectively assess a 51% probability for a certain event to happen, but to take the next step and say that the probability is a “good probability” or “good evidence” is where it becomes subjective.

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    Super Moderator Torin's Avatar
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    I think one distinction that really needs to be made here is:

    1. Metaphysically objective / subjective
    2. Epistemologically objective / subjective

    As you know, metaphysics pertains to what exists, and epistemology pertains to what we know.

    Something is metaphysically objective if it is real independent of consciousness, and metaphysically subjective if it is dependent upon consciousness.

    Something is epistemologically objective if it is demonstrable to anyone, and epistemologically subjective if it's a matter of opinion.

    Which of these four terms apply to the concept of good evidence? In my view, that's what the topic ought to be here.

    Feel free to contest my characterization if you can find some flaw.

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    Super Moderator Torin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian63 View Post
    However, are there ever cases where what is “good evidence” is indeed an objective matter? Or is it inherently subjective?
    I think this is a question of whether good evidence is ever epistemologically objective. Can we ever demonstrate to the satisfaction of every reasonable person that something is good evidence?

    I can think of very good reasons for an affirmative answer. As an example, I take it to be objectively true that I have good evidence that there are four words in the sentence "Bob is a human." The good evidence is that I looked at the sentence and counted the words in it, and that I have a sufficient grasp of the concept "four" and the concept "words," and that I was careful when I counted, etc.

    So on the basis of that sort of very simple example, I would say there are some cases where good evidence can be determined objectively, not subjectively.

    However, I notice that the examples given in the OP (religion, jury deliberation, scientific disputes) are rather higher level than this. We could give many other examples of higher level disputes that have the same quality of ambiguity at times, like politics. So I suspect the real concern here may be less radical than "do we ever objectively have good evidence for anything?", and more practical. It would be good to articulate what that underlying concern is, if so.

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    Veteran Member Brian63's Avatar
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    Thanks for your response. My questions are indeed about epistemological matters rather than metaphysical here. The problem though is in a statement like this, which seems like question-begging to me:

    Quote Originally Posted by Torin View Post
    As an example, I take it to be objectively true...
    What if whatever statement you followed with---another stranger simply said "But I do not take that as objectively true."

    To borrow your example, this person hears you say "I was careful when I counted" but they respond right back "No, you were not careful when you counted."

    We are right back at the beginning. What one person considers as careful, anyone else can consider as not careful. We can objectively measure to what degree a person was careful (how much time they spent reading the sentence, how much they looked at each individual words, how many times they re-read it, etc.). If some real nutcase though decides, despite all your measured carefulness, that you actually were not careful---that is the end of the discussion. They can always sincerely believe that you actually were not careful. Even if 99....9% of the rest of us disagree with that individual, it is still not an objective determination whether you were "careful" or not. It is (inter)subjective.

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    Veteran Member Wiploc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian63 View Post
    In religion, a Christian can point to nature and sincerely believe it is “good evidence” for God.
    That's not any evidence for gods until an argument is made which uses that "evidence" as support.

    Suppose, for instance, these beliefs, well-founded:

    1. Kronos (this universe, the actual universe) was randomly selected from all possible universes.
    2. Of all possible universes, 1% have gods and 99% don't.
    3. Of those that have gods, 55% have nature like our nature.
    4. Of godless possible universes, only a tenth of one percent have nature like our nature.

    In that case, one could argue that nature makes gods more likely than not.

    But, in the absence of such an argument based on well-founded premises, saying something like,

    P1: Nature.
    C: Therefore, gods.

    That's just nonsense. It's not an argument. It's a desire for an argument. It is the wish that one's belief was somehow supported by logic.

    One could just as well argue this way:

    P1: Nature.
    C: Therefore, no gods.

    This argument is exactly as strong as the other. Which means both are worthless. Which means that any claim that "nature" is evidence in support of either argument is just wishful thinking.

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    Veteran Member Brian63's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wiploc View Post
    That's just nonsense. It's not an argument. It's a desire for an argument. It is the wish that one's belief was somehow supported by logic.
    Which is the impact that biases have on our brains, isn't it? Since human brains function with heavy biases, each human can just as easily and sincerely claim the same thing about the differing beliefs of others. We can each sincerely believe those other peoples' beliefs are "nonsense" and instead are "wishful thinking." As long as we have biases, we cannot escape that our conclusions are to some degree subjective and determined by our biases and wishful thinking.

    I admit to not understanding the entirety of your argument though. It seems you are pointing out the fallacies of the argument, which I agree with. That is not the issue still. A person can *sincerely* believe the argument is a sound one, despite you pointing out 20 fallacies and flaws in it. You may frequently encounter this phenomenon in religious and political debates, as do I. They just dismiss and ignore your critiques of their beliefs.

    Atheists commonly challenge theists to "provide me good evidence for your god" but we can always be presented with an argument that the theist finds convincing, and we do not immediately find any flaw in ourselves on first encounter, yet we remain as atheists.

    Likewise, atheists can provide evidence that Yahweh does not exist, the Christian cannot or will not rebut it, but does not immediately deconvert.

    After some time has elapsed we might change our views, but we will also always have the option of simply shifting the goal posts. Acknowledge that we cannot at the moment find a flaw in that other argument, but we still do not consider it "good evidence." There *must* be something wrong with the evidence and the argument, even if I cannot specify it right now.

    Has that ever happened to you, where you were confronted by someone who holds a conflicting view, they present an argument that you could not immediately find any flaw in, but you did not immediately change your mind either and adopt their view?

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    Veteran Member Wiploc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian63 View Post
    Has that ever happened to you, where you were confronted by someone who holds a conflicting view, they present an argument that you could not immediately find any flaw in, but you did not immediately change your mind either and adopt their view?
    Of course.




    After some time has elapsed we might change our views, but we will also always have the option of simply shifting the goal posts. Acknowledge that we cannot at the moment find a flaw in that other argument, but we still do not consider it "good evidence." There *must* be something wrong with the evidence and the argument, even if I cannot specify it right now.
    I don't have a problem with that.




    Since human brains function with heavy biases, each human can just as easily and sincerely claim the same thing about the differing beliefs of others. We can each sincerely believe those other peoples' beliefs are "nonsense" and instead are "wishful thinking." As long as we have biases, we cannot escape that our conclusions are to some degree subjective and determined by our biases and wishful thinking.
    And to some degree not.

    I agree that we have bias. I do not agree that there is never objective certainty.

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    Mazzie Daius fromderinside's Avatar
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    This old phart is quite restricted in treating evidence. I can never be convinced of anything unless it satisfies conditions of operability and materiality. Put another way only that which is derived through measuring something physical is evidence. I'm happy with my nice little suite of evidentiary things.

    Consequently of the mind can never be seen as evidence. Such may be suitable for argument but never suitable for presentation as evidence. Sure of the mind can produce theory but theory only has merit if it is supported by evidence and accounts for material operations.

    Have fun in your objective, subjective dream world guys.

    I stand by Archimedes, not with Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.

    So, like Heisenberg, I must disagree with the proposition there is objective certainty.

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    Veteran Member Lion IRC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Torin View Post
    I think one distinction that really needs to be made here is:

    1. Metaphysically objective / subjective
    2. Epistemologically objective / subjective

    As you know, metaphysics pertains to what exists, and epistemology pertains to what we know.

    Something is metaphysically objective if it is real independent of consciousness, and metaphysically subjective if it is dependent upon consciousness.

    Something is epistemologically objective if it is demonstrable to anyone, and epistemologically subjective if it's a matter of opinion.

    Which of these four terms apply to the concept of good evidence? In my view, that's what the topic ought to be here.

    Feel free to contest my characterization if you can find some flaw.
    I think Karl Popper and Francis Bacon and all the logical positivists would have a big problem with the claim that metaphysics can be objectively verified/falsified.

    Also, subjective epistemology would be an oxymoron.

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    Super Moderator Torin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lion IRC View Post
    I think Karl Popper and Francis Bacon and all the logical positivists would have a big problem with the claim that metaphysics can be objectively verified/falsified.

    Also, subjective epistemology would be an oxymoron.
    I didn't say that metaphysics was objective or that epistemology was subjective. I was just introducing some terminology for clarity.

    Even if some philosophers have denied that anything exists independently of consciousness (my definition of "metaphysically objective" above), the concept may still be useful.

    An example of something that's epistemologically subjective in my sense is music taste. You can argue back and forth about which artists are better or worse, but you cannot really prove your preference to someone who firmly disagrees. It's a matter of opinion, at least at present.

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