“If there is no evidence for a proposition, there is no need to take it seriously.” – Objectivist Dawson Bethrick of www.bahnsenburner.blogspot.com
This was written recently in the midst of what has proven to be a lengthy dispute between the author and me over topics like induction and presuppositionalism. I felt this statement in particular worthy of commenting upon. One may encounter a similar statement asserted by any number of other people regardless of whether or not they are Objectivists. There are a number of concerns to be had about the statement.
First, there needs to be a definition of “evidence”. Different people consider different things to constitute evidence. One needs to know what type of evidence one must require in order to take a proposition seriously.
Second, there needs to be evidence provided for this proposition itself. Since the proposition is not self-evident, and since no other evidence for accepting the proposition is provided with the proposition, then there is no reason to take it seriously according to the proposition itself.
Third, it is not clear what is meant by “no evidence”. An individual having no evidence for a proposition is a very different matter from there being no evidence at all to be had by anyone at anytime for a proposition. An individual may have no evidence for a proposition and hence not take it seriously when there is in actuality evidence for the proposition to be taken seriously. There may actually be no evidence at all for a proposition, but how a limited subject would come to know this might become a problem depending upon the proposition.
Fourth, if there is evidence for a proposition then one presumably needs to take it seriously. It would need to be explained why anyone would “need” to do so, however, and this without appealing to other evidenced propositions lest an infinite regress be the result.
“If someone tells you that he has a dragon living in his garage but can produce no evidence for it, there’s no need to take that claim seriously.”
Unless the term refers to varanus komodoensis or some of its relatives that may share the label, dragons are known to be mythical creatures and therefore would not be found living in garages. This is the real reason someone might not take the claim in question seriously. There are problems with the statement quoted above even if we substitute a non-mythical entity into it. Consider, “If someone tells you that he has a llama kushing in his garage but can produce no evidence for it, there’s no need to take that claim seriously.” Is this statement true?
Not at all. Just because an individual cannot produce evidence for some claim does not mean that the claim is false, nor does it mean that there is no evidence for the claim. It may be that the claim is true and that there is evidence for accepting the claim but the individual making the claim cannot produce said evidence. It has been said, “A lack of evidence is not evidence of lack”. There is no reason to not take such a claim about a llama kushing in a garage seriously, even when the individual making the claim produces no evidence for it. Please note that taking a claim seriously and accepting the claim as true are two different things.
It has been shown that there are some difficulties with the Objectivist position with respect to what propositions should and should not be taken seriously. However, the deeper issue is what propositions should be considered possible. The Objectivist position requires “evidence” in order for something to be considered possible. Thus Bethrick, “To affirm a possibility, one needs at least some evidence to support it, and no evidence against it.”
What was stated previously regarding propositions might be applied now to alleged possibilities. An individual having no evidence for an alleged possibility is a very different matter from there being no evidence at all to be had by anyone at anytime for an alleged possibility. An individual may have no evidence for an alleged possibility and hence not take it seriously when there is in actuality evidence for the alleged possibility to be taken seriously. There may actually be no evidence at all for an alleged possibility, but then how a limited subject would come to know this might become a problem depending upon the alleged possibility.
Consider the Objectivist man living long ago who observed the flatness of Earth about him. When presented with the alleged possibility that Earth is not flat, no evidence was found to support it. His observations of the flatness of Earth about him were taken to be evidence against the alleged possibility that Earth is not flat. He therefore could not affirm even the possibility that Earth is not flat. Rather, he exclaimed, “On my worldview, I work from the evidence, not from hypothetical ‘possibilities’ which are essentially no different from fantasies posing as considerations which need to be taken seriously”. The man never came into contact with what he would consider evidence to support the position that Earth is other than flat and thus could not affirm the possibility that Earth is not flat. He even thought he had good evidence against the possibility. His conclusion was that it is impossible that Earth is not flat. Perhaps the man was mistaken due to the Objectivist view of possibility he adhered to, or perhaps it is impossible that Earth is other than flat. The latter conclusion is false and the former is true. The man was mistaken due to the Objectivist view of possibility. The view is seriously flawed.
The ancient man was not mistaken due to the Objectivist view of possibility, but rather due to his incorrectness regarding evidence.
As already discussed, an incorrectness regarding evidence is one of the worries that the Objectivist view of possibility is faced with.
The man was not mistaken and it really was impossible that Earth is other than flat.
If what is impossible may become possible then the Objectivist position is undermined.
In any event, given Dawson’s rule, “If there is no evidence for a proposition, there is no need to take it seriously” there is no reason to take his statement “To affirm a possibility, one needs at least some evidence to support it, and no evidence against it” seriously. It may be that it should not even be considered possibly true.