Should Belief Be
Proportional To Evidence?
I recently read a web article by George H Smith and in it he uses the term "laws of evidence." I think what he means is that beliefs should be proportional to the evidence, but he doesn't spell it out. Now, if I had his email address, naturally I would ask him directly, but since I don't, I thought I'd pester you instead. Hope you don't mind!
From: "Positive Atheism" <email@example.com>
To: "Ed Infidel"
Subject: Re: Laws of Evidence?
Date: August 31, 2001 1:42 AM
The only instance I see of that phrase is in the following mouthful:
Because we have arrived at certain standards of knowledge, like the laws of logic, the laws of evidence, and so forth; because they enable us to distinguish between true and false beliefs; and because their goal, knowledge, is the fundamental good of man, I'm going to suggest that what I call the "habit of reasonableness," by which I mean the ability to have ingrained in oneself these standards of knowledge, to employ them habitually, to employ them almost as if they were second-nature, as if they were a character trait.
I don't see him delving into the "laws of evidence," per se, rather, he merely mentions this in a list of things which he includes in the larger category of "standards of knowledge," which he does discuss at length.
I would assume that by "laws of evidence" he refers to the accepted ways in which we use evidence to arrive at a conclusion (or to refrain from arriving at a conclusion, as it were).
He does give us a few examples of evidence as one of the elements of the larger pursuit of knowledge, comparing how most of us gather knowledge against how a psychic would have us believe that we can obtain or verify information:
What types of verifiable procedures or tests we bring to bear on the mystic's claim that he experiences some ineffable, supernatural realm. There is no way whatsoever because he not only claims to have a special sense, power, or ability, but that he claims to sense or know something that lies in another realm altogether. This is totally arbitrary, indefensible, and insupportable.
He then points out that a blind person would use different forms of evidence (sight not being available to that person), but in essence, our procedures would be essentially the same:
There are a number of other things we could point out here as well, such as the fact that the blind man does not use different standards of knowledge than the sighted man does. They simply have different means of gathering evidence, whereas the mystic would require us to abandon many of the current standards of knowledge that we presently use.
And what he calls the "laws of evidence" would be one of these standard among many. But I don't see him saying anything specific about evidence itself. Rather, he is talking about standards that we use to gather and verify knowledge, evidence being one of those standards. They are standards because we have agreed as to both how we will use them and how much weight they will have when we use them.
I perused Smith's Atheism: The Case Against God and his newer work, Why Atheism?, and could not find anything in-depth about using evidence or any "laws of evidence."
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