The Nature of Evidence – A Thought Experiment

Dec 23, 2011

By: John Tremblay

In a recent online debate with multiple theist I submitted the following thought experiment as an example of the nature of evidence with regard to decision making.

John Doe stops you and informs you that Jane Doe has just been murdered.  You ask John Doe to take you to the scene and show you the body. When you arrive at the scene of the crime there is no body, no blood, no physical evidence of a murder; yet John Doe swears by everything that Jane Doe was just murdered in that very location.

What would you do?

Would you accept John Doe’s testament on faith or would you doubt his claim until further evidence were found?  Let us suppose, just to spite me, you accept John Doe’s assertion on faith.  Great, no harm no foul, John Doe can believe anything he wishes.  But wait, John Doe then informs you that he witnessed a Mr. Jeff Davis commit the murder and implore you arrest and charge Davis post-haste.

Now there are consequences, now your choice of belief or non-belief will inform your actions, what would you do?

Would you, upon faith alone, arrest Mr. Davis on the charge of murder and take him before a Judge?

If it is not obvious to the reader, only a complete imbecile would do such a thing as you would be laughed out of court and possibly charged with violating the civil rights of Mr. Davis; arrests are not made without evidence.  Jane Doe could very well be dead but until evidence of the murder is found then you cannot rightly claim to KNOW that Jane Doe is dead.  No matter how much John Doe cries foul, cusses at you, demeans your character, insults you, tells you that you are of the devil and that you are going to hell for not believing his message.  No matter what John Doe says, you simply cannot act without evidence.

John Doe’s claim may be true and the murderer so thorough that he was able to remove every trace of the crime within a very short time span; or John Doe could be under a mental delusion of some sort. At any rate, you cannot base a case upon the mere statement of John Doe. Human perception is sometimes flawed and influenced by outside forces.

The default position is non-belief, until such time as objective evidence is located to move to a belief that Jane Doe was, in fact, murdered. These rules are the foundation of our legal system and work to ensure that lies are discarded and the truth, as much as possible, is discovered.

Likewise, millions of people claim that a supernatural entity exists based upon hearsay from millions more people who were born before them, and so on and so forth, going back 2000 years. They have no evidence, only a collection of writings by unidentified sources based upon stories passed down from people who could not write.

There is, in reality, no evidence for the claim that millions of people make.

Therefore, the default position is non-belief until such time as objective evidence is located to move one to a belief that any god actually exists.  I hold the default position and it seems to anger the religious when I point out why their position is flawed and challenge them to support their position with evidence.  Religious advocates only produce appeals to emotion, circular appeals to authority, and worst of all, empty threats of eternal torment.

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