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Is Evidence Always Necessary?

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Dec 1, 2020
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the qualification that scientific evidence is a necessary condition for any belief rests on a more foundational premise: the assumption that everything requires evidence to begin with. As such, prior to discussing the limitations of science/empiricism, it is pertinent to make clear when evidence is necessary by focusing on the very thing that triggers that need: doubt.

In the philosophical community there is a sharp distinction between what is typically considered the activity of ‘doubting’ and the ideology of Skepticism. The former is a common phenomenon which every normal human being experiences countless times throughout their life. The essence of being doubtful is not an extraordinary gift endowed to a select few (i.e. , scientists and others.) conjured up after every experience, like some super power endlessly tapped into for the mere pleasure of it. Rather, it is an automated response triggered by an unexpected or contradictory intake of data (anomalies). For instance, when I walk outside and see a tree I don’t have much reason to be doubtful of what I’m seeing. However, if for some reason the tree begins to ‘behave’ or appear in a way contrary to what would otherwise be considered ‘normal’, then and only then would I have sufficient reason to doubt. In other words, human beings do not begin their journey of discovery by willing themselves to doubt rather this is the natural response to confusion. As philosopher Peter Klein rightly notes:

The point here is that…in all ordinary cases of incredulity, the grounds for the doubt can, in principle, be removed. As Wittgenstein would say, doubt occurs within the context of things undoubted. If something is doubted, something else must be held fast because doubt presupposes that there are means of removing the doubt…That is, we think our general picture of the world is right—or right enough—so that it does provide us with both the grounds for doubt and the means for potentially removing the doubt. Thus, ordinary incredulity about some feature of the world occurs against a background of sequestered beliefs about the world. We are not doubting that we have any knowledge of the world. Far from it, we are presupposing that we do know some things about the world. To quote Wittgenstein, “A doubt without an end is not even a doubt”.
The “doubt without an end” mentioned by the famous philosopher of mind, Ludwig Wittgenstein, refers to that which is distinguished from normal doubt: the ideology of Skepticism. Unlike doubt, which assumes reality and then works through a trial and error process to reach a coherent understanding, Skepticism is an assumption of unreality which seeks to find truth by requiring validation for every experience and claim. The skeptic believes that they are doing a service to knowledge and their own integrity by implicitly asserting that everything is illusionary. However, by doing so, they unintentionally undermine any means towards comprehension by forgetting to include their own foundational assumption into the equation! In other words, by assuming that everything is illusionary, they must also logically conclude that their means towards finding truth (evidence) is also an illusion – thus rendering their own methodology self-refuting.

Perhaps the best example of Skepticism may be found in the movie The Matrix. The story behind this pop-culture classic revolves around the idea that ‘reality’ is a computer program which projects false images into the collective mind of humanity so as to distract us. All of this is generated by a malevolent species of machines for the sake of harvesting us for energy. The few humans that know the truth of this are only capable of doing so because the program isn’t perfect and can be hacked by others born in the “real world”, briefly allowing those imprisoned to see behind the façade. However, while the overall environment of the movie is representative of Skepticism, the actions of the people who have freed themselves from the matrix reflect the proper understanding of what it means ‘to doubt’ – they were only able to become free because of perceived anomalies.

Figure 2.
On the other hand, a good example of normal doubt are the court justice systems across the globe. The belief that people normatively desire good is manifested in the presumption of “innocent until proven guilty” (right before wrong/reality before unreality) and is itself a paradigm. Anomalies which disrupt this are acts of crime, which must be determined whether or not fit within the paradigm’s boundaries. For example, if a person is suspected of committing murder (causing doubt regarding their ethical behavior), the courts are triggered to find evidence as to whether the individual has violated ethical norms or has a valid excuse (i.e. self defense). In the event that it is proven that a murder has indeed been committed, the presumption of the individual’s innocence is overturned. Whereas, if we were to follow the skeptic’s understanding of doubt and evidence, the presumption of “innocent until proven guilty” would itself be suspect and ultimately invalidated.

So when is evidence necessary? Following the aforementioned discussion, it is clear that evidence is predicated on doubt, which in turn is predicated on the existence of anomalies. When evidence is called for, the supposed anomaly is either incorporated into the paradigm or forces it to change. In other words, evidence is ultimately a response to data that challenges what we think we know; it is not the way we know. There is no need for evidence in every instance of data intake, because the reason we construct our worldviews (paradigms) is entirely for the sake of making our collective experiences coherent. Our understanding of the world does not present itself like a story-book progressing from the first chapter to the last. On the contrary, we have to make up the story as we go along, and it is the intuition (fitrah) that allows us to do this.

So in the end we don't need evidence for most things we believe in such as morality,human rights etc and the fact that you belief that something rational is good itself is intuitive
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