Saturday, January 06, 2007

Does Majority Opinion Have Evidentiary Value

2. A shared experience of perception by large majorities of the population gives rise to an assumption of its being real.

Response by Bernardo to #2. Zeus (& company). Quetzalcoatl. Demons that caused diseases and mental problems. Santa Claus.

Response by Randy: It is truly irrelevant whether or not huge numbers of humans have believed wrong things in the past, or even that the various belief systems re: God are to some degree mutually exclusive today. In order for this evidence to be dismissed on those grounds, we would also recognize that most scientist believed that the world would run out of food about 25 years ago. We would certainly have to dismiss many current ideas about global warming, since the number one argument seems to be that "all scientists agree."

This is a relevant argument and deserves substantial weight. Remember, my claim is not that this is ultimate proof, but only that it is valid evidence used in every other environment where folks try to arrive at truth.

1 comment:

Tom Foss said...

You are equivocating matters which do not have equal merit. The belief in demon-caused illness and humours and whatnot was based in ancient superstition and religious tradition. The "belief" in global warming is based on evidence from a variety of sources (temperature trends, climate trends, ice samples, carbon dioxide levels, long-term weather data, etc.). It is possible that the scientists' interpretation of the evidence is wrong, and if that's the case, the self-correcting nature of the scientific process will eventually expose that. However, the data for the last several decades all seem to be pointing toward the same results, and scientists around the world, in different disciplines, examining different data sources, are coming to the same conclusions. The argument is not "all scientists agree," it's "all scientists agree because of this evidence."

In other words, the number of people believing a claim is immaterial, it is the evidence which supports the claim that matters. The reason that all people agree that water is wet is because all evidence points to it. The reason that all scientists agree that global warming is increasing due to human activity is because all evidence points to it.

I'd like to see a citation for your claim that most scientists believed that the world would run out of food 25 years ago. When did "most scientists" believe this, what was the evidence at the time, and what unforseen technological and agricultural advances have occurred since that belief was widespread? In the last 25-plus years, incredible advances have been made in food production and adapting crops to grow in unfriendly environments, produce more food, and be more resistant to disease. Take a look, for instance, at agricultural scientist Norman Borlaug, whose work in biotechnology is said to have saved over a billion lives from starvation. His work could not have been forseen by data trends and hard evidence.

Similarly, those discussing global warming generally provide various statistics, based on different scenarios. Most of the reports I've read offer three: a scenario which assumes that we freeze everything and the current rate prevails over the next X years, a scenario which assumes we continue in our current lifestyle and the trends continue increasing, and a scenario which assumes a best-case, based on various trends. None of them are very cheerful, but they also cannot account for the hopeful possibility that technological advances in the next few years will drastically change the direction of the trends. We can hope for such advances, but cannot count on them, and certainly cannot assume that they will happen if people continue to ignore the problem of global warming. The problem of food shortages was ameliorated by scientists working with knowledge of those problems and plans to solve them; the same attitudes will be vital to any solution of the problem of global warming.

So, again, the number of people believing in X doesn't matter if the evidence doesn't support X.

By the way, do a quick search for the "Gish gallop." Understanding that may help you understand why some on your site leave such long-winded comments.