Evidence versus Evidence

Last post, the distinction between a claim and evidence for that claim was drawn. What was not stated, but I hope was evident, is that claims are cheap. Any claim carries, or should carry, little to no weight in and of itself. Only slightly less evident, I hope, was that evidence is almost as cheap as claims. There will almost always be evidence of some sort for just about any claim anyone makes. We all know or have heard about some guy who did this and lived, or did that and died! We have dramatic evidence – real evidence! – this saves lives, and that will kill you! For many claims, it’s not the lack of evidence that is the problem, but the quality of the evidence.

To continue with the previous example: I claim, like just about anyone in Western History who bothered to have an opinion on it, that heavy things fall faster than light things. My evidence: just drop a good-sized rock and a feather at the same time from the same height. Well? Doesn’t the rock reach the ground faster? You want more evidence? Try a leaf and a bowling ball, a piece of paper and a hammer – see? My claim holds true across a good range of heavy and light objects. You’d have to be a real nitpicker to argue with my claim, based on all the evidence I’ve presented.

Try a one-pound rock and a 5-pound rock, you say? Why? Isn’t my evidence good enough?

Big Rock.
Little Rock

A couple of points here: Why would you argue about the speed at which things fall? A theory about how fast things fall just doesn’t figure into our lives very much, if ever. So, for most of us almost all the time, the feather/rock evidence we started with seems perfectly reasonable – and it is evidence! If this stuff were obvious – and important – people would have worked it out a lot earlier than the 17th century. But it is neither obvious nor important to almost everyone almost all the time.

If more or less convincing evidence can generally be found to support any claim, it should be clear that evidence for the opposite claim can just as easily be found. We are stuck, often, deciding between sets of contradictory evidence.

A feather does really fall more slowly than your average rock. That’s real evidence. But two rocks, say a 1 pound and a 10 pound rock, hit the ground at about the same time. That’s real evidence, too! So, what is it? Clearly, some objects fall faster than others, except when they don’t.

The first question: Are we really interested in the answer? Or are we going to roll our eyes in disgust of all this nitpicking, and believe, in Morpheus’s memorable phrase, whatever we want to believe? Most investigations by most people seem to stop here.

Second question, if we soldier on: are we asking the right questions? What is it we really want to know?

We’ll take up the quality of the questions next.

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

3 thoughts on “Evidence versus Evidence”

  1. Someone in the Middle Ages (I forget who) disproved the “heavier falls faster” with a thought experiment: divide a big rock into four pieces; will they fall slower?

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