The Burden of Proof

bonjour skeptics,

As a skeptic, it is important to understand the workings of science, and how and why science is a good way of investigating the nature of our universe. One of the most important parts of the process of science is the burden of proof. I am going to try to explain when the burden of proof applies to certain claims, and why it is that certain way. The burden of proof is, in science, the idea of which side of an argument needs to find evidence to prove its claim. In most circumstances, it falls on the side of the affirmative, the one trying to prove something does exist. I am going to use 3 different scientific hypotheses to demonstrate different stages of a scientific hypothesis, and how it applies to the burden of proof.

The first hypothesis I will investigate is where most scientific claims fall. It is the claim of most theists, the claim of god. Because god is unproven, and god is not a generally accepted scientific theory, the burden of proof is on the affirmative. Its the same way with all unproven claims (some will disagree there is no burden of proof on the atheists, but that’s another post). Until there is any proof for the subject, no proof is needed against the subject, and this brings me to my next claim.

Once a claim garners enough evidence and proof to become accepted by the scientific community, then the burden of proof is reversed. The scientific theories of special relativity are a good example of that. When relativity was first hypothesized, it already had good mathematical evidence to suggest it, as it was not much different from Newtonian gravity under low energy systems. However, proof was needed to separate relativity from Newtonian gravity. This first chance to prove relativity came during the first Venus transit after relativity’s hypothesizing. We all know the story, and that became the first evidence of relativity as scientific theory. Nowadays, relativity has enormous proof behind it, so the burden is on the other side now. These days, instead of scientists saying “this will be a good chance to try to provide evidence for relativity”, they now say “this experiment will be a good chance to try to disprove or revise relativity”. The burden has switched, and now the burden of proof is on the negative.

The third type of debate requires proof from both sides, but is much rarer than the other two examples. While the first two examples deal with situations where the debate is “does this exist, or does it not exist?”, the third example deals with the rarer question of “is it this way or this way?”, and the question of anthropogenic global warming is a good example. While I am on the side of most of the scientific community, the idea that global warming is mostly man-made, this question still ensues, and was more relevant a few years ago, before more evidence came to bear. This question deals with two options, Is the global warming we see caused by humans, or is it caused by natural fluctuations and other natural causes? In this case, unlike the other two, both ideas are affirmative. In the first, it was god or no god, or relativity or no relativity, now it is natural or man-made, which are both affirmative possibilities. The burden of proof was on both sides, as both sides where making claims as to how the earth was warming. Therefore, they both needed to prove their claims.

The burden of proof is a sometimes confusing and blurry concept, but is very simple at its roots. Most of the time, it falls under only one side of the argument, mostly affirmative, but occasionally is required by both sides. In the transition between the first two examples, it is important to note that both sides need to put forward evidence, and it is best to make a judgement by looking at both sides, and not by picking a side and simply saying that the other side needs more evidence, like in the case of anthropogenic global warming.

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Is evolution falsifiable?

Hello there,

A common question brought up about evolution, and also a common criticism of evolution, is “Is evolution falsifiable?” In today’s post I will attempt to answer this question with a few examples of how evolution can be falsified, keeping in mind that there are so many more possible ways to disprove evolution that I will not blog about, but may sometime in the future.

I will also first say that this question shows the ignorance that most creationists have of evolution, they want to be able to have one fowl swoop which will disprove the theory, and also one piece of evidence which proves their theory. This is quite impossible because evolution is such a grand theory with so many lines of evidence pointing towards it, that pointing to one fossil or one gene and saying “There, that disproves evolution!” is just not going to be done.

It is also true that the window for disproof of evolution has fully passed, about 150 years ago is when these falsifications were needed, because now we have all this time under our belts of proof of evolution, everything we find pointing to evolution, that any ‘disproof’ of evolution would be disregarded, because of all of the evidence which says that evolution happened. When evolution was first being tested 150 years ago, there were millions of times where evolution could have been disproved, but it wasn’t.

Another and most common possible falsification for evolution is finding the fossil of a species in a strata very different to where it should be, the classic example is ‘horses in the┬áCambrian.’ and this would raise some serious doubts about evolution. But this fossil would have to be checked for fraud and hoaxing many times over before it would be believed, because Occam’s razor does come in to play.

The biggest disproof of common descent would also be to find a species where you cannot trace its ancestry back up the evolutionary tree back to its roots, a species which does not fit into the grand scheme of evolution, but looks like it comes from its own little side tree of evolution. If one day, on an expedition through uncharted parts of the amazon, we find some animals which do not look anything like any of the species we currently have today, thatmight puncture a hole in the evolutionary theory.

That’s all for today, I will leave you with a quote from Charles Darwin, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Charles Darwin, an English naturalist of some note.