Absence of evidence.
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19-03-2010, 11:53 AM
Absence of evidence.
A discussion started in the "explain yourself" thread, and I thought it would be better to move it to its own thread so we don't hijack another.

Basically the discussion is about my signature quote, "Absence of evidence is evidence of absence." The debate began as a simple question about whether the quote was accurate (It is possible that the accurate quote is, "Absence of evidence is NOT evidence of absence), but quickly evolved into a good discussion about wich quote holds water.

I'm not very good on the computer, so I'm not sure if the origional discussion can actually be moved here, but if not, you can read what we started (in the "explain yourself" thread), and join in here if you like....

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19-03-2010, 12:22 PM
RE: Absence of evidence.
Well, "Absence of evidence is evidence of absence" does make more sense, sense we have an absence of evidence for the tooth fairy, and we do take that as evidence of absence.

I think you made the point that it depends of what kind of evidence we are using, and what are we trying to prove. If we are looking for tracks after a rainstorm, and if we don't find any, it means nothing. If they were there, they would have disappeared after the rainstorm, giving us the same situation as if they weren't there.

In most situations though, "Absence of evidence is evidence of absence" would be the one that holds the most water.

I don't believe Jesus is the son of God until I see the long form birth certificate!
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19-03-2010, 12:27 PM
 
RE: Absence of evidence.
Hmmm.. interesting...

Absence of evidence is evidence of absence... or... Absence of evidence is Not evidence of absence.....

Its hard to say as each could be true in any given circumstance... but.. if I had to choose.. based on my medical experience I would go with the former.

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Since you can for example collect stool samples from an animal that has parasites and not find any on it.. simply because they do not show up in the test does not mean the animal does not have parasites... but there are other things one looks for besides the presence of the actual parasite in a test...

In regards to other forms of proof I think it gets a little bit iffy...
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19-03-2010, 12:37 PM
RE: Absence of evidence.
I think both can be applied, depending on the case. If you have no evidence that would lead you to believe something, and if your reason tells you it's very unlikely, because it comes into contrast with what has been determined to be true, as in the case of mythology or fairy tales, then it can be said that absence of evidence is evidence of absence. But if there is suspicion that something could be true and it has been proved possible to be true (as in the example given by DrNeko) then absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. It ultimately depends on the plausibility of that which you set out to prove or disprove.

All learning is quite useless if you haven't learned to question what you learn.
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19-03-2010, 01:31 PM
 
RE: Absence of evidence.
Here is what I ended up coming to the conclusion of, in regards to the quote and not the source, from the discussion which resulted in the other thread.

With the help of this <site> of a logical proof, the context of each instance was for me that: after looking without finding proof of something, one can logically state that they have not found evidence for that which they were looking for, but to correctly deduce that it doesn't exist, one must assume that anywhere one can look for evidence, one has, and still found no proof.(Absence of evidence is evidence of absence)

For "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence", though one can look and find no evidence, if they have not looked everywhere possible then it would be too soon to deduce nonexistence.

The original context I first heard this used (by Carl Sagan) was where the possibility of proving nonexistence was virtually impossible (e.g. extraterrestrial intelligence) and the search for evidence is virtually infinite (i.e. implausible to search literally everywhere possible). This is why I originally commented that I remembered Carl Sagan saying in an interview that this quote, "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" could be used by a theist, admittedly to no gain but still available for use.
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19-03-2010, 02:09 PM
RE: Absence of evidence.
It is a mistake to use evidence and proof as synonyms. The statement "absence of proof is NOT proof of absence" is true, as is, "absence of evidence is NOT proof of absence". These statements are not, however, the same as, "absence of evidence is evidence of absence". Without evidence, we cannnot assume that there is proof of something not existing, being incorrect, etc, but we can take that as a factor pointing towards that conclusion.

Evidence is simply a clue, and not nescessarily a determining factor. With no other clues other than a complete lack of clues, we must assume there is nothing until more clues are found.

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19-03-2010, 02:13 PM
 
RE: Absence of evidence.
Stark Raving wrote this, which is pretty cool: "With no other clues other than a complete lack of clues, we must assume there is nothing until more clues are found. "

My own belief is slightly different. I believe that there is probably something behind the creation of the universe -- however, I have no proof of this, nor do I believe any human mind could conceive of such a being... much less attempt to divine its intent or formulate a set of rules for other humans about what we ought to do with our genitals or our Sunday mornings.

To me, a Christian theist believes in a specific God... the being I call the "toddler-god" because of all the childish tantrum-throwing it does in the Bible. Just because the specific tenets of that belief (i.e. the stuff in the Bible) are absolutely ridiculous doesn't mean that there isn't something responsible for the creation of the universe - at this point in our understanding of the universe, there's no definitive evidence one way or the other.

Therefore, the phrase, "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" seems plenty reasonable to me.
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19-03-2010, 04:09 PM
 
RE: Absence of evidence.
(19-03-2010 02:13 PM)Platypus Man Wrote:  My own belief is slightly different. I believe that there is probably something behind the creation of the universe -- however, I have no proof of this, nor do I believe any human mind could conceive of such a being... much less attempt to divine its intent or formulate a set of rules for other humans about what we ought to do with our genitals or our Sunday mornings.

Just because the specific tenets of that belief (i.e. the stuff in the Bible) are absolutely ridiculous doesn't mean that there isn't something responsible for the creation of the universe - at this point in our understanding of the universe, there's no definitive evidence one way or the other.

Therefore, the phrase, "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" seems plenty reasonable to me.

I acknowledge, and respect, that you understand the universe is inconceivable to the finite human consciousness beyond a certain point, but I'm curious as to what you mean by "something behind the creation of the universe." Do you envision an entity with a consciousness and intelligence that created and set in motion the universe? in a deistic way? Or are you imagining an unconscious (meaning not self aware or intelligent) 'force' which unknowingly and unavoidably caused the creation of the universe, such as the laws of nature or whatever caused the Big Bang (because beyond a certain point, the Laws of Physics break down under the pressure, and in our knowledge thus far we can only speculate on what it could have been that caused the four forces of nature to separate and initiate the Big Bang)? Or is is neither, and you hold something wholly different in your mind?

I too believe something caused the creation of our universe but I personally don't think, to date, is was anything conscious. I like to ponder, though ultimately futile since its only theoretical and altogether unprovable outside of pure mathematics (which itself is not always an absolute dichotomy between true and false), on the possibilities and implications of infinity and being apart of a metaverse. Multi-dimensional theory is fascinating to me, I enjoy reading about and musing on the plausibility of there being an infinite number of consciousnesses similar to myself but each one ranging from imperceptibly different to inconceivably dissimilar, depending on the properties and factors surrounding the creation of the universe each one is in.

I'm not intentionally steering this thread from the topic, we can continue on the absence of evidence in this or another way, though its my opinion that the evolution of a thread over time is what makes posting fun. You never know where the conversation's going to end up!
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19-03-2010, 06:44 PM
RE: Absence of evidence.
(19-03-2010 04:09 PM)jaronm90 Wrote:  I'm not intentionally steering this thread from the topic, we can continue on the absence of evidence in this or another way, though its my opinion that the evolution of a thread over time is what makes posting fun. You never know where the conversation's going to end up!

I agree 100%. Don't ever be worried about steering a thread in a new direction. I think all good discussions end on a topic completely different than the one at the outset!

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19-03-2010, 08:40 PM
 
RE: Absence of evidence.
(19-03-2010 04:09 PM)jaronm90 Wrote:  
(19-03-2010 02:13 PM)Platypus Man Wrote:  My own belief is slightly different. I believe that there is probably something behind the creation of the universe -- however, I have no proof of this, nor do I believe any human mind could conceive of such a being... much less attempt to divine its intent or formulate a set of rules for other humans about what we ought to do with our genitals or our Sunday mornings.

Just because the specific tenets of that belief (i.e. the stuff in the Bible) are absolutely ridiculous doesn't mean that there isn't something responsible for the creation of the universe - at this point in our understanding of the universe, there's no definitive evidence one way or the other.

Therefore, the phrase, "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" seems plenty reasonable to me.

I acknowledge, and respect, that you understand the universe is inconceivable to the finite human consciousness beyond a certain point, but I'm curious as to what you mean by "something behind the creation of the universe." Do you envision an entity with a consciousness and intelligence that created and set in motion the universe? in a deistic way? Or are you imagining an unconscious (meaning not self aware or intelligent) 'force' which unknowingly and unavoidably caused the creation of the universe, such as the laws of nature or whatever caused the Big Bang (because beyond a certain point, the Laws of Physics break down under the pressure, and in our knowledge thus far we can only speculate on what it could have been that caused the four forces of nature to separate and initiate the Big Bang)? Or is is neither, and you hold something wholly different in your mind?

I too believe something caused the creation of our universe but I personally don't think, to date, is was anything conscious. I like to ponder, though ultimately futile since its only theoretical and altogether unprovable outside of pure mathematics (which itself is not always an absolute dichotomy between true and false), on the possibilities and implications of infinity and being apart of a metaverse. Multi-dimensional theory is fascinating to me, I enjoy reading about and musing on the plausibility of there being an infinite number of consciousnesses similar to myself but each one ranging from imperceptibly different to inconceivably dissimilar, depending on the properties and factors surrounding the creation of the universe each one is in.

I'm not intentionally steering this thread from the topic, we can continue on the absence of evidence in this or another way, though its my opinion that the evolution of a thread over time is what makes posting fun. You never know where the conversation's going to end up!

Honestly? I don't know. I suspect my belief is more deistic in nature - if there's a conscious creator, it's seems like it's a hands-off kind of deal. I don't live my life under the assumption that there's something out there watching over me.
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