Friday, April 15, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- piling on the evidence

I guess I forgot about this because it’s not just a scientific principle, it’s a principal in all discussion of any topic.
Whoever presents extraordinary claims, has to present extraordinary evidence.
If you’re going to make a claim that is unexpected or goes beyond the expectations of your field, you have to provide evidence that goes beyond what other people in your field have to provide.
The burden of proof is on you. And where have you heard that before?
So a for-instance: you can’t prove that ghosts exist in the ordinary sense of being able to detect their presence, if all you do is pile up anecdotes told by people who believe in ghosts. Not when you’re talking to people who want scientific evidence.
What you have to do is get them to agree on what a ghost is and what evidence proves they exist. Then you have to get that evidence. If you don’t, there could be something wrong with what you did, or you may have picked the wrong evidence, or the definition of ghost you agreed on is wrong. You have to make the changes and do all the tests over again under the new paradigm, and somebody else has to be able to do the same tests and get the same results.
Bietak didn’t use the same techniques as other archaeologists covered by the Archaeometry article and he hasn’t convinced them to accept his definitions or techniques as proving what he thinks he proved. So he hasn’t taught us anything new, not even that the technique of radiometric dating is invalid, because he didn’t prove that all the other archaeologists were wrong or that the techniques they used had flaws.  He simply didn’t do the tests that would have showed he was wrong.
Notice that part of the issue is defining your audience. Who is it that you are trying to prove things to? If all you want to do is prove things to other people who already agree with you, then you don’t have to prove anything at all, they already agree with you.
If you want to prove things to people who don’t already agree with you, you have to know what they know and what they accept as proof.  If you don’t, can’t, or refuse to, provide that proof, you can’t prove anything to them.
This is what separates the little kids from the big kids, too. If you’re not going to take the challenge, you’re stuck in a box with yourself and the people who already agree with you.
But then, the rabbis knew that more than 17 centuries ago. Babylonian Talmud Nedarim 25a says proof goes according to the standard definition, not a private definition (this will come up again in the next part of the blog). Which should show you another problem that archaeologists sometimes have. I’ll discuss it in a couple of weeks.
For now, there is a bigger fallacy to fry that relates to archaeology.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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