Evidence for the Absence of Absent Evidence

You’ve heard the phrase “absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.” Religious people say it when trying to explain my father or any other god with the lack of evidence. Inarticulate scientists use it when they don’t know how to explain a missing object, such as the Missing Link.

Guess what. That phrase is 100% wrong. It stems from the idea that you can’t prove a negative. With that logic however, the phrase should be “absence of evidence isn’t PROOF of absence.” As it turns out, absence of evidence is the very thing necessary to deny something is there.

For example, look to your left. Is there a unicorn there? And I mean a real unicorn, not some picture or stuffed animal or any other fake representation. If you said yes, seek help. For those who said no, why? The correct answer is because there is no evidence of one. That leads directly to the conclusion that there is no unicorn. The evidence of the absence of the unicorn was the absence of the evidence.

That is why whenever someone makes a claim, they’re the ones who have to bring forth the evidence. The best way to refute the absence of evidence is to actually have evidence.

So the next time someone uses that phrase, confirm with them that there is indeed an absence of evidence and the. Show them the logic trail. See how embarrassed they get.

See you next week.

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~ by lukebringer on September 3, 2012.

2 Responses to “Evidence for the Absence of Absent Evidence”

  1. The problem with evidence and proof is that boundaries need to be drawn. What does ‘proof’ consist of? If it is something observable, is it observable only with natural instruments (eyes, ears etc.) or can manufactured instruments be used? Can we say that just because something cannot be observed, it does not exist? I am not saying that God exists (in fact, I am secular to the bone) but we cannot disprove something because we cannot observe it. Although your example of the unicorn makes for a valid argument, it is weak. I agree with you that the phrase ‘absence of evidence is evidence for absence’ is wrong but I don’t follow what you propose as an alternative?

    • The way that I define evidence is that it is based on thinking. Evidence is anything that suggests an outcome. Proof is not based on thinking. It is what says 100% that an outcome is true. It doesn’t matter whether humans know of its existence or not. The way humans think limits what is proof. Take gravity. It’s never been proven. There’s just lots and lots of evidence for its existence. Real proof rarely exists outside of math. This should sound like the difference between inductive reasoning and deductive reasoning for those who have studied logic. I’ll go into this more next week, but for now I’ll say that almost everything is inductive reasoning, while math and computer language is deductive. Anyway to sum up, the vast majority of the time you can’t prove if something exists, nor can you prove that something doesn’t exist, but you can make a decision on whether or not you believe based on the evidence or absence of evidence. For most people on most topics the latter is indeed evidence of absence. Because of the strong feelings that religion tends to invoke, it seems to be an exception. Even people who turn from religion have trouble accepting that idea sometimes, despite their willingness to do as such. Going back to the unicorn, you can’t prove that a unicorn isn’t there. What if it was invisible and had the same consistency of air? Then it could be there. Especially because definitions can change, proof is hard to come by. But evidence is everywhere or nowhere. It’s up to the thinker to decide what that means.

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