Standards of Evidence Part 1: Extraordinary Claims

When examining claims and deciding whether to believe one, there are many things to consider.  Evidence is a must.  You can’t simply assert something without basis and expect it to be believed.  But we do this every day.  When we talk about mundane day to day happening with people, we’re making a lot of claims and we usually take them at face value without scrutinizing them.  Isn’t this believing in stuff without evidence?

No.  We are taking into account the evidence.  We’re just doing it so quickly that we don’t even realize it.  The biggest piece of evidence, and maybe even the only one in a lot of cases is the person’s eyewitness credibility.  Generally, people are pretty truthful.  We are using our previous experience with people as evidence for this.  We’re also using our direct previous experious with the individual we are talking to further build a case for their credibility.

Let me list a few claims you might accept with an extremely small amount of evidence:

  • I ate a ham sandwich today.
  • The dog crapped in my living room yesterday.
  • I am an okay driver.
  • My wife tells me she loves me everyday.

We accept these things with a very small amount of evidence.  These are mundane claims, and are extremely plausible unless I am a habitual liar. Now what about these claims:

  • I ate 4 ham sandwiches today.
  • The dog crapped in the refrigerator yesterday.
  • I hit something in my car every single day.
  • My wife speaks to me in latin every day.

Notice the level of doubt that starts to rise as you read these statements.  Why?  These are all just as plausible as the claims made in the first list, but the fact that these events are uncommon that makes them require a bit more credibility to believe.  It’s not often someone eats 4 ham sandwiches in a day, or that someone is such a bad driver that they literally run into something every day.  When met with claims like this you may even voice your disbelief:

  • “No way!”
  • “How did your dog get in the refrigerator?”
  • “No one is that bad of a driver.”
  • “How did she learn to speak latin?”

This is asking for further evidence to substantiate the wildness of the claims.  While the standard of evidence has gone up with these slightly more extraordinary claims, they haven’t gone beyond reasonable doubt necessarily.  You COULD take some of these claims on the word of the person making the claim alone.

Let’s ramp up the extraordinary nature of the claims one last time:

  • I ate 1000 ham sandwiches today.
  • I own 3 unicorns.
  • My house is made of ice.
  • Aliens are actually blue, not green or grey like.

So obviously these are extremely extraordinary claims.  Someone would have to bring you a lot of evidence before you believed it.  The claims demand it.  Some of these are claims we couldn’t even say they are even plausible.  Some of them we can demonstrate that they aren’t true.

To me, this shows that extraordinary (unlikely, strange, or uncommon) claims require extraordinary  (a large amount) evidence.

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2 thoughts on “Standards of Evidence Part 1: Extraordinary Claims

  1. Pingback: Standards of Evidence Part 2: Risk and Stake | Freedom from Stupidity

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