I Know A Guy Who Saw An Angel?: Why You Need A More Convincing Set of Data to Sway Me

ImagePeople, we need to have a chat. I am starting to get a little worried about you. Every day that I log on to ye olde world wide web, I see a plethora of shared stories and links to various reports and pieces of “evidence” regarding a myriad of conspiracy theories and supernatural occurrences on my Facebook timeline (i.e. government micro-chipping, the stealing of your guns, angels stopping car crashes). These articles and links, most of which go to random opinion blogs, political think tank sites, and FOX News, are flooding the web with sensationalized half-truths and outright poor logic based on anecdotal evidence and often poorly researched reporting. This type of “information” dissemination is leading us all into snap judgements, overreactions, and intellectual laziness.
Few individuals are doing any background research or challenging these silly assertions. Those that do are usually shouted down by the emotional Kool-Aid drinkers and the many “bots” unleashed to protect the positive image of a given news source at all costs. Ladies and gentleman, this just won’t do. You deserve better and so do I. So, let’s talk a little bit about evidence.
An important point must be made about the two types of evidence often used to help you distinguish between good arguments for your stance and poor ones. Let’s start with some definitions:
anecdotal— adj
containing or consisting exclusively of anecdotes rather than connected discourse or research conducted under controlled conditions (dictionary.com)

scientific- adj
regulated by or conforming to the principles of exact science: scientific procedures;
systematic or accurate in the manner of an exact science. (dictionary.com)

These are important distinctions to make. The strength of your argument relies heavily on the type of evidence you use and the quality of it’s collection. One of the best ways to collect data is the scientific method. So, what is the scientific method?

1. Observation and description of a phenomenon or group of phenomena.

2. Formulation of a hypothesis to explain the phenomena. In physics, the hypothesis often takes the form of a causal mechanism or a mathematical relation.

3. Use of the hypothesis to predict the existence of other phenomena, or to predict quantitatively the results of new observations.

4. Performance of experimental tests of the predictions by several independent experimenters and properly performed experiments. (http://teacher.nsrl.rochester.edu/phy_labs/AppendixE/AppendixE.html)

5. Repeat.

This is arguably the best method for securing sufficient evidence for your claim. And science isn’t just test tubes and beakers. Social sciences collect immense amounts of data that can be observed and studied in great detail about a vast amount of issues. These types of scientific tests follow the same basic method as any lab experiment. All claims must be tested repeatedly and every factor must be accounted for, subjected to peer review, revised, retested, reevaluated, and so on. The standard is rigorous. And the evidence is, therefore, far stronger than any coincidence or anecdote that you may have as an example.

For instance, logic based on pure anecdote or coincidence isn’t sufficient. Example: I tell my daughter that Santa is real. She then tells us, and everyone that will listen, that she heard Santa on the roof and that he brought presents to her that none of us remember buying. She holds out a toy that we simply don’t recognize or remember. We then go and tell it on the mountain that Santa is truly real and has manifested himself to our child. Her belief, that came entirely from our insistence to her that he was real (remember, she’s three years old), now proves to us that he must exist when coupled with well placed coincidence (not remembering where one of her trillion toys came from.)

Folks, there is no Santa. And saying that a child’s depiction and perceived experience of him proves that this mythical being visited our condo building is simply foolish. Is it a nice idea? Maybe (although the thought of a fat, bearded dude watching me when I am sleeping and breaking into my home to eat my Oreos sounds terrifying.) But no matter what comfort it may bring, the fact remains that our evidence is flawed. And if you use this with me, I won’t believe anything you say. And you should hold me to the same standard. It makes us all better.

Every time that you post an article that insists an obvious reflection or refraction of light is an angel or spirit or el chupacabra, you look silly. Now, I am not telling you that your belief in those things is silly (that’s another discussion that we won’t have here), but I am telling you that the evidence you are presenting as definitive is actually shoddy. Just because someone you know felt a “presence” or the batteries on the camera died in the cold basement doesn’t mean that the supernatural exists. Seeing a shape that you personally can’t explain (and don’t try to explain with research or deeper digging) on a screen doesn’t mean that an angel visited you or that the ghost of Bea Arthur is trying to thank you for being a friend from beyond the grave.

I understand that sometimes these beliefs bring you comfort and happiness or prove to you that fearing the government and preaching the gospel of Ancient Astronaut Theory is worth your time. But maybe, just maybe, this type of evidence isn’t really sufficient to prove yourself correct or sway a more inquisitive mind. Your anecdotes and emotional appeals don’t make you correct. They just don’t.

I want you to be happy. I really do. The universe has an abundance of beauty and I want you to enjoy it all. Also, I don’t know everything and there very well may be some things that we call supernatural now that turn out to be true. Maybe some planet has unicorns. But this doesn’t mean that you can prove any of it with poor evidence and an “I just believe it” explanation. You should never expect me to be converted to your viewpoint or change mine when you don’t offer any solid evidence and refuse to allow me to question or examine the evidence you do give because it makes you feel “offended.”

When I question these things you post, I am not questioning you as a person (even if you misguidedly believe that you are somehow able to be negated by the negation of an idea or belief) and I certainly don’t think that you are less valuable or meaningful than I. But I am questioning whatever it is you “share” with me on the web. I have to. It is the only way to better understand the world around me and to identify the silly things that we hold as truth when they are potentially harming us or inhibiting our ability to more fully live this brief human moment that we actually share. These arguments and bits of “evidence” cease to hold their form the moment you reach out to touch them. They are all vaporous illusions obscuring the reality of our embodied humanity. They blind us and separate us from one another.

I love you all, but in all seriousness, if I see another article that takes advantage of a sick child to prove a spiritual stance that they learned from their parents in the first place or a blog post that tries to convince us that  freaking lizard people are running the world I will probably lose myself in the moment and make a snarky comment that cheeses you off. Prepare yourselves, because if I can’t have a laugh, I am going to cry.


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