If it’s real, we can find a way to prove it. The truth is whatever most correctly describes reality, whether or not that is known.

The key to understanding this sign is to correctly identify the knaves. The SAGE defines a knave as “a deceitful and unreliable scoundrel.” Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Thesaurus offers as synonyms: “VILLIAN [villain misspelled] *bastard, blackguard, heel, lowlife, miscreant, rascal, rogue, scoundrel, *son of a bitch.” I have been named all of those in my lifetime, always with no other evidence than that I stood my ground against the conniving ignoramuses who yelled them at me.

The conundrum for onlookers of a discussion about a subject of which they have little of their own expertise and about which they want to learn the truth, is how to learn a reliable way to accomplish that. They need to learn how to avoid misinformation. They need to recognize on which side the shysters lurk and on which are the truth-tellers. They need to ask themselves a simple question, “What does each side use for evidence?”

  • Many arguments seem to have no evidence on either side. They are about differences of opinion. The side that will ‘win’, right or wrong, will be whichever most closely matches the opinions of, or most appeals to the onlookers. The correct result requires for neither side to win, since neither can demonstrate its rectitude. Opinions are not evidence.
  • Whatever accords or disagrees with personal experience, which inclines onlookers to accept or reject the evidence. Personal experience, being entirely subjective, is open to the influence of many factors that lead to formation of opinions. Opinions are not evidence.
  • Testimony from a trusted authority or eyewitness requires the backing of objective (having reality independent of the mind) evidence. Opinions are not evidence but may rightly or wrongly influence acceptance of other evidence and opinions.
  • One side uses rhetoric (persuasive words) to argue against mathematical formulas. Although numbers generally trump letters, formulas need to be understood to be persuasive. Words and numbers are subject to errors and manipulation, but numbers may be tested. Only formulas that have proved themselves in tests are convincing when the tests are well understood. Words are not evidence but may, rightly or wrongly, provide support or refutation for evidence.
  • Hearsay and anecdotal evidence (secondhand stories about what someone said or was heard to say) may be trusted if they corroborate other evidence. By themselves, they are not evidence.
  • A documented history from a trusted source may provide much useful information, but only for those who trust it. Those who have learned, by whatever means, to mistrust it will pick it apart and generate endless disputes.
  • A demonstration, especially if accompanied by smoke, an explosion, fire, or all three provides convincing-enough tangible evidence for most people. Did the demonstration accomplish its expressed objective? Was it irrelevant? Did it leave you feeling skeptical? Why?
  • Objective evidence represents the aspects of reality accessible to the direct senses. It can be measured, weighed, and subjected to all kinds of tests to discern what we can know about it. Indirect senses like memory are fallible and cannot be shown to others, and so cannot be trusted. Only directly accessible reality provides evidence.
  • The Scientific Method generates predictions using arguments and hypotheses to develop tests to settle matters of interest. This powerful approach is responsible for most of today’s technology, but, like all other approaches to evidence, cannot apply to that which resides only in the imagination.

Time-related and abstracted features of reality, however, are indirectly reviewable as evidence, especially if they have been recorded using appropriate equipment. Abstractions such as an act of ‘evil’ can then be viewed and assessed to see if they match their definitions, or which definitions they match, if any. Time-related events and processes of relatively short duration can be recorded and their reality through time made obvious. Think: the recorded singing of a song; a robbery; the building of a house—all furnish, through time, indirect objective evidence.

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