Let’s ask a detective! What do they collect at the scene of a crime? Fingerprints,
bloodstains, spent cartridges - clues which can be observed, collected and shown
to a jury, in other words, evidence needs to be re-observable. What doesn’t carry
much weight in court is witness accounts. We all know that witnesses can lie, exaggerate
and be mistaken. Just talking about an event mixes it with narrative techniques to
capture the interest of the audience, so witness accounts change with time. And identification
parades are wrong most of the time - in a test, only 7 out of 52 witnesses picked
the culprit! Human memory is unreliable. Do you believe rumours? What does ‘gullible’
Once evidence has been collected, it must be prevented from being tampered with.
Another police officer watches it being bagged up and they both sign the bag, then
everyone who handles it (wearing gloves) signs at handover to establish a chain
Scientists expect a very high standard of evidence too - they are not convinced by
the testimony of witnesses. Personal experiences, which cannot be shared, signify
nothing. Scientists only accept observations which can be repeated by anyone with
the right equipment. So, if something happened back in history and can’t be repeated,
it doesn’t count. If something has only happened once, as far as a Scientist is concerned,
it simply hasn’t happened. Nowadays, observations are not restricted to what human
senses can detect - the best sort of observations are made by instruments and they
come in the form of numbers - data.
And it works! This level of scepticism and provenance has enabled us to discover
a very great deal about reality and to apply this knowledge to modify our environment
and achieve enormous feats well beyond our bodily capabilities. Can you list some
Historians have to accept a lower level of validity. Although they refer to more
than one citation (written record) to get confirmation where possible, much of history
wasn’t recorded at the time so it remains speculation. Even if there are published
sources, we often cannot determine their veracity - authors have their own agenda
and may have written propaganda. Archaeology is more scientific than history.
No book actually contains evidence.
Books merely contain reports. They are an early method of recording. Fiction is a
record of the author’s imagination. Audio and video recordings are not acceptable
in court because they can be faked; we should be equally strict about written evidence.
To establish veracity we need to test the content of a book to find out whether it
is real fact or merely opinion or imagination. Some books are easily testable - a
phone directory can be verified by a few phone calls, Science textbooks only need
the investigations repeated to check what they claim. Religious books are completely
untestable and they tell of miracles that contravene the laws of Physics - Jesus
walked on water allegedly! The basis for such claims is the testimony of witnesses
whose accounts were passed by word of mouth for three or four generations before
being written down and, since then, have been copied and translated multiple times.
Shouldn’t incredible stories be treated with extreme scepticism?