Evidence is in your head

Stanley Fish is the Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor and a professor of law at Florida International University, in Miami. He has written a very insightful article addressing the debate about faith and reason. Here is an excerpt:

Evidence, understood as something that can be pointed to, is never an independent feature of the world. Rather, evidence comes into view (or doesn’t) in the light of assumptions…..that produce the field of inquiry in the context of which (and only in the context of which) something can appear as evidence.

To bring all this abstraction back to the arguments made by my readers, there is no such thing as “common observation” or simply reporting the facts. To be sure, there is observation and observation can indeed serve to support or challenge hypotheses. But the act of observing can itself only take place within hypotheses (about the way the world is) that cannot be observation’s objects because it is within them that observation and reasoning occur.

While those hypotheses are powerfully shaping of what can be seen, they themselves cannot be seen as long as we are operating within them; and if they do become visible and available for noticing, it will be because other hypotheses have slipped into their place and are now shaping perception, as it were, behind the curtain.

This may be confusing to some Gnu atheists, so let me try to translate it.

In many ways, it is perception that is at the heart of the whole debate about God.  Yet Gnu atheists demand that theists justify themselves by providing “evidence.” But what is evidence? It is not something we encounter or detect objectively; it is data that we interpret. This act of interpretation transforms data into evidence. But of what? Evidence for a hypothesis or theory—both of which are mental constructs, used to convert the raw data into something we call “evidence.” What we detect with our senses is not evidence, but raw data. Evidence is what our minds recognize, while interpreting the data.

So while data are objective, evidence is subjective.  Two people can detect the same data while only one might see it as evidence.  Or two people can detect the same data yet both see it as evidence for contrary positions.

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3 Responses to Evidence is in your head

  1. Gregory says:

    To avoid falling into the objective vs. subjective trap, Mike, you might wish to consider the concept/percept of ‘reflexivity’ to be helpful in your hermeneutic efforts, as displayed in this thread.

    I liked the link S. Fish provided, though don’t much value thinking about R. Dawkins. As P. Campos says:
    “As long as Dawkins remains who he is now, he will remain incapable of seeing an angel of the Lord…evidence must always be interpreted within the context of interpretive assumptions which necessarily determine what that evidence is understood to signify, and which by their nature are themselves matters of faith. Thus the only way someone like Dawkins will ever see any evidence for the existence of God will be if he loses his faith that he never will.”

  2. cl says:

    “In many ways, it is perception that is at the heart of the whole debate about God.”

    I’d go so far as to say in every way.

  3. Pingback: 20,000 Sects Of Christianity | TheWarfareIsMental

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