Philosophy: absence of evidence vs evidence of absence

Tutoring philosophy, evidence – or absence of it – is a constant focus. The tutor discusses the meaning of “absence of evidence”.

Typically a skeptic will point to lack of evidence as satisfactory proof, from their point of view, that X doesn’t exist or can’t be true.

In opposition, a researcher of paranormal or supernatural phenomena, or even a conspiracy theorist, might claim that even without available proof, X might indeed be true.

Interestingly, as long as premise X is unproven, neither point of view is wrong.

Likely, the reason that absence of evidence, commonly, is good enough to conclude falsehood is due to our legal system. The prosecution must prove, with evidence, a suspect’s guilt; if they can’t, then the suspect is innocent, though they may in fact have done the crime. In that context, absence of evidence practically means that claim X is false.

However, in defense of the believers’ point of view, a fresh investigation might begin with no evidence, but manage to discover it. (Anyone who watches investigation shows knows that.) Then, premise X swings from “false” to “true”, even though, ironically, it was true all along.

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.