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.

Conspiracies, part 0

The tutor opens a discussion about conspiracies. While the concept is still important to some, it might be losing mainstream appeal.

I understand conspiracy to mean a group of people acting in secret towards a possibly sinister, but certainly dubious, goal.  My Merriam-Webster and Collins Essential Canadian dictionaries agree that a conspiracy centres around a crime.

The first conspiracy I ever heard tell of was during the Reagan presidency.  From centre stage Reagan faced a tough recession and a blossoming Cold War.  His unshakeable confidence proved contagious:   he presided over a tremendous economic recovery and the Western World’s final encirclement of Communism.  I’ve heard he was the most popular president ever.

While America revelled in its surprising success under Reagan, some people watching from their armchairs didn’t believe Reagan was responsible.  While clearly a great man, did he seem to possess the technical understanding needed to tackle America’s complex problems?  Someone else behind the scenes must be doing it, they thought.  They suspected those people were highly intelligent and would remain unknown. I heard people talk about a “shadow government” that actually controlled America, virtually independently of whom the voters chose.  They called it a conspiracy.

If the “shadow government” was a conspiracy, what was the crime?  The secrecy of how the country was actually run, the detractors argued, violated the spirit of democracy.

There are many other suspected conspiracies; like with the possible one discussed above, proof is often lacking.  However, there are puzzling scenarios that involve numerous accounts, much documentation, yet no answer to satisfy everyone.

As well as probing deeper into the philosophy of conspiracy theorists, the tutor will examine possible conspiracies in coming posts.


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