“Goldilocks” is not evidence

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My Shadow to Light Watch series is beginning to bore even me. But Michael, the author at Shadow to Light never ceases to amaze and infuriate with his Trump-esque spout-nonsense-with-confidence-then-divert approach to “persuasion”. Today (or, about a month ago ― because scheduling weekly posts has its drawbacks) Michael put something new under the chopping block of nonsense-redefinition: evidence.

The Google definition (which appears to pull from OxfordDictionaries.com) of evidence is this:

“the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid”

And from reading around I can’t find definitions that sway far from this. However, I’d like to bridge two small philosophical gaps that do emerge by presenting a slightly different definition:

“Presented artefacts of reality, either physical or conceptual, from which a sensible defense for a claim can be made”

The point in this slight redefinition is to incorporate a definition of “facts” (presented artefacts of reality) and to allude to a method of “indicating whether a belief or proposition is true” (the creation of a sensible defence for the claim). It would be fair to expect some discussion about exactly what “sensible” might mean, but I mean it as adhering to logical laws and structures of rational discussion ― which in turn includes (but is not limited to) inductive and deductive reasoning, and being free of fallacies.

Decide whether you agree with me, and to what extent. If you have to, do some further reading. If you hadn’t thought about it much before, and find my definition compelling, do a little further reading anyway to see if there are any prominent disagreements you also find compelling. If you disagree with my definition, let me know; I’m happy to hear them. Are they nitpicky or are they fundamental? The reason I ask this of you is because I want you to be confident my definition is in the right ballpark, so that you can be as bemused as I was by Michael’s implied definition of evidence.

Michael never explicitly defines evidence. But, I presented a summary of his post in the comments, and it didn’t get disagreement from him. My summary follows, and his reply is here.

  1. The Goldilocks principle is a thing
  2. Homeostasis is a special type of Goldilocks principle
  3. Christian theism is also a type of Goldilocks principle
  4. Atheists — without Christian theism — resort to extremes i.e. a violation of the Goldilock principle.

I actually followed with point 5 “Therefore Christian theism is true”. I did this because I assumed that was the goal of the post: the title of the post is “Goldilocks and Evidence for Christian Theism” and the first paragraph reads “Let me provide what I consider to be a significant piece of evidence for the truth of Christian theism”. But Michael denies that his ‘evidence’ has to lead to a conclusion. This does raise the question of what it is evidence for if it doesn’t have to actually lead anywhere.

To be fair, Michael says what he has done “is gather clues and evidence that can point us in one direction or another”. But that appears to be in complete contradiction with his claim that the points of his post don’t lead to Christian theism being true. This is exactly the flexibility a person needs to peddle nonsense: when asked how his points lead to his conclusion, he denies that they do or that they have to; but when wanted to be taken seriously, suddenly his claims to lead somewhere.

Expanding my summary a little, so that we can try to get to Michael’s implied definition of evidence, we get this:

  1. The Goldilocks principle is about being in the middle between two extremes
  2. The Goldilocks principle is important, because it describes life: both in astrobiology (the ‘Goldilocks zone’) and in the biology of living bodies (homeostasis).
  3. Objectivity and subjectivity are extremes.
  4. Christianity anchors a person to a middle ground between these extremes, or merges them.
  5. Atheists tend to attach to one of the extremes (objectivity, under the name of scientism; subjectivity, under the name of postmodernism).
  6. (The claim Michael denies and accepts at his convenience) This is evidence Christian theism is true.

Playing Devil’s advocate allows us to ignore the fact that some of these assertions can be ignored for their sheer brazen falsity.

  • Unless Michael wants to play ‘No True Christian’, I think we can agree the history of Christianity is not a moderate one: The story of its founding is Jesus died on the cross and his followers died for their beliefs, which doesn’t seem at all moderate;
  • Christian institutions have done extreme things (both good and bad).
  • There’s no evidence presented (and I know of none) that atheists tend, disproportionately, to either scientism or postmodernism.
  • There’s no evidence that where Michael thinks his middle ground is is actually the defensible stance.

There are subtler points Michael makes that are probably also wrong:

  • Homeostasis is about active regulation, where the Goldilocks principle is about passive middle grounds ― one is not a subset of the other;
  • It may not be that both extremes are wrong;
  • The behaviour or worldview of person doesn’t validate or invalidate singular positions;
  • There’s no presented reason to believe Christianity is a ‘Goldilocks zone’ between the extremes, and if it is one, there’s no reason to believe it is the only one (and such a position isn’t synonymous with truth, unless one takes a postmodernist definition of truth).

But, we can ignore all of that.

We can go one further in playing Devil’s Advocate, and claim what Michael is saying coherently “gather[s] clues and evidence that can point us in one direction or another”, just like he says it does.

If we do all of this for Michael, in an attempt to get into Michael’s head by accepting what he says has any basis, what do we have to believe about evidence?

We have to believe that if a claim can be asserted in such a way as to be a narrative analogue to an important principle, then that analogy itself is evidence. We have to believe that an asserted literary structure being similar to a principle is, in fact, evidence. It’s not an “artefact of reality”, and it’s not about “sensible defence of a claim”. It is about a point of literature. Evidence, according to Michael, is a literary phenomenon and not a rational one. The definition becomes this:

shared narrative tropes with other significant claims.

This is why I asked you to think honestly about what evidence is. I don’t know how else to make the absurdity here jump off the page.

Michael applies this weird conception of what indicates something is true to his arguments as well. It offers him the malleability required to never actually face a criticism. All facts that run contrary to his faeces ‘thesis’ can be dismissed as ‘how the detractor sees the world’ and thus Michael relies on postmodernism to simply ignore criticism. However, where it matters, on the question of whether Christian theism is true, that takes a seat in the objective world.

What Michael has created for himself isn’t some reliable or reasonable way of telling what is true, but a methodology for refusing he could be wrong.

I don’t want to create the wrong impression here, that I think this is an impressive facade to put up. I think it’s the tried and tested method of conspiracy theorists. Claiming to stand somewhere between a trusting rational person and an extreme sceptic allows conspiracy theorists to accept any science they like, while being “sceptical” of the science against their pet theory. What Michael does is no more or less impressive than that old-hat trick. But it is a symptom of intellectual denial. And all too prevalent.

3 thoughts on ““Goldilocks” is not evidence”

  1. Not sure why you are doing this.
    (As an aside,Homeostasis in biological systems is a convenient fiction. The more accurate description would be dynamic equilibrium.)
    Theoretical ‘truth’ – establishing the validity of a model – is apt for evidence. For scientific theories, establishing evidence is establishing correspondence.
    For metaphysical theories, the analogous process is establishing coherence, top to bottom.
    As far as I can tell, Mikey advocates essentialism and deity with a mind who responds to things in the world in what looks quite like a standard causal scheme. He has a coherence problem.
    Don’t let me tell you what to do, but this seems like a big waste of time

    1. It’s a case of suddenly realising I was writing in his comments section for his audience, who are primed to be in receptive to criticism. As I’d already written most of this out in his comments, I copied it over (and edited).
      I am a little sceptical of the idea that Mikey only had a coherence problem. Nature is diverse enough to offer any narrative: order is classical physics, chaos in quantum mechanics, positive or negative feedback depending on discipline. He picked a criteria based on his interpretation of theology

  2. This argument is about the silliest I have heard of its ilk. (I really mean effing stupid, but this is a family blog.)

    The Goldilocks Principle is also being misrepresented (“The Goldilocks principle is about being in the middle between two extremes”). The word extreme is not accurate and was chosen specifically to make the stupid conclusion made later. The Goldilocks principle is about being in the middle between two boundaries. It is the foundation of all reasonable search techniques (I use it in archery). If one bowl of porridge is too hot, son’t ask the restaurant for a hotter bowl thinking that might be better. Finding boundaries (too hard, too soft) gives us direction as to where to search next. In the fairy tale, the process is an excuse of the mess Goldilocks makes. If she just came into their home, ate some porridge and took a nap, there would be no Papa bear, Mama bear, Baby bear disclosures to read and captivate children.

    So, the Goldilocks Principle is about finding just right, not delineating extremes.

    Plus, atheism is not an extreme position, it is simply the null hypothesis. One could find on either side of this (we could be up to our hips in gods or gods are absolutely impossible in our universe).

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