The Absence of Evidence

Independent scholar Derek Barnett examines the importance of the primacy of evidence.

Recent developments have confirmed a worrying trend among the most prominent advocates of the Lost Civilisation theory towards devaluing, if not yet completely discarding, the principle of the primacy of evidence. This principle is the rock upon which the foundations of science have been painstakingly built. Its potential abandonment represents nothing less than the descent of the Lost Civilisation into the realms of the extreme fringe of psuedoscience.

Like many, perhaps, I was captivated by the string of exciting books published in the nineties, in part because the claims appeared to rely, more or less, on the solid method of argument from evidence. Over the years however many of the ideas put forward in support of the Lost Civilisation have been measured against the cold, rational yardstick wielded by science and have been found wanting, badly in some cases.

The response to this application of accepted methodology by science has been telling. Evidence can be accepted or ignored at will. Personalities are promoted over facts, as to suggest that all too human character traits are an indication of the worth of the idea the personality proposes or rejects. Speculation is inflated into absolute certainty, such as when a preliminary test result becomes a firm finding. The list could go on, but the common factor is an underlying disdain for evidence. Fortunately, there is a well-known and expertly studied example of where such disdain can lead a belief.

It has long been a popular, though empty and increasingly desperate, mantra of the UFO fringe that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Take a look at the questions being asked whenever it is rolled out they might seem familiar. Now that this meaningless and glib oxymoron is starting to be trotted out, in a variety of forms, by the proponents of the Lost Civilisation theory it is perhaps worth some consideration.

Put simply the idea is this: just because there is no hard, physical evidence to support someone’s belief in something does not mean that that something does not exist. It follows that belief in an idea is, of itself, sufficient proof that evidence of it must in fact exist and, further, that this evidence is being ignored, wilfully or otherwise. With this in mind it is perhaps little wonder that those who would cite this mantra, from whichever cul-de-sac of pseudo-science they may hail, demonstrate some remarkably consistent patterns of behaviour.

A willingness to accept misinterpretation of evidence. An ability to ignore inconvenient evidence not suited to misinterpretation. Amnesia regarding formerly incontrovertible evidence that has been debunked. An openness to the idea that ‘they’ don’t want ‘us’ to find out the truth. A willingness to accept non physical explanations, i.e. spiritual and religious ones. An acceptance of received knowledge.

Such inwardly spiralling logic makes a mockery of any rational analysis. A mockery that duly extends to those who attempt to carry the analysis out. Holding the rules of evidence in contempt the belief becomes self referencing, its rulings arbitrary and variable on a whim. All the while the belief itself is reinforced until finally it transcends mere evidence and becomes, to all intents and purposes, unassailable. It has become a Belief. To the line ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’ should be added ‘and all the evidence to the contrary can go to hell!’