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Claims and Counter-Claims

I’d like to offer you a quick example of the kind of flip I am seeing repeatedly in comment threads recently.

Suppose I invite you to my house and show you an object you’ve never seen before.  It’s roughly spherical, about a foot in radius, and shiny.  Beyond that, you can’t really tell by looking what it’s made of or what purpose it might serve.  In grave tones, I tell you the following:

Examine this from afar as much as you like, but be careful not to touch it.  This is a spaceship from the Andromeda Galaxy.  It contains the last remnant of the last intelligent species from the planet Glarb.  They are invisible and green.  If you were to touch their ship, the negative ion energy from your aura would spread a horrible wasting disease through them, and you would be responsible for genocide.

If you are polite, you will probably nod appreciatively, feign acceptance for long enough to get a running start for the door, and find yourself someone a bit more stable to have lunch with.

If you are less polite, you’ll probably just tell me I’m nuts and be on with your business.  To put it bluntly, you won’t accept my claim for a second.  And that’s the perfectly appropriate thing to do.  I haven’t even begun to present a strong case.

Now, suppose I am less than civil about it.  Perhaps I chase down the street after you, insisting that we discuss this more.  I corner you next to a Piggly Wiggly, and since you’re too out of breath to run any more, you agree to hear me out.

Ok.  You don’t believe me.  I get that.  So now you have to tell me what you think it is.

Feeling a bit bullied, you insist that you have no such obligation.  It doesn’t matter what the thing IS.  It most certainly IS NOT a spaceship from the Andromeda galaxy.

No, no, no.  If you don’t have a reasonable counter-claim, then my initial claim wins by default.  So you must come up with something.

You’re almost ready to run again, but you feel like another minute of stalling would give you that extra boost of energy, so you humor me.  You point out that such a philosophy is preposterous, and would mean that the burden of proof lies not on the claimant (as all of us learned in Logic 101) but on the respondent!  It would lead to incredible paradoxes and impossibilities, as the truth value of any claim would be dependent not on its testability, falsifiability, reliability, or preponderance of the evidence, but rather, the person who got to the podium first!

At this point, I’m a little frustrated with your unwillingness to believe me, so I just wander back to my house in a huff, muttering, “You really should read Aristotle.”



2 thoughts on “Claims and Counter-Claims

  1. Hilarious. Excellent example of absurdity of arguing that you’re right because no one has a better explanation.

    Posted by Alex Hardman | October 22, 2010, 12:46 pm
  2. And you somehow get to be a man of faith even if you don’t propose a counter-claim. Great example.

    Posted by Ian | October 22, 2010, 6:40 pm

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