Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Saying: there is no evidence

Here is a
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari, an Israeli history professor. ...

First published in 2011 (in Hebrew) and then in 2014 (in English), it’s a Jared Diamond-esque trip laced with Harari’s Big Thoughts on evolution, religion, life, people, all of human history, etc. Harari is a 40-something gay vegan who lives with his husband on an Israeli kibbutz, according to Wikipedia.

Sapiens begins tantalizingly enough, with a discussion of imagined orders and how they serve as touchpoints for mass human cooperation. Division of humans into “superiors and “commoners” might be a figment of the imagination, he says, but so is “equality.” “All men are created equal”, he observes, is a purely aspirational declaration.

“According to the science of biology, people were not ‘created’. They have evolved. And they certainly did not evolve to be ‘equal.’

In addressing the Interbreeding v. Replacement theories of out-of-Africa evolution, he notes that if the Interbreeding theory is right, “there might well be genetic differences between Africans, Europeans and Asians that go back hundreds of thousands of years. This is political dynamite, which could provide material for explosive racial theories.”

And, he concedes, the appearance of small amounts of Neanderthal DNA in humans, discovered in 2010, pushed the Interbreeding theory to the front.

But then, on page 152, he preserves his tenured position, book sales and popularity with this: “Between blacks and whites there are some objective biological differences, such as skin color and hair type, but there is no evidence that the differences extend to intelligence or morality.”
I didn't think that same-sex marriage was legal in Israel.

There are many educated scholars who insist on using the phrase "there is no evidence" when there is obvious evidence as well has 100s of published papers. What do they even mean, as they obviously do not mean that there is literally no evidence?

One possibility is that they want to be as transparently wrong as they can be. If you lived in a Communist country and you were not allowed to criticize Communism, you might say "Communism is the most perfect system ever invented". It is so silly, it is just a clever way of signalling that you believe the opposite.

Another possibility is that they have some technical or political reason for saying that the published evidence is not really evidence. Maybe they categorically reject anything influenced by the white Christian patriarchy, for example.

Maybe they believe that the evidence has been refuted somehow. If so, it is more accurate to say that the evidence has been refuted, not that there is no evidence. Scholarship then requires a reference to where a refutation can be found.

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