Absence of evidence and evidence of absence: evidential transitivity in connection with fossils, fishing, fine-tuning, and firing squads

Philosophical Studies 143 (1):63-90 (2009)
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Abstract

“Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence” is a slogan that is popular among scientists and nonscientists alike. This article assesses its truth by using a probabilistic tool, the Law of Likelihood. Qualitative questions (“Is E evidence about H ?”) and quantitative questions (“How much evidence does E provide about H ?”) are both considered. The article discusses the example of fossil intermediates. If finding a fossil that is phenotypically intermediate between two extant species provides evidence that those species have a common ancestor, does failing to find such a fossil constitute evidence that there was no common ancestor? Or should the failure merely be chalked up to the imperfection of the fossil record? The transitivity of the evidence relation in simple causal chains provides a broader context, which leads to discussion of the fine-tuning argument, the anthropic principle, and observation selection effects.

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Author's Profile

Elliott Sober
University of Wisconsin, Madison

Citations of this work

Bayesian Philosophy of Science.Jan Sprenger & Stephan Hartmann - 2019 - Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
The No Alternatives Argument.Richard Dawid, Stephan Hartmann & Jan Sprenger - 2015 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 66 (1):213-234.
The Ineffability of Induction.David Builes - 2020 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 104 (1):129-149.

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References found in this work

On the origin of species.Charles Darwin - 2008 - New York: Oxford University Press. Edited by Gillian Beer.
The Design Argument.Elliott Sober - 2019 - Cambridge University Press.

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