Evidence Is Not Evident

As I have already stated at the beginning, I am writing this blog because of my difficulties with English language.

One of the words in English that makes it especially difficult for me to express myself in this language is “evidence”.

“Evidenz” in German means “obviousness”, “appearance”. It is close to Latin roots “videre” which means “to see”.

“Evidence” in English means a different thing, namely “proof” or “testimony”, but – and this is the confusing aspect of the word – the adjective “evident” means “obvious” just as the German adjective “evident”.

Now there is something, as you might know, that is called “evidence-based medicine”.

The lowest level of evidence according to evidence-based medicine is: “Expert opinion without explicit critical appraisal, or based on physiology, bench research or “first principles””

The highest level of evidence is: “SR [Systematic Review] (with homogeneity*) of RCTs [Randomized Controlled Studies]”

If you take a closer look at these definitions, “evidence” in the sense of “obviousness” can only take place on the lowest level of “evidence” according to evidence-based medicine. For this is the only level where experts, that means: people, directly look at things.

On the highest levels of “evidence” according to evidence-based medicine systematic reviews of the publications of others are performed, and their data have to be believed. There are also mathematical, statistical proofs involved. All the proofs and the data are located between you and the original phenomenon, so that the phenomenon is no longer visible.

It seems clear to me that evidence-based medicine is about scientific proof, and not about “evidence” in the sense of “obviousness”. But tell me, as a not native English speaker, how would you call it, if you wanted to talk about “obviousness”.

As I have mentioned, in German the word “Evidenz” basically does not mean “proof” or “testimony”. Even though evidence-based medicine was translated into “evidenzbasierte Medizin”. The reason might be the low self-esteem of German speakers. However, in scientific circles they start already to use the German “Evidenz” in the sense of “proof”, of which I absolutely do not approve for I think there is a good reason for the fact that “Evidenz” should not mean “proof”.

The reason is that the more proofs are put between you and a thing the less evident it becomes. It becomes – empirically, scientifically – better proven, but it becomes less evident. The thing itself becomes opaque behind all the evidence.

Evidence therefore does not make things evident. For “evident” (also in English?) means “self-evident” which equals to “not needing a proof”.

But there is certain suspicion that I have regarding the situation in English: Is the reason for the meanings of “evidence” and “evident” in English language maybe to be found in a certain belief – based on a strong empiristic conviction – that evidence actually helps to make beliefs/assertions more evident?

Well, the idea would be that evidence is somehing that “supports” assertions, and if the support is so strong that nobody can rationally doubt it anymore, then the assertion is held to be “evident” in the sense of “obvious” for everybody. Is this the case?

Well, if it was so, it would be a false conviction. For evidence in the sense of proof puts itself between the person seeing an object and the object seen by her. In consequence, the person will look at the evidence (the proofs) and not at the object. If she is a normal persons, it is very likely that she will not understand the (sophisticated scientific) proofs. In the end she will have to believe what experts tell her. And to believe that she would understand the case, if she was trained to be an expert herself.

The moral of the story: A mountain of evidence leads to belief, for evidence does not make things evident. Evidence leads to scientifically better proven results, but it does not make things obvious and understandable.



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    • philohof

      Thank you for your comment. I just can’t see what the confusion between evidence and proof has to do with atheists or with being an Atheist. The issue rather has its own Dynamics: First an proof is called a proof because it makes something evident. Then proofs become more complex. In the end we are told: “This here is the proof! It is quite complex, so you have to believe me that it really proves the Claim!”

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