To the editor:
I've been told that the world is composed of atoms. I've never seen an atom and have no cognitive experience with any individual entities that I could positively say were atoms.
The existence of things called atoms is just hearsay to me.
As the great American patriot Thomas Paine has said about any assertion: "It is a revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other, and consequently they are not obliged to believe it." So I'm not obliged to believe that atoms exist.
Here is a list of other objects, ideas, assertions, and beliefs that are hearsay to me that I'm not obliged to accept: the universe is 13.8 billion years old, life has slowly evolved by a process of natural selection, a supernatural entity created the universe, invisible angels and demons abound, cosmic rays are constantly passing through my body, Muhammad rode a horse to heaven, Jesus was resurrected from the grave, reincarnation is a reality, viruses can cause disease, capitalism is the best form of economics, Joseph Smith translated golden plates into the Book of Mormon, ghosts exist, dinosaurs ruled the earth for 150 million years before becoming extinct, the Bible is the literal word of God, miracles occasionally happen, The Noachian Flood really existed, John F. Kennedy was a victim of a conspiracy, aliens from outer space have visited our planet and created crop circles, and mediums communicate with the dead. The list goes on.
However, I do accept some of the above statements with a high degree of probability and reject others as having an extremely low probability. Some may have an intermediate probability of being true.
What is the basis for accepting or rejecting any assertion?
Because some assertions were written thousands of years ago by superstitious, semi-literate, bronze/iron age people doesn't establish any objective validity for them.
Present day assertions put forth without adequate evidence can be dismissed out of hand and confirmation bias must be avoided.
But, if scientists have performed certain experiments, or observations, reached certain conclusions, followed this with publications in well respected scientific journals, and the conclusions have been independently verified by other scientists, then I think we could accept the results with a high degree of probability. We must remember that the acceptance is provisional and subject to revision or rejection if further research alters or rejects the findings.
Happily, science is self correcting.
David M. Keranen