The Nature of Evidence and Proof

Evidence...

Do you see what I see?You hear that term a lot when browsing the paranormal online community. Its a term that decries proof positive of the paranormal in many groups, but the issue arises over the nature of such evidence… and in fact, the nature of what ‘evidence’ is itself.

So let’s have a look at the term ‘evidence’ and what it actually means. As a noun, the Oxford English Dictionary defines the term as: “…the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid.” In law, evidence is split between demonstrative evidence, documentary evidence, testimonial evidence and real evidenceDemonstrative evidence involves the showing of evidence that illustrates a proposal or theory, such as photographs of events, injuries etc or representations of collated data. Documentary evidence, as you may imagine, takes the form of documentation that illustrates a proposal or theory. Testimonial evidence involves the oral telling of information that illustrates a proposal or theory. Real evidence involves material evidence such as an object, tape recording, photograph etc that proves without a doubt a proposal or theory.

In science, evidence is used to either support or disprove a scientific theory or hypothesis. This evidence is expected to be demonstrable through the Scientific Method and is expected to be backed up by empirical data.  

So is there a difference between proof and evidence?

Yes there is, and a big difference. This is something that has been pointed out by OWNE investigator Lee Munro on a number of occasions, who argues that for the most part due to the methodologies used (or lack thereof) by most groups the term ‘proof’ is a highly misused term.

Proof...

In standard speech, ‘proof’ is something undisputable – a fact. Something that is undeniable and absolute. Evidence provides data toward either supporting or disputing a theory or hypothesis. Evidence is not proof, and proof is not evidence. The terms are not interchangeable, but within most of the paranormal community they have become so.

How often?

So how often do we see a paranormal group’s website or social media feed stating ‘Proof of the Paranormal!’ Usually, this ‘proof’ is a badly recorded sound clip, a light anomaly on video or still, or even better the face or the figure in the fuzzy/blurred image. Based upon the definition above, is this proof? 

At most, such things would be evidence to support a theory or hypothesis, but in most cases the only theory or hypothesis put forward by paranormal/ghost hunting groups is that the afterlife exists. 

So looking at this objectively, can the ‘evidence’ captured by most groups even be classed as such, as how does a light anomaly (for example) or an audio recording (most of the time not filtered for external/contaminating frequencies) support or dispute the theory of an afterlife?

Bring in the Science

So in a field of study, where for the most part little study actually takes place, and research is replaced by adrenalin-based ‘ghost hunting’, can ‘we‘ ever claim evidence or proof, when most in the field do not know how to classify or use either.

The only way to move forward in this is for groups (that wish to be taken seriously) to utilise the Scientific Method in their studies, experiments and fieldwork…. to formulate theories and hypotheses and to gather empirical evidence to gather data to support or reject said theories or hypotheses. This will require a lot of work for the majority of groups – those who wish to class themselves as true investigators (not just ‘in it’ for the fun and entertainment) will need to steep themselves in study, dissect the phenomena they wish to investigate and work out experiments to truly gather data toward questions that need answering – by this, I mean break down elements that can be studied. Do certain phenomena produce temperature fluctuations? Can orbs be created by dust?

A challenge to you (if you're still reading this!)

By now, a lot of the ghost hunting community will have stopped reading. This way – the way to gather evidence is a tough one. It takes hard work, time and some researchers will go their lifetimes without actually recording evidence. The path to recording evidence of a paranormal phenomenon doesn’t lie in fear of the dark. It doesn’t lie in charging a couple of dozen people a small fortune to go on a night’s ghost hunting. It lies in hard work, knowledge of the tools you’re using, knowledge of the environment and the willingness to ask the right questions and find a way to gather evidence to support or reject that question. Don’t ever be afraid to admit you’re wrong

So a challenge to you, next time you read the headline ‘Proof the paranormal exists’: question it. Don’t just accept the fact – question question question!