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Tuesday, February 02, 2016

The Problem of Proof

That's something solid, determined, clear. Proof. It isn't an argument; it is ... proof. It's not evidence; it is evidence and argument that convinces.

And therein lies the problem. The dictionary defines the word as "the cogency of evidence that compels acceptance by the mind of a truth or a fact". That sounds pretty settled. Except it does not offer a standard of "compels acceptance by the mind." Consider the current debate between rapper B.o.B. and Neil deGrasse Tyson. B.o.B. insists that the earth is flat. Look at any picture with a horizon. It is flat. Proof! Now, you can cite evidence, say, of photographs from space or even aircraft that have flown around the world. You can challenge him to feel free to fly out to the edge and see what he finds. But it doesn't matter. He has proof.

Oddly enough, this proof ("the cogency of evidence that compels acceptance by the mind") does not convince Tyson ... or any other educated, thinking person. Conversely, no amount of proof ("the cogency of evidence that compels acceptance by the mind") that the Earth is round is convincing B.o.B. So ... where's your proof?

This is a silly argument, to be sure, but the problem of proof is not. You might be asked more seriously to "prove that marriage is the union of a man and a woman" or to "prove that Jesus died for our sins" or to "prove that Christianity is true." Kant wrote the famous Critique of Pure Reason, arguing that God's existence cannot be proven by reason. He went on to argue that there must be a God if morality is to make any sense. The problem of proof.

You see, just as there is none so blind as those who will not see, there is no proof for those will not be convinced. It would seem like evidence and reason should be suitable means of proof, but you know that's not the case. It is entirely possible, for instance, to blind someone to good arguments and evidence by making the truth feel bad. For instance, the Bible clearly makes the case that homosexual behavior is sin, but large and growing numbers of people reject that not because the case is not in there, but because they feel bad about it. How many people have you heard of that changed their position on that fact when they were faced with a family member who announced they were "gay"? That's not evidence or argument, but it compelled acceptance by the mind.

There are a lot of factors that go into what we believe. Family, upbringing, environment, friends, life circumstances, teachers, pastors, the media ... on and on and on. We like to believe that what we believe is "proven" and those who disagree have failed to meet the standard of "proof". But Scripture warns of "foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not, who have ears, but hear not." (Jer 5:21) Absence of agreement with something is not lack of evidence or reason. It is simply the mind's unwillingness, for whatever reason, to accept the position. So when you hear, "You failed to prove your position", it feels deadly. Take heart. "Proof" is relative.


Bob said...

Ravi zacherias once said "Intent always proceeds content"
if we are not sincere in our intention to discover the truth, it matters not what the content may be. how often i have caught myself seeking out scripture verses to support my view. was i being sincere in my intention?

Stan said...

I've heard Ravi many times before, but never heard that one. So true.

Alec said...

The amount of social pressure being put on Evangelicals (whoever they are) to believe in geocentricity/flat earth is significant. I've heard two theories about this. They both may be wrong or right. I don't know.

1. It's a means to make Christians look like idiots and further alienate them from people who "believe in science".

2. It's being put forward by the Roman Catholic Church as a means to show Protestants that they were "right all along".

Flat-earthism is patently absurd and without any scientific proof. What's interesting is how many people who should know better have fallen for the "street cred" being put forth by people on youtube and social media.

If supposed Christians can fall for this, what else will they believe?

Stan said...

There is pressure for Christians to believe in geocentricity and a flat earth? I wasn't aware of that. Worse, those who argue that Christians have always argued for it are arguing up a false tree, so to speak. The whole "geocentrism and flat earth thing is a lie. The Church did not argue against it. Columbus did not sail to the "West Indies" to prove the Earth was round against public opinion. But since the lie has been told, it is now truth. "I saw it in the Internet. It must be true." Sigh.

Bob said...

we live in a 3D world but we see height width and dept, but we see distance with respect to size. as the ball moves away it appears to shrink. where as if the ball were to grow in size as it moved away, it would appear to remain in the same place. this is why the world is actually flat. it only appears round. hey look i can spin my head around...

Stan said...

Well, I'm convinced!

Alec said...

I rest my case.