Wednesday, September 12th, 2018

Proving Anything

I think we are all aware of it though it is not as central in our thinking as it ought to be. The ‘it’ I have in mind is the difficulty, no the impossibility of proving anything absolutely. Even when we say “I am sure, dead sure that…” one can bore holes in the evidence we offer for that about which we claim we are sure.
The rough reality is that proof in the absolute sense is possible in only one area, mathematics, and that is because of the language-game nature of math.

Ponder the sobering supportive words of John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and fellow in Mathematics and the Philosophy of Science at Green Templeton College. Lennox informs,
“In my own field of pure mathematics, ‘proof’ has a rigorous meaning…such mathematically rigorous proof is not available in any other discipline or area of experience, not even in the so-called ‘hard’ sciences.” (In his Gunning for God, 2011, p. 50)
In all other areas of ordinary or academic life we never rise above the level of proof available in that supreme academic discipline of Criminal Law, that is proof beyond a reasonable doubt which means, not proof beyond every single doubt but proof beyond a reasonable doubt, that is, proof that would move a reasonable, rational person, thinking logically, to be convinced about the truthfulness of the case being presented by the prosecution.
(In a civil case the level of proof is slightly less stringent. It is “a preponderance of evidence” which means, on balance, which side has more evidence in its favour.)
Let me introduce you to a series of options that I often use in presentations. If a thing is not impossible it is therefore possible, probable, likely or certain based on the supporting evidence.
We all act on levels of proof in life and the standard is usually proof ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ or to put it another way proof to a high degree of probability.
So, whether it’s an option to cross the road during speeding traffic, marrying someone ‘until death us do part’, planning to go from point A to B via whatever means, we make our decisions based on some degree of probability, decisions based on evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. Never based on absolute certainty because we do not have access to that option except in math.
Thus, in my public lecture ‘The Existence of God: Nature’s Evidence’, I urge that the same yardstick must be applied to our assessment of evidence for the existence of God. Is the evidence adequate to ground belief ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’, is there evidence enough to conclude with a ‘high degree of probability’ that there is a God, is God ‘the best explanation’ for nature and its complexities?


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