Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Can Anything Be Proven?

I was taken to task recently for presenting what I have to say in too much of an authoritative tone.  It was suggested that I not attempt to offer my thoughts on various theological questions as "proofs" inasmuch as they may not be provable and that suggesting otherwise could compromise my credibility (assuming I have any to begin with) on these topics.  In hunting around for people who really do have the proper credentials to address this question I came across this video from another of my favorite theological philosophers William Lane Craig.  Here's what he had to say about the need/concept of proof:

I think his point is well taken.  There is no need to demonstrate an argument with mathematical precision for it to be valid and powerful.  In truth, the more you even push mathematical truths the more difficult it becomes to actually prove them.  From what I understand, though it seems pretty obvious, there isn't any actual proof for the premise that 1+1=2 inasmuch as it's based on axioms which are definitionally unprovable.  Pushing things even further, it's also not possible to prove that what we perceive with our brains is reliable and accurate - effectively calling into question (from an absolute proof perspective) all that we understand and believe - literally.

Therefore, inasmuch as we need to live and function in this world, we need to decide to be ok with our lack of proof.  When we cross the street, it's considered a reasonable precaution to look left, right and left again. No one attempts to produce a formal, mathematical demonstration before taking on the risks of the crossing. We also need not concern ourselves with wonder over whether or not the people who we believe to be our parents truly are or if the sun will rise tomorrow morning.  All that's needed is a coherent argument in its favor.

My general approach to God and Torah is the same - it's not a matter of scientific proof.  A better analogy would be that of a jury hearing the evidence from a civil trial.  No one in the jury was there.  They're doing their best, based on the cognitive skills they have and the evidence that's presented to reach the correct conclusion.  Post deliberation, a decision must be made.  I believe the the preponderance of evidence rests with the position of the classical theist - others do not.  Neither of us has (ultimate) proof but each of us must act based on the conclusions we draw and those actions have significant ramifications for us - both as individuals and societally.

"Just because an idea is true doesn't mean it can be proved.  And just because an idea can be proved doesn't mean it's true."

- Jonah Lehrer

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