Proof and Convincement.

March 22, 2006

I just started a great book. “What we believe but cannot prove.” Which is a compilation of responses from the some of the world’s greatest thinkers to the question “What do you believe is true but cannot prove?” I’ve often thought of this question myself as well as the sometimes more important question of “At what point in an argument or conversation does a concept pass from being unproved into being proved?” Or “Is proof and truth the same thing?” Or “If I convince someone of something as being true, is that dissimilar to proving to someone something?”

For instance, take Intelligent Design. To most scientists it is an established fact that we evolved through a cumulative process we label as “Darwinian natural selection.” To them, it has been proven. It has passed… for the most part.. the scientific method. They have reviewed an abundance of evidence, seen the results of countless evolutionary experiments, and after much hypothesizing, theorizing and concluding “Darwinian natural selection” is proven. Or should I say, “they are convinced that Darwinian natural selection is the truth.” But give all the same information to someone who already believes that Intelligent Design is “the truth” and have them go through the same scientific process and they, most often, not be convinced. But.. but.. natural selection has already been proven! Hasn’t it? Well, not to the ID’er. Or to the creationist or to the wiccan or pagan. I’m not saying non-scientists are incapable of recognizing the truth which “proofs” elegantly reveal, nor am I saying that the scientific method is inadequate in finding truth. What I am saying is that “proof” and “truth” might be, MIGHT BE, unconnected.

Con Artists and Magicians use intelligent logical puzzels to reveal a false truth. To the mentally untrained, the quarter really did disappear. They are convinced of it’s extinction. Some people, like those fooled by the magicians coin trick, may have very low standards of proof; standards which reveal truth to them. To them, they need only a singular example of a quarter disappearing to believe that quarters can disappear. To a mathematician, he/she/ze will need an abundance of statistical data. To the religious zealot, it may only require divine doctrine. Not only is our criteria for proof different from person to person, it’s type is different, it’s magnitude as well. For me, I have faith in the scientific method as one of a few ways of finding and revealing the truths of nature. For my father, perhaps, it is not enough. He made need scientific evidence as well as spiritual evidence in order for him to recognize something as proven. Which brings me back to the original question “What do you believe is true but cannot prove?”

Well, I have been convinced that 1+1 = 2. I have been convinced that Darwinian natural selection truly is how humankind came into existence. To me, those things have been proven to be true. And maybe I can prove it to be true if your standard of proof is low enough!

By the way, I’ve started a new painting. Unfortunately, I won’t be making my own paints just yet.

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