Here's to a good time, a good life, and a good death.
When I ask this question, I am referring to proving something in the case of a battle of beliefs or ideas. I am also using the word prove as in the sense of establishing complete certainty as to the validity of some idea. Also for clarification, I am not discussing mathematical proofs.
Let’s return to a format similar to blog post 1 and discuss a sort of technical framework as to how individuals interact within their environments, holding time constant.
So, at any one singular point in time, let’s say an interactive human agent (person) faces different competing choices or options. These choices are bundled in what we call “option sets” that differ between individuals. Generally speaking, talent, money, various forms of success, and other power-granting attributes grant individuals larger “option sets” although this is not always the case. This is because those conventional forms of success allow for enhanced means of achieving certain ends, such as acquiring money. Now, holding to our classical economic assumptions of human nature, we assume that most often individuals will choose to the option that most benefits themselves. Now, let’s move the analysis further. Although individuals face option sets, there are also corresponding probabilities to the outcomes associated with the respective options.
For instance, person A must make a decision with potential options X(P1), Y(P2), and Z(P3) with a goal of optimizing some variable, where P = some probability of accomplished satisfaction. To make it easier, let’s say you are driving through an area and you are hungry. You decide to purchase food at a nearby restaurant with the goal of satisfying your hunger. There is a Wendy’s, Taco Bell, and Chicfila restaurant all within trivially close distances. Which do you choose? My approach argues that you choose the location that has the relatively higher probability of satisfying your condition, your hunger. The most important characteristic of this fluid framework is that all the probabilities must add up to 1 (this is inherent to probability). But what that means is that with the introduction of alternative options, no one option has full probability, since zero probability is, in fact, no probability, therefore nullifying the alternative option from the original equation.
Here are the assumptions laid out:
1) Individuals face bundled option sets containing varying alternative choices that each contain respective probabilities towards achieving some desired outcome.
2) All probabilities must add up to 1.
3) Each choice must carry a probability greater than 0, or else that option would never enter the equation in the first place.
Now this is a highly simplified form of what actually all goes in to a decision-making process, there are far more factors and probabilities that actually way in. But I’m more interested in getting the structured way of thinking regarding considering corresponding probabilities facing each future outcome.
So the question we are interested in has to do with certainty, the human cousin of probability. Essentially, probability is the quantified, measurable aspect of uncertainty. Are there any circumstances where decision-making involves no uncertainty? Well, can an individual fully control any set of circumstances so as to completely influence the outcome in whatever desired way? If we could, this world wouldn’t be nearly as exciting, but anyhow we are gonna go with a reasonable no. I mean God is an illusory concept for a reason, because all-powerfulness cannot be achieved by any human (at least at this stage of the game). Again though, this is not to say that conventional success cannot mitigate some of the uncertainty. We are simply saying that some degree of probability exists in every decision function, and therefore, there is no absolute certainty.
Now one may move on ahead to consider different “facts of life” so to speak. They may say well there are certainties in life, such as that every human will die. Firstly, to use this death fact as an example, the problem with this criticism is that it is not actually a criticism. This is because anything that rests with 100% certainty exists outside the decision-based model, as in the above functional forms. Simply there exist no alternative modes or choices. Basically, ultimately you do not choose whether you will die or not, although you may influence when/how/where you die. This is just like you do not control which family you are born into. We can recognize that death and birth are relatively some of the best examples of high percentages of certainty since everyone shares these experiences. As far as the probability of death is concerned, sure right now, this is a factual statement of an extraordinarily high percentage of certainty in terms of history as we know and understand it. But there still exists chances that some humans may one day not die given technological advancement resolves this. Regardless, I think my point has been sufficiently explained. If we can’t assign death with a 100% probability because there is some infinitesimally small chance of approaching longevity, then we are in big trouble to proving anything by the original definition.
Thus, to finally circle back to our original big question, since we seem to be struggling to establish 100% certainty of anything, how do we prove something? Basically, how do we assign 100% certainty to anything?
The answer becomes that in order to reasonably use the word “proof” for useful purposes, we should redefine the meaning of “prove.” If we adjust it to mean that a sufficient threshold of evidence has been presented to cause someone to reasonably believe in the respective idea, we are beginning to advance towards a far more practical definition. Think of blog post 1 again, we see varying degrees of how accurate some idea is based on presented evidence.
For example, many contemporary Christians are familiar with the whole isolated man dilemma. To elaborate, this is the situation in which a man lives his whole life without hearing the “gospel” which is essentially the vital message that holds together the core doctrine of Christianity that orchestrates “salvation from sin.” Skeptics ask Christians, Is this man going to hell if he has not accepted the truth of the gospel in his “heart?” (that last prepositional phrase is because many non-denominational Christians prescribe to the view of the significance of intention).
There are three responses I have seen. The classic Christian response seems to be that “God reveals himself through nature, through his creation. And that simply through this observation, one comes to realize God.” Now that seems like quite the far-fetched probability, but I suppose we’ll let it slide for now. Another response is that every individual faces a chance in his life, in some way, shape, or form, to accept the gospel. I guess the contents of the message may be communicated by any means (verbal, visual, text, possibly dreams). This too seems far-fetched, especially given the relative mass isolation of cultures before the mid 1200-1400s. The final major response is that they are sentenced to hell and its quite the travesty. But hey God is God, the ultimate owner of all, and hence He can do what he wants. Right?*
I show those scenarios because I want to point out how Christians observe creation as sufficient evidence for the existence of God (and somehow subsequently the Gospel). It’s interesting to see what people perceive as “proof” because all too often, someone will disagree. So then what gives validity to a certain amount of evidence becoming proof?
“I will never believe that God plays dice with the universe.”
* One hypothesized response could be that individuals are held responsible to the degree of what they know about God respectively, thus granting a sort of amnesty to all the unexposed souls. Although, I will say I have never heard a Christian defend that argument, though some may make that and defend that.