Recently, on another forum, a person posted asking whether anyone could provide evidence leading to proof of the existence of a spiritual force in their life. I answered the following:
The problem with your question is in the word proof. I do not need to try to answer your question to show that all the evidence in the world may not constitute proof to you if you are not disposed to consider the evidence leading to a proof.
Consider the people who, contrary to the evidence, do not believe:
- that we ever really landed on the Moon
- that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii
- that the supposed link between autism and vaccines is false
- that Napoleon was tall (he was actually 5’7″ which was taller than the average man of his time)
Skeptics are not innocent themselves. They use a variety of techniques in order to appear to be disinterested scientific types. For instance:
- for almost any evidence of divine healing, they need only respond by calling it spontaneous regression or spontaneous healing, etc.
- for almost any weather event, they need only respond by calling it a poorly understood rare weather phenomena
- for almost any apparent alteration of the natural order, they need only respond by saying that the mechanism of this apparent discrepancy will surely be better understood in the future, thus putting off any answer perhaps for centuries
So, I could give you evidence, but I cannot give you evidence that “proves.”
In both of the cases cited above, people will admit to the evidence, they simply disagree with the conclusion.
Disagreement with a conclusion is not necessarily wrong. For instance, in science, all conclusions ought to be tested by a group of peers. Thus, if your peers repeat your experiment but do not get the same results, then it is fully correct to disagree with your conclusion. Alternatively, another researcher may posit a different pathway to explain your evidence. In this case the disagreement is not wrong, but competing experiments should be set up by a peer group in order to try to ascertain which of the two conclusions, if either, is correct.
Disagreement with a conclusion is also not wrong in the social arena if you can show that the observations have been given a mistaken interpretation. For instance, let us imagine that you go to a part of the USA in which you observe people sticking what looks like meat hooks into someone’s back and hoisting them in the air. You are aghast and sickened by the torture of a fellow human being. That is, until you find out that this is a religious ceremony and that the person being hoisted has given their full consent and does not wish to come off of the hooks. You realize that you have drawn a mistaken conclusion and that your interpretation was inaccurate.
But, the problem is that we have often taken legitimate disagreement and mixed it up with inappropriate disagreement. Or, another way to say it is that we use legitimate disagreement to justify our inappropriate disagreement. What do I mean?
We often are not rigorous about checking into the evidence. We will read an article, or catch a “news” program, or hear someone make a claim. Now, there is nothing wrong with initially believing a normally reliable source. But, what do you do when you hear a disagreement about the evidence? What we all ought to do is to stop and check out why two different conclusions are made. Is it a difference in wording? Is one clearly right and the other clearly wrong? Are both drawing wrong conclusions? What additional evidence may I need in order to see which conclusion is more correct? Is there some evidence twisting that is going on? And so on and so on.
All too often, we tend to shortcut the process inappropriately. You like one person and do not like the other, so you go with the person you like. One person supports your prior beliefs, the other one does not, so you go with the person who supports your beliefs, and so on. Frankly, most often there is no problem in taking a shortcut. It is impossible for us to check out the evidence on everything. Shortcuts are helpful ways to organize our mind and our beliefs quickly without having to “reinvent the wheel.”
But, on important issues, in which the disagreement is important, we need to stop using shortcuts and dig into the evidence. On serious matters of the faith, on serious matters of the future of our country, on serious matters of politics [yes, they do exist], on serious social issues, etc., we need to take the time to examine the evidence and to consider different viewpoints in order to reach a supportable conclusion. At those times, it is often not appropriate to simply say, “well because XX XX said so.” Too much of that is going on today in our country.
And, so, I urge you to think. I urge you to look at the evidence. Go ahead and shortcut think when it is appropriate. But, on important issues, make sure you consider the evidence, that you consider alternate explanations, that you be ready to support your opinion with something more than that you support that conclusion because you do. Pray, think, consider, evaluate, draw your conclusion.