Proof, Evidence and Reasoning
What we would all like in life is proof; some firm evidence that would confirm to us that our ideas or beliefs are 100% correct …
Or maybe it would work the other way round… perhaps the proof we are given would convince us that our ideas are completely wrong and we would then be compelled to change them!
When you think of the word ‘proof’ – what springs to mind? Maybe your first thought is some kind of evidence that you can see or touch or hear – like a document, a photograph, a video or a sound recording. But as a quick trip to the dictionary reveals, although evidence is indeed what we mostly think of as ‘proof’, proof does not always have to be something tangible …
Proof is … Anything that can make a person believe that a fact or proposition is true or false. [/styledbox] [styledbox type="download" ]
‘No proof in science’
Did you know … scientists prefer not to talk about ‘proof’ at all. They say it’s better to talk about evidence – and if the evidence really stacks up to support a claim, then we can be (reasonably) confident the claim is true. They say (be warned) you can never ever ever really ‘PROVE’ anything in science at all!
With maths, it’s a different story and mathematicians consider that a ‘mathematical proof’ is a very fine thing indeed.
Reasoning in Science
In science, the reasoning that scientists give for their theories is focused on evidence. Evidence is collected through observations and, sometimes, by doing experiments. This evidence is used to build up and support ideas (or hypotheses) which help to explain how something works.
A special feature of science is that, as new ideas and evidence comes along, theories change and are either replaced with new ones or become better or more ‘robust’.
Scientists share their ideas and reasoning in special journals. Getting an article published involves other scientists checking how reliable the evidence is and if the conclusions and ideas make sense. This is called peer review.
Reasoning in Religion
Unlike reasoning in science, reasoning in religion is often based on things that can’t easily be measured and that can be very personal. Scholars working in particular religious traditions often study religious testimony and then use historical methods to look for further evidences or writing from the time to help them to build up a case to argue for a particular idea. Some people have ‘religious experiences’ which they say are a type of evidence and these help to strengthen their faith and belief in a specific religion. Some people criticise this kind of reasoning because it deals with evidence that can’t be measured or tested, while others argue that it is impossible to test every belief we hold using scientific methods and that this kind of thinking is part of being human.
What other reasons can there be for accepting that something is real?
In this video, a university scholar, Paul Hopkins, ponders just how much evidence we do need in practice to accept that something exists – and notices that provided there is no reason to reject an idea, people seem happy to accept that things exist, even if they haven’t seen the evidence for themselves. After that, Professor Sir Colin Humphreys, a Christian and a scientist, acknowledges that we cannot prove the existence of God. Even so he is convinced that God does exist – so why? What’s the basis of his certainty?