Of Axioms, Paradigms, and Proof

“Prove it to me” is the mantra of all debate and discussion.  The other side has to prove you are wrong and they are right or you will not change your mind.  But what does it mean to prove something right or wrong?  What does it take to prove anything?  The problem is that what one individual accepts as proof is different from what another individual accepts as proof.  For that matter, often what one person would consider as proof for his own ideas is very different from what he demands of others as proof for their ideas.  Simply put, proof is that which demonstrates that something is true, that is, conforms to reality; but what does it take to do that?

To understand the problem of proof, we need to look at the problem of paradigms, or worldviews that I introduced in my last post.  We all use a set of axioms, fundamental truths that are self-evident, to guide us in deciding what is true.  Since there is no universally accepted set of axioms, we all decide our set based on faith.  These sets of axioms and logical processes are going to give us a criterion for deciding what is true.  Sets of axioms and criteria then forms our paradigm, the framework which we all use to interpret the information we gain through our senses.  The problem is that we all have different sets of axioms leading to different paradigms.  Therefore, we all require different standards of proof.  Evolutionist often say that evolution is obvious for the evidence is everywhere.  They will also say that science, especially biology, cannot be understood apart from the interpretation provided by the paradigm of evolution.  Creationists, on the other hand, will say creation of obvious because the evidence is all around us.  They would argue that science cannot be really understood without the paradigm of creation  providing the means of interpreting our observations.  Not only so, but these two sides are often referring to the same set of data when making their statements.

How, then, do we solve this conundrum?  There is no universally accepted means of evaluating paradigms.  Often debates degrade to each side trying to force their paradigm on the other.  We need to begin by recognizing that this is a problem and that it ultimately involves faith.  As we have seen, faith is the foundation of all knowledge for none of us have seen all things nor can we verify all of our sources nor is there any universally accepted means to do so.  Therefore, we all have to exercise faith to accept things we have not personally seen, even atheists must do this.  The question of truth and proof turns on our paradigms which in turn depends on our faith.  Clearly, though, not all faiths are equally rational. Some faiths can be better supported by what is universally accepted evidence and logic.  Usually faith that produces paradigms that explain the most phenomena the most consistently and make the most accurate predictions are considered more reasonable than faiths that cannot do so as well.  However, even this criteria leads to more debate as to what faiths do produce such paradigms.

All of this leads to the heart of my approach to apologetics.  We can use any of a number of approaches to convince others of the truth of God’s existence and nature because different individuals will have different paradigms and standards of proof.  Laws of logic and evidence, axioms, definitions etc. all help; but ultimately faith must be involved “for without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).  We, therefore, cannot argue a person into salvation nor should our faith be dependent on the wisdom of men (I Corinthians 2:5).  People are convinced of the truth concerning God by the work of God Himself.  God reveals Himself demonstrating His own reality (I Corinthians 2:9-13).  God may, and does, use our various arguments and approaches, but ultimately He works by His Spirit.  This is the wisdom of God (I Corinthians 2:6-8, 13) which is not accepted by the paradigms of the unsaved world (I Corinthians 2:14) and so seems foolish to them (I Corinthians 1:18).  God, in His infinite wisdom, has chosen to work in this way so that He would receive the glory, not our intelligence (I Corinthians 1:21, 25-31).  We therefore need to be humble in our approach relying on the working of God as we seek to glorify Him by displaying His presence in our lives and pointing others to the revelation which He Himself gives giving all the glory to God alone for anything accomplished.

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2 thoughts on “Of Axioms, Paradigms, and Proof

  1. This is brilliant writing. You take a very fair and reasoned approach to the issue, arguing in a way which does not belittle the scientific sceptic. I love your conclusion, putting the whole practice of apologetics in its place. I look forward to your next post!

    Liked by 1 person

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