What is Evidence in Both a 'Religious' and 'Non-Religious' Context?: A Speculative Essay
One issue that continues to occupy a good deal of space and energy on the discussion forums, here at HubPages, is the idea of 'evidence' or 'proof,' specifically directed spiritual matters---the existence of God, not the least of these. But what constitute 'evidence' or 'proof' more generally, extending beyond religion? By extension, I suppose, we're also talking about what makes a strong argument, or, for that matter, a proper argument at all.
When dealing with seemingly hopeless abstract questions like this, I like to start with first principles. I don't mean anything fancy by that; I just mean that we should use as a model a known scenario in which 'proof' or 'evidence' is actually, concretely operative.
What constitutes 'proof' on the movie and television mystery/crime detection/police procedural shows, both scripted and supposedly 'reality'-based, as far as the average member of the public can discern?
By thinking carefully about what investigators seem to regard as 'proof,' resulting in a prosecution-ready case that the DA can... well, prosecute, we might be able to apply that formula to religion or anything else to make a determination about the factors, the 'knowns' we would need to be able to even intelligently investigate such question like: Does God exist? and the like.
Take one of those police procedural/crime detection shows on television---any one, it doesn't matter.
Someone has been murdered. The body is sprawled out at the crime scene. Detectives are called in to investigate. They want to find out who killed the victim, and possibly the 'why' as well. In order to be able to present the strongest possible, prosecution-ready case to the District Attorney, the investigators need to put together a package of: motive, means, and opportunity, so I understand.
It is all three factors which presents the DA with the case they believe will be the most 'provable.' In other words, the authorities are looking to put together a 'picture,' and present it to a jury.
The detectives go in and conduct interviews with anybody they can find, who have anything whatsoever to do with the case, the victim: friends, family, relatives, acquaintances, co-workers, boyfriends/girlfriends, wives, husbands, children, adversaries, potential witnesses, and the like.
The results of these interviews, by themselves, are understood to NOT be 'proof' of anything. Its just what people say and say that they think they saw and heard (as you may have heard, so-called 'eye witness' reports are notoriously unreliable).
In fact, it is physical evidence that is needed to 'prove' the validity of what interviewees has told investigators.
Note this: The investigation into the crime, which is looking for 'proof' of who did it and why, begins with statements from interviewees that cannot be taken at face value, but which, themselves must be PROVED with some physical evidence.
Investigators need more. The appropriate personnel conduct forensic studies of both the crime scene and the body. (It would be nice to get some DNA, which is on a database, and nice, clear fingerprints, or something like that).
Hopefully, the forensics either lead them to a suspect or suspects; and/or help them narrow down and concentrate the list of viable suspects.
Investigators interview these suspects with the aim of either 'eliminating' them or 'poking holes' in their 'alibis,' yes?
And so on and so forth. If the crime turns out to have been a conspiratorial, murder-for-hire operation, then it would be appropriate, I would think, for investigators to get hold of financial records of their suspects.
Finally, it would be a nice cherry on top if investigators could get a 'confession' out of the suspect or suspects.
So, that, roughly, is the package of 'motive,' 'means,' and 'opportunity,' which gives the DA the most 'provable' case, presumably. The 'proof,' then, is not one or another factor; it is all of the necessary factors taken together as a whole, which constitutes 'the evidence.'
As a matter of fact, there is also a standard of 'proof' in journalism. Remember this formula: Who, What, Where, How, and Why? It is all five of those factors, taken together, that a story needs to be considered a suitably strong story, along with the appropriate verifications in triplicate, and all that good stuff.
Now then, if we all agree to the discussion above, we can acknowledge that certain things follow from all this.
How would we prove the existence of God?
Well, if we suspect that there is a God, and that, furthermore, He/She/It 'created' all life, including ourselves, humans, then the thing to do (as in a homicide investigation) would be to start with ourselves.
This would be a reverse-homicide investigation, of course, on the biggest possible scale. As in the typical homicide investigation, we would be looking for motive, means, and opportunity, which concretize around a 'suspect.'
But how could we begin to identify a 'motive' of our 'creation.' When police investigate a homicide, there is a body. Depending on where the crime took place, there are things they can look for to give them an idea about whether or not robbery was the motive. Was it a sexual attack ending in homicide? Was this a 'hate crime'?
They can look at the condition of the body. Was the guy stabbed nine-hundred-thirty-four times, meaning that real personal animus was involved? And so on and so forth.
Now then, in trying to investigate the case of allegedly 'created' human life, in this reverse-homicide inquiry of ours, we would have to be able to discern things about the motive for our appearance in the universe, based on the normal physical and mental constitution and functioning of the human organism.
How would we begin to do that? We do not even have any precedent available to tell us what kind of factors we should look for, which would be indicative of 'divine creation.' That is to say, we do not even 'know' of anything that has been divinely or at least nor-Earthily 'created,' so that we could pick up factors with which to work. Follow me?
Next we come to means. The issue is: How did the 'suspect' bring us into existence? Did 'he' snap his fingers? Did he form sand figures and 'blow' life into them? What?
Mind you, Christian tradition would have it that 'God' merely needed to create the First Man and Woman, after which 'He' established the biological reproduction of the species with which we are so familiar today.
This presents us with a problem, doesn't it? How should such a 'forensic' investigation proceed? We are no longer dealing with animated sand, are we? Examination of the biological process of reproduction would not be fruitful since nobody regards that, in and of itself, as evidence of 'divine creation.'
I suppose the thing to do would be to try to 'prove' that sand can be animated into sentient life. As you all well know, a lot of our fairy tales and science fiction/fantasy involves precisely that idea. The old man prays that his wooden doll would be transformed into a 'real boy' (Pinocchio). We dream of making artificial intelligence more and more 'life-like' (I, Robot, and the like). And so on and so forth.
In any event, to return to our meditation: If we were to try to show that sand could be animated, we are making the assumption that such a process is, somehow, duplicable. You know something, I find that I cannot help but think of the Greek myth of Prometheus. Prometheus stole fire from Olympus and shared the secret with humankind, for which Zeus punished him most cruelly, until Hercules rescued him.
If we were to take the Prometheus myth as a model, then it would mean that, in our investigation into the means of our 'creation,' we would have to hope for an 'informant.' But to hope for the appearance of an 'informant,' would be to presume the existence of 'Heaven,' or something like that, which would pre-suppose the existence of a 'God' who was running the place, against whom the 'informant' would inform. Follow me? The appearance of an 'informant' would be, in itself, 'miraculous;' if we could, somehow, determine that the being was not only non-Earthly but, I suppose, 'non-mortal,' whatever that means....
And so on and so forth, ad infinitum.
In a straight homicide investigation, the coroner determines the approximate time of death, and this comprises the 'window' within which the murder was most probably committed. The idea is to determine which of the suspects can either be 'placed on the scene' during that time, or whose alibi is particularly shaky for that period of time.
How do we make a determination about the 'window of time' within which we were 'created'? But, you know something, even asking this question presumes the existence of two or more 'suspects,' whose movements and activities we're trying to 'account for,' one way or another...
Hey, I just thought of something! Wouldn't that make a cute fantasy story or book? Which one of you celestials created humankind? 'Nobody knows nothing;' and some 'investigator' or group of 'investigators' have to 'prove' which one of 'them' 'did it.' It would be the strangest 'paternity'/'maternity' inquiry ever seen.
Thank you so much for reading!
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This piece will be a short meditation on "logic," including a critical analysis of the use of language.
These reflections are offered in response to a question posed by hubber Grace Marguerite Williams.
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