Prove it to me!

One of the most common phrases I hear as I talk to students at Harvard University is “Prove it to me!”  Have you ever said this or heard this? Perhaps you personally want 100% certainty before you will believe in God.

Whether this is your own expectation, or that of your friends, there’s an important question to ask: what do you mean by that? That is, what do you mean by “Prove it to me!”? Is the idea mathematical proof? Or scientific proof? Or some other kind of proof?

Once you have a clear definition for “proof,” there’s an important follow-up question: how do you know that’s a reasonable standard for belief? How did you conclude that “proof” is what we need?

These questions lead us into deeper conversation, greater understanding of one another, more respect for how we’ve come to believe what we believe. (I found both of these questions in Greg Koukl’s book Tactics). They communicate an interest in where you’re coming from.

For many people, “proof” seems to mean “100% certainty.” There’s a real problem with that. This is not a word game, but a vital, substantive issue: we don’t have 100% certainty that we need to have 100% certainty. When a proposed standard for knowing something cannot be defended according to its own criteria, then it is a self-refuting position.

What this means is that we should ask our friends who say “Prove it to me!” is, “I will, if you can give me proof – 100% certainty – that I am rationally obligated to prove it to you.”  Once we reject this standard for coming to know something is true, we can have a much more productive conversation.