What Is "Proof"? (Nihilists Welcome)
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24-07-2013, 05:54 PM (This post was last modified: 24-07-2013 06:06 PM by Hafnof.)
RE: What Is "Proof"? (Nihilists Welcome)
I'll take a scientific approach rather than a mathematical or philosophical approach:

1. A successful experiment is an algorithm that results in a final true state or final false state.
2. A falsifiable prediction is a prediction of a true outcome for a given successful experiment
3. A hypothesis is an idea with that makes a non-null set of falsifiable predictions
4. A true hypothesis is hypothesis whose falsifiable predictions are unerringly true
5. For any true hypothesis with a sufficiently large set of predictions it is infeasible or impossible to verify that it is true, however a hypothesis that makes any false prediction is false.
6. Therefore, we can prove that false hypotheses are false but we cannot prove that true hypotheses are true.
7. Moreover, for any true hypothesis there exists an infinite number of false hypotheses that produce the set of predictions we have been able to verify to date. For every true hypothesis there is an infinite number of false hypotheses that cannot be disregarded based on the experiments performed to date.
8. Therefore, we must chose which unfalsified hypotheses we invest time into and which we rely on. We typically do this in the following ways:
8a. We choose the simplest hypothesis that explains the facts as the most credible unfalsified hypothesis (Occam's razor)
8b. When two or more alternative hypotheses are similarly likely we seek to identify predictions or further clarify hypotheses to make predictions that differ from each other, which will allow us to rule out one set of hypotheses.
8c. When the prediction of a hypothesis fails we first verify that the prediction is a valid conclusion of the hypothesis, then determine whether the hypothesis can be modified to fit the prediction, then determine whether to discard the hypothesis or move forward with a modified version.

So in summary under this model we cannot prove something true but we can prove something false, and the provisionally true hypotheses we are working with are good enough for a wide range of engineering applications. Moreover, this method guides us to ask questions we would not otherwise have asked and find answers we would not otherwise have found. It provides a structured framework for increasing the set of very reliable provisionally true hypotheses, and thus our "knowledge" as a species. It is independent of any materialist philosophy and relies on few assumptions about the universe or our place in it. It can be applied at any level of abstraction and will produce reliable "knowledge" about our universe even if our universe is a computer simulation, and about the universe outside our universe if any information about that "outside" were to be subject to possible successful experimentation.

Give me your argument in the form of a published paper, and then we can start to talk.
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24-07-2013, 06:55 PM (This post was last modified: 24-07-2013 07:07 PM by Stevil.)
RE: What Is "Proof"? (Nihilists Welcome)
(23-07-2013 03:14 AM)Dark Light Wrote:  The majority of Atheists, in the context of religious debate, require proof of something for belief. That is an over-simplification of course, and people misuse the word "proof" perhaps to mean sufficient or reasonable data, but those are all very relative terms. What is sufficient data to one person isn't nearly enough for another.
That leads to the question, what is "proof"? What qualifications must an idea meet before it is "proven"? There are a few nihilists wandering about the forums, most notably, Girly. Nihilists would say that no thing can ever really be proven.
With 100% certainty, we can only really disprove something rather than prove something.
If all evidence is consistent with a theory or model then that only tells us that the model is plausible given current data and knowledge.

My personal criteria for evidence is that the evidence must show some distinction between truth and non truth, between one theory and another.
For example,
Someone submits that the following should be considered evidence for Jesus existence.
1. "Paul wrote about Jesus"
Now Paul could have written about a fictional character, a mythical character, a composite person, an imaginary person (as in the case of what a schizophrenic might imagine) etc.
Thus this proposed evidence isn't really evidence at all. It is merely a statement.
Someone submits that the following should be considered evidence against Jesus existence.
2. "Paul didn't write anything about Jesus until decades after Jesus' alleged death"
Paul could have written about a real person decades after their death.
Thus this proposed evidence isn't evidence but is merely a statement.
Someone submits that the following should be considered evidence against the accuracy of details of Jesus' life as written by Paul.
3. "Paul didn't write anything about Jesus until decades after Jesus' alleged death"
Given some statistical analysis and research in support of this evidence it could be shown that people's memories are less reliable on their accounts of events over time since the event was witnessed, with the time period of a decade being significant with regards to reliability in the accuracy of that account.
Thus the length of time since Jesus death becomes a distinguishing factor as regards to the accuracy of claims of the event, thus this statement does distinguish between truth and non truth thus it is more than a statement, it is actually evidence.
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24-07-2013, 07:30 PM
RE: What Is "Proof"? (Nihilists Welcome)
Dammit Hafnof, this is the philosophy section!

@ Stevil, I would say that Paul's writings IS evidence. It was accepted as truth by many of his contemporaries, which does lead some credence to his claims of Jesus existence. Now, it is far from fact, but it is evidence. We know that other historical figures existed because of the writings of others. The amount of writings by the number of people is the biggest difference between Jesus and Alexander the Great, for example. Paul's writings may or may not be enough to convince the overwhelming majority of academia, but it is evidence nonetheless.

I'd still like to here from a self-proclaimed nihilist on my thoughts on 'proof of something'.

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24-07-2013, 07:46 PM (This post was last modified: 24-07-2013 07:50 PM by Stevil.)
RE: What Is "Proof"? (Nihilists Welcome)
(24-07-2013 07:30 PM)Dark Light Wrote:  @ Stevil, I would say that Paul's writings IS evidence. It was accepted as truth by many of his contemporaries, which does lead some credence to his claims of Jesus existence. Now, it is far from fact, but it is evidence. We know that other historical figures existed because of the writings of others. The amount of writings by the number of people is the biggest difference between Jesus and Alexander the Great, for example. Paul's writings may or may not be enough to convince the overwhelming majority of academia, but it is evidence nonetheless.
You and me have different ideas of evidence, so I am not engaging in an argument with you here, just merely expressing my differing view.
I could write about how great and perfect god is and no doubt many Christian's will accept my statements as truth. This does not help to distinguish whether god is great and perfect or not, nor even if god exists or not. My writings about how great and perfect god is would thus be mere ramblings rather than evidence of god's existence.
With regards to the writings of others, or a collection of writing by different authors about a particular person or character. This coordination of writings about a character does not distinguish whether that character is real or not. There are many people whom have written about King Arthur and Merlin, many tales of Bigfoot, many tales of ghosts and aliens. People can equally coordinate themselves to write about real or fictional characters thus in my opinion this coordination of writing does not mean that we have evidence with regards to the existence of the character being written about.

BTW I am a nihilist, well, definitely a moral nihilist but probably an outright nihilist, I haven't thought about the distinction.
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24-07-2013, 09:38 PM
RE: What Is "Proof"? (Nihilists Welcome)
Think of it a bit like a court case. An eyewitness' testimony is admissible evidence in a court of law. The witness can be flat out wrong, lying, have some sort of hallucination or whatever. The witnesses statement alone is probably not enough to put someone behind bars, but it is evidence. Now suppose that there are 1,000+ eyewitnesses with no other evidence. That is probably enough to get a guilty verdict.

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24-07-2013, 10:25 PM (This post was last modified: 24-07-2013 10:28 PM by Stevil.)
RE: What Is "Proof"? (Nihilists Welcome)
(24-07-2013 09:38 PM)Dark Light Wrote:  Think of it a bit like a court case. An eyewitness' testimony is admissible evidence in a court of law. The witness can be flat out wrong, lying, have some sort of hallucination or whatever. The witnesses statement alone is probably not enough to put someone behind bars, but it is evidence. Now suppose that there are 1,000+ eyewitnesses with no other evidence. That is probably enough to get a guilty verdict.
I'd agree that an eye witness testimony would be considered as evidence. An eye witness account could be used to distinguish between truth and non truth, because the eye witness claims (hand on heart) to have seen the truth which is contrary to the non truth.
The assumption would have to be made that the eye witness is not telling a lie though.
It is often difficult to distinguish between a person telling a lie and a person telling the truth, so the evidence of one eye witness can be very weak and hence is prone to being disguarded if the person has a history of lying or has been suspected to be under the influence of drugs, or coercion or has anything to gain from the outcome of the testimony. Even then it is still possible that a seemingling squeaky clean witness is lying.
If there are multiple eye witnesses then it is possible to derive a stronger standard of evidence by separating them and getting them to give a detailed account of the event, ensuring that the accounts are not contradictory and are not merely a single memorised story repeated from different people.

With regards to Paul's account of Jesus this is much, much weaker than a single solitary eye witness. Paul never claimed in his writings to be an eye witness. So what are his stories based on? His imagination? If he gained knowledge from interviewing people whom personally knew Jesus then he never disclosed his sources, he never included a bynote written by any of his sources accepting that his account is true and accurate. His road to Damascus vision isn't an eye witness account either, it is a personal experience which is indistinguishable from a hallucination, thus not evidence either.
So personally I don't see Paul's writings to be evidence of Jesus' existence and it can't be said that his writings are substantiated by other people's writings (as none of these authors are eye witnesses) nor substantiated by contemporaries acceptance of his stories as truth (because acceptance of a story does not equate to evidence of a story).
I doubt that a lawyer would put Paul up on the stand (and I doubt that a judge would permit it) to testify for Jesus existence, unless of course Paul would claim under oath to either being an eye witness or having interviewed eye witnesses. Is there precedent for a court allowing a person to testify about a vision that they had?
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24-07-2013, 11:35 PM
RE: What Is "Proof"? (Nihilists Welcome)
I don't think you get proof, you can have evidence.

What's Nihilism got to do with it?
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25-07-2013, 01:06 AM
RE: What Is "Proof"? (Nihilists Welcome)
Thanks for your in depth reply Stevil. You make a good argument. Having heard your argument, from a legal standpoint, I would say that it is probably inadmissible evidence, which is to say very weak, unsubstantiated evidence (pending Paul's claims on how he obtained the knowledge). However, if I were to meet Paul, and I asked him whence his information came from, he wouldn't likely say "Uh, I dunno, just made it up". He would say, Oh, Steve's grandpa met him, or my neighbor's wife's uncle knew him, or the village elders meet him or whatever the case may be. He may even claim that he spoke with an angel or God (sorry, don't know the Bible). Whatever the case, I think it IS evidence, no matter how weak. Worthy of serious consideration? Maybe not. Evidence? Methinks yes.

Whatever your (not Stevil per se) verdict, it is, for the purposes of this thread unimportant to define what the minimum is when considering what is evidence. The real question is, when, if ever, does something go from being evidence to being absolute proof.

@Gallstones,
Nihilists claim there is no "proof". Nothing which we can know with certainty. I, personally believe that at the very least, because I am, there is proof that "something" exists. I would even make the argument that I know that I exist, but there is some room for debate there, which is what I was thinking about when the idea that spawned this thread came into existence.

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25-07-2013, 04:41 AM
RE: What Is "Proof"? (Nihilists Welcome)
Chas, Cljr, and revenentx. Are the proof police, and like most people that are so voracious for proof will deny that they operate on faith. People that demand proof of every inch of every sentence of every paragraph means that proof for them is a goal post on wheels and this demand for proof is a game to enforce already held ideas, and not out of a genuine curiosity of whether or not proof can prove something.

Example:
1. I posted several mainstream news reports of John McCain visiting rebel groups in Syria and these news reports reported that some of these leaders were known terrorists.

2. John McCain releases statements that he indeed meet with those leaders, but claims he never knew that they were terrorists.

3. The same news sources also state that the rebel leaders/ terrorists and McCain discussed logistics of support and funding in the future.

4. This was right before Obama comes out in public admitting that the U.S. is and will continue fund and arm "rebels".


None of the sources and none of the claims in the news sources were challenged or denied by cljr, yet STILL HE SAID THAT WASN'T ENOUGH EVIDENCE.

And if you ever ask someone like I asked Cljr and others before what exactly is enough evidence to change some one and you don't get an answer then you are dealing with a bullshitter that isn't concerned with evidence and operates on faith.
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25-07-2013, 07:14 AM
RE: What Is "Proof"? (Nihilists Welcome)
(25-07-2013 04:41 AM)I and I Wrote:  And if you ever ask someone like I asked Cljr and others before what exactly is enough evidence to change some one and you don't get an answer then you are dealing with a bullshitter that isn't concerned with evidence and operates on faith.

I and I, lrn2criticize. You are typically the one making a positive claim against widely-accepted views or opinions, so the burden is on you.

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