Bigger-Picture

Windows on the world

Essays


Proof of the Pudding


We all have our own personal belief-system, carefully honed over many years of reading, studying and living. But try sharing it with someone else and the blunt rejoinder is likely to be: "Can you prove it?" Attempting to prove it is often not helpful to either party, and I would like to suggest an alternative response.

Question of proof

First of all, what do we mean by proof? Scientific theories are usually presented as facts, and we do not ask for proof because we stand in awe of science. The moon is so many miles distant from the earth. Wow! But science is constantly modifying its pronouncements without ever admitting that the last lot were inaccurate. Taking on board the scientific claims on diet and life style over the last fifty years would have involved a bewildering number of U-turns. Religion offers similar statements in the name of god, but god usually changes his mind (slavery, womenís rights, homosexuality etc.) shortly after the changes are reflected in society.

I am not being critical of men of science or men of god, just trying to say that our own personal beliefs might be equally valid without any onus of proof. In fact, we live our lives not according to proven facts but in line with expected probabilities. We might not live to benefit from them but we take out pension schemes on the probability that we will. We dedicate a large part of our lives to an imagined future without any prior thought of seeking proof. So when it comes to spiritual beliefs, forget proof and start talking probabilities.

Proof or probability?

The most fundamental question we can ask ourselves is "Is there a god?" Two possibilities ~ yes or no ~ and in the absence of any other observations they have an equal chance of being true. So, we look around at life on earth and we say "This came about by chance and random evolution from the primeval swamp (odds against: several billion?) or it evolved with a little god-like help (and we already know that there is fifty/fifty chance that god exists)." Do you believe in god? Do you have a pension plan?

The next question, assuming that god exists, is where do we fit in? You could write a book on that (in fact I have: O Lanoo! ~ published by Findhorn Press), so sticking to basics letís start with: "is there some kind of existence after the death of our physical bodies?" Again, there are two possibilities ~ yes or no. So there is at least a one in four chance that a god exists and that death is not the end. As that is as likely as my chance of living to the age of 75 I am happy to live my life on that premise.

I make no apology for believing that there is some purpose to our individual lives. Without some kind of a soul why would we behave differently to animals? Why do we make sacrifices to help others? Why are we moved by art, or music, or the birth of a baby? No proof, bit there is a pretty good chance that there is a god of some kind and there is some part of us that lives on after death. Next question: is death followed by a choice of heaven or hell based on a single life, or do we experience a series of re-births which gradually mould our destiny? In the scheme of things, all lives are rather short measures for eternity, and in that context some would be unfairly short. It seems much more sensible to believe that I will experience many reincarnations as my destiny unfolds within Godís greater plan.

Belief through probability

I am not suggesting that my conclusion should be your conclusion. But if we believe without proof then we can at least subject the basic elements of our belief system to the law of probability. If someone offers you a life insurance policy that pays out only if you reach the age of 200 you wouldnít buy it. Donít buy a belief that is just as unlikely. But if your beliefs pass the probability test you donít need to justify them to anyone else and you don't need proof. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and once you have eaten it there is nothing left.

 

© Harvey Tordoff
December 1999