In “Can We Prove the Existence of God?” (Gospel Coalition, April 16, 2012), Scottish realist philosopher James Anderson offers,
Certainty, Circularity, and Social Security Cards
Also inspired by mathematical proofs is the idea that a proof must have an absolutely certain conclusion: its conclusion simply cannot be rationally denied. However, the conclusion of a proof cannot be more certain than its premises; thus an argument with an absolutely certain conclusion must have absolutely certain premises. Does our test-case argument fit that bill?
I would say that anyone who denies there are objective, culture-transcending moral duties is irrational. (I’d argue this is presupposed by Paul’s argument in Romans 1-2.) Anyone who denies those moral duties is either lying, self-deceived, or suffering from cognitive dysfunction. But that’s a distinctively Christian perspective, so now we’re back to the problem of circularity.
As for the first premise of our argument, the conditional premise, I think a very strong case can be made that objective moral duties necessarily depend on God—yet the possibility remains, however slight, that we’ve overlooked something. We can’t claim absolute, knock-down, drag-out certainty for that premise. But does proof really demand absolute certainty?
Soon after I relocated from Britain to the United States, I had to visit the local Social Security Administration office to apply for a Social Security Number. The nice lady behind the counter required me to prove several things, so I showed her some documentation, including my British passport, my work visa, my immigration card, and a letter from my employer. But had I really proven anything to her?
It’s logically possible that the documents were elaborate forgeries. But how reasonable would it have been for her to demand more rigorous proof? Should I have eliminated every logical possibility that would undermine or contradict my claim, including the possibility that I was using a Jedi mind-trick or that she was actually in a dream?
However tempting it may be to set a high bar for a proof, the higher we set the bar the less reasonable it becomes to demand such a proof. More.
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