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This question has two, related, parts.

Part 1.

I recently have been on some discussions regarding proving God exists and proving that Jesus is really the son of God; intertwined with that, there was a debate on only believing in what can be proved with science: for example, we should only have laws (juridical ones) that are based on science (and, therefore, that can be falsified). I am trying to understand if there are any implications to this view.

Being honest, I do not like this, since I am religious, but that alone isn't a good point. I'd like to comprehend if only believing on what can be proved has any sense and can actually lead somewhere beneficial for society. I do know that if you only believe on proved things you need to prove the bus driver actually knows how to drive a bus; and a license isn't a prof, but actual data and methodology are.

Part 2.

Also, I'd like to know if it's true that if you can't prove that something exists, then it doesn't. In the way that if you cannot prove God, it doesn't exist. I mean, if you can't prove God because he is greater than we are and our minds cannot comprehend it, than it's just as not believing it or not knowing it.

I know my reasoning and question structure is not the best, but I myself am a bit lost coming out of a debate. I believe that understanding more about these subjects will gradually make my questions better.

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    Evidentialism is a common English term for the kind of "I'll believe it when I see it" POV that you're mentioning, although then scientific evidentialism seems like your more exact foil. (Otherwise, after all, there are those who believe that there is evidence or even proof of God, the Incarnation, etc.) At any rate, evidentialism is not necessarily the "most popular" philosophical position (or, it is rare verging on nonexistent for there to be a "most popular" answer, among philosophers, to most any philosophical question). Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 2:22
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    Science can't prove that murder is wrong or that stealing is wrong. If you try to say those laws make society better, science can't say what "better" means. The whole suggestion is naive. Science is not all wise and all powerful, and it can't, even in principle, be used to solve all problems. Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 7:23
  • "Based on science (and, therefore, that can be falsified)" is a long abandoned idea of science, it lives on only in amateurish discussions. Falsification simply does not work as the criterion of scientific claims. As a result, what is adopted in science depends on (commonly accepted) cognitive values, and hence, value judgments. But many people's judgments on such values as unification and explanatory power lead them to accept God as a plausible entity.
    – Conifold
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 7:42

4 Answers 4

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Hope this guides you, I'm not an academic philosopher, your question has a lot of common elements which sometimes require just some deeper philosophical approach. Not trying to change your perspective, but moreover to provide you some ideas and foundations for the discussion.

there was a debate on only believing in what can be proved with science

Science seeks for empirical truth, that is, the truths that correspond to our five-senses experience; you can say science is the way of formalizing experience. It is impossible to believe something that is not experienced: say for example I'm an atheist, I think your religious book has contradictions, and according to the principle of explosion, a single contradiction allows me to prove that God wants evil. What I should believe? in what you say? Why, if the book tells that "if your arm causes you to sin, so cut it off", and you haven't cut your arm off (perhaps you are from another religion, sorry, but this is just an example)? So, we need science. That, on one hand. On the other, science should and MUST not be incompatible with religion. If you remove the contradictions from the book (ALL religious people does that, otherwise, all religious people would have not arms), and if you remove the contradictions with your common experience, science should be 100% compatible with such religion. You can see that the problem is the book, not a consistent/logical belief in God. You can be a scientist and believe in God, if you do it consistently with logic, the laws of nature and the laws of your self.

for example, we should only have laws (juridical ones) that are based on science (and, therefore, that can be falsified).

Hoo, not so fast. To start, science has nothing to do with laws, except that it is also based on logic. Science tells empirical truths like the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and that has nothing to do with juridical laws. The problem with juridical law is that it is not necessarily based on physical facts (experience, objectivity, five-senses, science, empirical truth, etc.) but on its thinking counterpart: metaphysics. This is important.

Metaphysics covers all such concepts and rules that refer to ideals, to what is not physical, scientific, measurable, objective (yes, metaphysics is moreover about subjectivity) like beliefs, justice, loyalty, aesthetics, politics, etc. And the metaphysical rules that govern our social life (ho can I live in peace with you) are called morals.

Law is based on morals, not on science. Morals are a set of rules that determine how we can live in peace (e.g. your grandma telling you to be nice and say thank you). Ethics is more or less the formalization of that (e.g. your teacher telling you the same thing in a different way: that it is correct to have respect for the others). Formal law is the same thing, but from a pragmatic and mostly punitive perspective (e.g. the judge telling you the same rules with different words: given that I have proof (that is not necessarily scientific proof) that you've been disrespectful, you should pay this fine).

Being honest, I do not like this, since I am religious, but that alone isn't a good point.

Correct. Never base an argument in your authority (fallacy: ad authoritatem) or in your beliefs (fallacy: biased sample). To discuss, you are forced to use logic. You will always lose an argumentation that is not logical.

I'd like to comprehend if only believing on what can be proved has any sense and can actually lead somewhere beneficial for society.

It has no physical/objective/empirical sense, but it has an absolute logical/metaphysical/subjective sense. Don't try to prove God with science, by definition, God exceeds the world of things. Even proving God metaphysically is difficult. God is a metaphysical concept, so you can't prove and don't need to prove it scientifically. You need to live with that. And even more, you should consider (not necessarily accept), consider that God might not exist in order to challenge your own logic and have the proper sustain to debate.

A solid believer must not be who has not logically challenged the existence of God (that is just a credulous, a gullible person), a solid believer is who has challenged logically the existence of God and found, logically, a possibility. That's my case.

Part 2.

if you can't prove that something exists, then it doesn't

Correct, but that's like climbing a ladder over the wrong wall. But to start, you need to know what does "to exist" means. In my writings (I wrote a book called Theory of Interaction), I use this concept: existence is defined by interaction. This means that if I-subject (observer) can interact with myself as an I-object (observeD), then I exist (that is precisely the sense of Decartes' cogito ergo sum). If I can interact with black matter, then it exists (sadly, we can't, but we can interact with some unclear facts that signal its existence). More complex: how can I say that Einstein existed? Because I interact with his knowledge, his books, with people that knew him, etc.

Once the concept existence is clear, there is another concept that must be crystal clear: what does "God" means? which super-powers does it has? What is its size? Can it occupy space, physical or metaphysical? Has it a body? Can it think? Using logic? Can it speak your language? If you don't have a clear concept that YOU-YOURSELF can challenge, you are going to lose all discussions.

Now, how do you interact with such a God, so you can metaphysically prove its existence to yourself? That's a very difficult one. But like dark matter, there are facts that tend to show that it might exist.

Think on this: considering the physical and metaphysical facts of our experience, it is as unbelievable for God to exist as is is for it not to exist (can't remember who said that). The more you believe in science, the stronger the argument becomes*, and that leads always to metaphysical considerations, where science is useless. There you have an strong argument.

* ...given that science is an attempt to find empirical truth, and it tends to fail in border conditions, like the case of quantum physics vs. relativity, where logical/mathematical calculations do not match, leading to... (sorry for the pop expression) a possible fault in the matrix! Wait, is it really so? It seems. Check this, which is really amazing: for scientific knowledge to be valid, it should be logically consistent, and in this point it is not, so it leads to a principle of explosion. So, A) either some, or both theories are incomplete or wrong, or B) all science is essentially a biased belief! You want more on B, because that's what philosophers are inclined to? Get to the depths of metaphysics with Immanuel Kant: Critique of Pure Reason. Warning: it can get hugely complex, but will worth the effort.

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  • Hi RodolfoAP -- this is a good in depth answer, but has some points that are iffy. Legal system laws should generally be based on applied sociology, because their purpose is to allow our society to function, which IS a science. And secular ethics is generally based on our moral intuitions, with the presumption that our accumulative human intuitions give insight into moral reality (which is basically an empirical process). God claims are based on a presumption of interactive dualism, and an interactive God is an empirically testable hypothesis, not a logic based one.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 16:18
  • One cannot "prove" any empirical question, and existence is something we test empirically. Yes, that testing requires interaction. Also -- both science is now pluralist (the postulate of the "unity of science" has now been abandoned, see SEP Scientific Reduction section 5), as has scientism (there are non-science aspects to our world) so neither science nor ANY worldview can be logically coherent (pluralist knowledge systems WILL have conflicts), so logic explosions are inescapable, for everyone. This is OK, Empiricism has always operated off pragmatic logic, that accepts approximate "truth".
    – Dcleve
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 16:26
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Part 2: If you can't prove something, it doesn't necessarily mean that it doesn't exist. Just look at the Higgs Boson particle and gravitational waves - for decades, their existence was unproven, yet we now know that they exist. The existence of God is a similar matter of belief. Personally, I don't believe in God, just as you might laugh at the idea of an invisible monkey following you at all times, even though you can't prove that it doesn't exist. Ultimately, whether or not you choose to believe in something is up to you, but it's important to recognize that the inability to disprove something doesn't necessarily mean that it's true."

Part 1: I completely agree with you - it can be challenging to believe in things that can only be proven. Our understanding of the world is limited, and even something as basic as our own existence is difficult to prove. In fact, some philosophers argue that our experiences may not even be real (read about solipsism). If we only believed in things that can be proven, society would likely break down. It's important to find a balance between believing everything without proof and not believing anything without proof - we need to be somewhere in the middle.

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  • I do understand that inability to disprove isn't the same as saying it's true. But the part 2 is more about exclusion. I mean, if we can't prove, than we should ignore it. Also, thanks for answering. Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 3:08
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In debate with people who claim to only believe what has been proven by science, I ask them how many things they do when they wake up in the morning are based solely on science proofs? "The feel of covers on you, what science studies have you seen that convince you that is actually due to covers, or that they are liftable off you? that feeling of pressure below your stomach -- what controlled repeated studies have you seen that show it is your bladder full? how about your belief in where you are, or that getting off the bed will not lead to an infinite fall?" None of this is shown scientifically. The number of scientifically unproven beliefs one needs just to get up in the morning is massive.

What we know, is often based on informal empiricism, usually informal FIRST PERSON empiricism. Also a lot of it is what other people have told us. Much of what other people say is also based on empiricism, but some of it isn't, and it is sometimes difficult to sort out the one form the other.

I am an empiricist, and try to support as many of my views as I can on empiricism -- but I don't pretend that this can be SCIENTIFIC empiricism. Empiricism has to include informal and first person empiricism.

Addressing the second part of your question, empiricism does not provide "proofs". It instead provides varying degrees of supporting evidence to a theory, plus possibly passing of refuting test cases, sometimes with need to add a kluge, or modification to a theory to help it to pass.

Contrary to what most atheists today claim, there ARE evidences FOR every major religion, plus religion in general. The failure of physicalism to explain consciousness -- the Hard Problem of Consciousness, is a major one. So are miracles, and the messages of mystics.

There are a lot of falsification testing opportunities too. I, too, am religious. But I apply falsification testing to religious claims, and I consider the vast majority of them to be both falsifiable and falsified. The limit test cases for design intention -- the Problem of Evil, the Problem of imperfect messaging, The Problem of Imperfect Knowledge (most religious texts embed confusion over science, math, and logic principles that ancient people held, rather than the truth we know today), etc, provide pretty strong evidences against each of the major religions.

Most religious people, and in particular most religions, frown upon this approach, as it tends to lead to at least some of the flock leaving. But if one treats religious claims as hypotheses, and then looks for limit condition test cases, and then MODIFIES those hypotheses based on the testing, then religion can be a dynamic belief system, similar to a science or philosophic view, rather than a dogmatism.

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The two parts of your question ask for the importance of proof (part 1) and the ontological consequences of statements which are unproven (part 2).

  1. Part 1: The strategy to accept only results which have been proven would considerably narrow down the range of results we can rely on. Notably all scientific theories – which normally cover infinitely cases – were excluded due to Hume’s insight that no induction from finitely many cases to infinitely many cases is justified by a proof. It is a matter of habit.

    On this insight the philosopher Karl Popper in the 20th century built his principle of falsification. The principle considers scientific theories as hypotheses which are well-confirmed up to now – well-confirmed, not proven. For an introduction see Critical rationalism.

  2. Part 2: Of course, the absence of a proof for the existence does not prove the non-existence. A good example from the history of science is the question of the existence of atoms. Even at the turn to the 20th century there were severe objections that atoms exists. Well-known scientists like Wilhelm Ostwald and Ernst Mach negated their existence.

    Today the question, whether atoms are real, is settled and answered in the positive.

  3. Of course such considerations are not the licence for introducing arbitrary entities into a theory. There are other criteria to evaluate a theory: Its explanatory value, the clarity of its premises, the possibility to check its results. Especially, the fundamental concepts of the theory should not create more questions about themselves than answering the original questions of the theory.

    Building a theory with weighty concepts and at the same time suspending the possibility to find out whether the concepts have any referent at all, is problematic. Such a strategy is useless and poses the question whether it only serves to immunize the whole theory against refutation.

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