Proof has its place

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Would you believe me if I told you that I can wave my hands over any motor vehicle and cause it to run on plastic grocery bags? If I told you that these enhanced cars emit only pure water? Would you demand that I prove it?

Or if I told you that my cat does my taxes perfectly? And that this cat just had kittens! You’d want to see this happen yourself before you’d believe it. You might even investigate to make sure that there are no tricks, like paper that already has the forms filled out in invisible ink.

You might even insist that someone investigate these claims, because I might market my new services and products to the public. If there are tricks involved, you wouldn’t want me to be able to take the money of innocent people and give them fraudulent services or products. Demanding proof of the claims would just be common sense, mandatory in the interest of defending the truth and innocent people.

Ironically, believing things that have no proof is one of this planet’s highest virtues. Almost everyone believes an idea that hasn’t been proven. Some become aggressive and angry when you mention proof. “Nothing can truly be proven,” some say. “Reality is all inside the mind of the perceiver.”

People have needed to believe unproven things forever: old wives’ tales, urban myths, superstitions, lucky objects, alternative medicine, alien visitations, unconfirmed creatures in the wild, astrology, birthstones, curses, and other widely accepted (and sometimes demanded) ideas.

Why do people have such a strong need to believe in unproven things? For many, life has no purpose without them. Life is painful; even the rich get old and suffer. Most of what can be proven is unpleasant, such as death and disease.

But it’s more than that. In our society, demand for proof is often seen as disrespectful or immoral. If you constantly say, “I’ll believe that when you prove it,” people really start to dislike you.

Many people couldn’t bear to live in a world where everything is proven. For them, the wonder of incomprehension makes the world tolerable. This wonder is the world’s colour, its flavour, its joy. To them, a world where everything is proven would be drab, grey, boring, soul-crushing, dirty and mechanistic. You hear people say all the time, “Don’t you need to believe that there’s more than just this?”

If you ask them to prove whatever it is they think is beyond “just this,” they will visibly begin to see you as close-minded and empty, or even mean, cruel or evil. In the view of people like this, only bad, intolerant people demand proof of things before believing them.

I believe that these people see unproven belief as a virtue similar to child-like wonder. Children are pure, untainted and innocent and they’ll believe anything. When they grow up, though, they fall from innocence and become cynical, dishonest adults. But apparently, one way to fight off this fall from innocence is to believe in things that have no proof. Crystals, birth signs, tarot cards, ghosts and legends help us hold on to our child-like innocence and by extension we remain good people. Once we stop believing in such things, we become bad, evil adults.

However, a world run by children would not be run very well. We all have to grow up. Faith must give way to caution. Otherwise, work doesn’t get done. Bills don’t get paid. And rip-off artists sell us accountant cats.

Dave Lloyd is a writer and musician who grew up in St. Albert.

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St. Albert Gazette

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