Infinite Regression: Phantom Proof

Infinite Regression Image

<quote from Real Faith & Reason>
Infinite Regression

Here’s an example of how infinite regression works. Sandy makes a bare claim. Rocky asks for proof. Sandy says, “The proof is . . .” and makes another bare claim as proof, without proving the so-called “proof.” Then Rocky asks for proof of the so-called proof. So Sandy says, “The proof is . . .” and makes another bare claim as proof. Sandy has an unsolvable problem. When Sandy tries to prove his claim, he uses proof, but he has no proof for his proof other than yet another unproven claim. So he can never prove any proof. He can’t rationally draw any conclusion. With infinite regression, showing unproven proof continues to infinity. Therefore, Sandy never shows real proof for anything, and every statement of supposed proof is just one more bare assertion.

Since Sandy never decisively proves any proof, he only creates the illusion of proof. Sandy never has proof and never has certainty, and because of this problem in thinking, Sandy can never prove any conclusion true. Therefore, Sandy can’t know anything by infinite regression. Consider a conversation between another Sandy and Rocky.

Sandy, a dedicated atheist, challenged Rocky, a Christian co-worker, to a Creation-evolution debate, and though Rocky said he didn’t want to debate, he said he’d be glad to have lunch with Sandy. At the restaurant, they sat at a small corner table. Sandy immediately gave Rocky what he considered evidence for molecules-to-humankind evolution. Rocky tried to understand what Sandy was saying instead of arguing. He asked, “What makes you think your claim is true?” Sandy enthusiastically answered with a rationalization to support his “evidence.” Rocky asked, “You probably have a reason for believing that this statement supports your proposition; would you mind explaining your reasoning to me?”

Rocky continually probed. He was looking for substance. He was looking for some proof that didn’t need further proof. He was looking for definite proof. Sandy continually answered with a confident tone, even bravado. After about an hour, Rocky considered ending the conversation since it wasn’t moving toward any solid point. Sandy had presented an infinite regression of proofs. Not one so-called “proof” was conclusive. Each so-called “proof” was unproven.

Rather than cut off the conversation, Rocky decided to be patient. He’d see what Sandy would say. Sandy confidently gave one more bit of “proof.” Rocky once again asked for the proof of the proof. Sandy, who had been so bold and sure of himself, suddenly got a startled look on his face. He said, “I guess I’m making the whole thing up.” Time stopped for a moment. Then both men laughed.

As Sandy and Rocky began to walk back to the office where they worked, Sandy suddenly stopped and turned to Rocky as if remembering something, “Wait! You have to prove God’s existence to me.” The answer from Rocky came as a prophecy. “Why would you listen to me, Sandy? You don’t listen to God, and He’s speaking to you all the time.” After a moment of shock, both men laughed again.

Someone here lost touch with reality. If we lose touch with reality, we’re insane, but if we know the difference between good versus evil, truth versus error, or reality versus make-believe we’re sane.

The next week was hard for Sandy. When he discovered he was basing all his beliefs on made-up stuff, it shook his self-confidence. He even stopped himself in mid-sentence while speaking to a group about how a piece of software works and admitted he was just making up the whole thing. He didn’t really know. Time passed. Memories faded. Sandy returned to his old self. He again had full confidence in his atheistic worldview, unhindered by his discovery because he forgot what he had discovered.

In this scenario, Sandy finally realized that he was basing all his thinking on made-up stuff. Even so, he fell back into his old ways of thinking within a few weeks. He decided that he prefers life without God despite knowing that he’s stuck making up stuff and calling the made-up stuff real.
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