Haha, this was exactly my point. It’s the job of the irritating resident philosopher to pick up the cat and doubt it. To say, ‘am I really holding this cat? Or is there a powerful supercomputer tricking me into believing that I am holding this cat?’ I mean, you can’t prove that the supercomputer doesn’t exist. And so you haven’t actually proven that the cat exists, because there still exists the possibility that it doesn’t.
To really, properly prove something is true means that you have to extinguish every other possibility. Which is impossible, because they’re literally infinite. You bringing me a cat doesn’t prove its existence – I might be dreaming the whole encounter! Or I might be under the influence of a powerful extraterrestrial entity with the ability to make me believe things which are not true. Or Bast herself might be appearing to me in feline form – so while she might look, sound and feel like a cat, she’d still be a goddess. You can’t actually disprove any of those ridiculous assertions – so the existence of a cat is not certain. Here:
‘Cats are tangible.’
Ah, but I could be wired up to a machine that simulates the texture of fur under my fingers – so I believe that the cat I’m stroking is tangible. Doesn’t mean it actually exists!
Well, they appear to breathe, but that could be a cunning illusion. Perhaps all cats are secretly evil, dimensionally transcendental beings who have invented perception filters that make them seem to appear physically in our world. Or perhaps they’re just really convincing ghosts. And so on.
Obviously – obviously! – I’m not recommending this as a way to go about arguing. It gets you absolutely nowhere, and it isn’t the way the world works. If you’re in court, for example, and the judge asks you whether you did in fact drown all those cats, you cannot possibly respond, ‘well, you can’t prove that cats exist, so you can’t prove I drowned anything at all, so you’ll have to let me go.’ Our justice system – and indeed our lives – instead use the principle of ‘reasonable doubt’ – you can find a defendant guilty if you can prove ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that they did whatever you’re accusing them of. And this is the crucial point.
We tend to use the word ‘proof’ when we mean ‘proof beyond reasonable doubt’. Which is fine! The problem is that people tend to forget this when arguing about things which are far from reasonable: like the Flood example. We have all of one piece of evidence that Noah, say, really existed, and even believers will (or should) concede that a worldwide flood is extremely unlikely. This doesn’t mean it can’t have happened – just that the odds are against it.
And so to argue that you can’t disprove the Flood is meaningless. It’s exactly the same as arguing that you can’t prove that cats exist! Both statements are not supported by any reliable evidence, and the fact that we can’t prove them one way or the other is neither here nor there. To justify a belief, you have to provide a satisfactory explanation for it – it’s not sufficient to plead that ‘it could be true’, because all beliefs could be true. That doesn’t elevate it above any other – so we’re back where we started.
Your satisfactory explanation can, of course, be God! (Though that may not satisfy other people.) You can say that you believe that the Bible is historical fact because God wouldn’t lie, and that’s fine. Many people believe just that. But what people have to understand it that saying ‘you can’t disprove the Flood/Eden/insert-contentious-Biblical-event-here!’ is not going to convince anyone who isn’t religious, because it’s not reasonable to believe such a thing happened.
In essence: the whole point of my cat example was to say, ‘yeah, look, it’s ridiculous not to believe in cats! It goes against all the evidence!’ Of course I believe in cats! But it’s for the same reason I believe in cats – because they’ve been proven beyond reasonable doubt – that I don’t believe in the Flood – because it hasn’t. Hopefully I’ve managed to make things a bit clearer.
Hey, don’t apologise. My example was intentionally bonkers. But here’s the thing – I disagree when you say that the statement ‘you can’t disprove the flood’ is any more sensible than saying that ‘you can’t disprove that the world is flat’! Neither of those statements are backed up by any reliable evidence. In fact, there’s major evidence to suggest the opposite in both cases!