“Proof” means different things to different people in different fields. I fear that too many suffer from a limited view of what “proof” is. For some it is mathematical, for some logical, for some scientific, and for some, maybe just a gut feeling. Not so for me.

I am a trial lawyer. For almost forty years, I have navigated through the nation’s courtrooms proving and disproving important matters. I have sent companies into bankruptcy, I have restored economic life to the destitute, I have altered the way products are made, services are dispensed, and safety is evaluated. All of this happens with “proof.”

“Proof” is no small matter in a trial. It is the foundation of the American court system. With “proof” judges and juries strip citizens of rights, divest corporations, determine which parent can best rear children in a divorce setting, and even take the lives of certain criminals proven so heinous under the law that they merit the death penalty.

As I type this, I have just completed a national trial where I examined and cross-examined some of the nation’s top experts in various fields. The trial arose from the opioid epidemic, especially as it exists within two counties in Ohio. They were test cases to determine whether or not certain pharmacies had responsibility for the epidemic.

The case was tried in two phases. In the first phase, a jury determined that the pharmacies were “significant contributing causes” to the epidemic. The second phase was in front of the judge. Armed with the jury verdict, the judge’s job was to conduct a trial on “abatement.” My job was to “prove” the amount appropriate to the defendants to abate the opioid epidemic in the counties at issue.

Here are three core issues in the case: (1) How many county residents suffered from Opioid Use Disorder, or “OUD” (a diagnosis under the *Diagnostic and Statistical Manual*) such that they needed treatment? (2) What treatment is necessary at what cost to treat those with OUD? (3) What is a fair allocation to the defendant pharmacies found liable for significantly contributing to causing these problems.

I had two aspects to “proving” my case in this regard. First, I brought in two of the best epidemiologic experts in the country to explain the number of OUD (“Opioid Use Disorder”) people that needed treatment. One of those experts is also a medical doctor whose testimony on the opioid epidemic, and what can be done about it, has been sought by many governmental agencies and legislative bodies.

The second phase of my work was to dispel the opposing testimony of experts. These were experts that testified that the numbers of OUD people in the counties in need of treatment was much lower than my witnesses asserted. The experts also tried to prove that the allocated share to the actual pharmacy defendants in the case was much lower than I argued.

The stakes were high, and the courtroom was packed. The key to everything, however, boiled down to one simple criteria: what could I “prove”? These decisions are built on proof and nothing less. But “proof” takes many forms. Those forms were all on display in the trial.

Consider one certain witness called by the pharmacy defendants. This witness is a professor at Stanford University. He holds a law degree from Stanford’s law school, as well as a PhD from MIT. He specializes in health economics and regression analysis. His role was to counter my overall witnesses and my “proof” of the work and amounts necessary to remedy the damage flowing to my county clients and the residents of those counties. He well illustrates various kinds of “proof.”

The witness first argued that my epidemiologists had used flawed numbers that had artificially inflated the number of OUD sufferers in the Counties. His estimates were based on a national survey that the government conducted, and his numbers were about 40% of the numbers given by my experts.

In cross-examining him, I produced peer-reviewed articles substantiating that the government numbers severely underestimated the number of opioid dependent people. The government survey was a “household” survey, and didn’t count homeless people, people in hospitals, and people in jails. The missing populations from the survey were high percentage groups for OUD.

I also gave a commonsense test of his opinion. I pressed him on the accuracy of a survey where the government comes into a home and says, in effect, “We are the government. Will you admit that you are buying and using heroin illegally? We promise we won’t tell law enforcement if you are!” I suggested that common sense says some people will be hesitant to say, “Oh yes, I commit felony drug possession quite routinely! Would you like the name of my drug pusher?”

Finally, I dispelled the accuracy of his estimate, and added to proof of my experts’ opinions by showing the true number of OUD patients treated in the county over a 15-month period. The opposing expert had already agreed that only about 20% of OUD patients get treatment. So, when I produced the numbers getting treatment, his proof of absolute OUD numbers fell apart. His numbers failed the practical application test.

For the expert’s position that my experts had failed to properly allocate the minimal responsibility of the pharmacies’ role in the epidemic, the witness produced a regression analysis. He testified that the regression analysis “proved” that the defendants’ conduct was *de minimis* as a cause to County damage. I had the job of disproving his conclusion.

His regression analysis *formula* was standard. It made mathematical sense. It was self-proving in the way that 2 + 2 = 4 is. I knew the equation was reliable and sound. So too, many of his inputted variables were similarly provable: i.e., how old were the county residents? What was their ethnicity? What was their education level? These factors are fairly absolute and provable, much as mathematics are. Someone was born on a certain date. Period. No one was born on fifteen different days.

Yet even as the expert’s *formula* was mathematically provable, there were aspects and inputs to the formula that were not. These inputs were judgment calls. These were not absolute data points, but those that had a value ascribed by the expert. They weren’t arbitrary, but they were quite subjective.

Now the regression formula needed those inputs to compute a final value, but isolating the subjective inputs allowed me to expose the bias that crept into the formula. The formula presented a conclusion that was not in itself reliable.

To me, the experiences of the last few weeks are a grand illustration of the ideas of “proof” that are encapsulated in proving a worldview. Surprisingly, discussions about a worldview are often so limited in scope that they should better be called at most, a regional view! Let me explain.

A true worldview encompasses all that is real. Yes, this includes the physical elements of the cosmos and planet, but it also includes the wonders and intricacies of consciousness (love/hate, how we feel and think, etc.). Furthermore, a full worldview should include the experiences of life—what happened yesterday, success and failure, plans for tomorrow, and more.

To prove a full worldview requires all sorts of types of proof. One should see the role of mathematics and science in such proof. Math and science can prove whether or not the moon is made of cheese, whether atoms form the basis of molecules, and whether stars are nuclear fusion reactors happening in space.

But science and math will not prove whether I love my wife. I do, I assure you, but if I were to have to prove it to you, I wouldn’t start with the Pythagorean Theorem. My proof would be more akin to what the judge applies in a courtroom.

The judge follows the same approach to proof that a jury does. The judge takes all the evidence, he assesses the credibility of each important part, and he then weighs the evidence, pro and con, to determine what is more likely than not.

This approach is pristine in its ability to integrate all kinds of evidence and types of proof. He can take the mathematics of regression analysis, using provable inputs, but weighing subjective inputs to determine whether some other valuation is more reliable. He will weigh the credibility of the experts, determining whether any bias or economic interest might incite the expert to over- or undervalue certain criteria. The judge will find right conclusions, hopefully, that are then independently reviewed by a panel of judges to make sure that judge didn’t commit an error (i.e., appellate courts).

This approach will not necessarily please the logician or logical philosopher, whose idea of “proof” is more of an: *If A and B, then C*. That type of proof has its time and place. It is part of a more regional view, however, and not a true worldview. *If A and B, then C* will never prove whether a defendant wielded a knife, killing two others in the process.

So, too, science has a place. DNA evidence might help carry a burden of proving that the defendant was the killer, in my above example. Similarly, logic would dictate that if the defendant were 1,000 miles away from the murder scene at the time of the crime, then that alibi logically removes the defendant from the picture.

But even this logic has elements of subjectivity that remove it from a simple science or logic experiment. DNA evidence can be planted. If an alibi is based on testimony of a witness, people can lie. How would one “prove” someone is lying? Is it as simple as looking them in the eye? Should one see if they fidget when testifying? Should one assess a motive behind the testimony? There is much involved beyond math and science.

Law teaches that one always needs to take into account a totality of evidence. In the same way, an assessment of what makes the world the world it is, why I am the way I am, why I do the things I do, why you are the way you are, why there is evil, why we consider “evil” evil, why history has followed its course, what we can expect in the future—all of these and more are questions that will require a multiform approach to truth.

I urge the reader to consider evaluating truth, in worldviews and life in general, by accumulating all the evidence, weighing the credibility and reliability of each element, and then weighing the totality to determine what is more likely than not. Use that courtroom proof in everyday life. One doesn’t need a law degree to do it!

— *Mark Lanier is an acclaimed trial lawyer and the founder of the Lanier Law Firm and the Lanier Theological Library. He founded the Christian Trial Lawyers Association, and is the author of *Christianity on Trial: A Lawyer Examines the Christian Faith*; *Atheism on Trial: A Lawyer Examines the Case for Unbelief*; and *Religions on Trial: A Lawyer Examines Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and More* (forthcoming).*

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

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The idea that different fields carry varying burdens of "proof" seems self-evident. The legal system requires "proof beyond a reasonable doubt"—an unfortunate use of the word "proof," in my opinion. Mathematics requires perfect rigor with respect to the foundational system being used (e.g., ZF(C), Tarski–Grothendieck, constructivist systems, etc.). Physics demands mathematical models that resonate with repeated observations over a protracted period of time (e.g., general relativity), while natural and social scientists rely on Bayesian statistics and probability-based rejections of the null hypothesis (in the form of p-values) as a way to "(dis)prove" various assertions. The list goes on.

But the illusion that mathematics cannot address all inquiries and forms of dispute persists only because of our limited ability to address these kinds of problems. It's an application problem, not a mathematical one. An oracle, for example, who could define and model every relevant variable with perfect accuracy, could, in fact, "prove" anything. In 1 Kings 3:16-28, Solomon uses the asymmetric "bully" game to determine which woman was the child's true mother, and he did this thousands of years before von Neumann invented the mathematical machinery of game theory (1930's). Math wasn't obviously applicable—until it was.

This is a great article. Unfortunately the term "proof" has been abused by both Atheist and Theists in order to try to bolster the rhetorical effectiveness of their arguments. As William Lane Craig has noted: "Certainty is an unrealistic and unattainable ideal" and it seems most Atheist and Theist philosophers agree that our arrival to the truth of our conclusions is going to be as a result of probabilistic reasoning.

I very much also agree with the general principle outlined in the article; just as in a legal trial, we need to take a cumulative approach that takes into account all the available evidence, weighs them appropriately and makes a conclusion based on the relevant data and factors pertaining to the issue at hand. I'd personally be interested in what the author thinks of sophisticated works of Atheist philosophy such as The Miracle of Theism by J.L. Mackie, The Best Argument Against God by Graham Oppy, The Non-Existence of God by Nicholas Everitt, or Logic and Theism by J.H. Sobel that have taken such an evaluative approach and have come to the conclusion that God doesn't exist?