In the fields of veganism and animal rights we will all, at one time or another, and often repeatedly face the inevitable protest, thrust at us like a sword: "Prove it!"
And inevitably we respond. Some of us, well schooled in facts and figures and scientific studies respond with vigor, laying out all the evidence that has been laid bare before us - evidence that convinced us of the truths we are now living. Some of us, knowing intuitively the truths we have come to accept, have little means by which to debate with such a foe, one who demands unassailable proof to backup our claims.
But I would like to touch on a hidden gem underlying this situation in the hopes that it will provide an increased ability to meet this sword with confidence. The gem is in the answer to the following question: what is proof? And, I will add, a corollary question: "what is the difference between proof and evidence?"
I'd like to present a quote that addresses the first of these questions:
How about proof? The Pontius Pilates of modern life are almost as numerous as are educated men; and each one, in the self-sufficiency of his own belief in his own infallibility of judgment, listens to the recitation of any new natural fact or of any apparently incredible story with a final exclamation by which he thinks to prove his wisdom: "Where are your proofs?" It sounds so reasonable; but what is proof? Is it something that exists outside of one? If so, how could it be understood?
No; all proof lies within one's own self. When the mind is so swayed by the preponderance of evidence and testimony that it automatically assents to a proposition, then the case for that mind is proved. A stronger mind may require stronger proof based on a larger field of evidence and testimony; yet in all cases, proof is the bringing of conviction to the mind. Hence a man who cannot see the force, both internal and external, of evidence or testimony, will say that the proposition is not proved. But this skeptical attitude does not disprove the proof, but merely shows that the mind is incapable of receiving what to another intellect is clear enough to establish the case. - G de Purucker
The line that sums up the answer to the first question, and touches on the answer to the second, is this: "When the mind is so swayed by the preponderance of evidence and testimony that it automatically assents to a proposition, then the case for that mind is proved.". Proof is not the same as evidence. Instead, proof follows from it, is furnished by it. But proof is not, as some like to believe, an independent, entirely objective and impersonal status. It depends upon the individual; it is subjective by nature.
Evidence, on the other hand, is the objective tool that leads to the subjective arrival at proof in the mind of each individual. Evidence, by it's very nature, is that which is observed. Proof, is the measurement of the effect of those observations on our discriminating consciousness.
What this means is that the exact same evidence may prove a case to one, while it may fall short of proving the same case for another - all this depending wholly on the individual, their condition of mind, their education, their receptivity to information, and so on. And what it means practically is that one cannot prove anything to another - it is simply not within the power of any one individual to prove a case to another individual. The arrival at the acceptance of evidence, such that the case is proved, depends solely on the individual - it is an internal process.
Thus, when someone thrusts that sword at you and demands that you "prove it!", that you furnish them with proof, you can calmly reply that what you can do is provide the evidence that convinced you, and others, of the validity of your cause, but that they themselves must decide whether the case is proven. To defend against this sword is to be armed with evidence - evidence of all sorts, from all fields of study, from experience, from testimonials. Armed with that evidence, of which there is an abundance to support veganism and animal rights, we can present our case to the world, knowing that it is not in our power to prove the case, but for them to either accept the evidence or dismiss it.
Remember then, that it is their responsibility to weigh the evidence on the scales of their mind and conscience, and that it is not your responsibility to prove anything to anyone, but only to furnish them with ample evidence of our case. The more evidence, the more likely will they come to consider the case proven. So get out there and provide the evidence. Live the life and share the facts.
Thanks for reading. And hopefully this will help arm you against the Pontius Pilates of the world!