Imagine a book on parachuting that included no information about packing a parachute, the safe time to pull the ripcord, nor about landing. Would you place your confidence in such a book that simply stressed jumping out of an airplane?
Now imagine a book in which the act of belief is central, yet it includes nothing about standards of evidence, the notion of rational belief, instruction on logical fallacies and cognitive biases, basic methods of scientific inquiry, nor even basic tools of critical thinking. Its target is a largely uneducated global audience, the bulk of which will not be able to intelligently scrutinized its claims due to grossly inadequate cognitive tools. Would you believe its claim to be the source of all important truths? If it lacks even the foundational elements necessary to establish rational beliefs about truth claims, do you think its claim to be the source of all important truths is credible? This describes the epistemic incoherence found in the Koran, the Bible, and a host of other alleged holy books. How probable is it that an actual God of the universe would write a book full of alleged truths without including elements of rational thought to equip its audience to properly assess those alleged truths?
The following are just a few concepts intrinsic to the notion of belief on which the Bible has nothing to say:
- How much belief is sufficient for salvation? Some Christians say anything above 0%. Others suggest a certainty greater than 50%. Still others vaguely claim a “high” degree of belief. And then there are some that suggest nothing other than absolute certainty is sufficient for salvation. The Bible says absolute nothing about the degree of belief necessary for salvation. It treats belief as if it were something binary: Is it not just a bit odd. if not incoherent, to leave the degree of belief unspecified when an insufficient degree of belief will result in damnation?
- What are proper standards of evidence? Presumably we don’t believe based on emotions. And we don’t, of course, circularly believe based on an alleged command to believe from the very God in which we are considering believing. Do we place a high degree of confidence in hearsay? What constitutes legitimate evidence? The Bible is silent on this question.
- Can the degree of belief deviate from the degree of the perceived evidence? Rational belief is a degree of belief that maps to the degree of perceived evidence. Does the God in question honor irrational belief in which the degree of confidence exceeds the degree of evidence as honestly perceived? The Bible is silent on this also.
- What are the scientific/rational tools that can yield the most precise understanding of the balance of evidence? If a God cares about humans believing for legitimate reasons with as much evidential precision as possible, wouldn’t that God have highlighted the relevant tools? And would not have the inclusion of such tools have differentiated the Bible from the Koran and other alleged holy books as having the only coherent and complete description of the elements and the dynamics of legitimate belief? The Bible does not contain a single reference to elements of rational thought, nor warnings about logical fallacies and cognitive biases. The Bible need not be a scientific book, but if belief is at its core, it needs to address at least these questions basic to belief. And it does not.
This argument will be most salient to scientific minds who recognize the immensity of the gulf between the low quality of the belief type encouraged by most holy books, and the high quality of the belief type that has been filtered through the rigorous filters of rationality and scientific concepts. High-quality belief which has been properly filtered and properly aligned to the degree of the evidence yields far greater predictive power.
The most common flaw in misapplied belief is the non sequitur of supposing there is something about the emotion of certainty that validates the content of the belief. There are dozens of songs that assure us that, if it feels right, it can’t be wrong. Most of us do suspect that this may not be true with romantic love, but it is often more difficult to acknowledge this in respect to the powerful spiritual sentiments we have experienced.
It took philosophers and early scientists a long time to discover the many concepts and heuristics of science such as parsimony, falsifiability, quantification, experimental design, and valid argumentation that have culminated in the highly-precise engine of science we experience today. Imagine if these tools had been rigorously outlined millennia ago in a holy book. Not only would that holy book had enjoyed immediate legitimacy as an actual book of truth, but it would have led to the alleviation of so much suffering and death that have instead struck down hundreds of millions prior to this current age of modern medicine. Why would a book of truth not rigorously articulate the tools for uncovering truth?
Some suggest that the standards of evidence for religious belief are somehow different from the standards of evidence for scientific belief. But the measure of the success for any standard of belief is its efficacy. While religions the world over have had less-than-respectable track records of success for their various claims, the scientific standards of evidence that we now employ have led to an explosion in medicine and technology. But, more importantly, the differing standards of evidence for religious belief are not found in the very holy books that make claims requiring such standards. And those positing different standards of evidence for religious belief do not agree among themselves on the proper standards.
It is interesting to note that the logical concepts that Christian leaders claim to rely on today are not found in the Bible, but rather borrowed from Greek philosophers.
The only Biblical passage that suggests early Christians were practitioners of rational thought to even a minimal degree is a passage about the Bereans who searched the Old Testament scriptures to see whether the claims about Jesus were true (Acts 17:11). It appears they were simply assessing whether claims about Jesus mapped to Old Testament claims about the Messiah. They did not, to our knowledge however, critically assess whether those making claims about Jesus were simply inventing narrative about Jesus to fit those Old Testament Messianic prophecies.
(See also #20.)