Imagine there is an actual God of the universe who does not appear physically. This invisible God makes belief in his existence and divine plan pivotal to the eternal destiny of humans. Yet there is no requirement to map one’s belief to the degree of the relevant evidence. Instead, those who extend their degree of certainty far beyond the evidence are granted an eternal life that is the polar inverse of the eternal damnation awaiting those who doubt to a degree justified by the lack of evidence. Though this God knows that rational belief must necessarily map to the degree of the evidence, this God does not provide a continuum of rewards and punishments for degrees of belief and disbelief. This God implies there is some unspecified threshold of belief that humans must reach by whatever means, rational or not, in order to flip the switch of destiny from eternal torment to eternal bliss.
Does this sound like an actual God of the universe? Imagine the young girl with a Christian father and a Muslim mother who is fed assurances by both parents that their particular God is the true God. Imagine a God who eternally damns this girl for not being able to make up her mind. Does this sound like a just and loving God of the universe?
A quite accurate way to assess the coherence of an ideology’s epistemology is to examine the standards of evidence its followers require their children to have acquired before those children are encouraged to believe in the ideology. Another is to assess whether they promote the rational mapping of the degree of belief to the degree of the relevant evidence, or whether they praise degrees of certainty in the ideology that are clearly absent the justifying degree of relevant evidence. A large percentage of Christian denominations praise a child for placing a high degree of belief in the Gospel, even though it is known the child lacks the equivalent degree of evidence that would justify the child’s degree of certainty. In this they are promoting irrationality in the child, an irrationality they presumably feel their God will honor.
But were a Muslim child to have the same quantity and quality of belief in Allah, this child would be deemed eternally damned. Is this how an actual God of the universe would treat the diverse beliefs of children?
And in many cases, these children are intentionally brought into a context of beautiful music and social warmth that encourages them to exceed the rational degree of belief, and to place full confidence in a God for which they have neither the rational tools nor the cognitive maturity to rationally assess. If the child weeps in fear for their souls after hearing a story about eternal damnation, this is considered to be the Holy Spirit bringing the child to belief.
Many Christians admit the children brought into Christianity this way have irrationally exceeded the degree of justified belief, yet they consider this to be the way the Gospel works. They forget the many untrue things for which they conjured up an excessive degree of belief when they were children, and ignore the fact that their God eternally damns the Muslim child who is encouraged to irrationally believe in the very same way by their Muslim parents.
How might an actual God of the universe reward belief? Presumably such a God would be both rational and just, wanting to justly reward rationality instead of belief. What intrinsic virtue does belief have? And is justified doubt anything to be ashamed of? (See #28.) Would not an actual God of the universe ensure that only a rational human is rewarded rather than a human who conjures up the most irrational degree of belief?
Rational belief is a degree of belief that maps to the degree of the relevant evidence. Would not a rational God desire humans to be rational?
The following are a few epistemic standards we might expect to be unequivocally held by an actual God of the universe:
- Any reward of eternal destiny will be based on the degree of rationality. The precision to which the degree of belief maps to the degree of the relevant evidence is the final measure of a just reward. Those who either exceed or fall short of the rational degree belief are less rewarded.
- Rewards will not be polarized fates such as eternal bliss or eternal suffering, but will instead be granted incrementally as warranted by the degree of rationality the human.
- There will be no vague reference to an unquantified degree of belief, but there will be clear instructions to believe only to the degree that the relevant evidence warrants.
- Accompanying the requirement to restrict the degree of belief to the degree of the relevant evidence will be clearly referenced standards of evidence and tools of rationality that would ensure the seeker is making a rational assessment.
Are these not the minimum standards of rational belief we would expect of an actual rational God?
Many Christian leaders today claim that biblical faith is actually rational, and that the degree of confidence does not exceed the degree of the evidence. (See #20.) But does this claim line up with 1) what is actually being taught in churches, 2) the history of Christianity, and 3) what the Bible actually says?
1: If you visit the typical Sunday School today, you will find little children being encouraged to believe in Jesus long before they have been equipped with the tools of rational thought such as standards of evidence, awareness of emotional biases and basic notions of logical inference. If a young child emotionally accepts Jesus as blindly as Muslim children accept Muhammad as the source of unerring truth, they are seldom rebuked and warned that they should map their degree of belief to the degree of the evidence. They are not even subsequently taught tools of rationality and encouraged to periodically review their trust in Jesus. Instead they are typically applauded and told that, in their blind acceptance of Jesus, they have done something virtuous. Survey the Christians in your community to determine the most common notion of Christian belief. Does it map the degree of belief to degree of the actual evidence?
2: Throughout the history of Christianity, the icons of Christianity have promoted a degree of belief that exceeds the degree of the actual evidence. Many of them have actually condemned reason. Martin Luther reflected the general sentiment among theologians when he said: ”Reason is the devil’s whore.” Reason was generally not encouraged, and was often claimed to be the tool of Satan. Even those theologians who did allow reason to play some role in redemption did not admonish those with emotionally-derived belief to instead map their degree of belief to the degree of the evidence and to periodically re-evaluate their belief in the Christian God. Early theologians who did invoke rationality as a component of Christian belief often misrepresented rationality. Benedict XVI says:
“It is rational to believe, as it is our very existence that is at stake”.
Does the threat of damnation rather than actual evidence make a belief rational?
3: Nowhere in the Bible is Christian belief treated as a rational mapping of the degree of belief to the degree of the evidence. Examine the following verses:
— For we live by faith and not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)
— Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)
— Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. (John 20:29b)
— Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already. (John 3:18a)
Are these verses promoting a degree of belief that maps to the degree of the evidence? Isn’t Christian belief identical in type to Islamic belief?