Imagine a young girl named Mariam with a Christian mother and a Muslim father. She attentively listens to the evidences provided by each of her parents for their respective God. Each parent is claiming that, if she has a sincere heart, their God will make himself indisputably known to her. Yet whenever she feels Allah has made himself known, Mariam is told by her mother her thoughts have been led astray by Satan, and when she feels Jehovah has made himself known, her father similarly tells her that her thoughts have been led astray by Satan. The evidence for Allah and Jehovah is evenly split down the middle in Mariam’s honest, if flawed, perception.
Mariam could simply map her degree of belief in each God to around 45% (accounting for her assigning a 10% likelihood that neither God exists), but she is informed by each parent that this is unacceptable. She must completely believe in the “true” God or be eternally damned. Do you think the actual God of the universe, whether it be Jehovah or Allah, eternally damn Mariam for honestly positioning her degree of belief at 45% for each of the two candidate Gods? Is this what a just God would do? Shouldn’t Mariam scrutinize candidate Gods for intrinsically unjust dispositions of this sort, and reject an highly improbable any God who would act in such an unjust manner? (See #01.)
The scenario above can be extended to include three or more Gods, each with an equal amount of evidence for each God. Proponents of each of these Gods are all claiming any presence of God Mariam perceives from any God but her own is an evil lying spirit. Mariam clearly has no way of knowing how to discern between the spirit of the real God and an evil spirit, so she is forced to simply map her degree of belief to the degree of the relevant evidence for each God. If she is rational, she limits her degree of belief in the existence of each God to the degree of the evidence for the existence of that God. Any God that would expect Mariam to go beyond that rational position would be promoting irrationality, and could, as a result, be dismissed as unreal since no actual God would ever promote an irrational choice as necessary to obtain that God’s favor or redemption.
Some might argue that a real God could make Mariam capable of distinguishing between an evil spirit and that real God. Yet this does not appear possible since any actual evil spirit could also make her wrongly suppose she has been made capable by a real God of distinguishing between an evil spirit and a real God.
It follows from this that none of us can absolutely know whether the reality we perceive is actually real. But rationality does not require that we be right, but only that we honestly map our degree of belief to the degree of the relevant evidence. (See #20 for more on rational belief.) Wouldn’t anything else be irrational and inappropriate for an honest seeker of truth?
(See “Supplementary H” on the coherency of the “sensus divinitatis”: the ability of a God to communicate special indisputable knowledge of his existence.)
It is sometimes claimed by Christian leaders that even a child in a remote ungospelled region of the Earth can perceive the Christian God sufficiently to be worthy of eternal damnation. (This is dealt with in #18.) Perhaps the best cure for this notion is simply a greater exposure to non-Christian cultures. A persistence in the biblical way of thinking after such exposure would require an individual to dismiss their own honest assessment of the innocent hearts of ungospelled children, and to have inexorably committed themselves to what the Bible says in spite of any evidence they encounter. It is hoped that the readers of this book don’t fall into that category.