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Pursuing a Practical Standard of Proof

By WizenedSage (Galen Rose) ~

My reading on this site over the past few years suggests that many believers and fence-sitters stay that way because they dare not take that last step.

Through their own research and independent thinking they have come to the conclusion that Christianity is seriously flawed with unproven assertions, contradictions, and moral lapses. They realize that a “god of love” is inconsistent with a god who drowns every human being on the planet except for one drunk and his family. They realize that not all prayers are answered, despite what Jesus said. They understand that to execute a person because he is homosexual or works on Sunday is immoral, despite what the bible says. They know that the bible reads like a book of myths, with its dragons, talking snakes and jackasses, a woman turned into a pillar of salt, and page after page of other fantastic creatures and stories. They know that Christianity relies on miracles like virgin births, faith healing, and walking on water, and depends on the resurrection, while also knowing that neither they nor anyone they know has ever witnessed anything that could actually be proven as a miracle.

Of course, one of the major sticking points for the curious is the fear of hell. What if there really is a hell? In the previous paragraph, there is a whole array of plausible reasons for doubting the claimed divine authorship of the bible. Would a god really write, or cause to have written, such a bunch of nonsense? That seems extremely doubtful, but can anyone actually prove it? The answer, of course, is no. Therefor, no one can prove definitively that there is no hell.

For the curious, then, the matter often comes down to a question of what standard of proof should be used in their investigations of Christianity and its foundational beliefs. Shouldn’t one be 100% certain before turning his back on his faith? That is an unrealistic and unachievable expectation. The 100% certainty standard is not only unreasonable, it is also counter-productive, as it paralyzes the doubter, leaving him unable to make a decision.

The standard Christian argument generally goes something like this: "If you can't disprove it with 100% certainty, then it's still reasonable for me to believe it." If we think about this for just a moment, it quickly becomes obvious that this is a false statement. Is it reasonable for one to believe our universe is merely a computer simulation in a junior high school lab in another universe . . . simply because it can’t be disproved? Is it reasonable for one to believe there is a race of microscopic, intelligent beings living among the dust motes under your bed? After all, one can’t prove they’re not there, because there is always that one in a quadrillion-squared chance that whenever you move your microscope thataway a few inches, those beings move thisaway a few inches, so you can never see them.

The standard Christian argument generally goes something like this: "If you can't disprove it with 100% certainty, then it's still reasonable for me to believe it." If we think about this for just a moment, it quickly becomes obvious that this is a false statement.Clearly, the 100% certainty standard is not just absurd, it is counterproductive, since, by that standard, everything is possible and nothing is impossible (except by definition). But, obviously, if science used such a standard, we would still be living in caves. Wouldn’t that be counter-productive?

In the end, neither our brains nor the world are configured for absolute certainty. In no area of life, outside of religion, would we insist on absolute certainty. What we should want, and insist on, is reasonable plausibility. Should a jury never return a guilty verdict in a murder trial because it can never be 100% certain? Wouldn’t this approach leave a hell of a lot of murderers on the loose? Isn’t it counter-productive then? Isn’t the standard of “beyond a REASONABLE doubt” sufficient, and, anyway, the best we can do? Most of us, at some point, become committed to a life partner in marriage or committed cohabitation, but can we ever be 100% certain that this is THE “best” or “right” person for us? Of course we can’t. We learn as much as we can about that person, her/his habits, beliefs, and values, and we commit our lives to that decision. If we insisted on 100% certainty, we would all be single, all the time. Isn’t that counter-productive to our own search for happiness? Much like religion, if we later find we were wrong, then we change course. That’s the best we can do.

In sum, our standard of proof in religious matters, as in all other matters, should be reasonable probability, never certainty, because absolute, 100% certainty is not achievable, and is in fact counter-productive. And if you are worried about the consequences of a mistake, of hell for instance, just remember that fine old quotation which we all prove day after day after day, “To err is human. . .” (Alexander Pope – poet). If there is a god, then he is surely aware of this, and cannot reasonably fault you for being . . . human.