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Evidence 

How much evidence is required to make belief in Jesus both possible and rational? Not as much as you might think. 

 Scales of Justice

In the previous post, we looked at how confident a person must be in the claims of the Bible to be said to "believe" and make the choice to commit to Jesus even possible. The answer? if a person finds themselves inclined to think the biblical claims are true, they possess a weak form of belief which is sufficient to provide them with the power to choose to commit to Jesus as Lord. They don't need to be certain, highly confident, or even largely persuaded. Being inclined to think a claim is true is to believe the claim. No doubt it is a weak form of belief, but it is belief nonetheless.

That leads to the question of how much evidence a person needs before they find themselves inclined to think a claim is true. That question speaks to the rationality of making the choice. In order for a choice to be a rational one, it needs to be warranted by an appeal to evidence.

Rationally Speaking

It’s not good enough to believe a claim is true. We also want to be rational in believing it. And to be rational we should only believe claims that we have sufficient reasons for.

 

For example, if I say it’s raining right now in Montreal, that might actually be true. Water may be falling from the sky in the largest city of la belle province in Canada. But you shouldn’t believe it. Why not? Because it wouldn’t be rational for you to do so unless I offered you some good reasons to think my claim was true. Believing that rain is falling in Montreal at this moment based on the claim of some guy you don’t know and who knows absolutely nothing about the weather in Montreal would be irrational and foolish, even if accurately describes what is happening at this moment in Montreal. So, believing true claims is the ultimate goal but we need to arrive at them in a rational way. That means we need evidence supporting our beliefs if we are to be rational in holding them.

Good Evidence?

If holding to a belief without sufficient evidence is irrational, then we need to ask, what counts as sufficient evidence? Here's where things get murky. That’s because good evidence is highly person relative. There is no such thing as objectively sufficient evidence. Or if there is, there is very little of it. That’s because what makes the evidence sufficient is whether or not it adequately supports the claim being made. But what counts as adequate support depends on the judgment of each person. Admittedly, if an argument contains contradictory premises, premises that are irrelevant, or is formally fallacious in structure then it cannot be considered good evidence.

 

But if a claim has evidence in support of it that makes it seem to an individual to be more likely true than false, then it counts as sufficient evidence for that individual and they are rational for believing the argument's conclusion.

 

If however, another person considering the same argument does not find the conclusion to be more likely true than false, it would not count as good evidence for them. How can the same argument provide and also fail to provide sufficient evidence for different people? It all depends on how each person feels about the various bits and pieces of evidence put forth on behalf of the claim.

 

Take a philosophical argument for example, 

 

Premise 1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.

Premise 2. The universe had a beginning.

Conclusion. The universe had a cause.

 

If you find the two premises more likely to be true than false, then you will, by logical entailment, also find the conclusion to be more likely true than false. For you, this argument will be sufficient evidence that the universe had a cause and you will be rational in believing that conclusion. If you think one of the premises is more likely false than true, then you will not find the argument to be sufficient evidence that the universe had a cause and you would be irrational for believing it.

Why The Difference?

Why individuals feel differently about the likelihood of the premises being true is inscrutable. One has the intuition that everything that begins to exist has a cause, while the other does not. Unfortunately, there is not much accounting for intuition. What this means is that for the person who finds the argument to be more likely true than false, they have evidence supporting the belief that the universe had a cause. For them believing in a cause of the universe is rational. For the person who does not find the argument more likely true than false, and who does not have any other good evidence for believing in a cause it would be irrational for them to do so.

The Payoff

To be a Christian is to have faith in Jesus. Biblical faith is comprised of two parts:

  •  thinking the claims about Jesus are true - commonly called belief.

  • commitment to Jesus as Lord.

But commitment is only possible and rational if belief exists first. 

 

Belief is not synonymous with certainty.  On the contrary, one can be said to "believe" if they are inclined to think the Bible's claims about Jesus are true. And, being inclined to think the Bible's claims are true is compatible with a significant amount of doubt. 

Beliefs are formed in us by evidence we find persuasive. The evidence does not need to be ironclad or beyond a reasonable doubt in order to make belief possible and rational.  It only needs to be perceived as making the bible's claims more likely true than false

 

But being inclined to think the Bible's claims are true because the evidence indicates the claims are more likely true than false doesn't require a lot of evidence. The evidence would need to make an individual think there is at least a 51% chance that the Bible's claims are true. 

In the end, if a person wants to remain a Christian they need be inclined to think the Bible's claims about Jesus are true based on evidence that makes those claims more likely true than false. 

And Yet. . .

A case can be made that the standards of inclined to think and more likely true than false might be too high! That a commitment to Jesus is both possible and rational even if one isn't inclined to think the Bible's claims about Jesus are true and if one does not think the evidence is more likely true than false.   

Click here to discover how.

 

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