Phil Stilwell on Quora

I’m starting to post answers on Quora.

Here’s the link.

The following was my latest posting of an answer.

The most basic false belief within Christianity today is the notion that salvific faith is rational. 

Salvific belief (belief that leads to salvation) is treated as binary in the Bible: either you believe in Jesus or you don’t. This is consistent with the binary dichotomy of Heaven and Hell, but it is not consistent with rational belief.

Rational belief is a degree of belief that maps to the evidence. For every proposition that requires an inductive assessment (this excludes our immediate perceptions), evidence, both confirming and disconfirming arrives incrementally.

Consider the following scenario.

Suppose you are being pursued by an angry bear, and you come to a canyon with, what appears to be, a very insecure rope bridge spanning the gap. You stop and look back at the bear. Based on the size and degree of anger of the bear, you surmise you have only a 10% chance of survival were you to turn and fight the bear. So you turn towards the bridge. You have only 15 seconds to evaluate whether the bridge will hold you. You give your end of the bridge a shake. You note how the bridge is anchored to the rocks. You examine the degree of fraying of the ropes.

Each of these steps in examination provides incremental evidence that will assess you in determining whether crossing the bridge or fighting the bear will give you the best chance of survival.

Note that the decision is binary. Either you fight the bear or you cross the bridge. But the degree of confidence in the chance of survival is not binary. Since the evidence has arrived incrementally, your degree of belief, if you are rational, must be recalibrated after each new piece of evidence arrives.

You are irrational if you, contrary to the evidence, believe with full certainty that the bridge will hold your weight. Even if the bridge looks quite secure and you have crossed that bridge without incident many times prior, absolute certainty is not warranted by the evidence, and would be irrational.

The Bible treats salvific belief as binary when the evidence is not binary. Christian apologists are busy adding to their arsenal evidences that they think will add up to a strong case for their position. But the belief that is required is absolute as demonstrated by the bible itself.

If you carefully read every biblical context of salvific belief, there is only belief and disbelief. There is no room for doubt. The Bible therefore is promoting irrationality. You can not rationally have an absolute degree of confidence when the degree of evidence is less than absolute. And since we must process the inductively-assessed evidence through fallible human minds, the balance of evidence is never absolute.

The bible clearly states “Whoever believes in him [Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” This is the irrational binary salvific belief required by the Bible.

When Tomas asked Jesus for evidence that it was really Jesus standing before him, Jesus (allegedly) showed Thomas his wounded hands. Thomas then believed (apparently absolutely). Jesus then said “You believe because you have seen. Blessed are those who do not see, yet believe.” Jesus is blessing the irrational act of believing to the same degree that Thomas did, yet with less evidence. Jesus himself promoted irrationality.

Martin Luther agreed with this biblical approach to irrational faith, calling reason a “whore”. Christians for centuries treated faith as something that comes into play when the evidence is insufficient. This notion of irrational faith was treated as clearly biblical for centuries…until just recently.

Recently, possibly due to the enormous successes of the rigorously rational scientific method, religions of all sorts have attempted to modify this notion of an irrational faith into some sort of more rational belief. But this appears to be merely a forced survival tactic that is in stark contradiction with 1) the binary treatment of salvific belief in the Bible, and 2) the traditional treatment of faith as a nobel irrationality by biblical scholars over the centuries.

But there is one more observation that renders disingenuous the claim of modern apologists that salvific belief is actually rational: these same apologists will encourage young children to make a quite binary decision about Jesus long before these children have been equipped with the tools of rationality essential to rationally weighing the evidence.

Therefore, let me propose that, the greatest falsehood within Christianity (and many other religions) is the notion that the faith contained in its holy book is somehow rational.

Once again, the actual faith of Christianity is not rational as made clear by the following.


  1. The Bible’s own treatment of faith as binary in every context of salvific belief.
  2. The long tradition of Christian leaders and scholars treating faith as inherently irrational, and treating reason a “whore”. 
  3. The current practice of Christians of promoting a binary decision about Jesus to young children before equipping these children with the tools necessary to rationally assess the evidence. 

Once you adopt this irrational faith promoted by many of the world’s religions as a legitimate way to acquire knowledge, you have surrendered yourself to a gullibility of the worst sort. 

Rationality may be uncomfortably rigorous, but she is far from an epistemically promiscuous whore.


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