Reasonable Faith

What is “Reasonable Faith”? I will examine this phrase later. I will now introduce my relationship with faith. I was brought up to ask questions. I have always been interested in spirituality. As a teacher, I have taught Religious education and have also been employed by faith schools. I studied Catholicism with an English-speaking Priest in Poland and in 2014, became a Catholic.

I also studied the Marriage course with my ex-Polish fiancee. We ended up going our separate ways. In July 2019, I moved to Vietnam and soon afterwards met a Buddhist Vietnamese Army doctor. My ideas on faith have now changed.

Before I begin, I think it is important to state that the testaments (old and new) are clearly important in a historical sense. They were early written accounts of what we needed to do and why etc. In this post, I will however argue that humans have progressed greatly since then and that therefore, we need something more secular.

Are Christian beliefs unique?

The short answer is NO. The longer answer requires some explanation…

According to Revelations, only those who have placed trust in Jesus have their names written in the Book of Life and will enter Heaven. William Craig (WC) has stated that anyone who isn’t Christian will NOT be saved. However, Pope Francis remarked that even atheists can go to heaven thanks to the redemption of Jesus. Like most Sunni, Shia Islam holds that all Muslims will eventually go to Jannah (Their Heaven) and so on.

So, there are obvious problems with the concept of heaven as detailed in my post on it. It is not unique to Christianity and raises the thorny question, who is right?

What about the resurrection? World mythology is full of religious figures: Dionysus, Persephone, Osiris, Odin and many others all apparently underwent resurrection. Modern medicine has resulted in many people coming back from the dead. There are in fact many reasons why people come back from the dead.

What about the virgin birth? History is also littered with parthenogenesis or virgin births and they’re not all miraculous. Bees do it. Birds do it. Even crayfish and some sharks do it.

Humans “have been laying claim to virgin births since time began”, Berwyn Lewis, author of ‘Venice’s Virgin Mother’

What about the concept of hell? On numerous occasions, the Qur’an seems to promise unbelievers (Infidels) that their destiny is hellfire. And roughly a third or less of Buddhists, Hindus, and Jews believe in the concept of hell. So the idea is not unique to Christianity, again.

What about miracles? Some of the “miracles” can be explained rationally. Walking on water is one of them. The Holy Island of Lindisfarne near Berwick-upon-Tweed in Scotland has a causeway between the Island and the mainland. At certain times of the day, the causeway is at the same level as the water surrounding it. Anyone walking on the causeway would thus appear to walk on water. Scientists routinely make blind people see again.

Other miracles such as turning water into wine are clearly impossible in a literal sense. They become possible if the act has a symbolic meaning – which again suggests that the bible/holy texts can not be taken literally. The problem with this is knowing how to interpret them and thus leads to arguments as to which denomination/sect is right.

What is so special about Earth? It has been calculated that there are approximately 400 billion Milky Way stars and there are 1-to-10 trillion orbiting planets. The probability that “God” only chose the planet earth is thus unlikely.

Scientists have estimated that there are around 2,150,000 animals in the sea and 5,620,000 animals that are terrestrial (land-based). So the Christian claim that the “son of God” was a male human does seem to be rather handy! It is also not unique to Christianity.

The ancient Egyptian pantheon of gods was filled with divine animals. Modern-day Hindus do not consider the cow to be a god and they do not worship it. They do, however, think cows should be protected and revered. Hindus believe in Brahma – commonly depicted as a red or golden complexioned bearded man, with four heads and hands.

Some people have even speculated that Gods are alien, etc. So there is no agreement as to where the gods are, what they look like and/or any other characteristic. We only have humans telling us which is “correct” and that isn’t helpful – because humans make mistakes and “God” doesn’t correct them!

Are the Quran and Gospels inerrant?

The word “inerrant” means incapable of being wrong. So, the short answer is that both the Quran and the Gospels are hopelessly contradictory.

Bart Ehrman claims the Bible was changed and is unreliable in his book “Misquoting Jesus–The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible.”

“We have only error-ridden copies, and the vast majority of these are centuries removed from the originals and different from them, evidently, in thousands of ways.”. Logically, therefore the Bible could not be the “fully inspired, inerrant word of God.”, Bart Ehrman and the Bible appeared to be a “very human book.”

Paul’s epistle was probably composed at Corinth in about c. AD 55-60. The Gospel of Mark probably dates from c. AD 66–70, Matthew and Luke around AD 85–90, and John AD 90–110. Rather curiously, “Paul” is the Greek version of the Hebrew name “Saul.” – which could explain why Luke mentions “Paul” in his gospel.

Before Saul of Tarsus became known as Paul, he openly opposed the followers of Jesus and vehemently sought to end the spread of the Gospel. Saul positioned himself in extreme hostility to the growing believers in Jesus and the spread of the Gospel message, even if that meant putting the followers of Jesus to death.

Paul’s epistle mentions no miracles at all. He also contradicts himself on many occasions. Furthermore, we are told by Paul to submit to governing authorities i.e. Rome. He also mentions that such an authority (polytheistic Rome) has been appointed by God.

In essence, Jesus taught one thing, and Paul taught something completely different. So, many Christians have issues with Paul. This means he is not trustworthy as a source. Although, curiously, on June 29, 1867, Pope Pius IX canonized/elevated Paul to sainthood. Remember, good Catholics must accept all saints!

Bart Ehrman says the modern Bible was shaped by mistakes and intentional alterations. He has openly stated the gospels are not eyewitness accounts. The gospels were written at least thirty years after Jesus’s death. These gospels came from stories that were in circulation year after year after year, and thus got changed.

How do we know that the stories got changed in the process of transmission? We know the stories got changed because there are numerous differences in our accounts that cannot be reconciled with one another. To sum up, there is no way you can use the gospels as absolute “proof”.

We can conduct a simple experiment to show how unreliable the gospels are. Put together a long line of students and play the game “Chinese whispers”. This involves telling a student at one end of the line a very long story they have never heard before and then asking them to retell it to the next person in line until it gets to the end of the line. I guarantee that the final story will be completely different to the starting story. Now imagine the retelling of a story for over thirty years and it becomes obvious that Bart Ehrman is right.

Defining “Reasonable Faith”

This section aims to challenge the notion of reasonable faith as promoted by WC. The word reasonable is defined as having sound judgment; being fair and sensible. Faith is a strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof. 

I typed the question “Which faith is a “reasonable faith”?” into the Google search engine in June 2022, clicked search and within seconds, I was greeted with the following quote…

“Christianity is the most reasonable worldview available that provides the best answers to the most important questions of life and if we, as Christians don’t know how to defend our faith, we are not being the salt and light that we are called to be.”, William Craig

That statement simply isn’t true. I would thus encourage Google and other search engines to take it off their “top” search result as it implies this is the best answer. There are over 3000 Christian denominations. Jehovah’s Witnesses identify themselves as Christian – but not always vice versa. How can it be the most reasonable faith, when they can’t agree amongst themselves as to what is the “word of God”?

The world’s primary religions fall into two main categories: Abrahamic religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam; and Indian religions, which include Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and others. So, the next problem with the phrase “reasonable faith” is knowing which one it refers to. There is no reason to suggest that any one faith has a monopoly in this regard.

Science is reasonable. Let me illustrate why. A woman is standing and has an outstretched arm. In her hand, she holds an apple and then lets it go. The forces of gravity will result in the apple falling down to the earth. The beauty of this simple experiment is that it works anywhere on our planet. It works on other planets too!

A person’s faith can affect their grasp of scientific truth. Religious scientists constitute a tiny minority. In contrast, the vast majority of scientists are atheists/secular. It is perhaps unsurprising that high levels of religiosity have been linked to lower levels of intelligence.

The ability to reason is commonly and closely associated with Science.

“No superstitions, no absurd legends, none of those dogmas which insult reason and nature”, Voltaire

Buddhists believe in life after death because the Buddha taught that human beings are each born an infinite number of times unless they achieve Nirvana. My wife is a Buddhist Vietnamese doctor. She is a kind, loving, helpful, faithful and spiritual woman. She has been recognised by the Vietnamese military newspaper and by the Vietnamese foreign minister for her work. She is a very private and good person. So, I am unable to divulge her name.

To say that my wife will go to a kind of hell when she dies, simply for being a Buddhist is ridiculous, insulting and offensive. If there is a God, I can not believe he/she/it would take sides or punish good people of different faiths or of no faith

Rather curiously, Pope Francis’s comments about atheists being able to go to heaven appear to confirm the point I am making and openly contradict some religious dogma! It is as if he is admitting that simply being good is enough.

“There’s no Hell mentioned in the Old Testament. The punishment of the dead is not specified there. It’s only with gentle Jesus, meek and mild, that the idea of eternal torture for minor transgressions is introduced”, Christopher Hitchens

So hell didn’t exist before Jesus. It obviously came into existence overnight! This does NOT justify following him. If anything, it provides a very good reason to despise him. He wanted people to be afraid of asking questions, etc. That is intrinsically unhealthy. There have also been other “messiahs”. Most of them have simply been discredited. Why not go one further?

Science and Religion

With the Big Bang, evolution, and a wealth of other knowledge-based advances, science has also inadvertently forced the reinterpretation of religion in places where its dogma is in conflict with overt truth.

Eratosthenes (l. c. 276-195 BCE) was known for being the first to calculate the circumference of the earth and its axial tilt. He realised the earth was round and not flat – a belief commonly held at that time

When Aristotle’s metaphysical notions contradicted basic Christian doctrines, such as asserting the eternity of the universe instead of its creation in time by God, they were modified or rejected.

Galileo pioneered the use of the telescope for observing the night sky. For his heresy in claiming that Earth orbits the Sun, Galileo was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Roman Catholic Church in 1633. He was not tortured or executed. He served his sentence under house arrest and died at home in 1642 after an illness. 

Contrary to popular belief, the Church accepted Copernicus’ heliocentric theory before a wave of Protestant opposition led the Church to ban Copernican views in the 17th century. 

Darwin did not intend to challenge religious beliefs with his theory of evolution but many religious believers responded to it with fury. These reasons included: The theory of evolution seemed to go against religious teachings that God made the Earth and created all living things, as they knew them.

There are certain laws that are always obeyed – such as gravity…

“I believe that the discovery of these laws has been humankind’s greatest achievement, for it’s these laws of nature — as we now call them — that will tell us whether we need a god to explain the universe at all.”, Stephen Hawking

“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”. He described himself as an agnostic and stated that he did not believe in life after death. Einstein believed the problem of God was the “most difficult in the world” – a question that could not be answered, “simply with yes or no”. He conceded that “the problem involved is too vast for our limited minds”, Albert Einstein

Distorting science to fit your beliefs

There is a Youtube video titled “Is Evolution an Issue with Christians?” and in it, you will hear WC say, “God used evolution…”. This is distorting the Darwinian approach to make it fit creationism…

“If you’re talking about creation, you are not a Darwinian and you have not ‘come to terms with evolution.’ You are merely a muddled Christian who can’t see a contradiction staring him in the face.”, Laszlo Bencze (philosopher/photographer)

If God knew about evolution, how come the world had to wait for Darwin?

Rather than reconciling scripture with evolutionary theory, Christians invented a new one called Intelligent Design. It claimed that living things are too complex to be explained by the randomness of natural selection.

To sum up, scientists look for evidence to derive answers, but creationists look for evidence to support their faith. It’s unscientific to selectively look for and document evidence-based on how favourable it is to your beliefs.

There is no scientific experiment, either hypothetical or actual, that could prove any god’s existence or lack of. Most scientists thus don’t bother trying to find out. So the reality of many faiths is that they cherry-pick what they believe and why.

Cherry-picking is not only dishonest and misleading to the public, it reduces the credibility of experimental findings because it does not present all the results of an experiment. It is thus easy to present a success when it could be anything but.

William Craig

William Craig (WC) is a Wesleyan and an apologist. An apologist is someone who offers an argument in defence of something controversial. Wesleyans believe in the Trinity, biblical authority, salvation through the atoning death of Jesus Christ, good works as the fruit of faith and regeneration, the second coming of Christ, bodily resurrection of the dead, and the final judgment. In other words, the bible is nearly always right. 

WC has published a book, “In Quest of the Historical Adam” in 2021. In it, he describes Genesis 1–11 as “mytho-history” and concludes that the entire Bible considers Adam the historical progenitor of the human race.

WC also uses the Fine-Tuning Argument (FTA). This is a recent variant of the Design Argument (also known as the Teleological Argument) for the existence of God. The FTA grew out of discoveries prompted by the development of Big Bang cosmology in the twentieth century. The quote below by Christopher Hitchens answers it very well.

“For a God who could create the entire universe, making a woman pregnant wasn’t that big a deal!”, Craig

“it is handy for the faithful to now say that ‘Ah, on second thought, evolution was all part of the design’. He pointed out. “I would rechristen [it] ‘retrospective evidentialism’: in other words, everything can, in due time, be made to fit.”, Christopher Hitchens

WCs statement above doesn’t solve anything – it compounds the issues. How can God exist before time and space? How did God get there? If God created Jesus, who created God? Why did it take so long for God to put his “son” on earth?

Rather worryingly, he also says things like…

“We know Christianity to be true by the self-authenticating witness of God’s Holy Spirit.”, William Craig

“You either have to be part of the solution, or you’re going to be part of the problem”, T. Siedner

Craig’s statement above is a bit like saying you only need faith for it to be true. This is epistemological solipsism. It is a bit like me insisting that Russell’s teapot exists and my insistence is the only thing I need for it to exist.

I think Creationists ignore well-documented scientific proofs and facts (that can be easily tested). Instead, they trust scriptures written a very long time ago. The quote from T. Sidner above thus seems an appropriate response.

Examining “reasonable faith”

Craig has openly stated that the “Hebrew genocides were a good and moral act”. It is however worth reading the article “Why I refuse to debate with William Lane Craig” by Richard Dawkins. In it, he examines some of Craig’s beliefs.

“You would search far to find a modern preacher willing to defend God’s commandment, in Deuteronomy 20: 13-15, to kill all the men in a conquered city and to seize the women, children and livestock as plunder. And verses 16 and 17 are even worse: “But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth: But thou shalt utterly destroy them” You might say that such a call to genocide could never have come from a good and loving God. Any decent bishop, priest, vicar or rabbi would agree. But listen to Craig. He begins by arguing that the Canaanites were debauched and sinful and therefore deserved to be slaughtered.”, Richard Dawkins

This is not a “reasonable faith”. Moreover, the real truth about faith is that, if you grow up in an Islamic country, you are likely to be Islamic and so on. How can there be a “reasonable faith” when so many people around the world disagree? It doesn’t make any sense.

Using statistics from 2010, that looked at the denominations of the Christian population worldwide by major traditions (Statista.com), we can see that 50.1% of all Christians are Catholic and 36/7% are Protestant etc. In the United States, less than 1% were Wesleyans. How is that representative or reasonable? It looks to me like WC is basically saying, “I am right and everyone else is wrong”.

Doubt is better than “reasonable faith”

Doubting and questioning things: that’s what scientists do. Indeed, the paradox is that science, when properly functioning, questions accepted facts and yields both new knowledge and new questions—not any sense of certainty.

“I appear as a sceptic, who believes that doubt is the great engine, the great fuel of all inquiry, all discovery and all innovation.”, Christopher Hitchens

“If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense.”, Bertrand Russell

Russell’s teapot is a clever way of showing the philosophic burden of proof lies upon a person making empirically unfalsifiable claims. In terms of stating why Atheists don’t need to say why they don’t believe in God, the Richard Dawkins quote below nails it…

“The onus is NOT on the rest of us to say why we do not. We who are atheists are also a-fairyists, a-teapotists and a-unicornists, but we needn’t bother saying so.”, Richard Dawkins

I would rephrase Craig to say that “Man-made discoveries provide the most reasonable worldview available and provide the best answers to the most important questions of life, etc.”

If you are going to make extraordinary claims, you should by definition have extraordinary evidence to back them up. Russell’s teapot argument is often used to dispel ludicrous beliefs such as fairies. So, if we can do that, it seems entirely logical to also dispel gods too.

Christians, Muslims and other faith holders, are all atheists of a sort, in that they don’t believe in any other belief system. The only real difference is that Atheists simply go one faith further.

The evidence

Perhaps a better to deal with Faith is to look at the “facts” concerning the most important tenets of Christian beliefs – the resurrection and the virgin birth. Bart Ehrman has said that the Gospels are our sources for the resurrection. So let us look at the “witness” accounts. How did the disciples react to Jesus’ resurrection? 

  • Mark 16:11  – They did not believe it
  • Mathew 28:17 – Some did not believe it and others worshipped him
  • Luke 24:11 – They did not believe it. It seemed like nonsense

Notice how few of Jesus’s disciples treat this event as being the “resurrection”. So why should anyone else? When you want to build a skyscraper, you need to have a very solid foundation. If the foundation isn’t there, the skyscraper will simply fall down.

If we also look at the virgin birth, we find it is only recorded in two of the four gospels. Matthew has no census, shepherds, or presentation in the temple, and implies that Joseph and Mary are living in Bethlehem at the time of the birth, while Luke has no magi, flight into Egypt or massacre of the infants, and states that Joseph lives in Nazareth. According to the New Testament (Paperback version, May 29, 2020), Jesus’ biological father was Joseph. So, there is no agreement over this tenet either!

As far as Paul tells us, Jesus performed no miracles at all. There is no virgin birth, no Sermon on the Mount, no feeding the 5000, no public ministry, no women followers, no John the Baptist, no cleansing of the temple, no final words, no Trinity, no hell, no Judas as betrayer (he mentions “the twelve”), and no Great Commission.

If we now introduce David Hume’s argument: Which is more likely? That a suspension of the natural order occurred in your favour, or that you’ve made a mistake? We can begin to sympathize with Bart Ehrman…

Even if we accept the extraordinary proposition without proof that Jesus did rise from the dead, as Craig says, that assumed fact does not lead to the conclusion that Jesus was divine or that God exists, as Christopher Hitchens has pointed out.

Here are some simple questions that highlight the differences between faith and man-made discoveries…

  1. You can pray to God to transport you from New York to Boston or you can use a man-made mode of transport (car, train, bus, etc). Which one are you going to choose?
  2. You can pray to God to heal a broken leg or go to a hospital. Which one are you going to choose?

Rather curiously, creationists like Craig do NOT rely on GOD to promote their message. They use technology! That speaks volumes.

Proceeding to believe in something extraordinary without proof can NOT be “reasonable faith” in any sense. I am reminded of Carl Sagan’s brilliant “The Dragon in my Garage”. In the case of the dragon, we expect footprints and flames, in the case of miracles and prayer we expect the ability to test them – and proponents subsequently attempt to hide these things from experimental scrutiny.

It’s easy to create your own unfalsifiable belief. Just follow these steps:

  1. Express a belief
  2. Someone proposes a way to test it
  3. Add or change an attribute of the belief to render the proposed test invalid, and simply reiterate step 1

Similarly, early Christians including Paul, identified heaven with other planets. However, now that we know that other planets are uninhabitable – and do not have angels, demons and God – heaven has moved to an invisible dimension. The goalposts keep moving! What a surprise! When are we going to stop being fooled by religion?

evolution in beliefs

Conclusion

“Beliefs do not change facts. Facts if one is rational, should change beliefs”, Ricky Gervais

“A supernatural creator, God, almost certainly does not exist, and that belief in a personal god qualifies as a delusion, which he defines as a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence.”, Richard Dawkins

Based on these quotes, you could thus argue that Creationists are both irrational and deluded.

If Creationists value the old testament, then it makes sense to join the Amish. The Amish follow the teachings of Jesus closer than most Christian sects do. They rightly state, “Our faith will be lost if we adopt technology”.

Jesus was a simple man and delivered an uncomplicated message. He didn’t shout or promote himself on the internet. He didn’t seek debates with highly respected theologians or scientists in a bid to prove himself.

Many of the problems we now face (pollution, global warming, overpopulation, etc) can NOT be resolved by looking backwards. We need solutions and not arguments over invisible gods. We will resolve issues by asking questions and finding the answers.

Moreover, most people (including most Creationists!) do NOT want to live like Jesus! Why? Hermetically sealed communities (like the Amish) have health issues. There are higher incidences of particular genetic disorders, especially among the Old Order Amish. These disorders include dwarfism, Angelman syndrome, and various metabolic disorders, such as Tay-Sachs disease, as well as an unusual distribution of blood types. There is also a culture of incest, rape, and abuse. There is also no “recognition” – something that Craig clearly desires.

There are obvious issues with the kinds of people who believe in the Bible. People like Peter Sutcliffe and George W. Bush are not normal! They can be categorised as creationists, fundamentalists, extremists, lunatics, idiots or mass murderers! These people are typically dangerous.

I agree with the George Carlin quote below because there is no reason why other people should have to listen to people like this. After all, you don’t expect me to continually justify the existence of a flying teapot, do you? Keeping beliefs private is simply safer for everyone else as highlighted below:

“Thou shalt keep thy religion to thyself”, George Carlin

Religion is “based upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing – fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand. It is because fear is at the basis of those two things.”, Bertrand Russell

“Religion is a totalitarian belief. It is the wish to be a slave. It is the desire that there be an unalterable, unchallengeable, tyrannical authority who can convict you of thought crime while you are asleep, who can subject you to total surveillance around the clock every waking and sleeping minute of your life, before you’re born and, even worse and where the real fun begins after you’re dead. A celestial North Korea. Who wants this to be true? Who but a slave desires such a ghastly fate?”, Christopher Hitchens

Humans are not labelled “a-fairyist” for not believing in fairies. It is simply treated as being fact. Why should anyone be labelled as an Atheist? Logically, there is no distinction. All babies are born without a religion. That label comes later in life. That seems unfair. It is as if we are somehow expected to defend a perfectly rational position. That is a result of dogma and that in a nutshell, is why religions are a problem and not a solution.

Some people have argued that Buddhism is “scientific” (a kind of “science of the mind” or an “inner science”). You could argue, therefore, that it is a more reasonable faith. Buddhism is very close to being an atheist religion as it is “without belief in any deity.”

Spirituality is more of a practice and has to do with having a sense of peace and purpose. It also relates to the process of developing beliefs around the meaning of life and connection with others. The following quotes are all about Spirituality.

It is “constantly coming back, looking inward, getting re-centred, and looking beyond ourselves.”, Krista Tippett

“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light‐years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual. So are our emotions in the presence of great art or music or literature, or acts of exemplary selfless courage such as those of Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.”, Carl Sagan

There is a harsh truth to reality, science works each and every time. Praying to God doesn’t. History proves that faith often hinders progress and often results in corruption, war and evilness etc. It is time to put “God” aside.

Moreover, very few people want to live like Christ or believe everything he apparently said (and rightly so). People of different faiths have now mixed in many western countries to create more cosmopolitan societies. We need something more independent.

The phrase “Reasonable Faith” is probably an oxymoron. I think it is better to have faith in yourself and start asking questions. Doubt is far better than certainty. Doubt leads you to find out for yourself and not blindly accept what someone else tells you. An increasing number of people now need a much fairer and more rational secular morality



Author: Piers Midwinter
I am an artist and a teacher. I am currently teaching at a Cambridge International School in Vietnam.