Bad Christians, Uncertainty, and Faith

Bad Christian Music is a new music label representing Emery, the Classic Crime, and others. They have a website which houses a podcast, a blog, a store, and more.

What I’ve seen so far is great. They have a recent article up called “You Can’t Prove Jesus” which lead to this article.

The basic point they made, which is one I have made here a number of times, is that you can prove Christianity from physical evidence, but not with certainty.

The way in which I want to elaborate is to say that this provides the groundwork for great definition of faith. Faith explains certainty. If someone says, “Are you certain about Christianity?” I can say, “Yes, because I have faith.”

In Christianity, the definition of faith is laid out in Hebrews 11:1, which reads, “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.”

I am not saying I am 100% sure because of faith without evidence. I am saying that however much the evidence convinces me, faith fills in the gap to make sure it adds up to 100% certainty. For example, say the evidence convinces me maybe 90%. The other 10% is a leap of faith I chose to take.

Is such faith rational? I think it is rational in at least four ways.

1 – Faith is rational when the related belief is justified

We have previously discussed that it is rational to claim something is true if it is more likely to be true than it’s negation and/or if it is more likely than the other available explanations. What we haven’t really discussed is that in some cases it is not only rational to claim that X is true, but it is also rational to claim that X is certain, or at least to act as though it is. The first way in which it is rational to have faith is when the related belief is justified.

Part of the definition of a justified true belief is that there is no known defeater. Basically, this means there is no known reason to think the statement is false. If a proposition is known to be true and there is no reason to think it is false then the degree of truth should be assumed to absolute.

Even if the existence of absolute truth is objected to, which it shouldn’t be, the proposition should be treated as certain if for no other reason than on the principle of charity.

2 – Faith is rational when benefits outweigh costs

I’ve previously written on what I call the Vandiverian Wager. This is a robust iteration of Pascal’s Wager and it is basically an argument that the expected return on investment for believing in Christianity is sufficiently high to warrant belief even if the absolute probability of Christianity being true is small, although I don’t think that probability is small in the real world.

A separate and interesting argument for benefits outweighing costs is the argument from religious endogeneity.

Let’s say there is a guy who tells you that if you bring him a cake he will give you a million dollars. You know and trust the guy, but you aren’t certain he is telling the truth. You figure there is a 75% chance he is telling the truth. Do you do it? Of course you do, because your expected value is still huge.

Now let’s say that God tells you that he would like it if you believe Christianity. You value making God happy at an infinite level. Even if you are only 1% sure that God actually told you this, you might rationally chose to believe Christianity is absolutely true.

3 – Faith is rational when it’s the best alternative

Someone has a gun to your head and you can do X or die. You do X, which you figure has a 45% chance of saving your life, because it’s the best alternative, even though you know it’s unlikely to work.

It could even be the case that the benefits do not outweigh the cost. The transaction could have a net negative expected value, but if it is either the least negative possible outcome or the only possible outcome then it is still rational.

This is related to what I have called Newton’s First Law of Behavioral Economics. You shouldn’t realign your belief system without a sufficient incentive because it is costly to do so. If there is an alternative belief system which seems equally true as yours, but not demonstrably better, you should not bother to adopt it. Only if it is demonstrably better should you consider adopting it or begin to realign your behavior, ceteris paribus.

This can be taken more broadly as economic rationality for many kinds of defensive behavior.

4 – Faith is rational when it increases productivity

Let’s say the level of conviction affects productivity. This is a plausible real-world hypothesis. For example, if you are convinced that studying will help you become a professional in the real world you might try harder and be more successful in your studies then you would be if you think your studies are a bunch of theoretical nonsense that doesn’t matter.

If conviction can provide a competitive advantage then maximizing conviction in a belief, which is the state of certainty in that belief, becomes attractive from a productivity standpoint. Clearly certainty is also sometimes detrimental, such as when investing in a competitive marketplace. The point is not that certainty is always efficient, but that certainty is sometimes efficient.

Specifically, conviction is advantageous when a task exhibits diseconomies of scope or benefits from specialization. Many production systems benefit from specialization, including any system which exhibits learning-by-doing.

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