By Bill Flavell | 29 August 2016
Religious people believe things on faith. Although they hate to admit it, this means they are certain some things are true with insufficient evidence or with no evidence at all.
Actually, it is obvious, even to religious people, that faith is a terrible reason to accept something is true. It is terrible because we know different people use faith to arrive at contradictory conclusions. So some, or all of these conclusions MUST be wrong. For example, using faith Christians believe Jesus was a god but Muslims believe he was only a man. Using faith Jews, Christians and Muslims believe there is only one god but, using faith, Hindus believe there are many.
But there is another way to demonstrate the failure of faith that might have more resonance with religious people—there are things people believe on faith that they cannot possibly know are true. And there are things people are certain about on faith that they cannot truly be certain about. Let’s look at some examples.
Muslims believe the Qur’an is perfect—that it contains no errors. I have yet to meet a Muslim who is not certain of this but how could anyone know it? No Muslim will claim to have read the entire Qur’an and confirmed every sub-clause of every sentence in every verse against validated evidence. So how do they know the Qur’an is perfect? Because someone told them and they chose to believe it on faith.
Claims of this sort cannot be shown to be true. There are many other claims that cannot be shown to be true. For example, the claim that God is omniscient. How could anyone be sure of that? They can’t—they have to believe it on faith. (I don’t even know how God could be sure of this—if there is something he doesn’t know, he wouldn’t know he doesn’t know it!)
There are other religious claims for which there may be some evidence but only enough to arrive at a probability that the claim is true and not enough to arrive at certainty. Take, for example, the claim that Jesus was a real person who actually lived rather than a character of fiction.
Outside of the Bible, we have no first-hand evidence that Jesus existed. For the entire first century Jesus is not mentioned by any scholar, historian, philosopher, politician or poet. Nor is he mentioned in any surviving private letters or official documents. Absolutely nothing has been found. It’s as if he didn’t exist. And that is odd if he really did perform miracles, anger the Roman and Jewish establishments, attract a large following, get crucified, die and resurrect.
Even within the Bible we have no first-hand evidence. The stories about Jesus were written 30 – 90 years or so after his alleged death and no one who wrote about him could have known him (scholars do not believe the authors were Jesus’ disciples—the names of the Gospels were added long after they were written). These second-hand Biblical accounts of Jesus’ life are themselves problematic and need to be read with caution.
The Gospels of Matthew and Luke are largely word-for-word copies of Mark yet, despite this, contain differences of fact and paint different pictures of what Jesus was like. We also see embellishments added to the later Gospels that sound fanciful. For example, can we really believe that long dead people arose from their graves and walked around the town greeting people as stated in Matthew 27:52-53?
Given the lack of evidence for Jesus’ existence and the nature of the hearsay stories in the Bible, what probability should we place on Jesus being a real historical character? Well, pick your own number, but you can only pick 100% certainty using faith—it is not warranted by the evidence.
Faith is a wholly useless way to determine what is true and what is false. So why do religious people use it? There is a simple answer to that. Faith is all they have. And it is worthless.
Reprinted with permission from the author.
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