Why do we believe the implausible? – Do we have to in order to be good Christians?

Questions concerning why or whether we should believe in implausible things that lack evidence come up tangentially in many threads on this blog. They often comes up when people are trying to show that that the Book of Mormon is not believable because it has stuff in it that is at odds with current understanding of archeology or history.  At risk of starting another boring discussion of archeological evidence , I am genuinely curious about in these questions and how believers answer them.

I think it is clear that both LDS and Evangelicals (1) believe things to be true that are historically very implausible and (2) believe these things without the type of objective evidence that is generally accepted as required to establish historically implausible things, and (3) believe that its extremely important to believe these things to be true, despite there implausibility and lack of objective evidence.

When it comes to my questions, it is irrelevant what specifically these beliefs are are and I think its probably counterproductive to compare lists, even if one religion had a longer list, there is are things on each or their lists of implausibilities that are important and maybe even critical to the religion.

It seems that in order to be a strong member of either group you cannot take the position of agnosticism even when there is barely any of evidence to justify belief.    It seems that in order to be a strong follower you need to overlook the lack of evidence and embrace some things as doctrine (e.g. Inerrancy of the Bible, the divine power behind the translation of the Book of Mormon, or even the Resurrection).

Apologetics of course is the activity of making these implausibilities seem more plausible, or at least not silly, but they seem to be more of an afterthought rather than the primary ground of most people’s belief.  Without some other ground to believe, it seems that there is no compelling reason to engage in apologetics.  However should our faith fail if our apologetics do?

So, arise the questions:

A. Should you believe that some stories are true even when there is no historical evidence?

B. On what basis should you trust stories that are not historically proven, or very plausible?

C. Can you be a good Christian if you are not willing to accept some things that are unsupportably implausible?

D. Do Mormons and Evangelicals answer these questions differently?

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37 thoughts on “Why do we believe the implausible? – Do we have to in order to be good Christians?

  1. Jared, I think calling it “implausible” is misleading.

    Religion deals with subjects that are quite beyond any inquiry of plausibility to begin with.

    Take the question of why anything exists in the first place.

    This is not a subject that science has anything to say about, one way or the other. It’s not verifiable, and it’s not in the orbit of empirical inquiry to begin with.

    When you get right down to it the following statements:

    1. The universe just exists because it does and

    2. A wizard did it

    are both equally plausible and equally implausible.

    They are not subjects of proof to begin with, so asking whether they are plausible or not is quite beside the point.

    This is why science honestly has nothing to say about whether God exists or not. Honestly, society shouldn’t expect scientists to have an opinion on God any more than it should expect trapeze artists to have such opinions. Nor should either group’s opinions on the subject matter any more than the others’.

  2. All you say is true, Seth, but the claim of Christianity (of evangelical, Mormon and most other varieties) is that God intervened in history and that there were supernatural but nevertheless physical manifestations of that, whether we’re talking about the life/resurrection/ascension of Jesus or (in the case of Mormonism) the appearance of metal plates in upstate New York. Because of the claim that those were actual, historical events, it seems to some extent that they’re subject to rational historical inquiry.

    Certainly, there are some religious propositions that aren’t all that important in the scheme of things; I’m not sure how much difference it makes, for example, if Jonah was swallowed by a big fish or if that’s merely inspired fiction. But, at least in my opinion, if you take away the Resurrection, the “Christianity” that you have left is a far different religion. Ditto for the plates of Mormonism.

    Now, I do think there is objective evidence of the resurrection and of the plates — but there’s no absolute proof of either. At some point, and this is true for evangelicals as well as Mormons, a leap of faith is required. I don’t think it’s a blind leap, but I can see why others might.

  3. I have a big issue with linking plausibility with evidence of something. In fact, I spent a great deal of my not-so-free time yesterday thinking about this issue.

    I am not a trained logician, but I have some basic concepts of logic, and I see the argument about evidence going something like this: there is a lack evidence, therefore there is evidence of lack.

    To put it another way:

    A = evidence for something
    B = something exists

    The argument is that

    A indicates B; therefore, if there is no A, there must not be B.

    How does this play out?

    A = cultivated fields in a particular area

    B = non-nomadic people exist in a particular area

    The argument is thus:

    Cultivated fields in a particular area indicate that non-nomadic people exist in a particular area; therefore, if there are no cultivated fields in a particular area, there must not be any non-nomadic people in a particular area.

    What the argument is claiming is that since there are not any cultivated fields, there must not be any people there. It is faulty logic, because you can quickly determine an exception that proves the argument false by making the particular area specific in the second part:

    Cultivated fields in a particular area indicate that non-nomadic people exist in a particular area; therefore, if there are no cultivated fields in Chicago, there must not be any non-nomadic people in Chicago.

    Clearly, there are non-nomadic people in Chicago, thus, the argument is false. But this is the kind of argument we see all the time when it comes to plausibility v. implausibility in religious beliefs. We say to our opponents, “Hey, there is no evidence that your belief is true, therefore, your belief must not be true!”

    Eric says that because a religion makes historical claims, it is subject to historical inquiry. I agree. But, having a FIL who is an historian and has spoken to me of this ad nauseum, historians are the first to acknowledge that it is not possible to a) be completely objective, b) to ever know everything that happened, and c) to know for sure if the person who wrote an account was telling the truth or not. Which is to say that just because the there is no corroborating evidence for the historical record, there are so many things that could happen in the course of human actions that it is always possible that something happened as someone described. It also means that, if we are to rely solely on human means, we can also never fully trust what we have.

    Which is all a long, roundabout way to say that I am perfectly comfortable having faith in something despite the lack of physical, concrete evidence. As my mum is so fond of saying, eventually we have got to let go, and let God.

  4. Your reasoning is bad, and based on a strawman argument.

    Nobody is saying “Hey, there is no evidence that your belief is true, therefore, your belief must not be true!” as a logical conclusion. People are saying “There is no evidence for this, so there is no reason to believe it is true.”

    Lack of evidence is extremely relevant. I’m not saying that where there is no evidence of A, A did not happen, but where A is the kind of thing that in human experience usually leaves evidence, and we haveno evidence, then A probably did not happen.

    You’ve got to understand that we’re not talking about math or chemistry here. We’re talking about dealing with fuzzy realms of probability. Something does not have to be conclusory evidence to be relevant evidence. Sure, we can all think of scenarios where, despite A’s propensity for leaving evidence, A could conceivably not leave evidence. Because of that, we can’t disprove A. But that’s not what we are trying to do. We are trying to determine if A is plausible. Something can be unlikely but still possible, and something can be extremely unlikely and yet still happen, as long as it is not impossible, but that’s not what we’re talking about.

    Also, for the record, Chicago has cultivated fields: my back yard is presently in the process of being cultivated.

  5. A. Should you believe that some stories are true even when there is no historical evidence?

    Sure, why not?

    Of course, I guess it depends by what you mean by “true.” For the most part, I couldn’t care less about historical actuality of most scripture stories and am much more interested in the message or the metaphysical truth the stories convey.

    For example, it’s not going to stress me out one bit if I get to the other side and discover that there was no global flood or that Adam and Eve didn’t actually exist. I don’t rule it out, but I just don’t care that much. I recognize this idea does stress some folks out, though, and because it’s not a big deal to me, I don’t begrudge them their belief or try to “prove” to them how implausible it is.

    B. On what basis should you trust stories that are not historically proven, or very plausible?

    If by “trust stories” you mean make life decisions based upon them, you should trust them on the basis that they make your life better and they are meaningful for you, your community, and your family.

    C. Can you be a good Christian if you are not willing to accept some things that are unsupportably implausible?

    Yes, with the caveat that I think it is unkind and therefore unChristian to try to shove your lack of belief in the literality of scripture down other people’s throats when it is important to them.

    D. Do Mormons and Evangelicals answer these questions differently?

    I think for the most part, the majority of active believers in both camps are fairly invested in the historical reality of their founding stories. This is changing, however.

  6. I think all people have beliefs in implausible things. Miracles are implausible (by definition). Life being created from non-life is implausible. Consciousness is implausible. So I don’t have any issue with anyone believing any particular thing just because it’s implausible.

    It’s in the face of counter-evidence that I think the implausible needs to be weighed. Someone might think my microwave is creating miracles, but based on further evidence I think they need to reevaluate that belief.

    I don’t raise any objections to Mormon reliance on miracles to explain any particular event. I believe in a talking donkey just as much as Mormons do. I believe that donkey was only able to talk because God miraculously defied all physical barriers and made it talk. I can’t give historical proof that this specific event took place. I freely acknowledge that it’s an improbable event.

    If Mormons say that Joseph translated the plates by looking into a hat at some magic stones, I can’t argue with it. It’s acknowledged to be a miracle. I believe miracles can and do take place. If we’ve got evidence that it didn’t really happen that way, only then do I think that miracle needs to be reevaluated.

    The problem that religions get themselves into is in their non-miraculous claims. IF it’s the claim that God made all evidence of Nephites and Lamanites disappear, then there isn’t much I can say. But IF it’s the claim that the Nephites and Lamanites are the principle ancestors of all Native American people, I’ve got some things to investigate and explore.

    All worldviews make extraordinary claims. Our job is to investigate the world with all the tools available to us (science, history, philosophy, art, ethics, etc.) and see which worldview makes the most sense of the world around us. Whose implausible claims match up the best with what we see around us?

  7. I think that we tend to overlook allot of perfectly good evidence. For example, some evidence of God includes the earth and all of the miraculous wonders such as the eco system, the water cylce, our senses and self awarenes. There is so much order in the universe. Also we have many recorded witnesses of gospel beliefs. We have witneses who say they have seen angels. Also, we have the evidence through the Holy Ghost that testifies to our spirits.

    The same is true for both mainstream Christianity and Mormonism. Mormons have the Holy Ghost, the Book of mormon, many witnesses of spiritual events and a number of witnesses who saw and held the Book of Mormon and who claim visitis from angels.

    God does not seem to want to justify his claims by physical evidence. He uses witnesses and personal spiritual communications of various sorts. People who are dependent upon physical evidence for spiritual things are on very shaky ground indeed.

  8. I have to say that Jesus provided miracles SO THAT people would believe.

    Peter, what do you do with Thomas? No where is he condemned for asking for evidence. Jesus was more than happy to supply him with the evidence he asked for. I rather like Thomas’ request for sufficient evidence of an extraordinary claim.

  9. Also, for the record, Chicago has cultivated fields: my back yard is presently in the process of being cultivated.

    Do you live in the Chicago city limits? Also, what do you mean when you use the word “cultivated”?

    I didn’t say anybody here specifically used the bad argument, but I have heard lots of people in many cases use it. I am well aware of the fact that we are talking about fuzzy issues here. I think that makes my point all the more relevant. It is impossible to disprove anything when it comes to religion. The very nature of religion forces us to accept things that are not provable.

    Tim, while I agree with many of your points, I do think it is worthwhile to note that worldviews are constantly changing. By comparing religious claims with the current worldview, we should also be acknowledging that, just because the belief doesn’t fit now, it may fit later in the future as our understanding of the world around us changes.

  10. Tim, under what circumstances did Jesus provide miracles or “signs?”

    And what do you make of his recorded refusals to provide signs?

  11. Seth,

    First and foremost, Easter morning is a sign for us to know that Jesus was who he said he was. He told us it would happen, then made it happen. Jesus backed up his resurrection smack.

    Here are some references of Jesus saying his miracles are presented as proof for belief. (bolded is my brief synopsis of the verse)

    the miracles speak for me
    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+10:24-26&version=NIV

    believe the miracles
    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+10:37-39&version=NIV

    believe on the evidence of the miracles
    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+14:10-12&version=NIV

    if he keeps performing miracles, everyone will believe in him
    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+11:48&version=NIV

    the miracles reveal him
    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+12:36-38&version=NIV

    A general theme attached to these verses is that those who are not Jesus’ sheep did not believe despite the miracles. When Jesus refused to provide signs it was because he knew it would be pearls cast before swine. They often had all the signs they needed. When they acknowledged the signs they still doubted his authority and claimed it was from the devil.

  12. You’ll notice all of those references come from John. In comparison, in Mark, when Jesus does a miracle, he tells people to keep quiet about it because he doesn’t want to be revealed. The “hidden Jesus” Mark presents doesn’t want his miracles talked about. The “proclaimed Jesus” of John makes himself known.

  13. That’s pretty-much in agreement with the conventional Mormon wisdom about “signs” – that they are meant to be tokens to bolster the already-faithful, not meant to be proof to satisfy the morbid desire for the novel among unbelievers.

  14. A. Should you believe that some stories are true even when there is no historical evidence?

    I’m willing to take some things on faith. I suspect that there are some hardcore skeptics out there who would say “no” though.

    B. On what basis should you trust stories that are not historically proven, or very plausible?

    It’s a matter of credibility to me. There are many stories and accounts in the Bible that have been proven plausible; there are some accounts which historians once believed the Bible got wrong only to have later evidence vindicate the Bible’s account.

    I’ll freely admit that if the main texts for Christianity were Genesis and Exodus, I would have a much harder time believing.

    C. Can you be a good Christian if you are not willing to accept some things that are unsupportably implausible?

    I think so, because being Christian has more to do with how your faith manifests itself in the here and now. I’ll take a person who doesn’t believe in inerrancy and rejects some of the things in the Bible but actually lives like a Christian over a person who mentally affirms inerrancy and all of the historical claims of the Bible but acts like a jerk.

    Jesus talks about people not making it into heaven because they did not care for the poor and needy. He never talks about people not making it into heaven because they weren’t sure if the slaughter of the Midianites in Numbers 33 really happened.

    D. Do Mormons and Evangelicals answer these questions differently?

    By my own experience, I think Mormons have a tendency to downplay the usefulness of evidence in the development of a testimony because they know they have less of it to refer to. Likewise, some evangelicals who interact with Mormonism overcompensate and promote evidence to the exclusion of other avenues of developing a testimony because they’re trying to play to our strengths.

    When it comes to the rank and file that fill the pews of our congregations though, I don’t think they’re all that different. They believe because of personal, subjective reasons and they haven’t given much consideration to the question of evidence for the faith.

  15. I agree with everything Jack said in her answers.

    I agree with Tim’s analysis of the Biblical reaction to miracles. I love how the different authors of the Gospels had different interpretations of the same events. I think there is a lot we can learn from this.

    I read something by Dante Shepherd of Surviving the World this morning that I find totally applicable to this discussion.

  16. Do you live in the Chicago city limits?

    Yes. I live in Lakeview.

    Also, what do you mean when you use the word “cultivated”?

    cul·ti·vat·ed   /ˈkʌltəˌveɪtɪd/ –adjective
    1.prepared and used for raising crops; tilled: cultivated land.

    We are growing spinach, arugula, corn, beans, squash, sunflowers, strawberries, and basil. We’ve dug up the lawn, started seeds, and this weekend we are mulching and planting. That’s cultivated. In Chicago. I doubt you will find a city where no cultivation is going on.

    Anyway, the problem is that your example is a bad, bad strawman. You’ve invented a pretend example that’s easy to poke holes in for all kinds of reasons. Nobody is saying anything like what you are suggesting. We’re not pointing to one questionable piece of evidence and demanding it. We’re saying that out of all of the different kinds of evidence for a civilization, there is none available for the Nephite civilization. We have one text, produced in the 19th century by miraculous means. So we have no more reason to believe in the Nephites than we do the Aquilonians.

    We’re not lacking one arbitrary piece of evidence for a civilization; we’re lacking all of it. If the Nephite situation was analogous to your “cultivated fields in Chicago” garbage, then you could say (something analogous to) “sure, there are no cultivated fields, but what about all of these Nephite skyscrapers, these Nephite newspapers, and this gigantic sign that says ‘Zarahemla City Limits?'”

  17. A. Should you believe that some stories are true even when there is no historical evidence?

    There are different kinds of “true.” A story can be True even though it never really happened. And even then, it depends on context. Even stories for which there are no evidence can be accepted as literal historic fact for the purposes of religious belief–if not for the purposes of a historian–if they hand together with other things that do have evidence and there’s no compelling counterevidence.

    B. On what basis should you trust stories that are not historically proven, or very plausible?

    I think it depends on what you’re trusting it for. If you are going to blow yourself and a crowded subway train up based on your belief in the literal, historical truth of a story that is not historically proven, or very plausible, then no. Definitely no.

    To trust what they say about human existence, to trust what they say about ethical behavior, and to trust what they say about our relationship and our potential relationship with God? Absolutely.

    C. Can you be a good Christian if you are not willing to accept some things that are unsupportably implausible?

    That depends entirely on what it means to be a good Christian. Are we talking about whether you can follow the teachings of Jesus without accepting implausible stories? Sure.

    Can you get saved from your sins and go to heaven without accepting plausible stories? Well, that’s a different question.

  18. Kullervo,

    I’m not sure softening the arguments from absence of evidence with probabilities makes them less of a fallacy. Can you imagine hearing this in court:

    “Out of all the possible evidence of your innocence, there isn’t any, so you’re probably not innocent.”

    Or,

    “There is absolutely no evidence of your innocence, therefore we have no more reason to believe in your innocence than we have to believe in Conan.”

    Anyone can see why that reasoning is a fallacy. We keep it around though because it’s such a useful hypocrisy. For example, if you substitute the word “guilt” for innocence in the above, most people would agree with it even though we haven’t changed the form of the argument. We do it all the time in science, too. So I think, for example, the lack of archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon is an important problem but it’s hardly a strawman for Alex to point out the fallacious nature of the argument here.

  19. You’re mixed up, Mephibosheth, because in trial there’s a presumption of innocence and a burden of proof that’s entirely on the state. A criminal doesn’t have to produce evidence of his innocence: the burden is, as a matter of law, entirely on the state. If you reversed it and said “Out of all the possible evidence of your guilt, there isn’t any, so you’re probably innocent,” then if you were right, you would win as a matter of law. You would not even go to trial, much less to a jury. The case would be dismissed. But that’s because we have monkyed around with the burdens of production and persuasion in specific ways to meet specific policy objectives in the criminal justice system.

    We’re talking about whether or not the Nephite civilization existed. This is not a criminal trial, and none of the presumptions and burdens of a criminal trial–or even the reasons for them–apply here.

    If you went to civil court to prove the existence of Nephite civilzation and produced no evidence of Nephite civilization, you would lose, again as a matter of law. And the other side (they wouldn’t need to, because it would be dismissed before it ever went to trial for failure to make out a prima facie case) would not hesitate to say something like “The plaintiffs say that there was a gigantic civilization in Central America, but they have failed to produce one iota of evidence for said civilization. I put it to you, therefore, that lacking any evidence at all for this civilization, we have no more reason to believe it existed than we to do believe in Conan.”

    And they would be right. And they would win. Lack of evidence for a thing is not proof that the thing does not exist, but where it’s the kind of thing that usually leaves evidence, lack of evidence is extremely relevant in judging and weighing the evidence for whather the thing exists.

  20. How much absence of evidence do you need before it becomes evidence of absence?

    If you are operating in an imaginary world of logical absolutes, no absence of evidence will ever be evidence of absence. The only way to disprove something would be to prove something else that you could prove was mutually exclusive.

    But in the real world where people have to judge and weigh evidence and make real decisions on a day-to-day basis, people need a good reason to believe in the existence of Nephites and Conan. And if there’s no evidence for either one, reasonable people may infer from the lack of evidence that they don’t exist.

  21. How much absence of evidence do you need before it becomes evidence of absence?

    42

  22. If you reversed it and said “Out of all the possible evidence of your guilt, there isn’t any, so you’re probably innocent,” then if you were right, you would win as a matter of law.

    I don’t disagree. Allow myself to quote, um, myself: “…if you substitute the word “guilt” for innocence in the above, most people would agree with it even though we haven’t changed the form of the argument.” Your key statement regarding both types of trials is: “as a matter of law.” Not as a matter of logic.

    lack of evidence is extremely relevant in judging and weighing the evidence for whather the thing exists

    Again, I don’t disagree. As I said, “it’s a useful hypocrisy” and “an important problem.” It’s a reasonable objection. But being reasonable or relevant is not the same as being free of logical fallacies.

    And I do think it’s ironic the same guy who was saying, “we can know nothing, we could be in The Matrix” in the last discussion has this new-found appreciation for how things work for reasonable people in the real world.

  23. I don’t disagree. Allow myself to quote, um, myself: “…if you substitute the word “guilt” for innocence in the above, most people would agree with it even though we haven’t changed the form of the argument.” Your key statement regarding both types of trials is: “as a matter of law.” Not as a matter of logic.

    We’re not talking about logic. Logic deals with abstracts. Logic’s not going to give us a conclusive answer to this one one way or the other. But that doesn’t mean that therefore both possibilities are equally likely.

    Again, I don’t disagree. As I said, “it’s a useful hypocrisy” and “an important problem.” It’s a reasonable objection. But being reasonable or relevant is not the same as being free of logical fallacies.

    Right. Except we are not arriving at the kinds of conclusions that logic even bothers with. We’re dealing with fuzzy likelihoods and wieghing evidence. If someone was making the kind of absolute statement that was impeachable by fallacy, like “we have no evidence for Nephite civilization, therefore the Nephites did not exist” then logical fallacies would undermine their conclusion, but only to the extent that their conclusion involved the kind of absolute certainty that logical rules apply to.

    And I do think it’s ironic the same guy who was saying, “we can know nothing, we could be in The Matrix” in the last discussion has this new-found appreciation for how things work for reasonable people in the real world.

    I don’t think you find it ironic; I think you are being deliberately obtuse.

    Reasonable people have to weigh things and make judgments based on the evidence they have and the evidence that, in their experience, they think they should have. There’s no other practical way to exist as a human being. I made myself perfectly clear about that in the last discussion.

    At the same time, reasonable people also have to admit that all they have done is weigh the evidence they’ve got and admit to the possibility–no matter how certain they are–that they might be wrong about absolutely everything.

    The point is that real people in the real world have to function and make decisions even though they pretty much never get to have the certainty that logical reasoning would like to provide. But real people also have to understand and remember, at least in the back of their mind, that that’s what they’re doing.

  24. But we haven’t even been to Stavromula Beta yet . . .

    It’s right next to Zarahemla.

  25. Kullervo,

    Your last comment vis-a-vis fuzzy likelihoods brings us entirely full circle, so I’ll just refer the readers back to my very first comment and save us from repeating ourselves over and over.

    And sorry for being “deliberately obtuse” but I certainly didn’t get that sense from your response to my comments there.

  26. Your last comment vis-a-vis fuzzy likelihoods brings us entirely full circle, so I’ll just refer the readers back to my very first comment and save us from repeating ourselves over and over.

    Wait, what are you even saying?

    We are not talking about the certainties of logic here, at all, because they have almost no practical applicability. The only purpose they serve in this kind of discussion is to deflate peoples’ absolute statements.

    If I said “we have no evidence of Zarahemla, therefore there is no Zarahemla,” then you would be perfectly warranted in pointing out the logical fallacy.

    But nobody’s saying that kind of thing, or even maintaining that that kind of statement can properly be made. If I say “we have no evidence for Zarahemla, and typically we find evidence for stuff like Zarahemla, so there probably wasn’t a Zarahemla,” what would your logical-fallacy-detector even have to say? There might have been a Zarahemla despite the evidence, and if so, then somsone deciding that there was no Zarahemla based on the lack of evidence would turn out to be wrong.

    That’s not a problem. Reasonable people are wrong sometimes and reasonable inferences are not necessarily true inferences. But they’re all we usually have.

  27. Great Comments, sorry I have been too busy to comment much. .

    I think I should clarify what I mean by “implausible”

    By plausible : “having an appearance of truth or reason; seemingly worthy of approval or acceptance; credible; believable.”

    Plausibility is a function of available evidence, and commonly held and established assumptions. Plausibility does not really make anything logically more likely to happen. Implausible things happen all of the time and determining what is the most plausible state of affairs is not the same as determining what actually happened.

    And, its also seems that there needs to be some justification for believing implausible things. Or at least some danger in constantly accepting implausible things as true, or investing time, life, money etc. in the implausible.

    For example, if Bill died on Tuesday, given all of our available understanding on death, its highly implausible that he is going to be at work on Friday. Given the amount of common assumptions that this belief defies, I would have to see some pretty strong evidence in order to accept it.

    Plausibility is one guide most people use when the go about accepting the truth of things that they do not have seen the evidence for.

    Now plausibility is a function of the body of available evidence and the possible explanations of that evidence. The lack of evidence immediately makes something implausible since is is not verified by currently established assumptions.

    Lack of evidence may not disprove a proposition, but it certainly make it implausible if there were alternative explanations that are better supported by the available evidence.

    This is why the BOM history is implausible and will remain so until there is more evidence to support it.

    This is also why Genesis is implausible. Until we have evidence of a wordwide flood or the capacity of humans to live over 200 years it seems like we shouldn’t base too much on these stories.

    Of course fair-minded people should not absolutely rule out things that are possible given the lack of evidence. But this does not make the implausible proposition worthy of being believed. A cautious disbelief seems to be the most “reasonable” course in the face of implausibility.

    I think Kullervo’s position toward the BOM or other religious stories represents most reasonable people’s positions on stories that are not religious. We just don’t believe amazing, implausible stuff until we see sufficient evidence to trust in it. Most of the time this doesn’t matter since most amazing stories don’t effect out lives. e.g. whether or not I believe people’s stories of alien abductions doesn’t have a whole lot of bearing on my life. However, this is different when it comes to religion.

    I think this position to be very important. I don’t trust people that accept things that defy or are unsupported by available evidence because it seems like they might fall for anything. The history of genocide seems to be filled with a belief in the implausible.

    Now some people don’t take plausibilty into account at all, often because of their trust in authority. This seems to be the case with the Bible. Some that believe in the Bible, believe in what it says, no matter how implausible, simply because they believe it is the Word of God. Appeal to authority is an extremely common basis for the belief in implausible things.

    All kinds of established scientific theories would certainly implausible until mountains of evidence and calculations eventually establish them as the most plausible interpretation. Organic Evolution and The Big Bang are examples. And since I may not have the capacity to understand why the Big Bang is the most plausible explanation of the history of the beginning of the universe, I am going to trust in science, mainly because Science has proven to be a method of coming up with very solid and trustworthy conclusions, even when things are implausible)

    I think Tim supports Kullervo’s position with his comment:

    All worldviews make extraordinary claims. Our job is to investigate the world with all the tools available to us (science, history, philosophy, art, ethics, etc.) and see which worldview makes the most sense of the world around us. Whose implausible claims match up the best with what we see around us?”

    So part of the impetus for asking these questions is to try to get at the root of the phenomena of accepting the implausible. It seems if we are to guide our acceptance of true propositions by apparent evidence alone, i.e. by plausibility, many are very justified in withholding belief in Christianity as a religion.

    When I started critically examining the Bible on the basis of plausibility, I tend to disbelieve most of it, at least the most fantastic parts. In fact, this sort of analysis pretty much unravels my capacity to firmly believe in it as authoritative, simply because it is filled with implausibilities.

    I suppose part what I want to know is what is the justification or best method of loosening our hold on a commitment to plausibility to accept the Bible as divine or the LDS church as restored by God, etc. etc. etc..

    And, even if I disbelieve most of these critical miracles of the bible based on the fact that they are implausible. Can I be a be saved? Can I be a Mormon? or does this attitude disqualify me from being a true member of these faith traditions, and if it does, what is the theological basis for this?

    It seems to me that according to both Evangelicals and Mormons, God demands a capacity for believing in the implausible.

  28. Well, acceptance of the implausible is problematic in other areas as well, and it is rampant. e.g. in politics, medicine, history, court.

  29. I was just ribbing you a bit though–my point was that you drew a line between accpeting the implausible in religion versus accepting the improbably outside of religion, but “religion” is at best a problematic term, and a category with impossibly blurry edges.

  30. A. Should you believe that some stories are true even when there is no historical evidence?

    Some things become more useful as they become slightly counter-factual. I think Scott Atran has some good research on this in “In Gods we Trust”. I also like how David Sloan Wilson separates belief into two types: factual and practical. Factual beliefs may be context independent but aren’t necessarily the best way to go. Think of the reasons politicians put spin on things. Stark factualists often miss out on the power of the human factor. Practical beliefs/reality can be glaringly wrong but may be adaptive and quite powerful.

    B. On what basis should you trust stories that are not historically proven, or very plausible?

    Those who rely entirely on a single filter point for historicity or divine miracles miss the iterative negotiations that should happen in any fuzzy realm and human enterprise.

    C. Can you be a good Christian if you are not willing to accept some things that are unsupportably implausible?

    I lean to looking at things by their fruit. However those who think everyone should reject counter-factual ideas probably overlook the practical realities of such positions.

    D. Do Mormons and Evangelicals answer these questions differently?

    I think the mean populations of each group may use different entry points to filter extraneous positions, but if we aren’t triangulating to similar practical positions then I would suggest we are most likely inventing our own heavens rather than discovering what is really there.

  31. I think belief in a literal resurrection is a deal breaker. I have an easier time calling the Mormon church “Christian” than some of the liberal denominations who deny Easter Sunday.

    Whether or not some one thinks Paul escaped from prison because of angels or the flood was global are relatively unimportant events. But we don’t have any hope without Easter.

    The event is the most implausible and improbable of all miracles (except perhaps creation). And I think there is historical evidence (though not proof) that it really happened.

  32. There’s nothing implausible about the Book of Mormon. Today I found mathematical proof that it’s true:

    The Mathematics of Belief

    And lest you think that only a Mormon would use such indefensible apologetics, here’s similar proof of the Bible from (someone I presume is) an evangelical:

    Mathematical Probability that Jesus is the Christ

    Better yet (because it’s from a group I’m happy to ridicule) is this:

    Prophecy, the Bible and Jesus

    Things like this do a disservice to both faith and mathematics.
    Frankly, I’m embarrassed that the first item appears in a publication connected with the Church, and if I were an evangelical I’d feel the same about the other two.

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