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Thresholds of actionable probabilities
Theological post alert! We hear about potential threats to our lives and health all of the time. Cell phones and even calculators might cause cancer. Some say long-term aspartame consumption might be worse than sugar. The same is said about high fructose corn syrup. Texting while driving increases the risk of an accident by some percentage. The degree of threat with all of these depends on which study you believe.
Some alleged threats are supported by hard, verifiable data, others are more dubious, pseudoscientific and/or in great dispute. Texting while driving, for instance, has a lot more data supporting its threat to our lives than that of aspartame or high fructose corn syrup. Therefore, it's more urgent to consider changing your behavior if you're someone who texts while driving, because the threat to your life is more apparent. Aspartame's alleged threat, on the other hand, doesn't have the same degree of solid data to support it, so it's probably reasonable to keep drinking diet sodas. All of this has got me thinking about how high the threshold of certainty regarding something has to be before a reasonable person will start taking it seriously.
Comet Hyakutake over West Virginia in 1996
If NASA said that there is a 50% chance that a comet will impact earth in 2 weeks, how would that information influence your actions and priorities? What if the odds were 30%? 10%? Personally, if it was me, 10% would have me living more like each day might be my last (spending more time with family and close friends, etc). Certainly 50% would. What if a restaurant had a menu item that had a 10% chance of giving you fatal food poisoning? (I'm the type that will throw away something that is past it's expiration date, even if it looks OK, because I really hate getting sick.) How about if your potential skydiving parachute had a 20% chance of failing to open? How low would the probabilities have to be before you would completely ignore them and go about your life with no change in your actions, priorities and philosphies?
Many say that belief in God, the Bible or in Christ is untenable unless they have 100% certainty that it is the right way to believe. I can see the point, as following Christ often goes 'against the grain' of what is popular and is many times costly. Why sacrifice so much for something you don't even know for sure is right?
But with all the evidence and documentation we have of Christ, the soundness of Scripture and the existence of God, how *high* of a percentage of certainty would you need before you began to take the issue of your eternity seriously? Even if information began to cast doubt on the 100% accuracy and certainty of the Biblical texts, would a reasonable 90% accuracy and reliability not be enough to justify taking it seriously? What about 50%? 25% 10%? Would a 5% chance of negative eternal consequences be enough to give it some serious thought?
I have said before that I'm a skeptic at heart, and easily would be an agnostic if I was not both intellectually AND experientially convinced of the validity of Jesus' identity, teachings and claims. I have no desire to live for a fairy tale. But even if all allegations against the Bible's accuracy turned out to be true (I speak hypothetically), it would not be enough to demote the reliability of Scripture to approach or reach a negligible percentage, much less zero percent. Even many skeptical scholars (like Ehrman) affirm a very high Biblical accuracy percentage despite some alleged inconsistences and errors. No other text can claim the same level of verifiable historicity that the Bible does, and few other figures of antiquity (and their life and teachings) have been better documented - and disseminated - than that of Jesus. If you have questions regarding that last statement, there are a wealth of resources - by both Christian and non-Christian scholars - avaliable for you to read (don't take my word - or any other single source's word - for it). When my eternity is on the line, from a purely non-biased evidence-based standpoint, I see much more reason to take the issue of Christ seriouly than to (at best) not, or (at worst) completely ignore it.
Just some food for thought.
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