by Jay Johansen | Sep 24, 2015
Faith is believing something without evidence. If you had proof, then you wouldn't need faith.
When Christians start to discuss scientific or historical evidence that support Christianity, a common response I've heard from atheists lately is a statement like the above. I don't know if they mean this sincerely, if it's a tactic to avoid responding to points that they can't answer, or ... what. Because it makes no sense to me, nor to any other Christians that I know.
How could you believe something with no evidence? If you don't demand evidence before believing something, how do you decide what to believe? Why believe the Bible and not, say, the Koran? Or the Humanist Manifesto? Or some random guy with a blog on the Internet?
No Christian that I know has ever said such a thing. The Bible routinely says exactly the opposite: that you should believe Christianity because of the evidence, not without evidence or despite the evidence.
Nowhere does the Bible say that if someone questions your faith, you should refuse to answer and denounce him as a heretic or a blasphemer. Just the opposite. It says:
always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason
1 Peter 3:15 (NKJV)
The word translated "defense" here was a Greek legal term, referring to the argument that a defense lawyer would give in court: a point by point, detailed response to the charges against his client. So the Bible says that if someone questions Christianity, Christians should reply with a detailed, carefully reasonsed response.
For example, in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul of Tarsus tells them that Jesus came back from the dead. Clearly an amazing claim. Then how does he suggest they evaluate this claim? He writes:
He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also.
1 Corinthians 15:4-8a (NKJV)
He does not say that people should accept his claims by faith without evidence. Quite the contrary, he cites eye-witness testimony. He stresses that most of these witnesses are still alive, implying that it is possible to check with them to corroborate their stories.
I suppose an atheist could reply that these people were all part of a conspiracy to lie, or that they were all deluded, or attempt to rebut this argument in some other way. But my point at the moment is not to prove that Jesus came back from the dead, but rather simply to point out that the Bible says that we should believe this based on eye-witness testimony, not on blind faith without evidence.
Similarly, at one point Jesus tells someone why they should believe what he says:
Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.
John 14:11 (NKJV)
In context, he's saying, believe me because what I am saying is logical and makes sense and is consistent with what you already know from history, or if that's too complicated, believe me because you have seen me perform miracles that no ordinary human being could do.
Or in the Old Testament, when Moses goes to pharaoh to tell him that God commands him to free the slaves, does he tell him that he should just accept this on faith? No. Before he goes, Moses asks God:
Then Moses answered and said, “But suppose they will not believe me or listen to my voice; suppose they say, ‘The Lord has not appeared to you.’” So the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A rod.” And He said, “Cast it on the ground.” So he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from it. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Reach out your hand and take it by the tail” (and he reached out his hand and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand), “that they may believe that the Lord God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.”
God goes on to give Moses several other miracles he can invoke to convince people that he is a messenger from God.
Pharaoh is not easily convinced. See Exodus chapter 7. When Moses performs these miracles, pharaoh sends for magicians. When they can do the same tricks by sleight of hand, he concludes that Moses is a fraud. It's not until God performs miracles that are far beyond what a magician could do with stage magic that pharaoh takes Moses seriously.
By the way: If someone went to the president today claiming to have a message from God and performed miracles to establish his credentials, I suspect that the president would send for scientists to evaluate the miracle. But pharaoh was smarter than that. He didn't send for scientists. (In the language of the Bible they would have been called "philosophers": the word "scientist" wouldn't be invented for centuries.) He sent for magicians. Scientists are often fooled by people claiming to have psychic powers because their training and expertise is not geared to detecting trickery. When a scientist performs an experiment in the laboratory, he rarely considers whether someone might have secretly switched test tubes on him when he wasn't looking, or tampered with his oscilloscope so it gives misleading readings. But that's exactly the sort of thing that stage magicians do for a living. But I digress.
Of course, you may not believe that this story is true. I'm happy to get into that at another time. But my point right now is that the Bible writers cared about provable truth. At no point does the author of Genesis say that pharaoh should have believed on faith without evidence. Rather, the author expects people to demand evidence, and to consider alternative explanations for the evidence altered. Pharaoh is condemned because even after seeing overwhelming evidence, he still refused to believe.
Oh, I don't doubt that you can find some Christians who aren't willing or able to defend their faith with reason and evidence. But such people are not the mainstream of Christianity. Christian thinkers and writers from Thomas Aquinas to C. S. Lewis to Henry Morris have repeatedly emphasized that faith must be based on reason and evidence.
What about statements in the Bible condemning people for lack of faith? Show me one where someone was criticized for failing to believe with no evidence. When people are criticized for their lack of faith, it is always after they have seen powerful evidence.
© 2015 by Jay Johansen
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