Posted by: David | March 10, 2008

Reasons For Faith

After reading the first chapter of a book called The Truth Behind the New Atheism by David Marshall, I wrote this essay as a way of reviewing and thinking about what I read and maybe interacting with others on the subject of faith. Almost all of the quotes come from Marshall. Anyway, here it is. Tell me what you think. 

Imagine this scenario from my favorite tv show Lost:  the doctor Jack, who believes only what he can see and hear, asks the very spiritual John Locke, “How can you be so sure that we’re going to get off this island?”

John stops whatever it is he has been working on, grins at Jack, and ambiguously replies, “Because I have faith.” This effectually translates as “I just do.”

Even though this scene never occurred on Lost (as far as I know), it is typical of how faith is portrayed by Hollywood and how many people understand it. The man or woman of faith is usually characterized as someone respectable and likeable, and we are meant to come away accepting people like them. The world is getting smaller, the lesson goes, and it contains many religious people who believe very different things (as well as many aetheistic and agnostic people who believe very different things). All religious beliefs belong to the realm of “faith” and we ought to accept them as valid. We ought not question, challenge, or debate them.

Although this message seems to be the trend in the West, there is another reaction to this kind of “faith” that comes from the likes of the radical aetheist Sam Harris, who quips in The End of Faith :

Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever.

Another radical atheist, Richard Dawkins writes of Christianity:

Faith (belief without evidence) is a virtue…. Virtuoso believers who can manage to believe something really weird, unsupported and insupportable, in the teeth of evidence and reason, are especially highly rewarded.

If Christianity really taught that we ought to believe “without evidence” or in the face of evidence, then Harris and Dawkins would be justified in ridiculing it. The reality, however, is that Christianity teaches and has always taught something very different. Jesus told the skeptical Jews that if they did not believe him, then they should at least believe the miracles that proved he was who he said he was (John 10:38).  He told his disciples that they should “at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves” (John 14:11, italics added) Consider also the following quotes from early Christians:

“Reason directs those who are truly pious and philosophical to honor and love only what is true, declining to follow traditional opinions.”  Justin Martyr

“Heaven forbid that we should believe in such a way as not to accept or seek reasons.”  Augustine of Hippo

“They are much deceived, who think that we believe in Christ without any proofs concerning Christ.”  Augustine of Hippo

“Unreasonable and absurd ways of life…are truly an offense to God.”  William Law

God is “supremely rational, and the human being is also rational, being created in the image and likeness of God.”  Johannes Kepler

Christianity rejects Dawkin’s and Harris’s distorted definition of faith. Instead, it declares that faith is a trust in God that is based on good reasons. Notice how different this understanding of faith is. It is founded on the reliability of a person, of the Person, and it is justified by evidence. 

 Consider an example that illustrates the true nature of faith, this one from the gospels. When Thomas heard from the other ten disciples that they had seen the resurrected Jesus, he adamantly refused to believe them unless he physically saw and touched him. Later, when Jesus allowed Thomas to do those very things, he reproved him for not believing earlier. Was Jesus reproving him for wanting evidence? No. He rebuked him for not believing when the evidence demanded it. Jesus had told his disciples that he must die and be raised again, and he had demonstrated by his miracles that he had the power to raise the dead. All of the other disciples saw him in his resurrected state, but Thomas refused to believe them without the physical proof of Jesus’s presence. Instead, he chose to believe that they were either lying or delusional. Because Thomas did not have faith, he was being entirely unreasonable. 

The things that a Christian believes, he or she believes for good reasons. I have good reasons to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of sinners. That belief results in me seeking forgiveness from him, comitting my life to doing his will, and facing death with hope. I live by faith, but I am not being unreasonable.

So let’s not have anymore of this talk about faith being a belief that is not founded on evidence. Christians have good evidence for what they believe, whether or not it completely convinces everyone else. On the other hand, let’s also forget the notion that it is impolite to ask another person why he or she believes something. The apostle Peter, after all, calls Christians to “always be prepared to give an answer” for why they hope (1 Peter 3:15).


 

Advertisements

Responses

  1. David,

    Great post. I am a big believer in asserting reason for our Christian beliefs. I’m concerned that many Christians hang back and don’t engage when Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Marshall, and others make the blind faith accusation. I was an atheist who made these very accusations and God saved me. We all need to be more offensive with sharing the gospel and the reasons we believe.

    Thanks for being a Christian voice out here.

    OC

  2. Thanks, OC! I’m concerned about the influence of Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris, too, but the good news is that there seems to be a pretty good response from Christians. I’ve read Dinesh D’Sousa’s What’s So Great About Christianity? and I am currently reading David Marshall’s The Truth Behind the New Atheism. Both are very good.

  3. David, I find your essay to be obtuse and myopic. In short, it is ignominious piffle! JK, BFF! I thought it very well organized and insightful. E-mail me at snosquirrel2000@yahoo.com if you want to play frisbee on Thursday with Dent, Brad, myself, etc.

  4. omg.. good work, brother

  5. I just happened upon your blog today and wanted to say that this is an excellent piece. I love the quotes from the early Christians. 🙂 The world we live in is so discouraging sometimes; it’s good to see people who are still able to defend our faith against those who consider it foolish. Thanks for the encouragement today!

  6. David, I enjoyed your post. I simply found it open-ended and was left with a gaping question. If Christian faith is reasonable because it is founded on evidence, what evidence is that? To the people who lived in the time of Jesus, it is possible they had evidence, but for modern believers there simply isn’t any readily appearant. In fact, being a life-time church-goer myself (who has more recently come to seriously question faith), I’m more familiar with the “do-not-test-God” rhetoric and assertions that faith ultimately lacks the ability of empirical evidence or logic. I’d be glad to have your response if you’d like to repy.

  7. Tyler, sorry for not replying to your comment until today. During the summer months, I don’t have a lot of interaction with my blog, and I just now discovered your comment.

    So what’s the evidence for Christianity? Good question. Unfortunately, I probably won’t be able to answer so broad a topic to your satisfaction. If this is something that is really important to you, then I would be prepared to spend some time doing a personal investigation. Really important questions often take time and energy to search out.

    I think there is LOTS of evidence for Christianity. Plenty has been written on the reliability of the Biblical texts, the historocity (sp?) of Jesus, the scientific evidence for a personal Creator, the soundness of Christian philosophy, etc. One of the most common writers people read about this is C. S. Lewis, who wrote a famous defense of Christianity called Mere Christianity. Lewis started out as an atheist, but after a lengthy search, he embraced Christianity (spiritually and intellectually).

    I’m sorry that you have come across people who do not want to answer your questions (out of fear or whatever) and warn you not to test God. I think that searching out our faith is good and right. Go for it.

    Out of curiosity, what particular area of Christianity are you wanting evidence for?

  8. Hi David,

    Good post, though I would disagree with your premise – not to mention David Marshall’s. Being a christian I’m sure you really enjoyed the book, but I’m sorry to inform you that Marshall’s book is actually very poorly argued, and he misrepresented Richard Dawkins several times, misquotes him, and takes him out of context. Aside from those problems, Marshall doesn’t seem to have a very good grasp at all about the issues surrounding evolution, or humans’ innate morality, among other things.

    I have written a one-hundred page rebuttal addressing these and other errors if you’d like to challenge what you’ve read. It can be found here if you’re interested:

    http://arizonaatheist.blogspot.com/2007/10/review-of-book-truth-behind-new-atheism.html

    Any and all comments are very much welcome. Thanks.

  9. Thank you, Arizona, for your comment! I am glad you have read Marshall’s book and engaged with it so thoroughly. It’s unfortunate if he misrepresented the atheists he quoted, particularly since he takes them to task for misrepresenting Christians. In your experience with Dawkins, Hitchens, and others, have you not found that they tend to scrape the bottom of the Christian barrel for examples and hold these guys up as models? That was my impression from Marshall.

    Also, I don’t recall Marshall saying much about evolution that you would find controversial. After all, he did say that he had come to believe in it.

  10. Hi David,

    I don’t think they scrape the bottom of the barrel; their focus is on the fundamentalism because that’s what harming society right now. As I argued in my refutation, Dawkins rightfully focused on the fundamentalism because it’s not necessarily the moderates or liberal theists, or even those who believe in a deistic god and don’t take the bible literally, that are causing the harm. It’s not as if they were trying to make out all theists to be fundamentalists. They point out that there is a minority in this country trying to force their christian “values” and views on others through the democratic process.

    As for evolution, Marshall didn’t mention it much, true, but his claims that there should be more mutations taking place is not necessarily true, and his baseball example I thought was completely absurd. True, he accepts evolution, which is a step in the right direction, but he also seems to imply that a creator had to have had a hand in the process, which I disagree with very much.

    From my reading, he didn’t seem to grasp the concept of evolution very well at all – especially the research that has demonstrated how humans and primates seem to have some innate moral sense.

    Thanks.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: