“Faith, which is belief without supportive evidence, should not be given the respect, even deference, it obtains in modern society. Faith is always foolish and leads to many of the evils of society.”
– Victor Stenger
Victor is an atheist and this is what he thinks about faith. Faith is defined as a belief that has no supporting evidence. Not all atheists share his opinion but enough do that it is worth writing a short post in response. Stenger’s statement and those like it actually represent an enormous distortion of faith in the Christian tradition.
Hebrews 11:1 and 2 define faith as “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” There is nothing in this definition that would suggest that faith is belief that lacks evidence. In fact, the truth is atheists also have faith and assurance about things they cannot see. For example, no one witnessed the Big Bang or the emergence of life from non-life, but many atheists are quite sure about the occurrence of these events. If the non-believer retorts that their willingness to affirm these events is inferred by what they do observe, the believer would point out that this is the same reason that he or she believes in God – not because they ‘see’ God, but because God makes best sense of what they do observe.
The atheist, of course, promotes reason and science as the ultimate keys to knowledge and understanding. But they have to assume, or have faith, that their reason is reliable at discovering truth. And here is the rub: no one can prove that his or her reason is reliable without assuming its reliability, which means that all knowing is a leap of faith. The theist believes that God created humanity and, therefore, it is not altogether surprising that our cognitive faculties would be aimed at truth, or at least be able to discover what is true in a fairly reliable fashion (even though sin has clearly had a negative impact on our reasoning process). But, when you consider that, given an atheistic worldview, our reasoning ability is the result of irrational, evolutionary forces that didn’t intend to produce us, it seems like a blind leap of faith to assume that our cognitive faculties are reliable when not grappling with events or circumstances directly connected to our survival in a prehistoric “society.”
I am obviously not the only one to point this out. Atheist Thomas Nagel wrote that, “If we came to believe that our capacity for objective theory (true beliefs, e.g.) were the product of natural selection, that would warrant serious skepticism about its results.”
Patricia Churchland, a significant naturalistic philosopher, notes that, “Boiled down to essentials, a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in the four Fs: feeding, fleeing, fighting and reproducing. The principle chore of nervous systems is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive… Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost.”
Charles Darwin, himself, conceded that, “With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?” 1I culled these quotes from Alvin Plantinga’s Where the Conflict Really Lies.
Perhaps I can illustrate the problem like this: You and I likely trust our computers to accomplish very important things like filing our taxes. But we trust our computers because brilliant computer scientists designed each one. If we were told, however, that a blind, irrational force produced our computer and that it was cobbled together accidentally over time, and it wasn’t in fact aimed at accuracy in algorithms or abstract reasoning you would be less likely to trust it.
Now the brain is the most complex, computer-like organ in the known universe. If the brain were just the result of blind forces, cobbled together over time, aimed not at truth or abstract reasoning but just survival, you would be less likely to trust it. 2This computer analogy was suggested to me in a lecture by John Lennox. To do so may require a pretty massive leap of faith! This is one reason why some Christian philosophers have suggested that the atheist has as much faith and, perhaps, more faith than the believer. 3For example, Norman Geisler and Frank Turek wrote, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist. And maybe these Christian philosophers are close to the truth. After all, the atheist must believe that ‘nothing’ can produce something, that non-life can produce life, that matter can produce mind and that intelligence is not needed to produce complex information like that found in DNA – all of which goes completely against our universal experience.
In conclusion, it may be worthwhile to point out one last irony: some atheists, like Victor Stenger, feel free to claim that faith is belief without evidence. Yet, it turns out that this is a belief about faith that is held with very little evidence; a belief that closes its mind to what the Bible and thoughtful Christians actually say about their faith. In fact, below is a sampling of what a few significant leaders and thinkers in church history have claimed about faith:
“Reason directs those who are truly pious and philosophical to honour and love only what is true.”
– Justin Martyr First Apology
“But they are much deceived, who think that we believe in Christ without any proofs concerning Christ.”
– St. Augustine
“Faith is not a blind thing; for faith begins with knowledge. It is not a speculative thing; for faith believes facts of which it is sure. It is not an unpractical, dreamy thing; for faith trusts, and stakes its destiny upon the truth of revelation.”
– Charles Spurgeon
To conclude, I love what Gregory Koukl writes:
“Biblical faith isn’t wishing; it’s confidence. It’s not denying reality, but discovering reality. It’s a sense of certainty grounded in the evidence that Christianity is true – not just ‘true for me’ but actually, fully, and completely true. God does not want your leap of faith. He wants your step of trust.” 4This Gregory Koukl quote, as well as the others on faith in the Christian tradition, are found in Is God just a Human Invention? By Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow. See the chapter on the relationship between faith and reason.
In the Christian tradition faith is active trust based on reason, not blind belief in spite of reason. That is why the Christian is commanded to always prepare oneself to give a reason for the hope they have in Jesus.
Notes [ + ]
|1.||↑||I culled these quotes from Alvin Plantinga’s Where the Conflict Really Lies.|
|2.||↑||This computer analogy was suggested to me in a lecture by John Lennox.|
|3.||↑||For example, Norman Geisler and Frank Turek wrote, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist.|
|4.||↑||This Gregory Koukl quote, as well as the others on faith in the Christian tradition, are found in Is God just a Human Invention? By Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow. See the chapter on the relationship between faith and reason.|