“Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.” – Richard Dawkins
“Religion is something leftover from the infancy of our intelligence. It will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines.” – Bertrand Russell
“Science adjusts it’s views based on what’s observed. Faith is the denial of observation so that belief can be preserved.” – Tim Minchin
It’s unfortunate, but these quotes express what so many believe about the nature of faith.
It’s commonly believed that faith is the opposite of reason; it is belief without evidence, perhaps even in spite of it. It might sound strange, but as a Bible-believing Christian I couldn’t disagree more. Ironically, I think that people who purport this idea believe it without giving it much thought.
Pitting faith and reason against each other is a gross misunderstanding of what faith is, and misrepresents what many people of faith believe (particularly, Christians).
The true nature of faith
You may be asking, “Isn’t it true that the nature of faith includes believing something that doesn’t have evidence or proof?” Well, sort of. Faith is ultimately a trust in someone or something (which we all have to some degree). This doesn’t have to be a “religious” trust but could be something very basic, like trust in a spouse’s faithfulness.
This trust or faith can have behind it various amounts of evidence. Faith can, at times, stand in strong opposition to evidence. But it is false to say that faith never at any time includes evidence or proof. It is also misleading, because usually when we trust something we do so because of evidence.
Let me point out here that evidence and proof are two different things. Any good scientist will tell you that 100% proof in a strict sense is not something we have much of in this world. Science itself can’t find absolute certainty. What it can do is help us find the best explanations given the evidence that we do have. This is key to understanding the scientific method.
Unfortunately, many Christians believe the fallacious idea that faith exists outside of — or separate from — evidence. Perhaps you have heard someone say, “That question is just a distraction! It’s about having faith!” when a non-Christian friend sent an honest question their way.
But I think this kind of response does more harm than good, and can propagate the idea that Christianity is anti-intellectual.
Recent statistics (and perhaps common experience) show us that people leave the church in North America because they feel they aren’t allowed to raise questions or use their brains in church.
If you’re a Christian who has helped propel this unfortunate belief in our culture, I hope you’re challenged today! In fact, you should check out a previous post where I talk about how and why we should engage with people in more effective ways.
So what is faith?
With those thoughts in mind, perhaps it would benefit us to define faith. Various definitions can be found with a Google search:
Confidence or trust in a person or thing; belief that is not based on proof; belief in God or the doctrines or teachings of religion; belief in anything, as a code of ethics or standards; a system of religious belief, etc…
But specifically, what is the Christian view of faith? The Bible actually has a definition for us:
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 ESV
So faith is assurance and conviction, being convinced of something. Things “not seen” does not mean there is no reason or evidence involved, but rather that we don’t necessarily see that thing right in front of us.
For example, we all trust that we’re going to be alive tomorrow (and we live as though that is true), but we haven’t seen what tomorrow will hold. Nonetheless, we have good reason to think that tomorrow will come, because tomorrow has come every day until now! There’s good reason to act accordingly, based on the evidence, but you are still trusting, by faith, through your knowledge and actions.
In fact, all beliefs have a set of unprovable assumptions that are taken on faith. Even the idea and use of reason, while often falsely contrasted with faith, actually requires it. You have to “trust” that your human faculties are capable of accurately processing information. You have to trust that your perception of reality is correct and accurate. You have to trust the laws of logic.
So faith and reason are not as opposed as some suggest. I think as Christians we need to fight this false dichotomy that our culture often holds to if we wish for people to take us seriously! Here are two ways you can contribute to that fight:
Model a rational faith
Use your brain and equip your faith with reason. Think. Take on the tough questions you have or that you are given. Do some research. Study your bible. Talk to other trusted Christians like your pastor or your youth leader. And don’t be afraid! If God is who he says he is, you can have a real faith as you take on objections or find yourself in new territory. Don’t feel like you need to become the next C.S. Lewis or Ravi Zacharias, but do what you can with what you have, being honest with yourself and others.
Do sincere evangelism
I hope you have unbelieving friends who will have questions for you as God works in their hearts. Evangelism today in Western culture often involves taking on a lot of tough objections. In reality, a lot of these objections are weak, but still take a sharp mind and a loving heart to handle well. But you are called to evangelism, so you will likely have to use the brain God gave you if you want to be an obedient Christian. Don’t let that scare you.
In fact, be encouraged: you will be sharpened and strengthened as you do! One of the most important reasons I think every Christian should partake in some real thinking and reasoning is not just for the benefit of non-believers but for the believers themselves. My faith grows only stronger as I do the hard work of thinking well.