Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Faith and evidence

Many skeptics make the claim that faith in the sense used by believers means “to believe with no evidence”, or even “to believe in the teeth of evidence.” This is the position espoused by Richard Dawkins and others. Many Christians have responded to this statement by citing theologians down through history. This view of faith is definitely not the view of most theologians in the history of the church. Nevertheless, it does seem to be the view of some Christians, perhaps even many Christians today.

Once I was teaching a class on apologetics in a church Sunday school class. I was presenting the idea that faith is actually belief that is based on adequate evidence. One gentleman made this comment: “I can see what you’re saying about faith and evidence. I mean, even if you have 95 percent evidence, you still have 5 percent faith.”

Unfortunately, this gentleman didn’t get the point at all. In his mind, faith was still the part of our belief that didn’t have evidence to support it. But in that case, the more evidence you have, the less faith you have. Thus, the best way to increase your faith is to reduce the amount of evidence you have to support your beliefs! In that case, apologetics is not only unhelpful, it’s absolutely destructive to faith. The more evidence you have, the less faith. But is this view correct?

Consider Luke’s introduction to his Gospel. He writes,

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

If anything is clear from Luke’s opening remarks here, it’s that he intended for his historical research to be a help to strengthen the faith of his reader. Many scholars note that the name Theophilus means “lover of God,” so it’s possible Luke was writing his books (Luke and Acts) as a generic treatise to believers. But whether Luke intended his books for one person or many, the fact is that for Luke the historical evidence handed down by eyewitnesses was of crucial importance in “knowing the certainty of the things” believers have been taught. This is not a blind faith at all, nor is it the case that more evidence equals less faith. On the contrary, stronger evidence gives stronger certainty of the truth of the Gospel message.

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About me

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My ministry in Hungary involved teaching theology and training Hungarian church planters. I have a great interest in apologetics as well as missions.