Sunday, September 16, 2012

Biblical Faith: Blindness or Based on Evidence?

What is Biblical faith? According to atheist and evolutionist Richard Dawkins, faith is the rejection of evidence and rationality:

  • 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.
However, this isn’t the Bible’s idea of faith. It’s not a blind leap into the abyss of mindlessness, but a willingness to step forth into the light of evidence. This has been the consistent insistence of Scripture. When God asked Israel to love and obey Him, He never intended Israel to follow as a dumb beast. Instead, He asked them to recall the gracious miracles that they had all witnessed:

  • Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by miraculous signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? You were shown these things so that you might know that the Lord is God; besides him there is no other. (Deut. 4:34-35)
Faith doesn’t represent a mental lobotomy. In fact, this is forbidden. Everything had to be confirmed by witnesses (Deut. 19:15). Therefore, Jesus forbade His disciples from believing in Him if He couldn’t provide confirmatory evidence:

  • “Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does.” (John 10:37)
  • "If I [alone] testify about myself, my testimony is not valid.” (John 5:31)
However, Jesus provided evidences for Himself and His teachings:

  • “Even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father." (John 10:38)
  • "I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He.” (John 13:19; 14:28-29)
  • If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. (John 15:24).
According to Jesus, ignorance is a good excuse. However, His contemporaries weren’t ignorant of His miracles. Therefore, they were culpable.

The Christian faith depends upon reasons for that faith. Jesus’ disciples had abandoned Him after the crucifixion, convinced that their faith had been for naught, despite the many miracles they had witnessed. They were on the run until Jesus’ miraculous resurrection appearances turned them back:

  • After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3; 2:22)
It was these “proofs” that had revived the faith. They provided a necessary foundation. Surprisingly, there are even Christians who claim that “the Bible is not about proof but proclamation.” Actually, the Bible is about both!

In light of the wealth of Biblical evidence that God provides proof, how can these Christians deny the Bible’s proof claims? Well, they can’t, but they erroneously cite two verses in support of their contention. After Jesus appeared to doubting Thomas, he then believed and worshipped Jesus. However, He rebuked Thomas:

  • Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." (John 20:29)
Some Christians wrongly understand “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed," to mean “blessed are those who believe without any evidence for their belief.” Such a misunderstanding represents a failure to appreciate the context:

  1. Everyone was aware of Jesus’ miracles, even His detractors. In many passages, the Jewish Talmud acknowledges that Jesus was a miracle worker, although they ascribe the miracles to Satan.
  1. Thomas lived with Jesus two or three years and had seen many of His miracles – perhaps hundreds. He also had the testimonial evidence of his fellow disciples who had claimed that they had seen Jesus after His resurrection. Therefore, Thomas already had abundant evidence.
  1. Thomas wasn’t simply seeking evidence of the resurrection. He was demanding to see it for himself:
    • So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." (John 20:25)
The disciples had claimed that they had “seen” Jesus. However, Thomas refused to accept their testimonies! Instead, he obstinately demanded to also “see,” despite the fact that he already had adequate evidences.

In view of the above, when Jesus affirmed the blessedness of “those who have not seen and yet have believed," He was affirming their willingness to believe without making demands of seeing for themselves. Jesus was also chastening Thomas’ demand to see the resurrected Jesus and his refusal to believe without seeing.

The notion that Jesus would praise those who had faith without any solid reasons for faith contradicts all of Scripture, even His own say-so! It even contradicts the next verse:

  • Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
John acknowledges that belief must be accompanied by reasons to believe. Although the great majority of John’s readers had not seen the resurrection, this shouldn’t prevent faith. According to John, there were other evidences for faith - namely the testimonial evidences that John and other eyewitnesses provided. It’s highly unlikely that John would have written against an evidence-based faith and then offer evidences so “that [they] may believe.”

Some Christians cite a second verse to prove that faith was intended as a mindless, evidence-less plunge into non-rationality:

  • Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)
However, this verse says nothing against an evidence-based faith. Even if faith is our only assurance – and it’s not – faith is not devoid of the evidential reasons for faith, whether very personal or objective.

In support of this claim, many of the following examples of faith clearly depended upon evidence. For example:

  • By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned. (Hebrews 11:29)
Although the Israelites couldn’t be certain that piled-up waters of the Red Sea wouldn’t engulf them as they passed through – so there had to trust God’s instructions - they were convinced that an incredible miracle had take place by the God who had led them out of Egypt. They had also been witnesses of the ten plagues that had devastated Egypt – plagues from which they had been divinely protected. Therefore, theirs wasn’t an evidence-less, blind faith. Instead, it had an evidential foundation. God had already proved Himself to them.

While it is true that the Bible commands us to have faith, never once does it command us to have faith in the absence of evidence. Although we are taught to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7), this presupposes that we have already learned to “walk” based upon the work of the Spirit in our lives (2 Cor. 5:5-6).

Faith is only irrational to those who are looking in from the outside, like Martians observing swaying and clapping at a concert. They may hear the musical notes, but they fail to come together in any meaningful manner to Martian ears.

However, the Martian analogy may be too charitable. Often, the judgment against Christian faith as mindless is not evidential but willful. Dawkins merely prefers his own religion.

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