Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Faith and Reason

We've seen that the faith the Bible commends toward those who believe in Jesus Christ is never a faith without reasons or evidences. However, some contend that to have faith in the message of the Bible requires blind faith, because we are not in the first century as eyewitnesses of the life and ministry of Jesus and the Apostles. "If," we say, "we could only transport ourselves back in time and see Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, we would believe. But until then, all we have is a book, and while we believe it, we simply have to have a faith without good reasons. We have to have a blind faith."

The notion that faith is belief in something without evidence comes from many sources, most notably among current critics of Christianity is atheist Richard Dawkins. However, the notion of blind faith is attributed (wrongly, according to some) to Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard reacted to the Enlightenment thinking that pure reason and evidence were all man needed in order to build a house of knowledge. Many philosophers have since repudiated this idea, but the notion still runs deep in Western society: faith is irrational, illogical, without reason, and devoid of evidence, while reason and evidence, by contrast, are the tools which we use to prove things beyond a shadow of a doubt. We have certainty of the things we wish to know by using these tools, and faith is left to things "unprovable," such as belief in God, miracles, the resurrection of Jesus, and so on.

For example, when we think of archeology, biology, math, architecture, engineering, or whether or not there is a package of crackers in the pantry, we think of a principle by which we can verify the facts: check the evidence. Measure, experiment, hypothesize, draw conclusions. When we think of things like the Bible, belief in God, the life and ministry of Jesus, or even the nature of love, for example, we categorize these items under the "faith" category. There's not much evidence for these, and we must believe them on blind faith.

The philosophical name for the fact-checking culture we live in is Empiricism, which is in a field of philosophy called epistemology, and has to do with observing the facts by means of the senses. But, let's ask some questions:

1) Why trust the senses? How does a person know the senses are working properly, and that the observations are rightly understood?

2) How does the knowledge of something that happened in the past require that we believe it will happen again in the future? Take pouring out a glass of water, for example. How do you know the water will come out when you tip the glass?

Well, empiricism, like other branches of epistemology, must be accepted as true from the start (a priori), in order for it to be used to draw conclusions about the way the world works. As reformed theologian John Frame says, "Those who believe in the ultimacy of sense-experience must presuppose it in arguing for their philosophy (empiricism)." This means that empiricism is believed upon by faith, and that those who believe in "evidence" use circular logic in order to support their claims. Faith is therefore foundational to all evidential claims and is the ground (or basis) of reason. Reason rests upon faith, not the other way around.

How do you know the water will pour out of the glass when you tip it? Because you assume that the future is like the past, and you take that on faith. So, Christians should avoid using language that says faith is belief without evidence, because evidence cannot be understood without using faith.

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