Faith and Evidence
Several years ago I decided I needed a hobby. I had many interests – basketball, fantasy baseball, music – but I engaged in all of these past times with members of the church where I preached, or with fellow Christians in the area. I needed a hobby that would put me in contact with people from all walks of life. So I looked up the closest chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society, and over the last 17 years I have made a large and diverse bunch of friends.
As it happens, several of my barbershop singing friends are from Sweden, and – typical of the very secular climate in Sweden – they are not believers. A few of them are quite belligerent about their atheism. Last fall, I fell into a discussion on Facebook with one of them, a discussion I was frankly hesitant to engage in, given the nasty reputation that debates on social media have earned. But in this case, I am glad to say that my fears were misplaced. Over the course of nearly three weeks, several atheists and agnostics in Sweden as well as in the States joined in and presented arguments against Christianity, and gave me a very courteous hearing as I responded.
What actually precipitated the discussion was a post one of my atheist friends made in which he said no one believed in Christianity because of evidence, but simply because it provided a hope for an afterlife. When I responded that through the centuries believers had offered many powerful rational arguments for belief in God based on evidence, he replied with this statement:
Sorry but you just cannot argue that there is any kind of evidence whatsoever that supports Christianity. If there were, it wouldn’t be called “belief”.
In his mind, Christianity is a belief based on no evidence whatsoever.
This viewpoint is based on a gross misunderstanding of what “faith” is. Christianity has never claimed that faith is “belief without evidence.” To the contrary, from the earliest days of the preaching of the apostles, great emphasis was placed on logical argumentation. Notice these examples from Acts:
- And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ” (17:2-3)
- Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there (17:16-17).
- And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks (18:4)
Mark Twain may have thought that faith is “believing what you know ain’t so,” but that is not what the apostles believed! They used reasoning and logic to argue from the evidence found in the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah. If someone wants to challenge whether the apostolic belief in Jesus was justified, that is fair, and Christians are eager to take up that challenge and look at the evidence. But what cannot be disputed is that the apostles claimed it was a justified belief. They didn’t simply argue on the basis of wishful thinking.
It is true that at a very basic level, faith involves an intellectual commitment to believe in unseen realities. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). We can’t see God, and we didn’t see the risen Lord. But this exhausts only the most juvenile definition of faith. The fuller concept of biblical faith has to do with confidence and trust. “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
Even though we cannot see God, we believe that the evidence for His existence is overwhelming in the order of nature (as Paul argued in Acts 14:16-17). And even though we did not witness the resurrection of Jesus, we believe the testimony of the apostles has decisively demonstrated its truthfulness (as Paul claimed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8). And because this evidence is so powerful, we are willing to place our total trust, our complete confidence, in Christ. That is what faith means to a Christian. Complete trust in Christ on the basis of evidence.