THE NATURE OF FAITH AND EVIDENCE Doy Moyer Faith is the key component of conviction. If we are convinced that something is true, then we trust 1) that our evidence is solid and 2) that our reasoning abilities are sufficient to properly interpret the evidence so that our conclusion is true (i.e., agrees with reality). If either the evidence or the reasoning process is faulty, then our faith has been misplaced and our worldview will probably not accurately reflect reality. A sound worldview must be based upon truth, and this means that Christians, who are especially concerned with truth, are also concerned about both the evidence and how they reason about that evidence. The Bible teaches that faith is the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is what stands under hope. We are also taught that without faith, we cannot please God (vs. 6). In that passage, we are told that we must believe 1) God is, and 2) God rewards those who diligently seek Him. This provides the basis for hope of the unseen. To be assured of what we hope for, we must be convicted about that which we cannot actually see – namely God and the reward He has promised. This also means that we must use our reasoning abilities in order to have some kind of conviction about these unseen matters. In order to do this properly, we need a little better understanding of what we mean by “evidence.” We also need to understand what we mean by “faith.” Sometimes people disconnect faith from evidence. That is, if we ask for evidence,
then we are somehow indicating a lack of faith because faith should be able to stand on its own apart from any evidence. But this misunderstands the nature of faith and its relationship to evidence.
Faith and Evidence Tied Together In order to see how the Bible itself ties faith and evidence together, consider the following passages: 1. John 20:30-31. In the context, Jesus has been raised from the dead and He is appearing to His disciples. Thomas was missing on the first occasion, and so would not believe the other disciples when they told Thomas that they had seen Jesus alive. Thomas’ attitude is seen in his reply: “Unless I see ... I will not believe” (see verse 25). Jesus later appeared and told Thomas to see and touch: “do not be unbelieving, but believing” (vs. 27). Thomas responded, “My Lord and My God!” (vs. 28). The next three verses tell us the purpose of the Gospel of John. Jesus told Thomas, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (vs. 29). The question is, how do we believe if we have not seen? John answers: “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (vss. 30-31).
The Nature of Faith and Evidence |2 Just because we have not seen something does not mean that no evidence exists for it. Most of us have not “seen” atoms, yet we accept that they exist. In a court of law, jurors listen to testimony in order to ascertain the truth of the case. They were not witnesses themselves to the alleged crime, but they evaluate the evidence, the testimony (perhaps from eyewitnesses), and use their reasoning abilities to determine whether or not someone is guilty. They did not have to actually see it for themselves to be able to say, beyond a reasonable doubt, that something is true. That is how evidence works in a court of law, and that is how it works with respect to the Bible and Jesus Christ. John said that Jesus performed “signs” that lead to belief, even for those who have not actually witnessed them firsthand. When we consider the fact that evidence refers to the facts or signs upon which a conclusion can be based, then we can understand that the Bible itself points to evidence on behalf of Jesus. Based upon that evidence, there is an expectation of a response of belief. If we can trust the testimony, then faith has been engaged, and it is founded upon evidence. 2. Matthew 11:2-6. John was in prison and he sent disciples to Jesus and asked, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” Jesus’ answer gives some insight into the nature of faith and evidence: “Go and report to John what you hear and see” (vs. 4). Notice that Jesus did not say, “You just have to believe,” as if it did not matter what evidence He had given. Instead, Jesus pointed to what they could see and hear. This is evidence. They could hear the
teachings of Jesus and they could see what He was doing, and based upon that they had all they needed in order to know who Jesus was. Even though we do not “see and hear” Jesus in the same way they could, we have the testimony of those who did see and hear Him. When that testimony is passed along, even in written form, then we still have evidence upon which we can draw conclusions (much like a historian would draw conclusions based upon ancient documents and testimony). Evidence is not lacking at all on behalf of Jesus. In fact, I believe you will find that evidence is plentiful, and it both informs and encourages our faith.
What is Biblical Faith? The common idea about faith is that it is “belief without evidence” or “believing something in spite of the evidence.” This makes faith sound unreasonable, blind, and gullible. If the world can represent faith like that, then no wonder people want to avoid “faith.” No one wants to be unreasonable and gullible. Sadly, the world has been able to use “faith” in this way and it has resulted in serious misunderstandings about Christianity and the nature of faith. First, it is important to realize that everyone exercises faith in something. No one is exempt from having faith, and that includes atheists who believe (without evidence, mind you) that nature alone is capable of producing the universe and the living conditions of the earth. This philosophy of
The Nature of Faith and Evidence |3 naturalism is not, by any stretch of the imagination, proved by science. It is a faith. But beyond that, people exercise faith constantly. The basic idea of faith is trust, and we trust people and circumstances every day. Any time we use our hands to feel, our eyes to see, and our minds to think, we have faith that our senses accurately perceive reality. We trust that our parents are who they say they are. We trust that gravity (which we don’t see) will keep us on the ground. Juries trust that the evidence leads them to a conclusion “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The fact is that faith is as much a part of our lives as breathing. We cannot function without it. No one can. There is nothing inherently gullible or blind about faith, and when we consider the fact that the Bible itself warns against being gullible (see 1 John 4:1; Acts 17:11), we learn that biblical faith is neither blind nor unreasonable. Instead, proper faith rests securely upon the evidence God has provided for us. In the situation of Thomas in John 20:24-31, the irony is that he was not being the most reasonable when he refused to believe the witnesses who saw Jesus alive again. “I will not believe” is not in itself a reasonable statement, especially if our worldview has shut the door to the possibility that there might be greater forces at work than what our limited sight can envision. What is necessary in order to have a reasonable faith? What does the Bible show us with respect to faith? First, reasonable faith has some level of understanding (Acts 17:22-31). When Paul went into the city of Athens, he began where they were with their
gods. He then proceeded to explain to them the true God of heaven and earth. If we are going to have proper faith, we must believe that God is (Hebrews 11:6), but this implies that we have some understanding of who God is. Second, reasonable faith requires that we have a reason for accepting what we believe. In other words, faith is not just some willy-nilly whim, but is grounded on objective evidence and testimony. Peter wrote that we must sanctify Christ as Lord and always be ready to give a defense of our hope (1 Peter 3:15). We cannot offer a defense or a reason for the hope within if we have no reason for it to begin with. Third, biblical faith requires a willingness to act (James 2). James informs us that faith involves the intellect, emotions, and the will. Even the demons believed (intellect), and shuddered (emotion), but who will argue that they were saved? James argued that a person of faith must act, and that takes the will. Also important is understanding what faith does not require. Faith involves making a conscious decision about things we cannot see. We can do this with evidence and reason, and even though we need some level of understanding, faith does not require that we know all there is to know about the subject, or that we understand all the “why’s and wherefore’s” about it. Most of us will not understand everything there is to know about cars or computers, but that does not stop us from using them. We need some understanding of God, but this does not suggest that we can know or understanding all there is to know about God (see Job 38; Romans 11:33-34). We are finite, necessarily limited by time and space, so
The Nature of Faith and Evidence |4 faith does not mean that we have figured everything out. Faith requires humility, an acknowledgement that we are not the final authority on life and reality.
On the Nature of Evidence We have already illustrated the nature of evidence by appealing to a courtroom setting where the jury assesses the evidence and makes a decision about it. Whatever they decide will necessarily involve faith. The point, though, is to say that the nature of evidence conforms to the nature of reason. Virtually any idea that we hold as a conviction is, at least in our minds, “beyond a reasonable doubt.” What that means is that we begin to consider doubt to be unreasonable in a particular instance. I accept that my mother is really my mother, even though I have not subjected the investigation to scientific proof. Even so, it would be unreasonable for me to doubt it. How do you know that anything has happened in history? How do you know that you didn’t just pop into existence five minutes ago complete with a false memory? How do you know? Silly, you may think, but the fact is that whatever you believe about the past is going to be based upon faith. How do you know that George Washington was the first President of the United States? Or that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon and took Rome? Or that Alexander the Great pushed his forces to the brink of India? You see, we accept these matters on faith, and for the most part believe it would be unreasonable to doubt them because the evidence leads us in that
direction. But do you realize that there is more evidence for the resurrection of Jesus than there is for Julius Caesar’s march on Rome? Typically, apologetics (a system of defense) breaks down into three primary categories: scientific, philosophical, and historical. We will be considering evidences in all of these categories. Scientific evidences appeals to what we can learn from the nature of our world and universe (for example, the cosmological argument for God’s existence). Philosophical evidence appeals to logic and reason, recognizing that God gave us rational minds to think and reason on matters that cannot be empirically verified (for example, the problem of evil and suffering). Historical evidence appeals to the objective testimony that is open to investigation, the ancient documents and eyewitness accounts (that tell us, for example, about the resurrection of Jesus). Together, these areas of evidence give us the warrant to confidently assert our faith in Jesus as Lord and the Bible as His word. Faith has consequences for eternity. We don’t give up our intellect when we choose to believe. Rather, we use our intellect to inform our faith so that, in the final analysis, God will be glorified. (Fall 2009)