Belief without evidence: that’s how Richard Dawkins defines faith, as do many other New Atheists. More specifically, Dawkins describes religions as believing that “Faith (belief without evidence) is a virtue. They more your beliefs defy the evidence, they more virtuous you are.”
But if that’s so, then according to the Bible, Jesus did not want his followers to have faith in his resurrection — at least not faith with any virtue.
Luke’s introduction to the book of Acts reads (Acts 1:1-3),
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
Jesus gave them “many proofs” (Gk. polys tekmērion, polys meaning “great in magnitude or quality,” tekmērion meaning “sign, indubitable token, clear proof”). If faith were what Dawkins claims, then the whole point of Jesus’ forty post-resurrection days on Earth was to systematically undermine his followers’ faith by giving them evidences for their belief.
Faith, as taught in the Bible, is belief based upon evidence. Sure, it’s belief that goes beyond what has been proved. Because Jesus was raised, we believe we will be too. That hasn’t been shown true yet. Biblical believers’ confidence is based on Jesus’ demonstration that it’s possible, and on his promise (John 14:1-3) that he will make it happen.
Promises and Justified Confidence
But evidence is relevant to promises, too. Let’s think more generally about that: what justifies confidence in another person’s —any person’s — promises? I would suggest the following. Not all of these are necessary; the first two to four may be sufficient. The more that are in play, though, the more we are justified in believing the person will keep the promise:
- The person’s demonstrated ability to fulfill the promise
- The person’s track record of integrity in fulfilling promises
- The person’s willingness to sacrifice for the sake of keeping promises
- The consistency of fit between the person’s promised act and his or her purposes and values
- Any form of irrevocable deposit on fulfilling the promise (e.g., a non-refundable partial payment)
- Any form of collateral securing the promise (e.g. your house, if it is mortgaged)
All of these qualify as forms of evidence. Now our question today is whether biblical faith is belief without evidence. Let’s look at this list from that perspective, and from the Bible’s point of view:
- Jesus provided ample evidence that God can raise the dead.
- Jesus lived a life of complete integrity, according to the Bible.
- Jesus consistently lived with the intention of bringing eternal life (Luke 19:10, Mark 10:45, for example)
- Jesus’ crucifixion was extreme sacrifice for the sake of fulfilling the promise
All of this was evidenced clearly. So even though each believer’s own eternal life is not yet empirically proved here on Earth, from the Bible’s perspective there are strong, evidence-based reasons to believe in one’s future resurrection.
Biblical Faith Is Belief With Evidence
I have been repeating phrases like, from the Bible’s perspective. That’s because I’m not trying today to prove anything today except that these atheists are wrong about what faith is. (I’m referring only to their critique as it applies to Christian faith. Other religions’ faith might just be what they say it is; that’s of no concern to this discussion.) If the Bible presents faith as belief with evidence, then it cannot be true that biblical faith is belief without evidence.Atheists who say so are obviously wrong.
Does Christianity Today Represent That Kind of Faith?
But then the question arises, how consistently does Christian faith today fit the biblical pattern? Let’s fast-forward from the first to the twenty-first century. We don’t have Jesus here presenting himself alive with many proofs. There are indeed some Christians who have believed without investigating the apologetic basis for belief. This need not be evidence-free: God can make himself known (according to the Bible) to any person internally, by direct impression. To require that all evidence be empirical and intersubjective is to beg the question against the Christian God.
But here’s the thing: if faith is belief without evidence, then no Christian has faith except for the ones I just mentioned. I don’t have faith. Josh McDowell doesn’t have faith. William Lane Craig and Ravi Zacharias don’t have faith. Chuck Colson didn’t have faith.
In fact, I really over-stated the matter when I spoke of believers who haven’t investigated Christian apologetics; for they, too, have public evidence: the documentary basis for Christian knowledge in the Scriptures, and the life of Christ displayed in their local Christian communities.
Is their evidence adequate? I certainly think so. I’m very sure that the evidence I count on is sufficient to warrant belief. Atheists may disagree, but to say we have no evidence is simply false.
Atheists’ Convenient, Straw-Man Battle
So Dawkins and his cohort are fighting a non-existent, straw-man battle. It’s convenient for them, I suppose: they have defined a battleground on which victory is a cinch. And as I have said, maybe it’s the right definition for some religions. I don’t mind if they win those battles. I just think it’s dishonest for them to claim they’re addressing all faith. They’re not. They can fulminate all they want against faith without evidence. None of that has anything whatever to do with biblical faith.
Which is absolutely provable with respect to the way faith is defined and practiced within the pages of Scripture. With respect to belief today, the best they can say is that our evidence is insufficient, which is both arguable and irrelevant; for belief without evidence is not the same as belief based on evidence whose sufficiency is a matter of debate.
It seems to me that atheists who valued intellectual integrity would acknowledge that.