Tom Gilson

Faith as “Belief Without Evidence:” The Resurrection Appearances

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.

Belief Without Evidence? No. Caravaggio: Saint Thomas Putting his Finger on Christ's WoundJesus 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.

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32 thoughts on “Faith as “Belief Without Evidence:” The Resurrection Appearances

  1. Dawkins et al. have gnu-faith (belief without evidence) that Christian-faith is gnu-faith. This, so they can criticize Christians for the thing that they demonstrate in their criticism. And they are surprised how little it sticks…

  2. I’ve been struggling to understand the new-atheist mentality for some time, and I’m slowly piecing together the mutually-reinforcing misconceptions that hold the framework together. Their doctrine that “faith is belief without evidence” only makes sense in the light of other doctrines. I lack the time — and the fullness of understanding — to explain their framework completely, but here’s a sketch of what I have so far. I encourage others to further analyse the new-atheist mentality in an attempt to discern further key doctrines, and understand how they can form a self reinforcing mesh, even though each of them in isolation seems obviously wrong-headed to the typical outsider.

    First, understand that new atheists are intense fans of science — or the results of it, at least. This enthusiasm is expressed through scientism: they attribute the success of technological progress to the “scientific method” which brought it about, and, by contrasting it with the lack of technology produced in any other way, conclude that this method is the single correct path to all knowledge.

    Second, they characterise science as simply the application of evidence and reason — but there follows some wrangling as to what those terms constitute. They approve of the sorts of evidence that scientists use, but not of other sorts of evidence (such as eyewitness testimony), and denounce the latter as “not evidence”. This means that science becomes the only endeavour which is evidence-based, since only the forms of evidence which are characteristic of science are considered evidence at all.

    Religion, therefore, implies belief without evidence (or contrary to evidence), because if it had any evidence, it would be science, not religion.

    Putting it another way, if you start from the premise, “evidence is that on which science is based,” then clearly religion can not have any evidence except to the extent that it is science. And to the extent that it’s science, it’s not religion!

    I’ll have to leave it there for now.

  3. Jesus is reported to have said to Thomas: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn 20:29). In other words, it is better to believe without evidence, or at least without sufficient evidence, than to require sufficient evidence for one’s beliefs. Or in still other words, faith is consistent with having evidence, but it would be better if you believed in the absence of evidence.

  4. Really? First, let’s clarify that this was about empirical evidence. I don’t know if anyone believes without a reason to believe; in fact I really doubt it. Some people believe simply because the Gospel makes sense to them, for example. In this case, the evidence is the Gospel (written, spoken, portrayed on screen, or whatever), coupled with what the person knows about him or herself and about being human. That’s not without evidence; it’s just without a certain kind of empirical evidence.

    Second, do you think that Jesus really meant more blessed? Or could he have meant instead to send the message that one could share in a similar blessing, whether one believed with empirical evidence or without?

    Or could he have been chiding Thomas specifically? Maybe “those who have not seen and yet have believed” was really intended as a past-tense descriptor: those who had not seen at that time, and yet had believed (again, at that time), perhaps because they trusted the word of their friends who had seen him, or maybe because they remembered Jesus’ prediction of his resurrection. It could be that Thomas was one who had had enough prior experience with Jesus and his own friends the other disciples, that his demand for more evidence was out of place.

    I don’t think your conclusion is at all necessary, in other words, and it runs counter to Jesus’ own evidence-providing actions.

  5. I agree the conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow, but on the most natural reading Jesus is praising those who believe without requiring evidence and chiding Thomas for refusing to believe without evidence. At the very least we must admit that there is some biblical justification for the view that belief that does not require evidence is more virtuous than belief that does require evidence, which is close to one of the things Dawkins asserts.

    Also, by the way, there is nothing inconsistent about praising belief that does not require evidence, as Jesus apparently does in this passage, while continuing to provide evidence for those who refuse to believe without it.

  6. @Tom
    I should have bet real money that somebody would use the incident with Thomas in John 20 to wrongly argue that Jesus was talking about faith without evidence 🙂

    We happen to know that this is not what Jesus meant, because He also said in John 17 (specifically John 17:20-23)

    I am not praying only on their behalf, but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their testimony, that they will all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. I pray that they will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. The glory you gave to me I have given to them, that they may be one just as we are one – I in them and you in me – that they may be completely one, so that the world will know that you sent me, and you have loved them just as you have loved me

    .

    We also know that is not what John meant as well, because he continues on in John 20:31

    But these are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

    In other words, John wrote his gospel with the express purpose of documenting the events that he himself was an eyewitness to, for the benefit of people who would not have the opportunity of seeing the risen Jesus for themselves.

    Jesus chided Thomas because he doubted the eyewitness testimony of his fellow apostles – their testimony should have been sufficient for Thomas to believe that Jesus was alive after all. Thomas wanted to be a first-hand eyewitness for himself.

    I seem to recall having to explain this at least 5 times to people since I’ve been commenting on this blog 🙂

  7. Apparently Scotty thinks that the only kind of evidence is eyewitness evidence. It would be very hard to study history, investigate crime or do science if that were true.

  8. Luke 7:1-10. Key bits below (from NIV):

    He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.(C) 8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

    And Jesus responds

    “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”

    If Jesus considers that an example of faith, what is faith? Unlike so many around him, the centurion “gets” Jesus’ authority, and puts his trust in it completely. He knows that if Jesus wants it to happen, it will happen. And he doesn’t require Jesus’ physical presence to reassure him.

    Thomas isn’t criticised for wanting evidence; he’s criticised for failing to trust the evidence he has been given, and doubting the power of God to do what he has promised (cf John 11:40).

    Faith isn’t about whether you will “believe”, it’s about whether you will “trust”. Checking whether something is from God is wise; not trusting that which is from God is folly.

  9. Apparently Scotty thinks that the only kind of evidence is eyewitness evidence. It would be very hard to study history, investigate crime or do science if that were true.

    Where you are getting that from is beyond me. I never said or implied any such thing.

  10. Victoria writes:

    Jesus chided Thomas because he doubted the eyewitness testimony of his fellow apostles – their testimony should have been sufficient for Thomas to believe that Jesus was alive after all. Thomas wanted to be a first-hand eyewitness for himself.

    That is one interpretation, and I do not claim it is false, but it does require reading into the text something which isn’t there, namely, that the blessed ones are those who believe in the resurrection on the basis of eyewitness testimony (as opposed, for example, to merely accepting it on faith, as we say). If Victoria’s interpretation were right, I would have expected Jesus to make himself less open to misinterpretation by saying something like, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed those who have seen.” That would have cinched it for Victoria’s interpretation. But as things stand, this text is most naturally interpreted in the way I suggested above. And this interpretation in no way conflicts with Jn 17:20-23 or 20:31.

  11. Scotty
    How else were people going to learn about Jesus’ resurrection and its implications if not by the eyewitness testimony of the first generation of apostles? What about those who would not meet Jesus firsthand? They (and we) have only the documents they wrote and the record of what they taught. It is not an evidence-free faith because it is based on eyewitness testimony. I think your interpretation is naive rather than natural.

    The Bible Knowledge Commentary has this to say about the Thomas incident

    In his Gospel, John has traced the development of unbelief, which culminated in Jesus’ enemies crucifying Him. Conversely, John also traced the disciples’ development of faith, which was now climaxed in Thomas. The disciples were affirming Jesus’ resurrection to Thomas (told in v. 25 is elegon, an imperf. tense which indicates their continual activity). But he remained unconvinced. He wanted bodily proof of Jesus’ risen state. The reappearance of Jesus a week later provided the opportunity Thomas wanted. Again … Jesus miraculously entered a room with locked doors (cf. v. 19). He asked Thomas to touch Him (cf. “showed” in v. 20) and to stop doubting and believe. This was a forthright challenge to a personal commitment.
    Thomas’ response, My Lord and My God! is the high point of the Gospel. Here was a skeptical man, confronted by the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection. He announced that Jesus, the Man of Galilee, is God manifest in the flesh. Thus the truths in the first chapter were realized personally in this apostle (1:1, 14, 18). The Resurrection (a) demonstrated that what Jesus predicted about His being raised was true (Mark 8:31; 9:9, 31; 10:34; John 2:19), (b) proved that Jesus is the Son of God (Rom. 1:4) and was sent by God (“vindicated by the Spirit,” 1 Tim. 3:16), (c) testified to the success of His mission of salvation (Rom. 4:25), (d) entitled Jesus to a position of glory (1 Peter 1:11), and (e) proclaimed that Jesus is the “Lord” (Acts 2:36).
    Jesus then pronounced a blessing on all who would come to faith without the help of a visible, bodily manifestation to them (John 20:29; cf. 1 Peter 1:8). This blessing comes to all who believe on the basis of the proclaimed gospel and the evidences for its validity. Believers living today are not deprived by not seeing Him physically; instead, they are the recipients of His special blessing: Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

    J. The purpose of the book (20:30–31).

    20:30–31. John explained His purpose in writing this Gospel, that people might contemplate and perceive the theological significance of Jesus’ miracles (sēmeia, “signs”). Many people today ignore, deny, or rationalize Jesus’ miracles. Even in Jesus’ day some people attributed them to God whereas others attributed them to Satan (3:2; 9:33; Matt. 12:24). To ignore, deny, or rationalize them in that day was impossible because the miracles were manifold and manifest. John indicated He was aware of the Synoptic miracles: Jesus did many other miraculous signs. In fact, 35 different miracles are recorded in the four Gospels (see the list at John 2:1–11). John selected 7 for special consideration in order that people might come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah, and the Son of God. (The NIV marg. reading, “may continue to believe,” is probably not the correct textual reading; the NIV text correctly renders the Gr. by the words may believe.)

    Blum, E. A. (1985). John. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck, Ed.) (Jn 20:24–31). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

    Both Peter and John go on to say in their letters that they were documenting what they had seen and heard ( 2 Peter 1:16-21 and 1 John 1:1-5). Paul also appeals to eyewitnesses in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 to confirm Jesus’ resurrection.

    Connect the dots, man!

  12. It seems that people like Dawkins disregard or minimize the value of eyewitness testimony, which is what we Christians regard as substantial evidence for what we believe.

    An interesting thing about studying the epistemology of testimony is that you quickly realize that almost everything we believe is a result of testimony – including the scientific facts that we know. For example, I haven’t verified that the world is round, and I’m not sure I can. I believe what I’ve read and what I’ve been told.

    The entire scientific enterprise in fact rests largely on testimony – scientists believe what they hear and read.

    Acquisition of scientific knowledge is therefore largely based on faith in the testimony of others – in a way little different to basing faith on the testimony of eyewitnesses to the resurrection. And as eyewitnesses their testimony is based on their perception of the events they witnessed, just as experimental science relies on perception.

  13. Yes, it’s impossible for one person to confirm everything by direct observation, so we need to trust other people. The difference between science and religion is in the reasons for that trust. Scientists trust observations that are tested and confirmed repeatedly. Religion trusts observations that are written in sacred texts and repeated by authority.

    Anyway, here’s a sincere question I’d like to hear your answer to:

    If faith is based on evidence while going “beyond what has been proved,” how is that different from scientific induction?

  14. Scotty wrote:

    “I agree the conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow, but on the most natural reading Jesus is praising those who believe without requiring evidence and chiding Thomas for refusing to believe without evidence. At the very least we must admit that there is some biblical justification for the view that belief that does not require evidence is more virtuous than belief that does require evidence, which is close to one of the things Dawkins asserts.”

    Again, unless you are arguing that the only legitimate kind of evidence that there is is first hand eyewitness evidence then I see no support at all for that interpretation. Clearly throughout the NT the apostles (Peter, Paul and John, fore example) cite evidence for the resurrection that is both direct and indirect or circumstantial. Peter, for example, in Acts alludes to the empty tomb (Acts 2: 24-32).

    Obviously for modern believers we rely on historical records of the eyewitnesses as well as other kinds of circumstantial evidence– for example, the birth and rapid spread of the Christian faith. That’s not faith without evidence; it’s faith based on indirect evidence.

  15. Christianity is not a faith that lacks in evidence. Not only the Bible clearly speaks of it. Historical accounts record the happenings on the Bible specifically the events that concerns with the life and passion of Jesus Christ as well as the martyred deaths of the apostles and many saints. Christianity grew as what is it today because of the belief that faith is something that does not require many tangible beliefs. Rather, it spreads like a wildfire because many people believe that there is a great authority that made all things possible here on Earth.

    If we are to consider the things of science, there are things we believe to be in existence although we cannot see them. This is because people of long ago have proven such existence through their studies and researches. Christianity is of the same manner. The events were recorded by early people who were actual witnesses and participants to those events – for people of the modern world to recognize that such events happened – for whatever purpose it may best serve or for strengthening the faith we already have.

  16. The difference between science and religion is in the reasons for that trust. Scientists trust observations that are tested and confirmed repeatedly. Religion trusts observations that are written in sacred texts and repeated by authority.

    So we end up trusting science because we have numerous testimonies concerning the same knowledge.

    Historical knowledge is based almost entirely on testimony, and again, numerous testimonies are important. The events concerning the resurrection are historical, and we have numerous testimonies.

    It seems to me that the main difference is that the testimonies we trust in science are much more recent, and they can be added to.

    If faith is based on evidence while going “beyond what has been proved,” how is that different from scientific induction?

    Fundamentally, I don’t think it is very different. After all, scientific induction is going beyond what has been observed.

    I suppose someone like Dawkins would say that scientists are always willing to revise their theories, unlike people with religious faith. I’m not sure that history bears that out – after all, we would need something very substantial to revise our beliefs about the resurrection, and I don’t think we’ve had it so far. It might just be that science repeatedly has had to revise theories because it’s been incorrect so many times.

  17. According to Norman Geisler, in his chapter of the book, In Defense of Miracles (ed. Geivett and Habermas), David Hume argued, “not for the impossibility of miracles but for the incredibility of accepting miracles.” (p. 75). In other words, Hume did not deny that there was human testimony of miracles. He rejected them because they just seemed too incredible.

    I think that Dawkins and his disciples should adopt this Humean approach rather than their fallacious argument that faith is ‘belief without evidence’. What should we call the new Dawksian argument? The argument from incredulity, perhaps?

  18. Yes, adopting the Humean approach would be more honest in its representation of his opponents.

    As an aside though, Hume himself was very inconsistent in his reasoning, even circular. In the instance of resurrection, he basically argued that no testimony could be accepted because there are no testimonies.

  19. What should we call the new Dawksian argument? The argument from incredulity, perhaps?

    It’s a tendentious argument. It (re)defines the relevant terms in such a way that the desired conclusion falls out. Dawkins doesn’t observe that faith is belief without evidence: he defines it that way. If you point out that Christian belief is based on evidence, then he contradicts that assertion on the basis of his definition of evidence. Despite his frequent assertion that the existence of God is most certainly a scientific question, I’ve yet to see any statement from Dawkins that would permit, even in principle, evidence in support of anything related to theism. Thus, he can confidently assert that there is no scientific evidence for God, because he has carefully defined “scientific evidence” in such a way that it never could, in principle, support the hypothesis of his existence.

    Jerry Coyne, on the other hand, has allowed ad hoc examples of possible supporting evidence, such as, “if a nine-hundred-foot-tall Jesus appeared to the residents of New York City” in a convincingly documented manner. In other words, he gives a very specific example of something that hasn’t happened, and says he’d consider it evidence if it happened, but provides no supporting theory of evidence by which we might generalise it to a category of things which count as evidence. Given the paucity of sample data, the best explanation I’ve seen is that Coyne is advocating a “God of the gaps” approach to evidence: give him something completely contrary to what naturalistic science can explain, and he’ll attribute it to God. The offering would still need to meet his subjective standards of “gapness”, of course, whatever those standards are.

  20. One last (maybe) comment on “the most natural reading.” The Thomas event is in John, not in the Synoptics, and it should be interpreted as a Johannine episode. Look through the book of John and you’ll see time and time again where Jesus uses elliptical, indirect, sometimes intentionally incomplete language. In this gospel, by means of such language Jesus repeatedly forces his listeners to think deeper, to assay the context, to work more for their understanding.

    Nicodemus took the most natural interpretation of “born again” in John 3, and he got it wrong. Jesus didn’t entirely work out the meaning of it for him, even after he queried Jesus on it. The natural-interpretation, what-he-said-right here-is-all-I’m-considering approach doesn’t work in John. It wasn’t intended to.

  21. @TBFW:

    Given the paucity of sample data, the best explanation I’ve seen is that Coyne is advocating a “God of the gaps” approach to evidence: give him something completely contrary to what naturalistic science can explain, and he’ll attribute it to God. The offering would still need to meet his subjective standards of “gapness”, of course, whatever those standards are.

    That is my take on it; or to put things in perspective, being positively consumed in their battle with “creationists” they have turned into what they most despise, which my nasty self thinks a very fitting end.

  22. @ TFBW

    It’s a tendentious argument. It (re)defines the relevant terms in such a way that the desired conclusion falls out. Dawkins doesn’t observe that faith is belief without evidence: he defines it that way. If you point out that Christian belief is based on evidence, then he contradicts that assertion on the basis of his definition of evidence.

    Yes indeed. All Dawkin’s arguments against God consists of is contempt for his opponent, dishonest redefinition of terms and some not so clever rhetorical sleight of hand.

  23. Victoria writes:

    How else were people going to learn about Jesus’ resurrection and its implications if not by the eyewitness testimony of the first generation of apostles? What about those who would not meet Jesus firsthand? They (and we) have only the documents they wrote and the record of what they taught. It is not an evidence-free faith because it is based on eyewitness testimony. I think your interpretation is naive rather than natural….

    Both Peter and John go on to say in their letters that they were documenting what they had seen and heard (2 Peter 1:16-21 and 1 John 1:1-5). Paul also appeals to eyewitnesses in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 to confirm Jesus’ resurrection.

    This reply confuses me. You purport to be disagreeing with me, but nothing you say here conflicts with anything I’ve said. I certainly never said that faith based on eyewitness testimony is evidence-free, which is absurd. Nor did I say that eyewitness testimony isn’t a legitimate form of evidence.

    How else could people have learned about the resurrection except through eyewitness testimony? Well, for one thing, they could have heard about it through the “grapevine”. It’s easy to imagine that the resurrection story would have spread like wildfire among the followers and admirers of Jesus. And it’s easy to imagine that some of them would have readily believed this story just upon hearing it, without checking with any eyewitnesses, confirming that the tomb was empty, etc. In other words, it’s easy to imagine that some people would have taken the resurrection on faith, i.e., they would have believed in the absence of sufficient evidence.

  24. JAD writes:

    Again, unless you are arguing that the only legitimate kind of evidence that there is is first hand eyewitness evidence then I see no support at all for that interpretation.

    I am happy to admit that there could be other forms of evidence for the resurrection, such as the empty tomb. That does not change the fact that when Jesus says, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn 20:29), this is most naturally interpreted as something like the claim “blessed are those who believe without requiring sufficient evidence” and not as something like “blessed are those who believe, realizing that they already have sufficient evidence without needing to see for themselves.”

  25. Tom writes:

    The natural-interpretation, what-he-said-right here-is-all-I’m-considering approach doesn’t work in John.

    You seem to be endorsing the principle that when it comes to interpreting passages from John, the naturalness of the interpretation is irrelevant. Other things being equal, you seem to be saying, an unnatural interpretation is just as likely to be correct as a natural one. If you really followed this principle consistently, it would make it almost impossible to interpret any passage in John. For many passages admit of more than one reading, and oftentimes the only relevant difference between these readings is that one is more natural than the other.

  26. @Scotty
    Well, in what context did Jesus chide Thomas and say what He said? We learn from the preceding passage that the 10 other disciples were telling Thomas about seeing the resurrected Jesus, that He is alive, trying to convince him. They were giving him their eyewitness testimony. Back in John 17, Jesus was specifically referring to eyewitness testimony as being necessary and sufficient. What more can be said?

    Let me ask you this – what do you believe about Jesus and His resurrection, and why?

  27. Ironically Dawkins is guilty of the same sin “belief without evidence,” of which he accuses Christians. For example, in his book, The God Delusion, he writes:

    Gaps, by default in the mind of the creationist, are filled by God… Areas where there is a lack of data, or lack of understanding, are automatically assumed to belong, by default, to God…

    The logic turns out to be no more convincing than this: ‘I [insert own name] am personally unable to think of any way in which [insert biological phenomenon] could have been built up step by step. Therefore it is irreducibly complex. That means it is designed…’ Even if no scientists do come up with an explanation, it is plain bad logic to assume that ‘design’ will fare better. The reasoning that underlies ‘ intelligent design theory is lazy and defeatist– classic ‘God of the Gaps’ reasoning. I have previously dubbed it the Argument for Personal Incredulity. (p154-155)

    Notice how this argument can be turned back around and used on Dawkins. For example:

    (1)’Areas where there is a lack of data, or lack of understanding, are automatically assumed’ to be explainable, by default, by some kind of natural process. In other words naturalism, an unproven philosophical position, that sees natural causes as the only sufficient explanation for everything in the universe is simply assumed apriori.

    (2) We could easily call this “naturalism of the gaps.”

    (3) What happens “Even if no scientists do come up with an explanation[?]” Apparently we must be willing to believe without evidence that someday they will.

    Do you see what Dawkins is doing? He is using his own definition of faith, one that he philosophically embraces, and projecting it on religious believers. In other words, “That’s what faith is for me, so that is what it must be for them.”

  28. JAD, I come across Naturalism of the gaps all the time in discussions with Atheists. When there is some question of significance that we don’t know the answer to, the response is generally:
    a) science will find an answer, and
    b) that answer categorically will not involve anything considered supernatural

    The problem being that not all questions have scientific answers or are even appropriate for scientific inquiry, and the second assertion is simply to preempt any explanation the person cannot ideologically accept. Which isn’t good enough.

  29. I think the critical point on faith is that it is not really belief about what “is”, but what “will be”. It’s about the “unknown” future, not the present. Hence “faith is being sure of what we hope for, certain of what we do not see” is not making assertions about the unknowable present. Rather, it is calling on the Israelites to observe God’s work in past and present and therefore have confidence he will deliver in the future.

    It’s why Christians insist that “faith” is something we do every day. I trust that this chair will hold me because that’s what chairs do, and have done in the past. I trust that the sun will rise tomorrow because that’s what the sun does, and has done in the past. I trust that Mum will cook dinner, because that’s what Mum does and has done in the past. I trust that God will keep his promises, because that’s what God does and has done in the past.

    Faith is a way of knowing the future, not a way of knowing the present (except for the bits that cannot be known except by someone telling us – these we have to take “on faith”, as it were). Any time we extrapolate from evidence or from authority, we practice faith.

    Christian faith is only “remarkable” because the object of our faith – God – is so much more powerful than ourselves.

  30. Faith is a way of knowing the future, not a way of knowing the present (except for the bits that cannot be known except by someone telling us – these we have to take “on faith”, as it were). Any time we extrapolate from evidence or from authority, we practice faith.

    Yes, science is also a way of knowing the future, and induction in the scientific method is based on faith in the uniformity of nature.

  31. As a Christian theist I have no problem with the claim that:

    1. Natural causation is sufficient to explain some things about the universe, life and human existence.

    This appears to be self-evidently true.

    What I do have a problem with is the claim that:

    2. Natural causation alone (causation that does not involve any kind of intelligent agency–God, angels, aliens etc.) is sufficient to explain everything about the universe, life and human existence.

    At present this is an unproven assumption. Can such a claim even be established scientifically?

  32. Well let’s be frank. Heb 11: 6 says that “faith is evidence of things NOT SEEN”. So when we are dealing with faith we are in a situation where there is little or no emperical (i. visiable, touchable, hearable, tastable, smellable evidence. However even though there is no emperical evidence there is a compelling REASON for that faith. A reason which justifies us having that faith. So that faith is not a brainless, senseless, irrational , unjustifiable, , supersitious reaction. There is a rational for our Faith. That reason may be past experience with the promisor. Or it can be the credibility of the promisor based on other persons experience over many years and in various circumstances. or it can be a combination others or other reasons. But it will be often/lways based on some kind of track record of the promisor. So God has not given us 100 percent emperical proof to negate the need for faith. Neither has he left us bereft of so much reason and evidence so that we are without any rational for exhibiting faith.

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