Is Faith Rational?

The Declaration of IndependenceThe Declaration of Independence – a permanent testimony to the establishment of the United States of America Rejecting the Bible because it’s an “ancient” document and we didn’t witness any of it is as foolish as rejecting the Declaration of Independence because it’s ancient and we didn’t witness the signing.


Is faith rational? If one took this question at face value,  the answer is quite simple: yes, faith is rational. How do we know that?  We merely need to understand the terms and see if “faith” fits within the bounds of “rational.”  That’s a simple academic exercise handled in the sidebar below. Of greater interest is what people usually mean when asking the question. What’s commonly being asked is either:

1.  How can faith be rational, when faith means believing in something with no evidence?

Or:

2. Is Faith/belief in God/belief in miracles  compatible with science?

 

Starting with the second  question – Faith in God and belief in miracles are compatible with science because faith and science are complimentary; not contradictory. There are questions that science is not equipped to handle. In such cases it doesn’t mean the item the question isn’t real; it simply means that science is incapable of answering the question.  One such item, as author, scientist and theologian Alistair McGrath points out is this:

 “What is the meaning of life?” This is clearly an important question. But can science answer it?[1]

The answer clearly is no, science can’t answer it. And why not? Famous evolutionary biologist and historian of science Stephen Jay Gould suggests it’s because science and religion deal with different spheres of knowledge – “magisteria” as he called them – and they do not overlap. Science and religion are thus Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA)[2] – so the one can not comment on the other. This formulation is close. Science can not see or measure the spiritual world, so it can not comment on it; but God, who is spirit (John 4.24) sees both the spiritual and material world, and thus can comment on both as an eye witness. Thus regarding the creation of the world, what you have in Genesis 1 is an eye witness account of the creation of the heavens and the earth in 6 days, and recorded as evidence – a testimony for all time.

In passing, God as an eye witness to the creation is something science can not disprove. They can disagree with his testimony,  (which they do) and disbelieve he even exists (which they do), but they can not prove he does not exist. Neither can they provide an eye witness to their version of creation – the big bang.  They say believing God’s testimony can only be done by faith. Okay, so what is it when you believe George Washington was the first president? No one alive today was there to see it. All we have are testimonies. Is that not then, also faith?  Yet no one asks scientists to prove George Washington was the first president, or prove that he existed. They take both to be true on the word of historians. Biblical testimony is no different. So why is faith in God’s written testimony any less rational than believing written testimonies that George Washington was the first president?

If doubters of the Biblical account still want “proof” one can say creationists have higher quality “proof” than scientists – since in addition to scientific evidence,  creationists have an eye witness account by a perfect witness while science merely has a of highly disputed theory – the big bang[3] which is backed by highly disputed evidence. Indeed the more we learn, the more the big bang is discredited.  The universe is both too young for the theory to be true (for more on that see  Saturn’s Rings are Young!)  and recent discoveries like the Higgs Boson (the so called “god particle”)  contradict the Big Bang theory. (For more on that see Testimony of the Higgs Boson.)

So faith expressed as belief that God exists is rational; it is consistent with how we use “faith” in other spheres, and it is consistent with science. But some people don’t agree with that assessment for reasons that take us back to the first question:

“How can faith be rational?” (implied: when science can’t see the evidence to prove it). This is perpetuated by a chorus of acolytes echoing the refrain:

“Faith is believing something for which you have no good, objective, rational reason to think is actually true.”[4]

What’s always amusing about these statements is the claim there is no evidence. Because the first thing they typically do is list the evidences then explain why they refuse to believe it. First off they want to eliminate the Bible as evidence because it’s well – the bible – a holy book.  They never seem to realize they are committing the fallacy of a false analogy when they compare the Bible to a book of mythology or even other holy books. Unlike mythology and other “holy” books the Bible is full of verified history, fulfilled prophecy (we’ll note one below), known, verified historical people, and geographical locations that exist to this day that you can visit. That makes it a reliable source of information. In fact regarding reliability of  the key section of the Bible that records the life, death and resurrection of Jesus – the New Testament – author and apologist Josh McDowell states:

“There is more evidence for the historical reliability of the new testament than any 10 pieces of classic literature combined.”[5]


Objective scholars regard the Bible as a reliable historical record, it’s people with an atheistic agenda who object to using the testimony of the Bible. But let’s look at a few of these objections. Typical of those stating faith is not rational, is the blogger above[6] who states faith is believing something which you have no good reason to believe is true. He has 3 main objections:

1. There is no evidence whatsoever that Jesus rose from the dead outside of claims made in the Bible.

 

2 In fact, there’s really no evidence that Jesus ever existed or had followers… There is no historical or archaeological evidence to support the existence of Jesus.

 

3. The only thing we have [as evidence of Jesus’ existence] are claims made in a book of mythology.

I’ve already discussed why objection 3 – taking the Bible as mythology is fallacious, so I will turn my attention to objections 1 and 2.

Claim 1: “There is no evidence whatsoever that Jesus rose from the dead outside of claims made in the Bible.”

This is simply false. He is obviously discounting (or unaware of) the witness of Flavius Josephus[7] a historian, born in the first century just after the crucifixion of Jesus who records Jesus being alive after his death on the cross. 

But of greater interest  is his refusal to accept the historical testimonies recorded in the Bible as evidence. This is not surprising – as I mentioned above the first thing atheists and materialistic scientists want to do is throw out the Biblical witness. But what if such testimonies were not part of the Bible? Consider this:

If you were living in the first century after the gospels were written but before they were collected together and added to the canon[8]  what would you have? Not one, but four[9] individual, recorded, eye witness testimonies to the fact that Jesus was killed, but was seen alive again after being dead and buried. At that time you could not reject them as being “part of the Bible” because they weren’t – they were then merely the written testimonies of eye witnesses.

Yet some skeptics believe that because 2000 years have passed, and the books have since been recognized as authoritative for the Christian faith, they are now no longer valid as evidence. That would be like taking a time machine and arriving in the year 3776 to find people believe that the Declaration of Independence is full of myths,  signed by mythical people who populated a mythical land called “the United States of America” because anything that old must be a myth. Clearly such reasoning is misguided, and the only reason they reject the testimony of the Bible is because it is a strong, reliable testimony that disagrees with their pre-conceived notions.

Claim 2:  In fact, there’s really no evidence that Jesus ever existed or had followers…There is no historical or archaeological evidence to support the existence of Jesus.

This claim is so obviously false it’s laughable. So I won’t spend a lot of time on it in this article. To make my point I will simply offer historical and archaeological evidence that supports the existence of Jesus. I don’t want to get side tracked by them however, so for further discussion of them, see the companion article Physical Evidence Jesus Existed.  The evidences listed are:

1. St Peter’s Basilica; Cathedrals and Churches all over the world.

2. Nails from the cross of Jesus.

3. The Spear of Destiny (The spear that pierced Jesus’ side).

4. The Shroud of Turin.

The above are all historical or archaeological evidences to support the existence of Jesus.  Thus we can firmly and categorically state the above claim that there’s no evidence Jesus ever existed is simply another false, misleading claim.  People making such statements wish there were no evidence, and want to persuade you to follow their godless beliefs, but now you know better.

So having dispensed with these demonstrably wrong claims by skeptics and atheists, let’s summarize before moving on:

Is faith rational? Yes.
Do we have reasons to trust the Bible? Yes.
Do we have evidence supporting Biblical claims outside the Bible? Yes.
Are the claims of skeptics and atheists that there’s no evidence of the resurrection or Jesus’ existence wrong? Yes.

Let us examine one further consideration when the question “is faith rational” comes up.  It seems many people perceive Christians as those who act on faith without having a reason. Take a scenario where someone is going to take a job, or get married, or do some other action because they have “faith” that God wants them to. This is a different scenario and different type of faith from what we originally discussed. Faith in God as I originally discussed, was faith in the existence of God based on the myriads of evidence around us.  This final example – performing a specific action based on “faith” is really what Christians would consider identifying the will of God and having the faith to do it, as Jesus says:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my
Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 7.21

Finding and doing the will of God is also rational because it is also done based on evidence, but it is a different type of evidence.  Further discussion on finding the will of God for your life warrants its own separate article, so I can’t go into detail here. Suffice it to say that you can not understand the evidence to find
and to do God’s will in the second place until you first acknowledge God’s existence and authority over your life and seek him in the first place.
Because “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who
earnestly seek him.” (Heb 11.6)


So both types of  faith (faith in God’s existence; and faith we can find and do the will of God) are rational. For the unbeliever, God has provided myriads of evidence of his existence. If you are an unbeliever, I leave you with the words of an early follower of Jesus (Ananias):

“And Now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.”
(Acts 22.16)

Sidebar –Does the definition of “faith” fit within the definition of “rational” Googling rational:

1.  based on or in accordance with reason or logic.

Example: [used of an explanation:]
“I’m sure there’s a perfectly rational explanation”

 Example: [used as a person’s thinking process:]
able to think clearly, sensibly, and logically.

“Andrea’s upset—she’s not being very rational”

Googling faith

1. complete trust or confidence in someone or something

2. strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof


Looking at the first definition of faith,  there is nothing irrational about having complete trust or confidence in someone or something – granted the object of faith is worthy of such trust. This type of faith meets both definitions of rational.


That leaves the issue many have to be with the second definition listed for faith: “strong belief in God… based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.”  The problem is immediately apparent: this definition shows a basic
misunderstanding of the true meaning of faith, particularly biblical faith because such faith is based on evidence, not on nothing as that definition supposes. Thus the issue is that those who use this second definition of faith when speaking of faith in God – claiming theists believe in God with no evidence – are really erecting a strawman argument – a misrepresentation of what actual faith in God is. There are many reasons to believe in God – many of which are presented on this website. To suggest there is no evidence at all to believe in God or Jesus is to either suppress the evidence or outright lie.

For those who object that the definition calls for “proof” not “evidence”, I would direct them to historians who will tell you that you can’t “prove” anything about the past; all you can do is present evidence. Or point them to scientists who “believe” in all kinds of
theories – for which they have “evidence” but not “proof.”


Duane Caldwell | posted 10/28/2014 | print format 



1.Alister McGrath Isn’t Science More Rational than Faith?
http://www.bethinking.org/does-science-disprove-god/isnt-science-more-rational-than-faith 
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2.NOMA – Non-Overlapping_Magisteria see
http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Non-Overlapping_Magisteria
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3. If you doubt that the Big Bang is highly disputed, see:
Dismantling the Big Bang by Alex Williams and John Hartnett; for a biblical perspective;
or for a perspective from one who holds to an eternal universe:The Big Bang Never Happened by Eric Lerner; I don’t agree with an eternal universe, but it makes my point that many – including some with a non-Christian worldview – do not believe in the Big Bang.
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4.This particular echo of the refrain is from the article:
Faith is not Rational by “Cephus”

Faith is not Rational


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5.Josh McDowell referenced from  Jesus, The Evidence
Documentary, 2001
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6. Cephus, Faith is not Rational
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7.Josephus’ Account of Jesus
http://www.josephus.org/testimonium.htm
Jewish Antiquities, 18.3.3 §63
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8. Canon: recognized as being inspired by God, and  authoritative and thus worthy to be included in the Bible
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9. Four witnesses only includes the gospels. If you include the epistles – particularly Paul’s letter to the Corinthians – where he notes there were more than 500 people who saw the resurrected Jesus (1 Cor 15.6) – the number of written testimonies is higher.
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