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Monday, 2 December 2013

Stuff People Say: “Faith is belief without evidence or reason.”

In our new regular feature, Martin Smith digs into some popular (but inaccurate) ideas about the Christian faith:


“Faith is belief without evidence or reason,” people sometimes say.

I don’t want to concentrate here on why Christianity’s detractors say this kind of thing; that’s a discussion for another day.

I’ll focus, instead, on why some Christians also say similar things.

I wonder if something like the following goes on when somebody (a Christian apologist, for example) promotes the reasonableness of faith:

STEP ONE
The apologist argues that faith ought to be based on reason.

STEP TWO
The apologist then gives some examples of reasons for faith, which include philosophical arguments and historical evidence.

STEP THREE
Another believer, on hearing this, thinks: “I did not come to believe in Jesus because of philosophy or history. And I know I have a real, legitimate faith. So I know this apologist must be wrong – faith does not need to be based on reasons.”

The apologist has turned a Christian away from the very idea they were promoting.

What happened?

The problem is that the apologist presented a very narrow view of what reason looks like; he/she trumpeted the importance of reason and then said (even if only implicitly) “this is what reason looks like: technical philosophy and historiography. If you don’t have that, you don’t have reason.”

A Christian sees that he/she does not have that and so rejects reason.

But what if this narrow view of reason is incorrect? What if reason is much broader than technical philosophy and historiography?

Perhaps that believer denouncing reason really doeshave reasons for their faith, it’s just that the apologist had a particular view about reason that was blind to the sorts of reasons this believer had.

If that is the case, then the apologist should rethink the way he/she presents reason and the put-off believer should become friendlier to reason. Both would need to face a challenge.

As it happens, there is a good deal of work being done in philosophy (and also in the best contemporary Christian apologetics) that paints just such a broader picture of reason. Things like emotion, meaning, tradition, community and testimony are being given a place within the overarching category of reason.  

Christians do well to embrace this larger, healthier, more human view of reason. It helps us to see that faith has its reasons, without excluding the sorts of reasons for faith most believers actually have.


Martin Smith works at the Oxford Centre for
Christian Apologetics, and is also undertaking
an MA in the Philosophy of Health & Happiness

 To discover more about the new, emerging, view of reason
he describes, check out Longing to Know, by Esther Meeks

1 comment:

  1. In the early years of my faith (through part of college, and the first couple of years afterwards), I was this (negative) type of apologist. As a scientist, It was hard to me to admit that there is a lot of unknown, that not everything can be proven 100%.

    I came to faith because of apologetics and facts. But now, even if someone took away all the facts that I clung to initially, I still have enough evidence in my life to KNOW that Jesus is real, and He is God.

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