Questions of Faith
When criticising religion, it’s common to hear the expression: “Faith is believing in something without having proof.” This accusation is usually thrown at people who adhere to a particular religious or spiritual belief in an attempt to show the irrationality of their thinking. In others words, while you may think it’s noble or virtuous to believe in God, keep in mind that there is no evidence to justify your claim – you’re just relying on faith.
But is having faith in an idea or outlook always irrational, or can faith be reasonable?
When the Christian apologist John Lennox was debating the prominent scientist Richard Dawkins a number of years ago, he asked the well-known atheist: “I presume you have faith in your wife, is there any evidence for that?”
The point of the question was to show that it’s rational to believe in something without having impeccable proof that it’s true. In this case, Dr Dawkins had faith that his then-wife was wholly committed to him, without having proof that this was the case.
There was plenty of evidence to show that he was justified in holding this belief – she had married him, she seemed trustworthy, and she portrayed behavioural patterns of monogamy consistently – but he didn’t have proof. She could have been secretly deceiving him throughout their entire relationship.
This thought-provoking question, then, demonstrated that faith is the act of believing in something on the basis of evidence, rather than believing an idea without having proof. We all hold faith-based ideas without being able to prove them. For example, we have faith that the world is real and not a convincing simulation, that our parents love us, or that the ground we walk on isn’t going to randomly collapse. We having overwhelming evidence that our beliefs are rational, but no proof that they are true.
St Augustine also tackled this question at the end of the 4th Century in his work Concerning Faith of Things Not Seen, where he discusses believing in that which cannot be physically proved.
Faith is the act of believing in something on the basis of evidence, rather than proof”
He argues that when befriending someone, we must have faith that they will be a worthy and true friend. We must also have faith that our friend has good will, otherwise the friendship will collapse. In this, we can safely say that it is rational to have faith in something.
But does belief in God fall into this category? Sure, it’s rational to hold faith when it comes to relationships because we have evidence to support this, but belief in God is different. Augustine cleverly anticipated this response and pointed out that we also have evidence for the existence of God.
He suggests that the fulfilled prophecies of the Old Testament and the fact that Christianity spread so rapidly despite its origins of crucifixion are evidence of God’s existence.
Today, we can appeal to philosophical arguments and the historicity of the Gospels to bolster this claim. If there is enough evidence to suggest that God exists, then it’s a perfectly rational move to hold that belief, even without conclusive proof.