Philosophical vs. Biblical Faith

Is belief in God rational? Is there really any evidence for God at all? The age-old conflict between faith and reason roars on stronger than ever today. Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to try to argue that a belief in the existence of God is indeed a rationally justified and warranted position that is based on the available evidence – This should be fun…

First, a brief explanation will be presented of the differences between philosophical and biblical understandings of the essential term, “faith.” The bulk of the paper will then explore three classical arguments for the existence of God – the cosmological argument, the design argument, and the moral argument – and critique several objections to each.

Biblical faith is a concept that is often misunderstood, even in Christian circles. Biblical faith is not the same as the philosophical concept of faith. It is not what most people would think of as faith. For this reason, it may not be the best term to use when speaking with unbelievers. However, because it is an important concept, a necessary aspect of any religious worldview, and a biblical word, I would like to clarify what biblical faith really is.

A general philosophical understanding of faith is that faith is belief not based on logical proof or material evidence; a belief without sufficient evidence, or even despite evidence which points to the contrary. It is with this definition that scholars contest that it is intellectually dishonest, and even immoral, to act on faith. Using that definition, I think I would agree. As William K. Clifford points out, the ship-owner who allows his ship to embark without performing all the essential safety procedures because he believed on faith that the ship was safe and ready to perform its duty, has executed an intellectually dishonest and even immoral act.

Christians often make the argument that by faith we believe that the sun will rise each morning. From a philosophical standpoint, I would disagree with this statement. Faith, philosophically, is basically belief that flies in the face of reason. It goes against the available evidence. It is obvious then why belief in the sunrise is not a belief by faith. Thousands of years throughout which the sun has never failed to rise, and even our own few years of experiencing the consistent sunrise, give us sufficient reason to believe, based on the evidence available, that the sun will indeed rise tomorrow morning.

This trust, or assurance, in the sun’s consistency is an example of what philosophical faith is not. It is also an example of what biblical faith is. Many people, Christians and non-Christians alike, believe that the Judeo-Christian God must not care if we have any evidence for His existence. They think that the ancient Jews and early Christians were ignorant primitives who believed in God with blind faith, never feeling the need to question any of the truths they so readily accepted. Actually, the Jews were a very tangibly-minded people, wanting things to be understood experientially and proven empirically. The Apostle Paul understood this, and voices it when he says, “For the Jews demand signs, and the Greeks seek wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:22).

All the early church leaders understood the importance of sufficient evidence in order for a belief to have true warrant. At that time, there was no harder evidence, nor a more scientific, rational warrant for belief than that of eyewitnesses. John, a close friend and disciple of Jesus writes, “The man who saw it has given testimony… and he testifies so that you also may believe” (John 19:35). In a later letter, John also writes:

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us – that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:1-3)

Paul defends the legitimacy of what was being taught about Jesus by saying,

“He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” (1 Corinthians 15:5-8)

Peter, an eyewitness of almost all of Jesus’ activities during his ministry, clearly expresses the importance of rational evidence, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 2:16)

For the early church leaders, hard evidence was a necessary prerequisite to distinguish real faith from credulity. They clearly understood the significance of sound evidence. But do we, in the twenty-first century, really have any evidence to warrant a rational belief in God? Over the next few weeks, I will examine this issue using three classical arguments which I believe effectively provide evidence for the existence of God.

Hope it’s interesting and helpful!

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About Tweed Tavern

We exist to exhort passionate followers of Christ to think more deeply about their faith, and to challenge deep thinkers to become more passionate followers of Christ. Throughout history, taverns have provided a venue for theological and political debate. Hoping to honor that tradition, welcome to the Tavern!
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