By L. Alfred James
The average person on the street believes that faith is the opposite of logic. In talking with hundreds of people on this subject, the most common definitions that I’ve heard all agree with what Mark Twain famously said, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”1 Here are the definitions of faith that I’ve heard most often:
- Faith is believing in something that is not rational or logical.
- Faith is what you use when all reason is against you. It’s religious wishful thinking, in which you squeeze out spiritual hope by an act of sheer will.
- Faith is believing that which is contrary to fact or (at the very least) contrary to evidence.
- Faith is ignoring reality.
Most of these definitions came from folks who were not Christians. However, well-meaning Christians are partly responsible for the popularity of this view of faith. Many believers have willingly embraced (and promoted) this view because it absolves them of all intellectual responsibility. “It doesn’t matter what the facts are. I don’t need to do any hard thinking or studying about science, philosophy, or history. I simply believe by faith.” They want to have their cake and eat it too. More precisely, they want to have their intellectual laziness and keep their Christianity intact.
But this view of faith has had a devastating effect on western culture. It has led many intellectually-gifted people to completely abandon all interest in Christianity. “After all,” they say, “if you are a Christian you are supposed to believe things just based on faith, contrary to sound logic. I’m sorry, I’d prefer to live in the real world and not a delusion.” Some have told me that if they want to live in a delusion they would rather just take LSD.
Because of this definition of faith, many people think that we cannot find facts to support or defend our faith, nor should we even try. They believe it is ignoble and it weakens faith. “Faith is not the kind of thing that has anything to do with facts,” they say. “If you could prove there is a God, then there would be no need for faith.” This is just one of many deleterious effects that come from the notion that faith is the opposite of logic.
The main problem with this view is not the way the words logic or facts are being understood (and talked about). The problem is the way that faith is being understood (and talked about). Thus, there is no need for us to delve into a technical and abstract discussion on the nature of logic or factuality. Our job is much simpler. We only have to consider how the Bible defines faith. As soon as we do that, the problem vanishes.
Faith, According To the Bible
The Bible makes it clear that faith is perfectly logical. We are not required to believe things that are illogical or just wishful thinking. On the contrary, in the Bible we are encouraged to believe things based on facts, sound reasoning, and knowledge. Consider the way that Paul reasoned with the Athenian philosophers:
Acts 17:31 God has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.
Paul was interested in using PROOF. He saw the resurrection as powerful and conclusive proof about who God is and what he requires of us. And look at how Peter, when he was preaching on the day of Pentecost, used the same evidence:
Acts 2:32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.
Don’t miss this. Peter was saying, “We were eyewitnesses of this amazing event!” He did not say, “Believe, just by a leap of faith.” On the contrary, he was saying, “Believe, because you’ve got eyewitness testimony that this the truth!” The same concern for sound reasoning was used by the apostle John in his first epistle (1 John 1:1-4) Referring to Jesus he says, “We have seen him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands.” So, the first problem with this definition of faith is that it does not at all match the way that the apostles encouraged people to believe. They used evidence, proof, and eyewitness testimony. But that is not the only problem.
Another Major Problem
Paul says that if Christianity is contrary to the facts, we should not believe it:
1 Corinthians 15:13-19 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
Don’t miss that. If Christ has not really been raised, if it is not a genuine fact, then, Paul says, “our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” He does not say, “Well, you should still believe. After all, it will put spring in your step and help you face the harsh realities of life.” On the contrary, if Christ has not really been raised as a genuine historical event, then every preacher in every church is a liar:
1 Corinthians 15:15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
The idea that faith is believing in something that is contrary to fact is, honestly, a ridiculous notion. (Indeed, it is still a relatively new idea, only gaining popularity since the late 1800’s.) J.P. Moreland concisely demonstrates how absurd this view of faith is:
If this is really the Christian view of faith, the best thing that could happen to Christianity is for the bones of Jesus to be discovered. Finding His bones would prove He didn’t rise from the dead. When Christians continue to believe that He did rise, then, they would be demonstrating the most laudable faith, believing something that all the evidence proved was false.2
In other words, this view of faith leads to such shocking absurdities no one should hold to it.
Faith and Logic
In the Bible, faith is never defined as “an irrational belief” or “belief contrary to the facts.” Rather, it is a trust in God that is based on clear facts and good evidence. Therefore, faith in God is quite similar to the faith you have in a good doctor. Why do you trust him to make a good diagnosis of your health problems? Because he is credentialed and licensed. And if you’ve been seeing him for a number of years, you probably also trust him because of his past performance. In other words, you trust him based on facts. The same could be said for the faith you have in a certain mechanic, electrician, or plumber. In all of these cases your faith is based (at the very least) on the bare minimum of he or she being credentialed and licensed, but then deepened further by your experience of how capable and reliable he or she is.
That is what faith in God is like. It is based on real facts, the historical facts we find in the Bible (particularly the resurrection), along with the facts about the supernatural creation of the universe, the complex design of life, our intuition of a moral lawgiver, the objectivity of the laws of logic, and many, many more facts. Faith is not the opposite of logic. It is the highest expression of logic.
1. Mark Twain, Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World (Hartford, CT: American Publishing, 1897), 132.
2. Cited by Greg Koukl. See https://www.bethinking.org/can-we-know-anything/faith-and-facts