In one of my favorite (And one of the greatest!) adventure films of all time Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana Jones is forced to survive three deadly trials to find the holy grail and save his wounded father. After barely surviving the first two tests, he sees the finish line separated from him by a bottomless pit. The only clue he has to pass this test is to take a “leap of faith”. With no other choice, Jones takes a bold and frightening step forward into the void only to find firm footing on a bridge that had seamlessly blended into the background. Breathing a sigh of relief, Indiana Jones crosses the bridge and… you’ll have to watch the move to find out!
I find this scene captures so much of how faith and reason are percieved in our culture. Faith is seen as personal and based on feelings and culture rather than any reasoned process. Much like Indiana Jones took a leap of faith into the abyss, each individual has the choice to make a leap and believe in a religion. To take God or spiritual matters seriously (let alone try to persuade others about them) is taken as irrational and for the uneducated. One only needs to make a quick stop at r/athiest to see this is the case! One of the most renowned and outspoken athiests Bertrand Russell summarizes this position well…
We may define “faith” as a firm belief in something for which there is no evidence. Where there is evidence, no one speaks of “faith.” We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence.Russell, Bertrand. “Will Religious Faith Cure Our Troubles?”. Human Society in Ethics and Politics. Ch 7. Pt 2.
I fully acknowledge that there are individuals out there that fall into this category of blind faith so I’ve decided provide a few of my thoughts on the narrower question: Is all faith blind faith? I’ll outline two quick reasons why I think the Christian faith and reason are not incompatible and then I’d love to hear your thoughts on this question!
1. Christianity relies on historical claims that can be evaluated using reason and evidence
The crux of Christianity is the question of whether Jesus Christ rose from the dead. The entire Christian faith rises and falls based on this question. However, this claim can be easily verified or disproven by investigating the historical data and applying a bit of abductive reasoning. As a brief summary, abductive reasoning is a type of reasoning where you look at a set of data and try to come up with the best explanation of that data. For example, Doctors diagnose patients based on the symptoms they are experiencing. Doctors cannot always know exactly what is going on but they can use these symptoms to infer what is most likely causing the problem.
Here are five claims about Christianity that can be historically investigated*:
- Jesus existed
- Jesus died by crucifixion
- Jesus was buried in a tomb after death
- People believed that they saw Jesus risen from the dead
- Followers of Jesus were willing to die saying that Jesus had risen from the dead.
Most of these claims are easily confirmed to be true but do the research and confirm this for yourself! Some claim that Jesus never existed or that he never died but one only needs to look at the scholarly consensous to see that these claims are ungrounded. With the data set out before us, we now use abductive reasoning and try to find the best explanation for these facts. Here are a few common ones…
- People hid the body of Jesus and claimed that he rose from the dead
- People were dillusional and had hallucinations that Jesus rose from the dead
- Jesus actually rose from the dead
While the first two may be appealing, it is worth thinking through whether that theory explains all five facts listed above. I’m not going to delve into it here but I remain thoroughly convinced that theory three is the only adequate theory that explains all the facts in a satisfying manner.
*These claims are borrowed from William Lane Craig’s argument for the Resurrection of Jesus
2. Science is not in direct oposition to the miraculous and spiritual
Whenever I have asked friends and collegues who are athiests or agnostics why they don’t believe in God or a religion, one of the most common responses I get is that they believe in science first and foremost. Baked into this reply is that science has disproved the existence of God, miracles or any other spiritual phenomena. The primary issue I have with this reply is that it commits a category error (plus, I’d like to think that I believe in science as well!).
A category error is when things belonging to one category are grouped into a completely different category they do not belong. For example, it is silly to ask what shape is the color red because colors in and of themselves do not have spatial properties. In the same way, most religious claims are historical or philosophical in nature and it is therefore meaningless to try to use science to evaluate those claims. For instance, Christianity claims that Jesus rose from the dead. This is fundamentally a historical claim that can only be evaluated using historical evidence.
You may be thinking… “Hasn’t science clearly shown people don’t rise from the dead???” The answer is yes and no. Although science has demonstrated that biological processes within humans eventually succumb to death for one reason or another, science has nothing to say about whether the laws of nature can be bent by a powerful force like God. Much in the same way that a doctor can intervene on behalf of a patient to save them from dying, there is nothing inherently illogical about God miraculously healing someone or raising them from the dead. Whether or not God bent the laws of nature is a historical and philosophical issue. Therefore, when evaluating truth claims from Christianity, you must first categorize the claim into Science, History, or Philosophy and then use that domain to evaluate the claim.
As a few examples of this idea….
Humans evolving from other animals: Scientific*
Prophecies in the Bible being fulfilled: Historical
God was needed to start the universe: Philosophical**
*Look into Intelligent Design arguments to hear the other side of this issue!
**There is some science involved in this claim but the root issue is whether everything that begins to exist has a cause which is philosophical in nature
I hope these reasons provide some food for thought as to how a rational evaluation of Christanity can take place. If you are interested in learning about the evidence for Christanity, plan on coming to one of our weekly meetings, take a look at the other blog posts and check out our resources page! Again, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic so feel free to share below! Looking forward to meeting you in a few weeks!