These days, christians may have to face the common accusation that their belief is based on blind, reasonless faith, and not on evidence, and that therefore they should logically give up belief. “There’s no more evidence for the christian God than for Santa or Thor”, they may be told.
This can be a major source of doubt for some believers. But is the accusation fair?
Reasons for belief
People decide to follow Jesus, and people who were brought up christian choose to continue in the faith, for a range of reasons. The different reasons constitute different types of evidence of the reality of God – for example:
- Through rationally examining the objective evidence – i.e. the various philosophical arguments for the existence of God and the historical evidence for Jesus. This is objective evidence and is available to everyone.
- Through finding that everything makes more sense from a christian viewpoint – they may find that following Jesus helps them turn their lives around, or they may observe that their parents’ lives as christians make sense. This evidence will be different for each person, but all can embark on a life with Jesus and find out for themselves if it makes sense.
- Through objective but personal experiences of God’s action – e.g. they may experience a miraculous healing or a vision that shows them God is active in their lives. These convincing experiences will only be given to some people, but they can become evidence to others who learn about them.
- Through some virtually incommunicable experience of God which assures them that God is establishing a relationship with them. For some, faith is instinctive, they just know they believe without necessarily being able to articulate why. Again such experience is not given to everyone, although christians believe that the Holy Spirit is active in giving faith to anyone who believes.
- Through never questioning what they were taught at home or church. This faith is based on trust that those who have taught them knew what they were talking about.
Are these reasons rational?
Sceptics will say that few, if any, of these reasons are based on evidence and logic. But this view is generally based on the assumption that repeatable observable scientific-type evidence is the only valid way to know something. But that is a very restrictive assumption, and following it universally would rule out much of what we know by personal experience, or learn from history or from experts in subjects we know little about. It is also an assumption that doesn’t pass its own test, because we cannot demonstrate that assumption by science. So it isn’t unreasonable to look wider than the sceptics do.
Different kinds of evidence
Each of these reasons for belief is based on evidence of different kinds.
- The philosophical arguments (reason 1) are based on scientific facts and are very well developed (see Philosophical arguments for the existence of God). They were enough to lead eminent atheist philosopher Anthony Flew to change his mind about God, so they can be considered to be very respectable reasons to believe. Most christians would think the beginning and design of the universe to be among their reasons for believing in God, even if their thinking is less sophisticated than the philosophers’.
- The historical evidence for Jesus (reason 1) is quite strong (see Jesus and the historians and Jesus – son of God). Even if a christian hasn’t studied this evidence, it is not unreasonable for them to accept the word of someone who has made a study of the evidence.
- Personal experience (reasons 2-4) is a valid form of evidence and hence a valid basis of belief. Documented cases of miraculous healing are especially strong evidence (see Eleven healings). Authority (reason 5) is also valid (most of what we know we known on the basis of authority). It is true that both experience and authority can sometimes be mistaken, but so can science. In all three cases, continuity of evidence over time, and confirmation by others, give us increased confidence in our conclusions.
More than one reason
Few people believe for just one of these reasons. People who have some subjective experience of God (reason 4) will find their life continues to confirm this experience (reason 2). People who have never had a vision of God or experienced a clearcut case of God’s miraculous healing may nevertheless know, or have read about, someone else’s experience. And no-one can believe in Jesus for very long without having heard some of the gospel record of his life and teachings, which is also evidence.
Maturing in understanding
We all grow in our understanding as we mature. For example, I learnt very early not to play with electrical power outlets, but only learned much later when I studied Physics why this was dangerous, but that didn’t negate the truth of my childish understanding. In obedience to 1 Peter 3:15 (“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”), christians should be willing to improve their understanding of their beliefs and the reasons to believe, changing and adjusting where necessary as they go. Not questioning what we were taught at home or church may be acceptable for a child, but is probably not a sufficient basis for an adult.
Christians are a community – like a body, different members have different abilities, gifts and experiences. The case for the truth of christianity stands on the foundation of our collective understanding. Together, the reasons outlined above form a very strong case – certainly strong enough for each of us to continue to believe without major doubt, and strong enough to form useful evidence to present to anyone who is interested (see Why believe?).
There are many reason to believe, and together they add up to strong evidence. We don’t need to feel ashamed or insecure by the claims of sceptics. If they don’t find our reasons sufficient for them, we can politely agree to differ, and quietly pray for them, that God might speak to them even more clearly.
And there is much more evidence for God than there is for Santa!
Read the whole series
This post is part of a series on Training disciples to stand. Check out all the topics here.