Post Author: Bill Pratt
A typical accusation of atheists toward Christians is that we only believe what we believe because of blind faith. In other words, we have no rational reasons for believing in God or believing that Jesus died for our sins. The person who believes in fairies or unicorns is no different than the Christian belief in God.
Richard Dawkins makes this point dozens of times in his book The God Delusion. Here is one example: “Christianity . . . teaches children that unquestioned faith is a virtue. You don’t have to make the case for what you believe.” And elsewhere: “Faith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument.”
Is this a fair characterization of Christianity? Is it totally based upon blind faith with no justification whatsoever? As we’ve mentioned about Dawkins before, he avoids, at all costs, actually engaging with the best of Christian thought. So, what has been the Christian answer to the question of faith vs. reason?
For this answer, we turn again to Philosopher Edward Feser. In his book The Last Superstition he takes on this atheist misconception. Feser describes what the traditional Christian account of the roles of faith and reason are.
First, we start with reason. According to Feser, “Pure reason can reveal to us that there is a God, [and] that we have immortal souls.” By using philosophical arguments, we can conclude these two things.
However, Christians claim to know much more than just that God exists and humans have immortal souls. They claim to have actually received revelation from God. Does faith come into the account now, after we have established by reason that God exists and humans have immortal souls? No. “For the claim that a divine revelation has occurred is something for which the monotheistic religions typically claim there is evidence, and that evidence takes the form of a miracle, a suspension of the natural order that cannot be explained in any other way than divine intervention in the normal course of events.”
By reason alone, we know that if God exists, then miracles can occur, because of God’s very nature (creator and sustainer of laws governing nature). The God that we have arrived at by reason is a God who can suspend the laws of nature. To what miracle do Christians point? The resurrection of Jesus. Feser reminds us, “If the story of Jesus’s resurrection is true, then you must become a Christian; if it is false, then Christianity itself is false, and should be rejected.”
Is this where faith comes in? No. Feser explains that “the mainstream Christian tradition has also always claimed that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a historical event the reality of which can be established through rational argument.” So, the historical evidence of the resurrection of Jesus builds upon the philosophical argumentation that God exists and that humans have immortal souls. The philosophy comes first, and the historical evidence second. Please note that so far, we have only discussed reason, and faith has not yet entered the picture.
If the historical evidence for the resurrection is overwhelming, then there are “rational grounds for believing that what Christ taught was true, in which case the key doctrines of Christianity are rationally justified.”
Feser takes us back through the argument again, and it is worth reviewing:
The overall chain of argument, then, goes something like this: Pure reason proves through philosophical arguments that there is a God and that we have immortal souls. This by itself entails that a miracle like a resurrection from the dead is possible. Now the historical evidence that Jesus Christ was in fact resurrected from the dead is overwhelming when interpreted in light of that background knowledge. Hence pure reason also shows that Jesus really was raised from the dead. But Jesus claimed to be divine, and claimed that the authority of His teachings would be confirmed by His being resurrected. So the fact that He was resurrected provides divine authentication of His claims. Hence reason shows that He really was divine. . . . At every step, evidence and rational argumentation – not ‘blind faith’ or a ‘will to believe’ – are taken to justify our acceptance of certain teachings.
In part 2 of this series, we will move to the role of faith.