Christianity Is Based In Fact Not Mere “Beliefs”
by Al Serrato
Is there a difference between a “fact” and a “belief?” A skeptic I recently dialogued with argued that there is. Christianity, he contended, was based on mere “beliefs,” such as Christianity’s core “belief” in the Resurrection. The distinction, he said, was that we cannot cross-examine these witnesses to the key events in the life of Jesus. Consequently, our faith is based not on facts but on beliefs. The early writers, he further argued, were simply documenting the things they “believed” not things they had shown to be true. Finally, he concluded that Christians fail to take into consideration “all” of the evidence regarding Christ’s death and, consequently, should not be so quick to say that their belief is well-founded.
How should the Christian respond to this type of challenge? Is our faith based “merely” on “beliefs.” Framing the question this way has considerable rhetorical force. Santa Claus is not a “fact,” however much St. Nick may have lived at one point in history. Notice the way the question about him is normally put: “when did you stop believing in Santa.” When you stopped “believing” – when you abandoned your primitive or childish “belief” – you were ready to move from make-believe to real, ready to join the grown-up world of scientifically minded people who determine “facts.”
The first step in responding is to point out that the distinction between “belief” and “fact” is an arbitrary one that suggests the two are an “either-or” proposition, when they are not. Naturally, one believes in things he thinks are facts. If I know my name is Al, it’s hard for me to form or hold a
belief that my name is actually Fred. Yes, there are some things that are not based in evidence which someone may nonetheless believe to be true. For instance, a person may believe that a magician has created a rabbit from the thin air inside a hat, when in fact he has used deception to hide the real source of the rabbit. Consideration of examples like these leads to the working definition that most scholars employ regarding the subject: a “fact” is a properly grounded belief. It is a belief that corresponds to reality.Mistaken beliefs are not facts; but all known facts are the subject properly held belief.
This then leads to the question of how one determines the accuracy – the factual nature – of historical events. Unlike conducting scientific experiments to test a hypothesis, the historian must employ a different method. He cannot perform a repeatable experiment. By the challenger’s definition, however, we must therefore concede that all historical events are mere “beliefs” at the point that no one is around to be “cross-examined” about their statements. By this reasoning, we would have to call the assassination of Lincoln a “belief” because there are no eyewitnesses who can be cross-examined. Every historical murder conviction would move from a “fact” to a mere belief as soon as enough witnesses died, or enough evidence was lost, that it could no longer be tried in court. That’s simply not how history is done…