No, Faith is Not Belief Without Evidence!

by Travis Dickinson

As Christians, we are called to faith. But what does “faith” mean? Atheists often tell Christians (i.e., you know, people of faith) something like the following:

Mark Twain: “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”[1]

Peter Boghossian: “pretending to know things that you don’t know” and “belief without evidence.”[2]

Richard Dawkins once said “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.”[3]

For many atheists, all that one has to do is get Christians to admit that they believe Christianity on the basis of faith and this is sufficient to refute the view. After all, how could you win a rational debate if you admit to pretending to know something you don’t know?! To concede this seems to be to surrender before the war even starts.

The only problem here is that there is no thoughtful Christian I know would say this is what they mean by faith. Maybe Christians should get to say what they mean by faith?! This would likely help the dialogue, or so it seems to me.

So, at best, these are mere caricatures of faith. I will suggest that faith is best understood as ventured trust. I will also argue that everyone has faith and that faith is in no way contrary to reason.

What then is faith? As a first pass, we should understand faith as simple trust. When we trust, there is always some thing (or person) that we trust. This is to say that faith always has an object. That is, one cannot have faith in some nebulous way. There must be some thing or person one has faith in. So this could be a chair one is considering sitting in. Or one could trust an airplane one is waiting to board. Or one may place one’s trust in a person to whom one is about to say “I do” in a wedding ceremony. The object of one’s faith would be the chair or the airplane or the soon-to-be-if-all-goes-well spouse.

Notice that, on this understanding of faith, faith is not, by itself, a set of beliefs, or a proposition, or even a claim. So an immediate problem with the above caricatures of faith is…

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No, Faith is Not Belief Without Evidence!