I found this thing, one of my crazily christian fellow graduate students posted it for me.
This is the first-ish of what will be an indefinite series of brief articles outlining my thoughts on big issues outside astrophysics. Today I will talk about faith and a significant misconception that many people, both religious and nonreligious, have carried for a long time.
Faith, a word synonymous with religion today, has a distasteful reputation among many who consider themselves to be scientific or simply intelligent. The single greatest reason for this disdain is the perception that faith is incompatible with reason; that is, that religious belief is “irrational.”
Perhaps the separation of faith and reason is a consequence of the oft-omitted adjective “blind.” Blind faith, indeed, shares a category of thought with wishful thinking. When most people say faith, they mean this sort of wishing.
Some go further and define faith as “belief without proof.” Fair enough: I can accept this definition. This is not the same as “belief without evidence.” That is wishful thinking, fantasy, imagination. But it is certainly interesting how inconsistent some people are in their response to a lack of proof.
What I mean is this: Every day we all believe things without requiring proof. I had no airtight logical argument that my chair would support my weight when I sat in it to write this, yet I did anyway. A long history of successes does not constitute proof, but (combined with a lack of apparent deterioration in the chair’s structural integrity) it does constitute a compelling reason for me to trust that it will.
The skeptic who says “Prove to me that God exists” (a reasonable prerequisite for demonstrating the validity of any particular religious tenet) is not necessarily demanding the rigorous logical proof one uses when proving a mathematical identity. But he may be asking for an argument as compelling as the one I could make for why I sat in my chair, and hitherto, he has not heard such an argument.
Indeed, anyone who believes in God’s existence without being able to make a rational response to the question “why believe?” is using blind faith. Now, if God exists, then such people are still right; their wishful thinking comes true regardless of their lack of an objectively compelling reason for thinking that way. But they certainly are not “prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have,” as the Bible instructs those who call themselves Christians to be (1 Peter 3:15).
You see, the Christian says that faith is not about wishful thinking, but about trust on the basis of evidence that the object of their trust is worthy of their trust. Christians look primarily to the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the historical event that demonstrates the validity of Christian religion. Reasonable people don’t believe that the resurrection happened because they are Christians; reasonable people are Christians because they believe the resurrection happened. They see that Christ is worthy of their trust, and they respond by putting their trust in him and obeying his commands.
Faith is belief about what will be, on the basis of what is. The same objective evidence that convinces a reasonable person who considers it to become a Christian is not itself a matter of wishing, but is rather a matter of history, philosophy, logic, even science. There is nothing irrational about choosing to believe on the basis of a good argument.
If you want to argue against Christianity, you cannot simply say that it is irrational. This would make you an uninformed propagator of misinformation. You must back up your claim by demonstrating that it is based on something that has been rationally proved false.
Rationally - the key word. You must use logic to prove Christianity false if you want to call it irrational. Since no one has succeeded in doing this, the best you can do is attempt to introduce a reasonable doubt about any aspect of Christianity’s foundation. Once you have introduced this, you must argue why it is preferable to choose, on the basis of this doubt, to reject the rest of the evidence in favor of Christianity.
Isn’t it interesting that in light of the things I’ve said about logical, objective evidence, I should introduce the concept of preference? I agree, it seems out of place. But it’s the best we can do. The choice to believe something on the basis of evidence is ultimately a volitional, rather than intellectual, matter. I can see the evidence for something and choose either to believe or not to believe.
If I don’t want to believe that Christianity is false, there is not a single intellectual argument you can contribute that will force me to reject it. Likewise, if I don’t want to believe that it is true, I will find a way to explain away every single argument you throw at me in its favor, finding satisfaction in even the most tenuous rebuttal, allowing me to remain contentedly non-Christian.
Therefore, it comes down to this: in the presence of what one perceives to be a mixture of evidence for and against Christianity, an informed Christian (having chosen to believe on the basis of reasonable evidence) is no more irrational than those atheists who think they have a monopoly on reason.