Isn’t Faith Irrational?
Certainly, blind faith (faith without evidence) is an irrational leap in the dark, but Christian faith has always been evidence based, at least, according to its authoritative Scriptures (the Bible). Jesus himself said: “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.” (John 14:11)
Moreover, the New Testament letter of 1 John begins with the words: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” (1 John 1:1) Unlike the claims of other religions, the events of the New Testament were not done in a corner (Acts 26:26) but publicly, leaving a trail of historical evidence in their wake.
On the question of rational coherence, Christian theism delivers in spades, wielding a rich philosophical tradition, which laid the very the foundation of Western thought. While some faiths could certainly be thought of as irrational, Christian theology is anything but; and its influence on modern Western culture (which prizes rational coherence) testifies to its rationality.
When atheists describe faith as irrational, they usually mean something like, not scientific or empirical. But for the claim of ‘not scientific’ to stick, one has to confuse the regularity of nature (methodological naturalism) with the claims of materialism (philosophical naturalism). All that one needs for science is the assumption of the regularity of nature (that experiments can be replicated), which historically, came out of Christian theology (that God is the God of order, not disorder).
For the claim that Christianity is ‘not empirical’ or ‘without evidence’, one has to change the definition of evidence to be evidence that supports philosophical naturalism. Otherwise, the scientific evidence for the origin of the universe, the scientific evidence for the fine-tuning of the universe, and the scientific fact that life came from non-life, the sociological evidence for the ubiquitous pursuit of objective morality, and the historical evidence for the person and work of Jesus; are all well explained by theism, but need to be explained away by atheism.
For example, on the scientific evidence for the origin of the universe, the strongest atheist explanation appears to be Lawrence Krauss’ book, A Universe from Nothing, which includes a chapter entitled Nothing Is Something (chapter 9). Philosophically, you simply can’t pull everything out of nothing for no reason whatsoever. For this reason William Lane Craig describes Krauss’ argument as “Worse than magic, [because] when the magician pulls a rabbit out of the hat, at least you’ve got the magician.”
As another example, on the scientific evidence for the fine-tuning of the universe, atheists typically argue for a specific kind of multi-verse in which the universal constants span all possible ranges, in order to avoid the conclusion that the universal constants are fine-tuned for life. But as the philosopher Richard Swinburne notes, “To postulate a trillion trillion other universes, rather than one God in order to explain the orderliness of our universe, seems the height of irrationality.” (Richard Swinburne, Is There a God?, 68)
This isn’t to say that all atheists are irrational. Far from it (especially is one is a moral relativist). But it is to say that Christian theism is rational (regardless of how irrational some Christians might be), and that anyone who thinks that Christianity is inherently irrational, hasn’t understood Christianity. Indeed, Christianity’s second greatest commandment includes the imperative to love the Lord your God with all your mind (Matthew 22:37). Anyone who thinks Christians turn off their mind when they think about God, has misunderstood Christianity (and misunderstood what it is to think).
There’s no doubt that people, especially in the west, are becoming more scientific, and less superstitious. But this doesn’t equate to people becoming more atheistic, or less religious. In fact, when people lose their religion, but maintain a recognition of the ‘spiritual’, they’re often more likely to believe in ‘spiritual’ guides, palm readers, horoscopes and other superstitions. Between 2005 and 2007, Baylor University conducted three separate studies, involving a total sample size of over 4,000 people, on various correlations with religious belief, including belief in the occult and paranormal. One of their conclusions is as follows:
“The findings are clear and strong. Traditional Christian religion greatly decreases credulity, as measured by beliefs in the occult and paranormal. In contrast, education has hardly any effect. Those who identify themselves with various forms of traditional Christianity are far less likely to believe in the occult and paranormal than are other Americans. For example, of those who regard themselves as Evangelicals, 14 percent scored high, compared with 30 percent of those who reject this label... Clearly, then, those who lump all sorts of religious and paranormal beliefs into one package labelled “superstitions” are as wrong as those who see no difference between Christian and New Age bookstores. Whatever one may wish to say about the non-empirical character of such beliefs, they are not all cut from the same cloth. Rather, it seems that the choice is either to believe in the Bible or in Bigfoot. Moreover, for those concerned about shielding young people from the prevalent occult and paranormal beliefs in our society, the more certain “solution” seems not to be to send them to college, but to a conservative Sunday school.” (Rodney Stark, What Americans Really Believe, 130-131)