Isn’t Faith Irrational?

One of the pervasive reasons for why Christianity is rejected by modern western people is that ‎it’s thought to be irrational, or at least not as rational as atheism. Indeed, faith is general is often ‎thought to be an irrational leap in the dark, while atheism is understood to be both empirical ‎‎(following the evidence) and rational (logically coherent).‎

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)

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