Speaking of Faith: Is Faith Reasonable?

William M. Cwirla

Evolutionary biologist and outspoken atheist Dr. Richard Dawkins writes, “Faith is the great 
cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is the belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.” He asserts that people who believe in God suffer from a “god delusion” and might as well believe in a “flying spaghetti monster.”
So, is religious faith, specifically the Christian faith, unreasonable? Must you check your brains at the door of the church to be a Christian?

The book of Hebrews speaks of faith in terms of a conviction about unseen things. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). It goes on to say, “By faith, we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Hebrews 11:3). What is unseen cannot be tested scientifically the way Dr. Dawkins would like. But does that make faith unreasonable?
We reason in different ways. One way is to evaluate evidence and draw conclusions. This is the way of science, history, and crime scene investigations. Much of our day-to-day life is occupied with this way of thinking.

Evidence Isn't the End of the Story

But we also think beyond the level of evidence. When someone says, “I love you,” you don’t reply, “Do you have any evidence for that?” If you say that, you probably won’t be hearing “I love you” very much, so don’t try this at home.

We also reason about abstract concepts such as love, beauty, justice, mercy, and goodness. We write poetry and tell stories. We paint images of things we have not seen. We compose melodies we haven’t heard before. We are creative beings who think far beyond what is needed for our survival. To limit ourselves purely to “evidence,” which Dr. Dawkins proposes, would be a terrible failure of the imagination and our most human ways of thinking.

The book of Ecclesiastes says, “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time; also He has put eternity into man’s mind, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We have “eternity” planted into our minds, causing us to look beyond and outside ourselves and imagine the transcendent and the holy.

In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul wrote, “Ever since the creation of the world [God’s] invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:19-20). God has left His fingerprints on the creation so that His creatures might recognize His existence, power, and deity. Only a creature with imagination can look at the creation and ponder his Creator.

Consider the vast intricacy, order, and complexity of the universe, and the lavishly diverse beauty of life around us. Which is more reasonable? To say, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” or “In the beginning, nothing became everything all by itself?”

Skeptics like Dr. Dawkins argue that there is no convincing evidence for God. But what would constitute “convincing evidence?” How can an infinite, transcendent Being who is beyond the confines of time and space show His existence to us finite creatures who are bound by time and space? The only way would be for God to occupy time and space, which He did. “The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

Evidence that Demands a Verdict

Is it reasonable to believe that Jesus is the eternal Word become flesh? What would constitute sufficient evidence? He did all sorts of miracles, “signs and wonders” that only God, or someone with the power of God, can do. He predicted that the temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed within a generation, which would have been like someone predicting the destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11 forty years before it happened. And at least three times, Jesus predicted His own death and resurrection. To quote the great baseball pitcher Dizzy Dean, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.” Jesus did it!

Is it reasonable to believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Consider the evidence. Over 500 eyewitnesses saw Him at one time. People ate with Him, touched Him, and heard Him speak. These people may not have been as scientifically sophisticated as we are, but they all knew that dead men do not ordinarily rise from the dead. Thomas wouldn’t even believe the news until he saw and touched the evidence for himself.

The apostle Peter went from being a wimp who wouldn’t even admit to a servant girl that he knew Jesus to become a powerful preacher of Jesus’ resurrection willing to risk his own life for the name of Jesus. All in 50 days! That’s quite a transformation, don’t you think? Many who claimed to have seen Jesus risen from the dead were tortured and killed but never changed their stories, even though they could have saved their lives by denying it. I wonder how many people who claim to have seen Elvis or Bigfoot or UFOs would stick to their stories if they were slowly tortured to death.

The people who were in power, the Romans and the Jewish religious leaders, had the means and the motive to get Jesus’ body and parade it through the streets to put an end to the rumors. Only one problem: There was no body.

What do you reasonably conclude? Jesus is risen from the dead. And if Jesus was right about His own death and resurrection, wouldn’t it be reasonable to listen to the other things He said? He claimed that Moses and the OT prophets spoke about Him and His death and resurrection. He promised that His apostles would be guided into all truth by the Spirit He would send. He promised forgiveness and eternal life to all who trust in Him. Given that He rose from the dead, doesn’t it seem reasonable to take His word on the Word, too?

Certainly, we cannot by our own reason or strength “believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him” (Small Catechism, 3rd Article). We cannot reasonably know the depth of our sin, the nature of God as Three in One, that Jesus’ death atones for the sin of the world, that faith in Jesus is righteousness before God, that Baptism is our spiritual birth, and that the bread and wine are Christ’s Body and Blood. Those things must be revealed to us by God’s Word and received by faith. But even these things are unreasonable. They are simply beyond our reason.

Dr. Dawkins calls faith a great cop-out and an evasion of the evidence. I think, on the basis of the evidence, faith in Christ is quite reasonable. In fact, it’s more than reasonable.

Rev. William M. Cwirla is the pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Hacienda Heights, CA. He is also a president emeritus of Higher Things.

This article was originally published in the spring 2012 special apologetics issue of Higher Things Magazine.

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