A Popular Misconception
For many people, the term “blind faith” is redundant. The assumption about religious faith is that a sort of blindness is inherent, and often intentional.
Nonreligious people cite famous quotes to confirm this concept of faith. Mark Twain once quipped, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” Ayn Rand wrote, “Faith is the commitment of one’s consciousness to beliefs for which one has no sensory evidence or rational proof.” In his book, A Manual for Creating Atheists, Peter Boghossian identified his two favorite definitions of faith as “belief without evidence” and “pretending to know things you don’t.”
Of course, Richard Dawkins echoes the sentiment: “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.”
By definition—at least by popular definition—faith is blind.
Consequently, faith and reason are often seen as incompatible, mutually exclusive terms. They are treated as opposite approaches to finding the truth about the big questions of life. On a popular level, many unbelievers assume that if a person is rational, they have no need for faith. On a personal level, many believers assume that if a person has faith, there is no need for reason.
But why do we assume that there is this great divide between faith and reason?
Here’s the thing…
I don’t know.
The Bible describes a marriage between faith and reason, not a divorce. Besides, everyone accepts some set of foundational ideas by faith, no matter how much reasoning comes first.
A Biblical Definition
The Bible is incredibly clear in its definition of faith.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.Hebrews 11:1
Notice the parallel use of the terms substance and evidence in connection to that which is hoped for and that which is not seen. According to the Bible, faith is a substantiated assurance of what we hope is true. It is a justified confidence in what we cannot see.
The modern misconception of faith drops these two key qualifiers. Faith is misrepresented as merely something that we hope for but cannot see in the absence of substantial evidence. But, this is not the Biblical concept. The Bible defines faith as hope substantiated by evidence for that which we cannot see.
Not every element of Christian belief is seen as clearly as a science experiment or understood as plainly as a mathematical proof. Nevertheless, that does not mean Biblical faith is blind. In fact, it is concept with which we are very familiar.
Every day in courts of law, judges and juries observe substantial arguments and examine evidence for events they did not see. Justice may be blind in the sense that it is impartial and objective, but we would certainly hope that our justice system is not blind in coming to a verdict.
Many Christians grow uncomfortable when there is talk of evidence and rationality in support of faith. They assume the misconception that there is an inverse relationship between faith and reason. They feel that if they depend too much on arguments for their faith, then they must not have much of it. They feel more like the Apostle Thomas and less like the Apostle John.
However, Biblical faith is not weakened by substantial evidence; it is strengthened by it. The more evidence a jury hears, the more assurance they have in their verdict. Similarly, the more we examine the evidence and rationality of the Christian faith, the stronger our assurance becomes.
Christian theologians have always been careful to define not only what we believe but also what we mean when we say we believe. For centuries, theologians have outlined faith using three Latin words:
- Notitia (as in, to take notice of) refers to the content that one must be aware of in order to believe.
- Assensus (as in, to assent to) refers to the assent to the truth of that content.
- Fiducia (as in, to place faith in) refers to the commitment of trust in that belief, what we call faith.
A perfect example of this outline in Scripture is found in 1 Thessalonians 2:13:
For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us (i.e., notitia), ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth (i.e., assensus), the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe (i.e., fiducia).
It must be said that saving faith is not simply notitia and assensus, knowing of and agreeing with the gospel. James warns us (almost sarcastically, I might add) that it’s great if we believe there is one God, but so do demons (James 2:19). The step that raises belief to to the level of saving faith is the trust in what we have known to be true.
Nevertheless, Paul reminds how important notitia and assensus are:
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord (fiducia) shall be saved.Romans 10:13-14
How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? (assensus) and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? (notitia)
Presumably, blind faith would be fiducia without notitia and assensus, trust with no content or evident truthfulness. It is certainly possible for a person to claim Christianity in blind faith. However, blind faith is not Biblical faith.
A Universal Application
What is amazing about the Biblical definition of faith is that it has a universal application. Every belief system has its way of seeing the world, the content of its worldview. What’s more, every worldview reaches the point at which they commit to their beliefs in faith, stepping out in hope toward things unseen.
This, of course, applies to religious people. But it also applies to the nonreligious.
In our secular culture, many people reject ideas about God as meaningless, only accepting ideas that have been scientifically proven. At least, that is what they would like to think. But there is a problem. The idea that only empirically verifiable statements can be true is itself not empirically verifiable. It is a belief that must be assumed…wait for it…by faith. This is a major dilemma for those who claim to need no faith.
Even when someone attempts to build a worldview with no need for a step of faith, it is a step of faith to believe they can do so.
As if that were not enough irony, those who assume that faith is merely a belief in the absence of evidence do not have much evidence for that assumption. Sure, there are those “you just need to have more faith” believers, but they are an unfortunate exception and not the Biblical or historical rule. Just consider how Christian thinkers over the centuries have discussed the correlation between faith and reason.
Reason directs those who are truly pious and philosophical to honor and love only what is true. – Justin Martyr
But they are much deceived, who think that we believe in Christ without any proofs concerning Christ. – Augustine of Hippo
The supreme function of reason is to show man that some things are beyond reason. – Blaise Pascal
He that speaketh against his own reason speaks against his own conscience, and therefore it is certain that no man serves God with a good conscience who serves him against his reason. – Jeremy Taylor
Faith is not a blind thing; for faith begins with knowledge. It is not a speculative thing; for faith believes facts of which it is sure. It is not an unpractical, dreamy thing; for faith trusts, and stakes its destiny upon the truth of revelation. – Charles Spurgeon
Regularly, the Prophets appealed to evidence to justify belief in the biblical God or in the divine authority of their inspired message: Fulfilled prophecy, the biblical fact of miracles, the inadequacy of finite pagan deities to be the cause of such a large, well-ordered universe compared to the God of the Bible, and so forth. They did not say, “God said it, that settles it, and you should believe it!” They gave a rational defense for their claims. – J.P. Moreland
Blind faith? Not here.
A Hopeful Correction
Christian apologist Greg Koukl, explains further why there is no conflict between faith and reason:
Reason assesses, faith trusts. No conflict. The opposite of faith is not reason; the opposite of faith is unbelief, or lack of trust. The opposite of reason is not faith; the opposite of reason is irrationality.
So, what can we do to correct the popular misconception of faith?
Proclaim our notitia.
Several times over the course of his ministry, Charles Spurgeon compared the Bible and the gospel to a caged lion. He noted a pattern that the less people preach and teach God’s Word, the more concerned they seem to be with protecting it. He painted the picture of how silly it would be to put a lion in a cage out of concern for its protection. Spurgeon’s point: you don’t defend a lion; you let it loose. At the end of one of these illustrations, he stated, “The way to meet infidelity is to spread the Bible. The answer to every objection against the Bible is the Bible.”
If we don’t want people to think we have blind faith, we ought to show them the object of our faith.
Demonstrate our assensus.
William Lane Craig is a world-class philosopher, a renowned apologist, and a Baptist Sunday school teacher (which is awesome!). He commented on the importance of Christians understanding the truthfulness on which their faith rests.
Our churches are filled with Christians who are idling in intellectual neutral. As Christians, their minds are going to waste. One result of this is an immature, superficial faith. People who simply ride the roller coaster of emotional experience are cheating themselves out of a deeper and richer Christian faith by neglecting the intellectual side of that faith. They know little of the riches of deep understanding of Christian truth, of the confidence inspired by the discovery that one’s faith is logical and fits the facts of experience, of the stability brought to one’s life by the conviction that one’s faith is objectively true.
Amen, Dr. Craig. Amen.
If we don’t want people to think we have blind faith, we ought to show them the results of our faith.
Embrace our fiducia.
Everyone everywhere ultimately has faith in something. The pantheistic East has faith that everything is spiritual, and that reason is largely useless. The secular West has faith that everything is physical, and that spirituality is largely pointless. Yet both sides only see half of reality.
The gospel of Christ is powerful enough to break through that which blinds both sides and to fulfill that which both sides lack. We ought to embrace our faith and take it to the world.
If we don’t want people to think we have blind faith, we ought to show them the way to our faith.
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