Faith and Reason

FAQ Guide

Mark Twain once said: “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” This typifies our cultural view that faith and reason are two entirely separate parts of human experience. As a result, people associate reason with facts and knowledge, and faith with mere belief, often in spite of reason.

The list below illustrates this division:

  • Faith / Reason
  • Beliefs / Facts
  • Feelings / Knowledge
  • Irrational / Logical
  • Religion / Science

Unfortunately, many Christians have accepted this division between faith and reason. This results in doubt and uncertainty that the gospel message of Jesus can inform “real world” experience, or stand up to scrutiny against the prevailing ideas that dominate our culture.

This guide is designed to help you dismantle this false division between faith and reason, and learn to:

  • Recover the biblical view which presents faith in Jesus as coming to “know the truth” rather than a “leap of faith”
  • Grow in confidence that faith in Christ can withstand skeptical scrutiny
  • Respond to skeptical challenges or objections from any who question your faith

Questions

Here are the questions we’ll cover:

Is belief in God a “leap of faith”?

Is there any evidence that God exists?

If God exists, why is there so much evil?

Is there any evidence that Jesus really lived?

Is there evidence that Jesus rose from the dead?

Did Jesus claim to be God?

Is belief in God a “leap of faith”?

Before we can answer this question, we need to first identify the main difference between a cultural and biblical view of faith.

How our world views faith

Our culture seems to associate faith with personal convictions, courage to persevere in the face of adversity, or following our “inner voice”. It believes that faith only belongs to religion or spirituality and deals with matters of the heart. Seen this way, faith is exercised using our feelings, guided by our intuition.

The common view today is that faith is a pure act of the will. Like a sheer act of self-generated conviction to believe something is true, regardless (and often in spite of) what facts and reason tell us. In this sense, faith and knowledge are treated like two opposite forces, where faith is based on what we feel, and knowledge on the facts we know.

How the Bible presents faith

The biblical teaching about faith is the exact opposite. It tells us that God has revealed the true facts about himself, the world, and our lives in relationship to both. He has given us a true knowledge of himself and what he’s like in the Scriptures, and ultimately in the person of Jesus, his Son. As Jesus said, “…the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37), and “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

Biblical faith, therefore, is always presented as our response to and trust in the true facts that God has revealed to us through Jesus and the Bible.

Conclusion on belief in God as a leap of faith

You now have an understanding of culture’s definition of faith. You also have a working definition of biblical faith that will give you a solid foundation on which to grow your own faith in Jesus Christ.

“Faith…is the art of holding on to things your reason has accepted, in spite of your changing moods.”
—C. S. Lewis

Faith is demonstrated when we consciously bring our lives into living agreement with those facts, regardless of what our feelings or circumstances may lead us to believe. C.S. Lewis says it well: 

“Faith…is the art of holding on to things your reason has accepted, in spite of your changing moods” (Mere Christianity, p. 121).

Read more: Why is Living by Faith so Difficult?

Is there any evidence that God exists?

If faith is trusting what God says is true, it’s reasonable to expect God’s truth to line up with reality. In other words, there should be evidence in the universe of God’s truth. The apostle Paul explicitly affirms that even apart from the Bible, God has given us clear evidence of himself.

In Romans 1:20, Paul writes: “God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

In essence, God has left his “fingerprints” all over his creation for us to see. This means that no one will be able to stand before God one day and excuse their disbelief by claiming a lack of evidence.

Here are three classic examples of evidence-based apologetics (defences) for God’s existence:

1. The cosmological argument

Cosmology is a branch of astronomy concerned with the study of the origin and development of the universe. One of the greatest apologetics for God’s existence, is the observable evidence for the universe’s beginning. 

Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716) wrote: “Why is there something rather than nothing?”

This captures the core of the cosmological argument. It proceeds from the law of causality, which states that every effect must have a sufficient cause. So, whatever caused the universe, had to have sufficient power to do so and not be caused by anything else. It must be eternal and “bear the reason for itself within itself.”[1] This can only be God.

Some may object, suggesting that this leaves the door open for an eternally existing universe. This had been the belief among many philosophers and scientists in the past.

But in 1929, Edwin Hubble (after whom the Hubble telescope is named) found concrete evidence that the universe is in fact expanding outward from a center point. The implications were that if you reversed time far enough into the past, there would be a point at which the universe started.

In 1970, Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose published research confirming the inescapable fact that the universe had a beginning point at some finite time in the past. In 1996, Hawking remarked: “almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the big bang.”[2]

The implications of the cosmological argument are that whatever caused the universe to come into existence, can’t be found inside the universe. It must exist eternally outside of the universe with sufficient power to bring it into existence.

This fits perfectly with the very first truth that the Bible reveals to us: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).

2. The argument from design

Another strong argument for God’s existence is the clear signs of design present throughout the universe. Cosmologists have recognized these signs for decades. As they continue exploring the physical properties of the universe, there’s more and more recognition that the universe as we know it couldn’t exist without an unimaginably delicate balance of variables.

Roger Penrose was a mathematical physicist, mathematician and philosopher of science. Aside from his research with Stephen Hawking, he’s famous for calculating the odds of the universe as we know it developing by chance.

 By his calculations, those odds are 1 in 10^10^123. That is 10 with 10123 zeros after it! This number is so unimaginably large, it led Penrose to conclude: “I would say the universe has a purpose. It’s not there just somehow by chance.”[3]

A purposeful universe fits perfectly with the biblical explanation of God as the Creator of everything. The Bible reveals the true story of a loving God who creates for a purpose. His creation is meant to display his glory, declare his wonder, and demonstrate his wisdom. The ordering of the universe screams design!

Christians are not surprised or puzzled by this, because God has revealed himself as the designer. As Psalm 19 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

3. The argument from morality  

The moral argument for God’s existence essentially argues that objective moral values and duties do exist. That means there is a moral right and a wrong, which are the same for all people in all places for all time. This counts as evidence for God in two ways:

  1. Moral obligation is something that can only be owed to a person. Atoms and molecules cannot hold us morally responsible. Since God is a personal God, he can hold us morally responsible.
  2. In order for something to be truly right or wrong for everyone, you must appeal to an authoritative, universal moral standard or moral law that exists outside of ourselves. If there’s a moral law that exists outside of us, there must be a moral law giver. This can only be a supernatural, personal, moral God.

However, not everyone believes that right and wrong are universal or objective. They believe that morality is subjective, something each individual chooses for themselves.

Most recognize the fatal problem this poses if taken to its logical conclusion. As Ravi Zacharias put it, “Some people choose to love their neighbours, while others choose to eat them. Which would you prefer?” It’s obvious that if everyone chooses right and wrong for themselves that life would be unlivable.

The typical solution is to argue that each person can choose, so long as they aren’t harming anyone else. What they fail to see, is that in order to rescue subjective morality, they have to impose an objective moral standard: “don’t harm your neighbour”.

But where does this standard come from and why should people obey it? Who says everyone should follow it and why should we listen to them?  

The fact is that objective moral standards do exist. There are things that we all know are right and wrong because God our creator has “written them on our hearts” (Romans 2:15). His grace is what makes life in this world livable by restraining the evil that humans could do by impressing his commandments upon our consciences.

Conclusion on evidence of God’s existence

As you can see, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect to find evidence for God’s existence, and there’s much to be found.

No amount of “proofs” can compel a person to place their faith in Jesus. But presenting evidence for the truthfulness of God’s Word and the gospel will not only build your own confidence in trusting God’s Word, it can also help you to break down the barriers of doubt that keep others from believing.

If God exists, why is there so much evil?

The most common objection people have to biblical faith is the existence of evil in the world. Christians should be honest to admit that this indeed raises many questions about God’s character and purpose, both of which deserve a thoughtful and humble response.

Perhaps one of the best ways to think through the problem of evil is to recognize two separate, but equally important aspects that need to be addressed. These are

  1. the apparent logical contradiction, and
  2. the very real-life challenges that evil presents.

1. The logical problem of evil

A common objection is that God’s existence in the presence of so much evil presents a logical contradiction. The argument is usually presented in some form similar to this trilemma:

  1. If God is all-powerful, he could eliminate all evil.
  2. If God is all-loving, he would want to eliminate all evil.
  3. Evil exists.

Therefore, the all-powerful, all-loving God of the Bible can’t exist.

At first glance, this may seem like a clear case of a fatal contradiction. But is it? There are two reasons for saying that it isn’t.

A. Belief in God’s non-existence presents an even greater problem in the face of evil.

That’s because for “good” and “evil” to exist as objective moral facts, they require an objective moral standard.

For something to be considered truly evil, it has to be evil for all people in all places for all time. Otherwise it becomes relative—evil for some but not for others. A moral standard that’s true for all people, in all places, for all time.

But for such a moral standard to exist, there must be a moral standard giver who exists apart from us. The most reasonable candidate for such a standard is a personal, moral God. A Godless, material universe simply can’t supply it.

B. The argument gives no justification for selecting only two of God’s attributes: his power and love.

But why stop there? God is also:

  • All-good
  • All-knowing
  • Eternal

It stands to reason that a God who is all-powerful, all-loving, all-good, all-knowing, and eternal might have an eternally good reason for creating a world where evil is permitted to exist. As Norman Geisler put it,

“This may not be the best possible world, but it is the best way to the best possible world.”[4]

2. The real-life problem of evil

While such arguments might resolve the logical problem of evil, they do little to resolve the problem evil poses to our hearts.

It seems inconceivable to suggest that God might have a good reason for allowing so many of the horrible atrocities committed throughout history: the holocaust, genocides, slavery, abuses against children and women. The list of historical horrors is long.

What possible reason could God have for allowing them?

The fact is, that we may never know. There are some reasons that exist within the infinite, eternal mind of God that we as finite and time-bound creatures can’t understand. We’re simply left with the choice of whether or not we will trust God, in spite of the way things appear in the world.

Conclusion on God and the existence of evil

When confronted with evil in the world then, the only question that will satisfy our hearts is whether we can trust God. With all the evil around us, and more particularly, the evil happening to us, how do we know that we can trust God?

The answer is found in Jesus Christ, his Son. While we can’t hope to understand all of God’s reasons in allowing evil, we can know that he is trustworthy to deliver us from evil. We know this because of the lengths he has gone to do so.

In sending his eternal Son in the person of Jesus, God showed that despite what we may experience in this world, his intention toward us is for our ultimate and eternal good. As the apostle Paul puts it,

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Is there any evidence that Jesus really lived?

The most compelling evidence for Jesus may be found in the preserved witness of the New Testament.

It’s the greatest source of historical evidence for Jesus, because it’s direct eyewitness testimony, especially within the four gospels. It also bears witness to the undeniable impact that Jesus had which has literally changed the face of the world.

The validity of the New Testament account of Jesus is, of course, predicated by the question of its historical reliability and transmission. We’ll confine our discussion here to evidence for Jesus that’s outside of the biblical record.

There are at least a dozen historical sources outside of the New Testament which give evidence for Jesus. What makes them so valuable is that they’re not written by Jesus’ followers, and in several cases comes from staunch opponents of Christianity. This releases them from any charges of bias.

Here are the three most prominent examples:

  • Josephus (A.D. 37–97) A Jewish aristocrat and historian
    • Confirms that Jesus lived
    • Confirms Jesus as the founder of Christianity in Judea
    • Confirms Jesus’ crucifixion under the rule of Pontius Pilate
  • Tacitus (A.D. 55/56–118) — A Roman senator and historian
    • Confirms that Jesus lived
    • Confirms that he had a respected public following and performed many signs and wonders
    • Confirms that he was crucified under Pontius Pilate at the behest of the Jewish leadership
    • Confirms that Jesus was loved and continued to be followed by those bearing the name Christian
  • Lucian of Samosata (A.D. 115–200) — A Greek satirical writer
    • Confirms that Jesus lived
    • Confirms that Christians followed Jesus
    • Confirms that Jesus was crucified

What’s also important, is that all three of these authors bear evidence that they relied on non-biblical sources for their information. This demonstrates that Jesus’ life and dealings were notable enough to be included in the public record of the day.

There are a few other noteworthy sources such as Celsus (a philosopher), Pliny the Younger (a Roman governor and friend of Tacitus), Suetonius (a Roman writer, lawyer and historian), Thallus (Samaritan-born historian), the Jewish Talmud (Jewish Oral Law), and Toledoth Yeshu (Medieval Jewish ‘anti-gospel’ or parody of Christianity).

Conclusion on evidence that Jesus really lived

Through both the preserved biblical witness of the New Testament and through extra-biblical sources, the conclusion is undeniable: Jesus really lived, was a major public figure, performed miracles, was crucified, started a major movement, and was followed by many. We can confidently accept this as fact.

Is there evidence that Jesus rose from the dead?

It’s no exaggeration to say that the resurrection of Jesus is the central pillar of the Christian faith. To quote Paul, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17).

In fact, if you read through the account of Acts, you’ll quickly see that the resurrection of Jesus was not just crucial to the Christian message; it was the Christian message: 

“God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it” (The apostle Peter to the crowd at Pentecost, Acts 2:32).

As a result, all of the evidence in favour of Jesus’ resurrection is preserved in Christian sources. A Christian was, after all, by definition someone who believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. The best that non-Christian sources can supply us with is corroboration that this was indeed what the Christians believed. (See Evidence for Jesus above.)

That said, we do have in the New Testament a substantial body of historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection in the form of eyewitness testimony. In our limited space here, we’ll just look at one example.

The evidence of 1 Corinthians 15

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that…to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters…Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born” (15:3-8).

1 Corinthians is historically important because its authorship and date of writing are virtually uncontested by critical scholars. Paul wrote this letter with the help of Sosthenes who scribed it for him, to the church of Corinth during his stay in Ephesus in 52 A.D.

The passage above (15:3–8) serves as a crucial piece of evidence for Jesus resurrection in two important ways.

1. 1 Corinthians 15 can be reasonably traced to Peter and James, who were eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus.

When Paul states that he “received” and “passed on” the gospel to the Corinthians, he’s using a well establish rabbinical formula. The question is, who did he “receive” it from?

Paul gives the answer in Galatians 1:18. Three years after his encounter with Jesus and conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), Paul said that he travelled to Jerusalem. There he stayed with Peter for fifteen days, seeing James the brother of Jesus also.

Since Paul had been preaching about Jesus in and around Arabia to that point, it’s safe to assume that the subject of the gospel filled their discussion.

What we have in this passage then is Paul rehearsing a gospel tradition that he received within six years of Jesus’ resurrection from two eyewitness apostles.

And, this all takes place in Jerusalem, where Jesus rose and appeared to his disciples, as well as 500 other witnesses. Most of these witnesses would have presumably still been living in Jerusalem.

2. 1 Corinthians 15 bears the marks of an already established oral tradition.

Verses 3–8 are written in the form of a pre-established saying, using the formulaic pattern of “that…that…that…etc.” This means that what Paul is communicating comes from a tradition of teaching, where teacher passes to student, who receives and in turn passes on what he has received.

But if Paul received this from Peter and James, it means that what they passed on to him was already in this structured form, which means it had already been established and in use.

Since none of the New Testament was written at this point (ca. 36 A.D.), what we can reasonably say is that Paul was being given a pre-existing oral tradition from eye witnesses. And this only three years from Jesus’ resurrection. In other words, an already standardized body of Christian teaching, which was the core of the gospel message.

Conclusion on the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection

In summary, 1 Corinthians 15 provides us with a historically preserved account based on eyewitness testimony to within three years of Jesus’ resurrection.

And, the form of what Paul “received” and “passed on” was that of a pre-existing oral teaching used by the earliest disciples, over 500 of whom were also eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus.

Will this convince the doubter or silence the skeptic? Probably not.

What it does offer, however, is a defense against any notion that Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection is a mere “leap of faith”. Rather, it’s a belief corroborated by good, historical evidence. And this is only reasonable to expect if Jesus really did rise from the dead.

Did Jesus claim to be God?

Skeptical theories aside, there’s ample evidence, inside and outside the Bible, to confirm that the historic Christian position from the inception of the church was that Jesus Christ was divine.

Granted, it took some time for the church to come to a consensus on exactly what that meant. But the Christian belief in Jesus as the divine Son of God was proclaimed by the apostles from the very beginning.

The question, however, is whether or not Jesus actually made this claim himself. As Shabir Ally, a Muslim apologist says, “There is nothing recorded in the Gospels showing that Jesus clearly affirmed his own divinity.”

But is that true? We’ll show you that it’s not.

For the sake of space, we’ll be presenting a minimal argument by confining the evidence to Mark’s gospel, which is viewed by most scholars as the earliest (ca. AD 60). From Mark’s account, we observe the following:

1. Mark explicitly validates Jesus’ divinity

  • His opening sentence is: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1).
  • The spirit realm recognized it (3:11; 5:7).
  • Even Jesus’ gentile executioners realized it (15:39—“Surely this man was the Son of God!”).

2. People react to Jesus’ divine activity with culturally appropriate confusion

  • “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority!” (1:27)
  • “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (4:41)

3. Jesus’ enemies condemn him for presuming divine qualities

  • “He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sin but God alone?” (2:1–12)
  • “Why do we need any more witnesses…you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think? They all condemned him as worthy of death.” (14:61–63)

4. Jesus explicitly lays claim to equality with God

  • “ ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ ‘I am,’ said Jesus.” (vs. 14:60–62a)
  • And in case there was any ambiguity regarding what he was admitting to, Jesus adds, “…and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (14:62b).
    • Jesus is quoting directly from Daniel’s vision of the divine Son of Man in Daniel 7:13. In this vision the Son of Man arrives with the clouds of heaven and is given glory, and reign over an eternal kingdom.
    • Every Jew knew this was Daniel’s vision of God arriving to establish his kingdom on earth. By claiming this vision as testimony to his identity, Jesus meaning is unmistakable. He was claiming to be the divine Son of God.

Conclusion on Jesus’ claim to be God

Remember that Jesus revealed himself as Messiah within a Jewish context. Had he introduced himself as the divine Son of God from the get-go, people would have thought him mad. (His own family did after all; see 3:21.)

Instead, throughout Mark, Jesus is careful to conceal the truth about his identity (3:1112). During his ministry, therefore, he lets his teaching and miracles speak for him until the cross and his resurrection would reveal his full identity to his followers.

Conclusion on faith and reason

In this guide to faith and reason, we’ve sought to provide you with a starting place for seeing and understanding that Christian faith is in fact a reasonable faith. It isn’t a “blind leap” or merely wishful thinking.

Christian faith means putting our trust in the true knowledge that God gives us through his Word. It means actually living as if what God says is true.

And because what God says is true, evidence for its truth appears everywhere around us. It serves to embolden our trust in God’s Word.

And also emboldens us to demonstrate its truthfulness to unbelievers in hopes of overcoming their doubts and the intellectual barriers that would prevent them from looking seriously at God’s truth for themselves.

'

Dig deeper

Footnotes

[1] Gettfried Leibniz, Monadologie (1714). Nicholas Rescher, trans., 1991. The Monadology: An Edition for Students. Uni. of Pittsburg Press.

[2] Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose, The Nature of Time and Space, The Isaac Newton Institute Series of Lectures (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996), 20.

[3] Roger Penrose, 1992. Quoted in A Brief History of Time (Movie). Burbank, CA, Paramount Pictures, Inc.

[4] Norman L. Geisler, When Skeptics Ask, p. 73.

Explore more Faith & Reason articles

2019’s Top 5

2019’s Top 5

As we begin a new year, we thought we'd start with a quick review of last year's top posts by...

read more

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Stay updated on key issues!

  • In-depth analysis and insights

  • Resource recommendations

  • Practical training opportunities