Atheists see blind faith as being the prime domain of religion, and the exact opposite of the scientific method; a phenomenon that hinders the advancement of the collective knowledge of humanity.
A Catholic priest who later became an atheist, Frank O’Meara said “Blind Faith is believing with an overdose of credulity someone or something suffering from a serious shortage of credibility, which is why we equate it with Blind Folly.” Frank O’Meara blogs about his experiences in the Catholic church and his own eventual fall from faith.
How would a Christian respond to the criticism of “blind faith”? Is blind faith truly an essential virtue in the life of a Christian? Alternatively, must modern Christianity seek some sort of fragile meld of faith and science, cherry-picking the best bits from each? Can such an approach ever be authentic, or to get to the crux, the truth?
Atheists and Blind Faith
What is “blind faith” anyway? Often atheists seem to portray “blind faith” as a tautology, so that faith is by its very nature blind, opposing rational inquiry.
Richard Dawkins has said, “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.”
In a 2017 interview of Jerry Coyne on The Rubin Report, Coyne said, “How many religious people are not really doing any harm? You could say a lot of them are doing harm because they are enabling faith—in other words, they’re making a virtue of accepting things without evidence.”
By this view, faith is credulous, gullible, unquestioning, incurious, believing the assertions of religious authority without thought or reason.
At least, this is what some atheists argue that Christianity espouses. Is that a fair representation of Christianity, or do these atheists commit the straw-man fallacy?
Christian Concept of Faith
What type of faith does the Bible itself demand from its believers? Is faith without reason a Biblical virtue?
Believers often turn to Hebrews 11 on the topic of faith. It says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (NRSV) It’s too easy to miss it, but there is a lot in the words “assurance” and “conviction”, because those words imply a faith built on a foundation, that is, built on rational reasons.
To be sure, Christians are expected to believe in an unseen God, which is a challenging proposition, and in some ways perplexing. It is hard for us humans to accept that God would choose to be unseen, rather than to make his presence abundantly clear. Ben Stein asked Richard Dawkins what he might say if he one day met God face-to-face. He quoted Bertrand Russell, approximately, “Sir, why did you take such pains to hide yourself?” Atheists can well ask that profound question and believers should also ponder it. But as Ben Stein said, “But if the intelligent design people are right, God isn’t hidden. We may even be able to encounter God through science—if we have the freedom to go there.”
Science Supporting Faith
The natural world provides me with a great deal of reason for faith. Even many discoveries of modern scientific endeavour, despite its strong naturalistic bias, provide evidence to support faith in a Creator.
For me, science and faith are not at all enemies. Rather, the scientific method is totally consistent with a Creator making a universe dictated by laws of physics giving it order and consistency. Far from discouraging scientific pursuits, the Bible, the universe and the Earth practically beg us to study their wonders. It is astounding what insights into the universe are available to our gaze as we look through the windows open above us, photons and neutrinos telling us a rich and awesome tale.
While young earth creationists see the big bang as an enemy of faith, I see it as evidence for the Creator. The big bang shows the universe as having a beginning, rather than being eternal and static. The laws of thermodynamics also mean the universe must have had a beginning. When considering natural versus supernatural origins, perhaps the most astonishing thing about origins is that anything exists at all. Either hypothesis is mind-blowing; the supernatural hypothesis is at minimum supported by enough evidence to deserve scrutiny.
I studied physics in my engineering course at university. While learning the equations for Newtonian gravity, a student asked where the gravitational constant came from. What determined its value? The lecturer’s response was that it essentially just is what it is, as far as we know. Similarly for other constants—we know some are related to other constants (such as the speed of light, magnetic permeability, and electric permittivity), but as far as we can tell, many constants just are what they are. Astronomer and Christian Hugh Ross is a dedicated advocate of the “fine tuning argument” which says that the specific value of these constants are crucial for the universe to support life—not just to originate and survive, but to flourish with complexity and diversity including human intelligence. What if the fundamental forces were slightly different so that the universe consisted of nothing but clouds of hydrogen atoms? What if an alternative physics made an alternative periodic table of the elements, but with no element resembling carbon with its unique life-enabling properties? Arguably complex life would be simply impossible in such a possible alternative universe.
Hugh Ross is also an advocate of the “rare earth hypothesis” which says that life on planet Earth is far from inevitable, but is supported by fine-tuning of many parameters of our galaxy, our solar system, and our amazing planet. We need not merely a “habitable zone” of liquid water, but many other parameters just right for life. The earth’s size, gravity, magnetic field, atmosphere, axis tilt, moon, day length, year length, distance from the sun… the list is long. Though Kepler has found evidence for millions of planets, Earth stands unique in its ability to support the rich diversity of life it contains.
In The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins said, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” The whole purpose of his book was to convince the reader (with evidence) that such an appearance of design is deceiving, and that naturalistic evolution is the real mechanism of life’s diversity. As an engineer, I see the “appearance” of design as being reasonable evidence for, well, design. A mechanical bird has been shown off in a TED talk, and wowed the audience. I was really impressed to see its engineering and beauty. But I also have to marvel at how primitive it is compared to a real bird. It appears it could not take off and land by itself, but needed a human to launch it and catch it. It also appeared to be flown by a human operator by remote control. I would be greatly impressed if they can make a bird to autonomously fly between the tree branches, to come to rest on a twig. I would be more impressed if it can hunt its own “food”, and digest it. I would be astonished if it can self-heal when injured. I would be utterly gob-smacked if it could reproduce itself. Such an invention would be a truly outstanding feat of engineering if humans could ever achieve it—and humans are intelligent agents. Therefore, from an engineer’s eyes, a real biological bird seems to cry out “I am designed by a genius much greater than a human engineer”. Of course, an evolutionist can and would argue with my views, but I can at least argue that my faith has reason behind it. Carl Sagan said, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. If anything, I would need to see some extraordinary evidence to convince me that the appearance of design in nature is truly illusory.
When I was 16 or so, around 1990 or so, I remember reading a National Geographic article on DNA. It talked of protein encoding, and of junk DNA. I was troubled by the theological implications of junk DNA—and rightly so, because junk DNA would be consistent with the evolutionary explanation of life. Biblical creation in contrast would hypothesise that the vast majority of DNA has a functional purpose, with the possible exception of some degradation due to historical malfunction. Thus my faith was troubled, due to rational argument, as it should be. In more recent years, further discoveries about DNA have put many of my troubles to rest, as junk DNA is increasingly being shown to be an erroneous idea that arose from evolutionary thinking. The fall of the junk DNA idea we see in-progress has thus become another rational reason for my Christian faith.
The Human Mind
The biological similarity between chimps and humans is given as evidence of common descent in contrast to the Christian explanation of life. I see this biological similarity, in a round-about way, as supporting the Biblical explanation. I once watched a documentary on chimps by Jane Goodall in the IMAX theatre. She pushed the evolutionary view, and at one point exclaimed, “I realised, chimpanzees are just like us!” In that instance, she was talking about their behaviour. Certainly we can draw certain parallels between human and animal behaviour. But surely the differences are more compelling than the similarities. Humans are in another class from all the animal world when it comes to intellect, language and literature, art and music, science and engineering, government, society, economics, law and morality, introspection, pondering the meaning of life. Chimps may be able to use tools to fetch food…but not create the next Star Wars movie. After considering the differences between chimps and humans, the question has to be, given how similar chimps and humans are genetically, how are we so profoundly different? Thus it’s not blind faith at all to take seriously the words of the Bible: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness’”. So with good reason I can believe that humans are uniquely given something by God that transcends our biological basis. Biologically, we humans are animals; theologically we are uniquely the children of God, and it shows.
The Bible Foundation for Faith
Science provides me with evidence to believe in some sort of intelligent designer behind the universe. But who might this mysterious designer be? It is the Bible that gives me a hope of knowing something about our Creator.
The Bible, as well as virtually all religions, claims to bestow truth by divine revelation. Many atheists would discount the validity of any sort of revelatory epistemology entirely, and say science is the only valid and reliable way of gaining knowledge. Of course, in practice humans accept revelation and trust of authority on a daily basis—we trust historical accounts after historians give it the thumbs up, and we trust people to tell us truthful statements in order to get us through every day, despite the possibility that people might lie to us. The question then is simply, who can we trust, and why?
Atheists such as Richard Dawkins rightly point out that the world is full of many religions, most contradicting one another, and people tend to subscribe to religions not as a conclusion of rational inquiry, but due to easy conformity to local culture. Therefore, he sees religion as being arbitrary and without rational basis.
I grew up from my earliest memory in a Christian family, and an unusual one at that (being followers of 7th day Sabbath, among other things). Actually, I was troubled by the thought very much as Dawkins described it, before I ever heard it from Dawkins. What is the chance, I thought, that I just happen to born into a family which has genuinely found the truth, the true religion worshipping the true God? So I thought that my parents’ religion must require some careful scrutiny on my part before I could take it as my own. Dawkins may imagine that my faith was blind, perhaps compelled upon me by parents or church ruling my life with an iron rod. On the contrary, I needed my faith to be based on reason, to be authentic. I needed faith to be convincing and compelling, and the person I most needed to convince was myself. Raised by my father to have a great respect for the scientific method, and eventually entering the engineering profession, I feel sympathetic to the sceptical mind and the pro-science mindset. So I sought the meaning which doesn’t make science its enemy, but harmonises with it.
Morally, the Bible is canned by atheists. But, I find it compelling. It provides an explanation for our moral comprehension and our peculiar moral state, a strange mix of good and evil. It teaches a demanding moral discipline of self-control over our human desires. It teaches that we should act in all things out of concern for our fellow human beings. It demands that we care about the weak and downtrodden of society. It probes deep into our psyche, exposing our many faults and wrongs for what they are, but then offers a way to escape our own folly to live by a higher purpose.
I think I’ve heard all the complaints about the supposed moral evils of the Biblical God from atheists, in the way of sexual morality, attitudes towards women, slaughter of the ancient Canaanites, the supposed naive impracticality of “turning the other cheek”. Yes, the complaints demand a hearing. After a long time to ponder these challenges, I have to conclude that the Bible’s morality is supremely good, though challenging and greatly misapprehended. I understand that atheists would disagree with me passionately. But I will say this: my faith is certainly not blind, because I have been forced to think on these challenges long and hard through my life. I haven’t shut my eyes to the challenges, living by blind faith, but to atheists’ continual criticisms I have found answers which I find personally compelling.
Historically, the Bible has been vindicated in so many ways for its historical basis, from the history of ancient Israel through the history of Jesus and the early church. The most astounding of all has to be the man Jesus Christ. Richard Dawkins in his book “The God Delusion” most surprisingly questioned whether Jesus Christ ever really existed. Dawkins is a scholar, but scholarly research doesn’t support his claim. Once we’ve realised Jesus did indeed exist —who was Jesus Christ really? What should we really make of the Biblical testimony? If a person should spend the time to dig down, to carefully investigate the matter, to truly be open minded and go where the evidence leads, one compelling interpretation of the data is that Jesus Christ really did come exactly as the ancient Biblical prophecies stated hundreds or thousands of years in advance; he really did die exactly as the ancient Biblical prophecies stated; he did work miracles; he did preach a moral code that was simultaneously surprising yet fully in harmony with Old Testament scriptures; he did attract the anger and jealousy of the religious leaders; he did die by crucifixion; he did rise again by the power of God after three days to satisfy God’s insistence that all sin must be accounted for.
I’ve given just a few reasons that I have found personally compelling for trusting in the God of the Bible. I expect atheists would be willing to challenge my reasons (which is fine with me). However, I just wanted to show the Christian faith is not blind, but has reasons. Atheists’ concept of “blind faith” may seem like a sensible dichotomy compared to the scientific method, but it fails to understand the real Christian concept of faith.