Faith versus Logic: Are they mutually exclusive or can they coexist?

I was having a conversation recently and the person claimed that faith is not logical. This is something I hear unbelievers say all the time. With an air of smugness, they claim that their rational mind doesn’t allow them to have faith. I think this is demonstrably false.

What is faith? I think the understanding that an unbeliever might have of faith is: belief without proof. I think a better understanding is: putting your trust in something without absolute proof. Despite what they might say, unbelievers and Christians alike exercise faith everyday. When we get on a plane, we trust that we will get to our destination safely even though we don’t have direct proof that the plane is in working order or even that the pilot is sober. We all go to sleep trusting that the sun will rise tomorrow even though we have no guarantee. Are these acts of faith illogical? No. In each example we apply logic to what is knowable to make a decision about what is unknowable. Thus, we reason that since we’ve seen planes fly and land safely in the past, since we don’t think an airline business would hire an untrained pilot and since we don’t think the pilot wants to kill himself, it’s probably safe to get on the plane. Or, since we’ve seen the sun rise everyday for as long as we can remember, we’re willing to bet it will rise tomorrow, even though we know that what happened in the past is no guarantee of what will happen in the future.

I’m sure that even the most militant unbeliever will agree with this type of faith, but when it comes to religious faith, they’ll say: “that’s different.” Why? The hidden assumption in this claim is that religious faith does not involve use of the logic that we use when we exercise faith everyday. The assumption is that belief in religion is based on blind faith or belief without evidence. Is this true? Again, no. When it comes to Christianity I think this assertion is made out of ignorance or a poor understanding of its teachings. From the beginning, Christianity has been based on logic and evidence. The basic reasoning goes as follows:

  1.  God exists. This can be supported by philosophical arguments like Thomas Aquinas’ “unmoved mover” and scientifically supported arguments like the Kalam cosmological argument as currently defended by Dr. William Lane Craig.
  2. Given that there is a being powerful enough to create a universe, He can probably control the laws of nature in the universe and manipulate them in anyway He chooses such that miracles can occur.
  3. Their is historical evidence which establishes that:
  • There was a real person named Jesus of Nazareth, a religious teacher, who lived in the first century.
  • Jesus claimed to be a divine figure.
  • Jesus’ ministry included acts that were perceived as miraculous by those who witnessed them.
  • Jesus claimed that the authority of His teachings would be confirmed by His being raised from the dead.
  • Jesus died after being crucified.
  • Jesus was buried in a tomb.
  • Jesus’ tomb was found empty three days later.
  • Many people, including followers and at least two detractors, claimed to have seen Jesus alive after his death.
  • Two of those detractors, James and Saul of Tarsus (who later became the Apostle Paul), became Christians after Jesus appeared to them.
  • James, Paul and other apostles immediately began preaching to everyone that Jesus had been raise from the dead.
  • James, Paul and other apostles were eventually tortured and killed for making these claims.

Logic tells me that people don’t let themselves be tortured and killed for a lie, so the witnesses really believed that they saw Jesus alive. Many scholars have done great work in showing that the best explanation of these events is the same explanation that Jesus’ followers gave, which is that Jesus was who He claimed to be, God.  By that authority, the authority of God, I have faith that if I believe and follow Jesus, though my body will die, my soul will live on in heaven (John 3:16), even though I obviously can’t know for sure.

So despite the claim that Christianity is based on blind faith, we can see that it is based on logic and evidence just like the faith we use everyday.

Unfortunately, every Christian may not be able to give a sophisticated scholarly explanation of their faith. Due to this, many unbelievers mistakenly think that none exists. They accuse people of blindly accepting what their parents or pastor has told them. Is this a fair assessment? Yet again, no. I’m willing to bet that if you asked most people to give a scholarly explanation of how DNA works, they wouldn’t have a clue. Should I then believe that no detailed explanation of DNA exists? Should I then accuse them of blindly following what some teacher told them? Obviously not. The point is that we all accept certain things as true based on the authority of those from whom we learned it. We put our faith in the fact that they’ve studied, they’ve been trained and/or have examined the evidence themselves. Life is simply not long enough to have direct first-hand knowledge of all things, so we have to accept certain things on the basis of what an authority says. Thus, if it is logical to believe lawyers, doctors and scientists on the basis of their authority it is also logical to believe pastors and theologians. Of course, an unbeliever is free to disregard what pastors and theologians teach, but what he can’t do is say that it is illogical for one to believe what pastors and theologians teach even though pastors and theologians are just as qualified in their field as others whom the unbeliever would take to be an authority.

It is clear that other than direct revelation from God, our intellect is the only way that humans can discover truth. Thus anything that doesn’t make sense logically is often disregarded as false and not worthy of consideration. When we do this we feel vindicated and our conscious is clear. As we have seen it is a mistake for unbelievers to claim that faith is not logical; on the contrary, the Christian faith in particular is based on logic and evidence. To reject Christianity, you would have to object on some other grounds. I think that many unbelievers adopt the slogan “faith is not logical” because they realize that without the strength of logic on their side, the other grounds on which one rejects Christianity are volitional or emotional and it is difficult for people to admit that. Maybe they have to face the fact that they want to make their own rules when it comes to their lives and not have to follow what God says. But they know that not wanting to be told what to do is not an excusable reason to reject Christianity. Maybe a Christian has hurt or abused them in the past; whether it be pastors stealing from their congregation or Catholic priests molesting young boys. However, all beliefs can be abused and a belief cannot be judge by the actions of its abusers. So this is also an invalid reason to reject Christianity.

The point I’m trying to make is that though I understand that everyone has the right to reject Christianity, I hope that unbelievers can reflect more deeply about their reasons so that they can possibly overcome it and give Christianity a chance. People could very well have reasons that they feel are justified. I personally think the evidence for Christianity is compelling, but maybe someone else doesn’t. Maybe you think another religion is true. Whatever the reason, I think people should spend time thinking about it. I feel it is intellectually lazy to be apathetic about these matters. The reason that people think about God at all is because we have recognized for centuries that this is of great importance with real consequences. Even if you think you are content with the way your life is and see no need to add the Christian faith, we will all die one day. If there is no God, then it won’t matter, but if Christianity is true then it will be too late to reconsider.

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