Faith Under Fire

Why is it that Christianity’s critics often don’t seem to bother to understand what Christian belief actually is, but mistakenly assume they already know?

It’s fascinating to me that the New Atheists have roundly attacked the word “faith”, because faith is critically important for making any spiritual progress in life at all. The Bible teaches that the only way we can come to the real and true God, is by faith. Faith is the condition of salvation, you can’t be a saved human being without faith. The experience of the Christian is grounded in their faith in Christ.

But is that the faith that is under fire, here? Daniel Dennett has said:

“There is a big difference between religions faith and scientific faith: what has driven the changes in concepts in physics is not just heightened skepticism from an increasingly worldly and sophisticated clientele, but a tidal wave of exquisitely detailed positive results.”[1]

So scientific faith, to him, is evidenced and based on results. Religious faith is not at all evidenced. Rather, it involves arrogantly claiming knowledge we do not actually know. And worse, the claim to know ALL the answers.

“I, for one, am not in awe of your faith. I am appalled by your arrogance, by your unreasonable certainty that you have all the answers.”[2]

Dennett seems to caricature Biblical faith, and attack a poor straw man of Biblical faith.

What Is Biblical Faith?

Faith as defined in scripture is about expressing our trust. The Latin phrase “Fides qua Creditur” is translated “the faith by which (it) is believed.”[3] It’s about a subjective expression of trust, and this expression is the very thing of belief. When talking about faith, the New Testament often uses the Greek word “pistis,” meaning persuasion, to come to trust.[4]

The Bible’s understanding of faith is an all-encompassing one. It involves our intellect, as we understand what to believe and why. It also affects my will. It is about choosing to trust the person of Jesus Christ, to appropriate him as our saviour. And it also involves our emotions. It is important to understand that the Bible’s understanding of true saving faith encompasses all of these facets, our intellect our wills and out emotions. If trust is merely intellectual, then it becomes intellectual assent. I am intellectually convinced that there is a God, but I am not engaged in any form of relationship with him. The demons have this sort of faith. They know God exists. They hate and fear him.

How can we cause ourselves to engage in Biblical faith? Well – we cannot. Faith is a gift from God. It has been granted by God that we believe (Philippians 1:29), it’s a gift so that no one can boast of their own achievement of faith (Ephesians 2:8). God enables us to place our whole trust in him, it is a glorious gift from him to us. God commends us for being people who live as faith filled individuals. That’s apparent in Hebrews 11. It pleases him when we put our hopes in him, and live in a way that we are assured that God will keep his promises. This is Biblical faith, a whole and complete trust in God.

What’s Wrong With Dennett’s Attack?

So Dennett’s attack on “religious faith,” is not an attack on the Bible’s understanding of Christian faith. Whatever he’s railing against, it’s not Christianity. He assumes religious faith to be lacking in any evidential component only. Yet Biblical faith involves the intellect. We must understanding the facts of God’s revelation in his words of scripture and in the world. And, we must understand why we should believe. Faith is not belief in what we know ain’t so, it is a whole trust placed in the God we know.

Dennett claims religious faith to be arrogant and unreasonably certain. But surely this is a matter of individual perspective. Someone that has placed their whole trust in a firm and secure saviour, who knows the promises he has made, and who has experienced his activity in our lives, this isn’t arrogance. It is simply a degree of confident trust. Perhaps Dennett is saying – “I don’t have that sort of experience of God working in my life, so you shouldn’t presume that you have this experience in yours. How dare you be more trust filled and confident than I am!!” This is just logically incoherent. And, it’s bad manners. How can he logically assume his subjective view is identical to ours? He cannot reasonably impose his subjective experience onto ours to replace ours. No – faith is a personal and subjective way of living life. Rather than criticising believers for having confident assurance, perhaps Dennett should be asking God to give him Biblical faith so that he can live with the same confidence and trust that Christians have access to?

I think Dennett is comparing apples and oranges when he compares scientific and religious faith. Yet ironically, both are grounded in an epistemology that assumes an order and behaviour of nature that cannot be explained by nature itself, and points to a divine creator.

[1] Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, (London:Penguin Books, 2006), 233.

[2] Dennett, 51.

[3] Richard A Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 122.

[4] 4102, Pistis, Strong’s Concordance, https://biblehub.com/greek/4102.htm

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Respond

I live in the UK, I'm married to Janet and I'm passionate about proposing a case for the historic Christian faith. You can find me on Twitter at @stuhgray.

12 thoughts on “Faith Under Fire”

  1. well, having been a Christian, I know what Christian faith is. And I know, most Christians will say I never was a Christian since I left the faith, a classic no true scotsman argument.

    Christians do claim to have all of the answers, as do Muslims, Hindu, etc. When you say you know that your god exists, with no evidence and the same arguments that other theists use, then there is quite a bit of arrogance there. You don’t believe the same arguments you use if they are supporting another god’s existence. That shows no intellect.

    Your faith does require your emotions since the evidence doesn’t support it. You have to assume that you and only you have the right version of a certain god, and that it agrees with you and is concerned with you. As for your god giving “faith”, that’s what Paul says in Romans 9 and says that this god intentionally doesn’t give it to some people. So this god doesn’t allow an informed choice and thus no free will (assuming it exists of course).

    As for a “whole and complete trust in God”, well, each Christian claims this and each Christian says that they trust that this god wants certain things, does certain things, etc, and Christians don’t agree on what those things are. Not much reason for trust there.

    So, Dennett’s point hold, that each Christian is arrogant enough to think that they and they alone have all of the answers. The times when they claim not to is when they are asked about the contradictory, violent and/or ignorant parts of the bible; that’s when their god becomes mysterious and everyone should just trust in it and not question.

    “Yet ironically, both are grounded in an epistemology that assumes an order and behaviour of nature that cannot be explained by nature itself, and points to a divine creator.” That is of course not true at all. Why Christians try these lies is beyond me other than they need to try to create false equivalency. Exactly where Dennett is using an epistemology that requires a god is to be seen.

    “I don’t have that sort of experience of God working in my life, so you shouldn’t presume that you have this experience in yours. How dare you be more trust filled and confident than I am!!” This is just logically incoherent. And, it’s bad manners. How can he logically assume his subjective view is identical to ours? He cannot reasonably impose his subjective experience onto ours to replace ours. No – faith is a personal and subjective way of living life. Rather than criticising believers for having confident assurance, perhaps Dennett should be asking God to give him Biblical faith so that he can live with the same confidence and trust that Christians have access to?”

    Well, first, Dennett isn’t saying what you imagine, and it’s bemusing to see you invoke manners in saying one shouldn’t show that your claims don’t work. That’s all you have, no evidence but how dare someone be “mean” to you? As for faith being subjective, well, that’s intersting since so many Christians claim an objective god. When asked for faith, “biblical” or otherwise, this god never answers. Why’s that?

    1. What will-full choices do you continue to make in your life, friend? Look at the correct definition of faith. Perhaps the measure and direction of your “faith” is located right there – your will.

      1. Stuart, like so many Christians, you want to pretend that there is some special “definition” of faith that agrees with you and your nonsense.

        The decisions I make in life are advised by my experiences and basic characteristics. I don’t have faith as a theist does; I have trust which backed up by evidence. My “will” has little to do with it, since I don’t need to demand that reality meet my beliefs. I accept the facts.

        And no surprise you can’t or won’t answer my questions, Stuart.

      2. You are a person who simply asserts an opposite view – and thinks I want to wrestle it out. That’s not the purpose of my blog.

        Your question is better stated – “Why doesn’t God answer YOU?” I have no idea. Maybe you didn’t hear what you were expecting to hear and didn’t like it.

      3. I know, Stuart. You want to make false claims and not have anyone question them.

        So, Stuart, you offer one more excuse for your god. I’ve heard nothing from your god. But please do tell me what I should expect to hear. You want to ignore my real questions and make up your own. That’s such a pitiful and transparent tactic.

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