Christians often fight an uphill battle in defending their faith for the simple reason that it’s faith that we’re defending.
The familiar apologetics slogan, “Make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15), is spot on. We have a hope (which is a result of faith), not a scientific formula that can be empirically verified.
The goal of Christian apologetics is to defend the notion that our faith is not baseless. Christianity may be unprovable, but that doesn’t make it unreasonable.
Bill Maher (a famous atheist) was recently on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, and after Stephen (a practicing Catholic) joked with Bill about “returning to the church” since Bill was raised Catholic, he added that one must “admit that there are things greater than you in the universe that you do not understand.” Bill responded with: “I do admit that…but my response to that is not to make up silly stories or to believe intellectually embarrassing myths from the bronze age….[the Bible authors] were men who did not know what a germ or atom was or where the sun went at night and that’s where you’re getting your wisdom.”
Here we have it again: the increasingly common ignorance of what Christianity actually is all about. Far too often non-Christians set up Christianity as a straw man, not bothering to acknowledge the fact that it’s about faith in the unseen, which by its very nature is unprovable!
There’s a reason that the Bible never attempts to prove God’s existence. The authors knew it would be wasted ink to do so. In a way it’s “intellectually embarrassing” to persistently taunt a worldview that’s driven by faith with the expectation that it will somehow change its nature and submit to the standards of empiricism.
Naturalists seem to forget that the Bible was not meant to be “scientific” in the strictest sense, and those parts that do not align with the discoveries of modern science in no way negates its validity. There are many mediums of truth. For instance, there are two Creation accounts in Genesis (1:1-2:3 and 2:4-2:25), but they can both be seen as valid because they describe the Creation event from different angles. They are like a caricature and a photograph of the same person: different, but not contradictory.
The message of the Bible is primarily spiritual, and that’s why science can never disprove Christianity because it attests to a reality that science can’t touch. The Bible is called a “revelation” because we could never know it without an external, supernatural “revealer” (see Rom. 11:33-34; Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:26).
And here’s the first hurdle for naturalists. They’d ask: “Oh, but how do you know that God is the one who revealed it? How do you know it wasn’t made up? What proof do you have for your claims?”
Now, of course many Christians believe in Christianity “just because,” but this worldview was never meant to be fideistic (believed by blind faith). It may be primarily built on the unseen (supernaturalism; 2 Cor. 4:17-18), but it also insists that the unseen has been manifested in the seen (revelation; 1 John 1:1-3). To put it differently, Christians trust that the historical accounts of supernatural occurrences (written in the Bible) are reliable.
So to disbelieve supernaturalism is to automatically discredit the historical accounts of the Bible (there should be no surprise there).
That’s why the Apostle Peter told his readers to “make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you,” not to “make a defense that’s empirically provable” or to “make a defense that proves the reality of the supernatural.”
And for some reason,”faith” is often equated with “wishful-thinking.” I don’t know where this notion came from but it’s certainly not an accurate picture of faith. Wishful thinking is what motivates one to hope their lottery ticket is a winner or to hope for an open parking spot at the mall on Black Friday. Faith, though, is an assurance of what is unseen/unprovable based on the trustworthiness of a given revelation.
Hebrews illustrates: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen….By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible….And without faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb. 11:1, 3-4, 6).
Faith requires revelation (Rom. 10:14), and yet it acts independently from it (Heb. 4:2). In other words, to experience revelation is not to have faith. Seeing is not necessarily believing (Matt. 28:17; John 6:36; Rom. 8:24b). So for naturalists to demand “proof” of Christianity’s claims in the sense that such proof would convince them of its truth is akin to expecting the impossible (which is ironic, since faith allows the impossible to become possible; Matt. 19:26).
So we are at an impasse. Supernaturalism and naturalism stand in direct contradiction. What do we do?
Naturalists, acknowledge it and move on.
Christians, acknowledge it and move on.
No compromise can be found, and so we have a standoff. What matters is that we know what we believe and continue to refine it based on new evidence and honest thought.
Perhaps it’s not too bold to suggest that, regardless of your worldview, humility should be exercised when friction arises, for, in case we’ve forgotten, we’re all human. But if there is one thing that naturalists must consider, it is that Christianity is not intellectual suicide, for faith in God is not unreasonable. And if there is one thing that Christians must acknowledge, it is that scientific inquiry is not the end of spirituality.
With that being said, I find another reason to be a theist, for this worldview allows something that naturalism cannot, and that is that science and spirituality are seen as compatible models in explaining reality. Naturalism discounts one, while supernaturalism discounts neither.
Best to keep all avenues of truth open. That sounds reasonable.
In addition to writing at A Clear Lens, Alex Aili (B.A. in Biblical Studies) writes short stories and offers his musings about God’s hand in the world at Covert God: Redemption in Shadows. He is a novelist-in-progress who lives in northern MN with his wife and two sons. He thrives on coffee, good pipe tobacco and longs walks in the woods. See what he’s up to on Twitter.