Faith Is Rational: An Invitation to Consider the Possibility

Editors' Note: This article is part of the Patheos Public Square on Faith and Reason. Read other perspectives here.

Have you heard the quote by Mark Twain, the one that goes, "Faith is believing what you know ain't so"? (attributed in the work to Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar). Or perhaps the more recent variation, by Richard Dawkins, is more familiar? He 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."

From this perspective, faith is either irrational or arational. For some, in light of their own experiences, these stereotypes ring true. Perhaps asking questions or voicing doubts was looked down on, brushed aside, or even harshly criticized in a church you no longer attend. For others, their main encounter with Christianity is through the lens of what Richard Dawkins or other critics have said, but they haven't investigated for themselves. Or maybe it was in an academic setting that you read the church father Tertullian's famous quotation, "Credo quia absurdum," that is, "I believe because it is absurd." (See note below.)

Given these facts, the reasonable conclusion is indeed that Christian faith is either irrational or arational. But what if this is like looking through a dusty keyhole into a great banquet hall? Since you can't see any food yourself, you might reasonably conclude that the partygoers who are excitedly discussing the incredible feast inside must be alarmingly deluded.

All I aim to do in this brief article is to crack the door open a few inches for you. My hope is that you might catch a whiff of the royal fare or get a glimpse, however brief, of one of the platters, piled high, headed piping hot from the kitchen into the midst of the festivity.

The first point for your consideration is a simple question: where are you looking from and what are you looking at? To put it another way: Are you intellectually open to the possibility that faith is reasonable? And if so, have you investigated whether any Christian theologians or philosophers believe that faith is rational?

Of course you can find some who deny any connection between the intellect and faith in God. But where's the challenge in that? As we said on the schoolyard playground, pick on someone your own size. To confine myself to only the living, you may readily find the arguments of Tim Keller, Ravi Zacharias, John Lennox, NT Wright, JP Moreland, Os Guinness, Alister McGrath, and Alvin Plantinga.

Second, imagine with me for a moment that the Christian account of reality actually has it right. To some, this may seem like requesting that you take Alice in Wonderland to be a reliable, scientific account of rabbit holes and Cheshire cats. But remember, we're only seeking to be intellectually open, and that means empathetically seeking to understand another person's point of view.

So think for a moment that an all-loving, all-knowing, and logical God created all humans in his very own image. Having given them bodies and souls, emotions and minds, God asked them to trust that he was good.

Do you know someone who is so fundamentally good that you implicitly trust them? And if I pressed you for the scientific evidence and legal documentation for this trust, would that seem ridiculous or absurd? Such trust is based on innumerable experiences that you alone know and remember. The secrets they kept. The promises they honored. And on it goes.

But the first humans were in a far better intellectual position with their Creator. Their very existence, their daily experience of the good world God had made, and their personal knowledge of God as friend and Father, would give them every reason to trust that God is good. The height of rationality in such circumstances is to place one's faith, or trust, in God.

Throughout the biblical record, the word 'faith' develops a rich and complex meaning, including the sense of knowledge, trust, obedience, agreement, and loyalty to God. C.S. Lewis provides an excellent, if minimalistic, definition of faith in Mere Christianity: "Faith…is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods" (p. 140).

While it would be blind, irrational faith to wholeheartedly trust a complete stranger or a nonexistent deity, this is not the Christian perspective. If Adam and Eve personally knew God in all of his goodness, then it follows they would know that God is worthy of their fullest trust and loyalty.