One of the most influential thinkers from history had this to say about Christian faith:
“We won’t be raised from the dead
Christian preaching is useless
Christian faith is useless
We are false witnesses about God
Faith again is futile
We remain in our sins
Those who have already died are lost. No hope for them
And Christians are to be pitied more than all people”
The author was not Richard Dawkins, although he might approve of it. It wasn’t Christopher Hitchens either. And no, it wasn’t Homer Simpson (in case someone was wondering).
The man who wrote these devastating words was Paul, the Apostle of Jesus Christ!
In his first letter to the Corinthian Church he argues for the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and he contends that if it is proven false all of Christian faith becomes redundant:
“And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (15:14).
Paul insists that if, in time and space, Christ has not been raised Christianity is untrue. If it is proven false then faith in Jesus is a callous joke. Game over. Close your Bibles and let’s go down to the casino and gamble on something with better odds.
In other words, Jesus’ resurrection must be true or Christian faith is false. By raising the question Paul is opening Christianity to scrutiny. He is inviting us to investigate the claims of Jesus Christ in the Bible.
In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins says this of faith, “faith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument”. Dawkins has bought into a popular view about faith, but one that is fallacious. He says that faith, all faith, is inherently blind. It is of course possible to have blind faith; I could blindly accept what Richard Dawkins says about God without investigating the evidence for myself. However by proper definition, faith is not blind or non-evidence based belief. The word itself means belief or trust. It is an everyday word that is applicable for belief in anything.
Despite the best attempts of Dr Dawkins and his devoted followers, the claim that Christian faith is inherently non-evidence based belief is simply not true. The real question is, is the faith warranted or not? Interestingly, and vitally, faith in the Bible necessarily includes exercising ones mind.
At the end of John’s Gospel, the disciple writes (to paraphrase), ‘I’ve laid out all the evidence for you, here it is, read it, and on that basis believe’.
Luke is widely regarded as one of the great historians of the ancient world, and he states at the beginning of his 2 volume work,
“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”
Human reason is important, but it never works alone. In Rhetoric Aristotle famously argued that there are different modes of persuasion. People come to believe in something through a combination of these modes: Ethos, pathos and logos.
Ethos - the integrity and standing of the author. Sometimes we believe something on the basis of who has said it.
Pathos – the argument moves us and/or appeals to our senses. It feels right, therefore it must be true.
Logos – the evidence, reason.
We need to appreciate that when we formulate beliefs, it is not logos alone that persuades us. We might be forgiven for thinking that the New Atheists are so skilled in their faculties that they can divorce themselves from everything except reason and that they base their beliefs purely upon evidence and rational argument; it’s all logos. But that is not how it works. Excuse the pun, but perhaps we need to take the log…os out of our eye! If I were ever able to ask Dr Dawkins a question it would be this,
Aristotle demonstrated that we don’t formulate our worldview by reason alone, but through a combination of logos, ethos and pathos. Other than logos, what has driven you to believe that God almost certainly doesn’t exist?
In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul is not suggesting that Christian faith is entirely about spirituality, or that it can be reduced ethos or pathos; on this occasion he is arguing for logos; if Jesus has not been raised, Christianity does not work and it is false. And this extraordinary assertion raises the all-important question, is it true?
Faith in God is reasonable. There are substantial historical reasons and existential reasons. We should not be so quick to dismiss the historical record regarding the life of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead. For example, in 1906 the Carlton Football Club won the VFL Premiership. I wasn’t there to see the great day for myself, but I believe it happened. How do I know it took place? There is good reason: there were eye-witnesses and records kept. Similarly with Jesus’ resurrection there were many eye-witnesses and many trusted accounts written down. When one actually takes the time to scrutinise the historical record there is considerable evidence. The evidence points to a single conclusion, the resurrection of Jesus Christ took place; the larger question is, how given dead people don’t rise? Answer: it could only be true if there is a God who can powerfully raise the dead. That’s the point.
The evidence is not of the scientific kind, and that shouldn’t surprise us, for the absence of such evidence conforms to Christian doctrine. We do not believe in a god who is part of the cosmos, but in the God of the universe. He is the Creator, not the creation. Having said that, Christians believe in science. After all, many scientists are Christians. In my church alone there are eight people with PhDs (or currently studying for a doctorate), mostly in various science disciplines! Christians not only acknowledge the value of physics and biology, Christians were responsible for making many of the great scientific discoveries in these fields. So it is as intelligent, rational beings we say yes to science and yes to the science breaking, history changing event of Jesus’ resurrection.
I, like a growing number of people, am disappointed that Dr Dawkins academic rigour in the field of biology has not extended into areas such as theology and philosophy. In biology he may excel, but his understanding of the nature of faith and of the object of Christian faith is more akin to a b-grade shock jock.
I am reminded of what one Melbourne preacher, Stuart White, said during an Easter sermon last week, ‘Christianity doesn't require you to leave your brain at the door, but to leave your pride at the door’. I think Mr White has come close to the truth behind the ‘New Atheists’.
The issue cannot be intelligence alone for there are intellectuals sitting on both sides of the debate. Aristotle was right, there are other persuaders. Jesus was also right, ‘if you don’t believe the Scripture you won’t be convinced even if someone rises from the dead’ (Luke 16:31).
Do we really fear what might happen to us should we follow the lead of the New Testament writers and carefully investigate the man called Jesus? If it is all a hoax what do we lose? If it is real think of what we gain.