Christianity as Faith without Evidence?

One of the central claims by Sam Harris and many internet atheists is the claim that there is no evidence to support religious beliefs, or that religious beliefs are unjustified. In some senses, this should be easily dismissed, like Dawkins and Hitchens, Harris has not adequately done his homework.[1] For example, in his arguments he claims Pascal’s wager advocates belief without evidence,[2] but this does discredit to Pascal. Pascal’s wager is predicated on his statements that the evidence for Christian theism and against it were evenly matched, Harris does not mention this rather critical assumption to the wager, or Pascal’s development of the point. Similarly, of the three places where he footnotes a statement from Augustine, in 2 places his statement is from a secondary source. Additionally, he assumes a definition of religious belief drawn from Kierkegaard’s view of belief as a “Leap in the dark” and Hebrews 11:1, which he treats as a definition of faith. The later point is an example of poor exegesis, however, as that section of text should not be treated as a definition. Nor should Kierkegaard be treated as a universal explanation of Christian theism.

But what is most astonishing is, in my days of arguing on facebook, whenever one begins to produce evidence for the resurrection, the atheists invariable counter is dismissal of the evidence, usually with poor examinations, or by claiming something about the gospels that is believed by “most New Testament scholars,” without noting, or perhaps even understanding, that scholars are as divided on these points as are anyone else.[3] Mention Ramsey’s work with Acts (my usual starting point), references from Tacitus of the Talmud, and the responses are never one of inquiry they are rather closeminded refusals to investigate the matter further, sometimes with the type of haughty ridicule that personifies “New Atheism.”

The key thing to understanding the claim that Christians have faith, but no evidence, is that it is predicated on the naturalistic assumption that evidence for miracles should be treated prejudicially as false, that is, when evidence is cited, it must be dismissed because miracles don’t happen.[4] That is, their worldview begins with a close mind, not an enquiring one. There is a lot more here than can be quickly unpacked, but it is useful to know that the charge itself is false, it isn’t that Christians believe without evidence, it is that Christians believe on the basis of evidence that atheists do not seem to wish to examine.

[1]This is treating him kindly, it is either this, or he is deliberately misrepresenting positions raised by others.

[2] Please note, adequate care should always be used with Pascal’s work on the subject since it was a project he did not complete before his death.

[3] Much of modern theological scholarship was deeply impacted by German Idealism, particularly by Hegel. Biblical scholarship is divided, unsurprisingly along theological lines. Some view the theological left as neutral, but their epistemology is impacted by continental philosophers and Hume, they are therefore as partisan and biased in their analysis as they claim evangelical scholars to be.


Interestingly, much of the debate concerning the gospels comes down to the writings of the very early church fathers. The theological liberal, argues they are unreliable, and usually makes this claim with inadequate evidence and reasoning. The fathers were men, therefore not infallible, and they were men who held to the scientific theories of their times, but there are good reasons for not dismissing the fathers so hastily, or to paint with two broad a brush and argue that some error in one father discredits all who follow. First, they had more information than the 19th century German critics did, they had access to documents and sources we do not. Second, their claims for the gospels are unanimous, but we would not expect unanimity in the second century fathers of the gospel writers were actually unknown. Third, we would expect the gospels would be attributed to the leading lights among the apostles, not Matthew, Mark and Luke. Mark is a minor character, best known for his failings in the New Testament era, though early tradition places him as working with Peter. Matthew is an apostle, but hardly prominent. Luke was merely a companion of Paul’s, and not an apostle in his own right. There is also a certain likelihood of the identifications that fits modern historiography, but was likely less impressive to ancient thinkers. There are regularly raised questions asserting Galilean fishermen could not have written the gospels. This I think is a faulty question, sociological data of history is too imprecise for the claim to either be considered proven, or refuted. I dislike the sheer number of assumptions needed to make that case, either way. But, it is ultimately irrelevant. Matthew was a tax collector, meaning he was literate. Mark is associated with Peter in early tradition, and was also from an apparently wealthy Levitical family (and thus was likely educated). Luke, who wrote as a historian, was also a learned man. John probably came from a somewhat well off family (his father owned two boats and had hired workers) and so he might have had some advantages in education other fisherman did not have. Additionally, his gospel is later than the synoptics, and therefore, he had ample time during his ministry to learn the necessary skills before writing the gospel.


But here is where it gets interesting, some of the issues within NT scholarship come from treating something called the Two-Source theory as being very certain, and this is used as grounds to claim the gospels were not written by eyewitnesses. This reasoning, is backwards. That is, if there is a problem between the two source version and the patristic data, the patristic data has far better credibility than imagining sources on the basis of Hegel’s approach to dialectic.

[4]This is the sum effect of David Hume’s argument against miracles. The argument has two parts, an “in principle” section is a circular argument, and would seem to make it impossible to believe in new discoveries, if followed with any rigor. Second, his “in fact” set of four statements that are really examples of argumentium ad hominem implying ancients were too ignorant and uneducated to understand the in principle argument, with a claim that religious miracles cancel each other out, this later part is a non-sequitar, since as CS Lewis noted, what is present are not actually contradictory. Additionally, Hume’s arguments are couched in his own brand of radical skepticism, and one wonders if the argument can be grounded without that skepticism, a skepticism that his modern proponents do not share.