Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Fideism vs the Bible: blind faith vs knowledge

There are basically two views of Christianity.

The first view of faith is the Biblical view of faith as active trust in propositions we know to be true, because we have reasons and evidence to believe those propositions. This view is not only rooted in the Bible, but it extends through Augustine and Aquinas to the present day. I have written about this view of faith before, and quoted many theologians in support of it. I also showed how people in the Bible use miracles as a sign in order to convince skeptics. For example, Peter appealing to the resurrection in Acts 2. The Bible teaches that faith is active trusting based on evidence.

The second view is blind faith. This view is nowhere in the Bible, and this view asserts that becoming a Christian is a leap-of-faith in the dark against all the evidence. This view not only minimizes evidence, but it actually opposes presenting evidence to unbelievers and skeptics in the way that the Bible teaches. This view is nowhere in the Bible, and it was not the method used by Jesus or his followers. It is an unBiblical way of viewing faith, but it is very popular in some circles of Christianity. It is also popular among atheists, because this is what many Christian leaders and pastors tell them that faith is. Why would these Christian leaders reject the plain teaching of the Scripture on faith, and adopt a man-made view of evangelism that opposes the use of evidence?

Well, I have an idea why, based on my experiences trying to get apologetics into the church and university. Suppose a pastor or campus group leader wants to avoid having to learn physics and cosmology, or the minimum facts case for the resurrection, or how to respond to apparently gratuitous suffering, or the problem of religious pluralism. Suppose he thinks that Christianity, if it is about anything, is about his feeling happy and comfortable with a minimum of effort and work. So, he diligently avoids reading apologetics, because learning evidence is hard work. He avoids watching debates on God’s existence and the resurrection, because this is hard work. He avoids conversations with people who do study these things, and implies that there is something wrong with them for studying these things. He endeavors to conceal his laziness and ignorance and cowardice from his flock with much pious God-talk and fervent praise-hymn-singing.

Eventually, some member of his church asks him to go for lunch with an actual non-Christian family member. The pastor agrees and when he meets the unbelieving family member, he has nothing at all to say about typical challenges that unbelievers face. He has no knowledge of evolution, the problem of evil, the hiddenness of God, or the hallucination theory. He has never read a single atheist, and never read a single piece of evidence to refute them from Christian scholars. He lacks humility, refusing to admit that other Christian scholars may know more than he does because they have studied other areas. Needless to say, he fails to defend God’s reputation to the non-Christian. What will he say to the members of his flock about his failure? How will he justify his obstinate refusal to do what everyone else in the Bible does when confronting non-believers?

Well, consider this review of a recent book that defends the Gospels and the historicity of the resurrection by one such fideist pastor.

He writes:

There are, however, two significant shortcomings to the book.

First, Cold-Case Christianity places far too much emphasis on the role of extrabiblical sources. No doubt there is a legitimate role for biblical archaeology and extrabiblical writing from antiquity. Christianity is, after all, a faith firmly rooted in human history. But there is a grave danger when truth is suspended because of an apparent lack of corroboration from extrabiblical sources. And Wallace, I’m afraid, wanders too close to this dark side of apologetics.

All of chapter 12, for instance, is devoted to proving the Gospels have external corroborative evidence—“evidence that are independent of the Gospel documents yet verify the claims of the text” (183). Wallace then addresses the historicity of the pool of Bethesda and makes another worrying statement: “For many years, there was no evidence for such a place outside of John’s Gospel. Because Christianity makes historical claims, archaeology ought to be a tool we can use to see if these claims are, in fact, true” (201-202, emphasis added).

In other words, Wallace seems to suggest we cannot affirm the truth of the Gospel accounts without the stamp of approval from archaeology and other extrabiblical sources. Such reasoning is dangerous, not least because it cannot affirm the inerrancy of the Bible. But also, it places the final court of appeal in the realm of extrabiblical sources rather than of God’s all-sufficient, all-powerful Word.

That is a textbook definition of fideism – that belief is somehow more pious and praiseworthy the less evidence we have. And the best way to have less evidence is to study nothing at all, but to just make a leap-of-faith in the dark. Of course, a leap-of-faith can land you anywhere – Islam, Mormonism. Presumably this pastor is like the Mormons who eschew all evidence and prefer to detect the truth of Mormonism by “the burning of the bosom” which happens when people read the all-sufficient, all-powerful Book of Mormon. His view of faith is identical to theirs, and 180 degrees opposed to the Bible. He has made his leap-of-faith, and that leap-of-faith is not accountable to arguments and evidence. His faith is private and personal, based on his own feelings. He considers it blasphemous to have to demonstrate what he believes to those who disagree with him. Where is this in the Bible? It’s nowhere. But it is everywhere in anti-intellectual Christian circles.

There is a good response to this blind-faith pastor on Deeper Waters. Much less angry than my response.

Excerpt:

The dark side of apologetics? Did I somehow step into a Star Wars universe?

Yes. How horrible to show that the Bible is backed up by sources outside of it. How terrible to show that these events did not happen in a vacuum. Thankfully, no one in the Bible took this approach.

Except for the fact that when the gospel was being preached, there were no gospels per se and there were no epistles. Paul told Agrippa that the events done weren’t done in a corner. In other words, investigate the claims for yourself! The early testimony was eyewitness testimony. Sources like Tacitus and others show the eyewitnesses were right! This was not done in a corner! This was done out in the open! Archaeology helps us confirm the biblical writings and shows that unlike the pagan myths, these events were rooted in a place and time. Is there some danger that our faith will be destroyed by outside sources?

It really becomes a fideistic approach. If your worldview is true, you should have no problem putting it to the strictest scrutiny. If it is not, then you will have a problem. No Christian should fear further research into what they believe. No Christian should have a problem with extra-biblical sources. Now I do agree there is a problem with stating that EVERYTHING must be backed extra-biblically. I think this is a prejudice we too often have where nothing in the Bible can be considered historical unless it’s verified somewhere else. A gospel account alone could count as a historical claim itself that can be investigated, and indeed is in NT scholarship, but where we can get extra-biblical evidence, I’m all for it.

[...]Christianity is a faith that is rooted in evidences so we should be able to use evidences to demonstrate it. I have often been told by those of the presuppositional bent that the approach is used all the time in the Bible. The problem is I can’t find one. I get told passages like “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Yes. It is. Wisdom refers to godly living. It doesn’t refer to confirming the gospel to be true. When I look at the apostles in every case, I see them pointing to evidences.

I think that Christians are much better off following the example of authentic Christian pastors like R.C. Sproul, who, in a conference on evangelism, invited Dr. Stephen C. Meyer to present multiple lines of evidence from mainstream science to establish the existence of God. The only reason not to take this approach is laziness, which leads to ignorance, which leads to cowardice. And failure. It is pastors like Pastor Bungle above who are responsible for the great falling away from Christianity that we are seeing when we look at young people. Pastors who pride themselves in refusing to connecting the Bible to the real world, with evidence and with policy analysis, are causing young people to abandon the faith.

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21 Responses

    • Thank you for taking this guy on. This is what my whole life has been like, fighting these fideist church and youth group leaders who keep opposing what actually works to bring people to Christ.

      • apologianick says:

        It irks me to no end that I spend so much of my time in studying and learning about the truth of Christianity and yet so many pulpits are filled with ignorant people who have no idea what they believe and why. Any time I meet a pastor who doesn’t know what apologetics is, I want to scream.

  1. Matthew says:

    WK, I dislike fideism as much as the next philosopher, especially if it is held to be somehow the more “spiritual” or “religious” path for the Christian. However, I think you are being a mite uncharitable to the pastor in question. He wasn’t saying that the claims of Christianity were things that one *must* take on faith and that *cannot* be proven or demonstrated by archaeology, or one could not be a good Christian.

    He was saying, if I understand him right, that Christians need not subordinate their faith to the vicissitudes of archaeology, and this is a fair point. Indeed, he seems to be in tune with a subtle epistemological point that I’ve heard quite often from William Lane Craig- if God truly does reveal himself to us (and the Bible, of course, is a vehicle for this), then our beliefs have a kind of warrant that cannot be undermined by the necessarily incomplete state of the knowledge available to us through the archaeological sciences. In other words, if Christianity is true, then belief in its truth is properly basic, and one does not need to base one’s belief upon further beliefs in order to hold it in an epistemically appropriate way. I think that this view has had many eminent intellectual defenders, from Thomas Aquinas (as I understand him) to Alvin Plantinga to Craig.

    While I don’t think that the particular example that he cites proves his point too well that Wallace actually strays into the “dark side” of apologetics, and perhaps he himself strays toward “the dark side” of faith in faith, the essential point he’s making seems sound, if we construe it charitably.

    • The issue is not how an individual KNOWS that Christianity is true, it’s how a Christian SHOWS a non-Christian that Christianity is true. And to know how to do that, we look to the Bible. And what we find in the Bible is that the Holy Spirit works when evidence is presented, as in Acts 2.

      • Matthew says:

        That distinction is an excellent one to make, WK, and I think that the pastor’s main point was that he was objecting to the notion that it is necessary to defer to external authorities to *know* the truth of Christianity. I don’t think he was objecting to the idea that *showing* that Christianity is true involves appeals to the evidence (which we might rightfully and vigorously defend), but to the idea that we need some archaeological “stamp of approval” to appropriately believe in God.

  2. Aaron Nygren says:

    WK-I am disappointed in your response to the review. Every time I hear an evidentialist critique presuppositionalism I always leave thinking how can these brilliant guys (Craig) not get it? And your last few statements are just ridiculous. You create a straw man and then knock it down.

    “The only reason not to take this approach is laziness, which leads to ignorance, which leads to cowardice. And failure. It is pastors like Pastor Bungle above who are responsible for the great falling away from Christianity that we are seeing when we look at young people. Pastors who pride themselves in refusing to connecting the Bible to the real world, with evidence and with policy analysis, are causing young people to abandon the faith.”

    Seriously? This whole paragraph is just silly. If there really is such a “Great falling away” it is because existentialism is teaching young people that their reason is ultimate. That they are the ultimate standard to determine truth. They can go away to college and just judge the evidence. Christianity has 85% probability. Atheism has 75%. Islam has 70%. Just pick the one that has the most probability. Until something else comes along that seems to have more evidence.

    When I was an evidentialist (This does not mean I still don’t use evidences) I struggled with my faith. When I thought my reason was the ultimate standard for judging truth I would hear one side and then the other and wonder who was right. All my arguments only led me to probability. And hopefully I had made the write judgement. As a presuppositionalist my faith is unshakable. Not because I just close my eyes and take a leap but because not even the evidence makes any sense without the foundation of a Christian world view. Christianity can not not be true. Every other worldview crumbles. They have no foundation for what they believe. There is no such thing as neutrality. Thankfully some who call themselves evidentialists actually use this kind of argument but do not seem to understand that it is foundational. What is the ultimate standard of truth? Even and evidentialist would say God. How then can we appeal to human reason to prove that God is ultimate? That makes reason ultimate and thus that worldview is self-contradictory. We can use evidence when talking to people but we have to be honest and say that the evidence only makes sense if Christianity is true. When the atheist appeals to reason he is being inconsistent. He is borrowing from Christianity and the idea that his mind matches reality. For a consistent atheism can not hold this position. You may call presuppositionalism Fideism, but only because you do not understand it. I hope you make this judgement having read a good portion of the presuppositional literature. (All said in brotherly love of course.) Blessings

    • Presuppositional arguments ARE good – like Angus Menuge’s ontological argument from reason, Alvin Plantinga’s epistemological argument from reason, etc. The problem with presuppositionalism is two fold. First, it does not work on anyone who is not already a fundamentalist Christian. And the second problem is worse, it’s NOWHERE in the Bible. So I think it is a great approach for Christians who don’t accept the authority of the Bible to use on people who do accept the authority of the Bible. For everyone else, I recommend using good presuppositional arguments together with good evidential arguments.

  3. Paradox says:

    If a pastor is too lazy to learn why they believe, then maybe a good rhetorical question can get past their invincible barrier: “If we’re running on pure fidelity to unprovable propositions, then what makes Christianity any different from the world’s other religions? Islam, Buddha, those New-Age Hippie Dudes, atheism…. They all do as much. Why some old book by desert tribesmen, who might have suffered brain-damage from the blistering heat?”

    If they were some measure more responsible, they could simply use some of the easier to memorize arguments. The Apostle Paul said that man is without excuse, so the least they could do is take some of our everyday observations (like the mathematical beauty of the laws of nature)! There would have to be something to Paul’s words!

    Here’s one that may become a new Transcendental Argument: ‘There is such a thing as meaning. Meaning can’t actually exist under atheism, as meaning requires there to be framework –id est, there must be fixed units of meaning, and a link between the mental and physical worlds (so that it can be communicated, as meaning does not exist in a vacuum). Under atheism, the world is irrational, so that such a link should not be expected –our perception could merely be illusory. Furthermore, there are no fixed units of meaning, as meaning is reduced to words and sentences, which evolve over time. This is what makes the Post Modernist movement so strong, and this is why the mere fact that we can argue about Post Modernism implies that this philosophy is false.’

  4. Christina says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with Adam here.

    The evidence in scripture provided wasn’t archaeological. It wasn’t historical, it wasn’t academic, or reasonable.

    If anything, it was the exact OPPOSITE of reasonable.

    What is reasonable about a blind man being able to see again or a lame man getting up and dancing? What is reasonable about a dead man walking (who doesn’t eat brains for breakfast)?

    Miracles aren’t reasonable evidence. If you want to use “evidential” whatever-ness, I would argue it not be reasonable. Unreasonable love, unreasonable mercy, unreasonable caring for an individual. That’s what Jesus showed.

    Not apologetics.

    I’m not a stupid person. I love theology, I love philosophy, I’m a thinker, and a reader. I struggle now with the time to exercise those disciplines, so I often come across as “lazy” because as I read this little blog post and comments, I was interrupted 5 times by my son talking to me about sword fighting bosses. So if my arguments seem un-disciplined, un-educated, or poorly written, so be it. It is not how our arguments are presented that show truth or lies.

    Faith in God as the premise is where it begins and that is by the grace of the Holy Spirit. A child does not believe with reasonable logic and it is they that we should be more like. That is where “blind faith” comes into play.

    You claim that blind faith is unbiblical but all of your evidence of that comes from extra-biblical works. And yet Christ said we should come with faith as a child (Luke 18:17). All the examples of faith in Hebrews were not evidence based – they were blind faith. And if you think having a god speak to you is evidence, for a man who lived in a world where claims of gods speaking to you was an everyday practice, that’s not evidence enough.

    Yes, Paul says that as we grow, we should put away childish ways – we should mature in our faith. And part of that is learning, studying, defending. I am not going to mitigate it. As you do, I see great value in apologetics and being able to find reasonable arguments for a continued belief in God. I seek reasonable answers to the puzzles scripture puts in front of me, but in the absence of those answers, I do not lose faith. I simply cling to it more. Faith is the evidence of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

    But faith does not begin with apologetics. To claim it does puts to much credit on the one arguing and not enough on God. The folly of the reasonable man is that he elevates himself above God, making himself God (Romans 1).

    Submitting his reason and logic to God requires faith in God in the first place. Which is blind faith.

    • Having organized and/or funded a number of debates and conferences at universities where the arguments and evidence for Christianity were presented to non-Christians, I feel pretty safe in saying that the statement “Just assume that Christianity is true, therefore it’s true” will not work there. And the more salient point is: it didn’t work in the Bible, either. In fact, no one tried anything so nonsensical in the Bible. From beginning to end the Bible involves the use of physical evidence in order to convince those who did NOT believe in God’s existence and character and power. Not just in the New Testament with the resurrection and the other miracles that people could see, but in the Old Testament on practically every page, for example, with Moses or Elijah on Mount Carmel.

      You have some new idea and that’s fine if you want to make your own religion with your own way of knowing that your religion is true. Like I said before, the burning of the bosom view is a great view for Mormons and other religions who are long on feelings and short on evidence. But the problem is that you can believe any religion is true using the burning bosom test. What divides truth from falsehood is evidence. Christianity has evidence, and Christianity’s rivals don’t have it. And that’s by design. By example of the founder, who prefered public signs in order to convince others of his authority. E.g. – the healing of the paralytic.

      Be sure and check out this post, so that you can see how your OPINION about what the Bible teaches is nowhere found in the Bible or church history:

      http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2012/01/12/does-the-bible-teach-that-faith-is-opposed-to-logic-and-evidence-3/

      • Christina says:

        I never said it was opposed. Reason and logic edifies faith – it doesn’t trump it and faith does not bow before it.

        Christianity is about believing God sent his Son to die for us so we didn’t have to.

        Accepting there is a God does not make you a Christian. But accepting the premise that a god exists is taken on faith. Accepting that that God created you for some purpose or love is taken on faith (instead of some eternal plaything). The rest simply falls in line from there.

        I’m not creating my own religion. I read the same Bible you do. I may not read Thomas Aquinas (whose theology I find more suspect out of all the theologians) and I do not fall to some “feeling” worship based on my moods.

        From beginning to end the Bible involves the use of physical evidence in order to convince those who did NOT believe in God’s existence and character and power.

        Like I said, not the kind of “physical” evidence apologetics brings to the table. Your physical evidence is no more physical than some know-it-all professor telling me evidence exists that Jesus married some whore.

        You put too much stock in reason and not enough in God’s work.

        It doesn’t matter, though. I could say the same to you – go make your own religion because there’s no biblical evidence that archaeological digs and historical artifacts convince people that God is real.

    • Here is a blurb by Robin Schumacher for example:

      http://blogs.christianpost.com/confident-christian/are-you-a-christian-only-because-of-family-14352/

      Quote:

      When atheists say it’s only become of family upbringing that causes people to retain the belief system of their parents, there’s certainly some kernel of truth in the claim as we’ve already discussed. But why think that someone can’t either reject or retain what they were taught via a personal investigation of the facts?

      For example, a person may be raised in a racist household throughout their entire young adult life. However, that (a) doesn’t make racism true; and (b) doesn’t disable the person from reaching an understanding that racism is wrong on their own and turning away from it.

      Similarly, someone could be brought up under Communism and be consistently taught that a Marxist economic and political system is correct. However, the fact that millions continue to flock to the United States showcases the truth that, although many are raised under a different set of economic teachings, they have the ability to recognize a superior model when they see it.

      Interestingly enough, the Bible tells us whether it’s because of family or other reasons that people become and remain believers in Christ.

      There are a number of words for “faith” that exist in the Greek language. The Hellenistic and classical Greeks used the term “nomizo” to describe a type of belief that a person held only because of tradition and something that was passed along by parents.

      That word is never used in the Greek New Testament to speak of Christian faith.

      Instead, the terms “pistis” is used in Scripture. It is a noun that comes from the verb “peitho”, which means “to be persuaded”. If you check the best lexicons (e.g. BDAG) for the meaning of “pistis”, you’ll find the following definitions: (1) state of believing on the basis of reliability; (2) trust, confidence; (3) that which evokes trust; (4) reliability, fidelity; (5) pertaining to being worthy of belief or trust.

      The atheistic concept of blind faith or faith held only because of a parent’s instruction is foreign to the New Testament.

      Instead, the faith portrayed in Scripture is held out to be one that rests on a bedrock of various philosophical and empirical arguments, as well as historic events that were faithfully recorded by eyewitnesses and passed along to others who were, and still are, able to independently investigate the evidence and make a decision for themselves.

      I agree with Robin! He has an MA in Apologetics and PhD in New Testament. Put him on the stack with the other people in my article on logic and evidence in the Bible.

      • Christina says:

        Seriously, you twist words.

        You do not come to belief in Christ through logic.

        You grow your faith through disciplining your mind and edifying it with logic.

        But that assumes the faith is already there.

        I came to Christ as a child because my parents told me it was so and so I believed it was so. I did not just sit idley by and blithely keep believing in God simply because they said so, even though that’s how I came to faith. My parents encouraged me to learn – to educate myself, be curious – but I approached it from a worldview where God already exists.

        And my faith grew and matured.

        Romans 1 says evidence of God’s existence is everywhere – in the rain that falls from the sky and the little voice that tells us something is wrong. Yeah, many religions can be defended with the same evidence, but something every religion has in common is the belief that a God exists. God doesn’t need you to convince others of his existence.

        Like I said before, apologetics is not an evangelical tool. YES, it needs to be taught. YES, christians need to be taught to defend their faith.

        But I have yet to see an atheist come to Christ through a logical argument, while I’ve seen numerous people flee the church with a well thought out one.

        • Paradox says:

          I think there may be a misunderstanding on your part, Christina. If I understood WinteryKnight, he has never said that a person comes to faith ex testimonio solus; as it strikes me, the best interpretation is that everybody has that spark of conviction, and with evidence, a person might make the leap to act on this conviction.
          Logic alone? WinteryKnight, I don’t think, is arguing as much.

  5. Josh says:

    Just read a presuppositionalist argument tonight on a site called http://www.proofthatgodexists.org/

    It was precisely arguments such as these that nearly convinced me years ago that Christianity was not a religion for people who wanted to think. I spent a lot of years in doubt and searching because Christians responded to my honest requests for answers with “because the Bible says it!” even if the questions regarded how the Bible came to be or why I should trust it. I never stopped trusting in God, but I stopped trusting in Christians for a while. It is shocking to me how feel Christians know that there was a time when the Bible wasn’t being mass-produced…

    To be quite honest, I think presuppositionalist apologetics cannot possibly appeal to anyone who reasons out their beliefs instead of feeling them out (the only alternative). If someone is in search for the truth and they get circular arguments, they will dismiss them, as I did.

    After reading Augustine, the various disciples of the disciples, Aquinas, Chesterton, Lewis, and others, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only honest form of apologetics is primarily evidentalist. By implication, this means I consider presuppositionalist apologetics to be dishonest, and I do. No serious Christian thinker before the modern era would have chosen that route.

    • Wooo! I could not agree with you more Josh.

      I do think it’s good, though to bring out presuppositions like naturalism, political correctness, etc. and challenge them, but the main case has to be evidence.

      • apologianick says:

        Sye Ten Bruggencate is the guy who runs ProofThatGodExists. I’ve heard him debate on Unbelievable? He was told he was begging the question and said “What’s wrong with that?”

        I think presuppositionalists spend more time giving apologetics for presuppositionalism than they do for God Himself. Sorry, but Christianity is a historical religion and you cannot show it without arguing from history.

        • Yep, it reminds me of Catholic apologists. All their work is defending Catholicism, and very little on God and the resurrection. Their primary audience is Catholics and lapsed Catholics. Similarly with the presups and young-Earthers. They are talking mainly to Christians. Non-Christians care about evidence. That’s what works.

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