‘Faith,’ wrote Mark Twain, ‘is believing what you know ain’t so.’
And according to H.L. Mencken, ‘faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.’
Such conceptions of faith belong to the world of Alice in Wonderland:-
“Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” (Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland)
But the myth that faith is belief without warrant either from logic or from evidence is perpetuated by Professor Richard Dawkins:-
‘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.’
This is interesting, given Dawkins’ insistence on the primacy of evidence in truth-claims:-
‘Next time that somebody tells you that something is true, why not say to them: “What kind of evidence is there for that?” And if they can’t give you a good answer, I hope you’ll think very carefully before you believe a word they say.’ (A Devil’s Chaplain)
So, what evidence does Dawkins adduce to support his idiosyncratic definition of ‘faith’?
There is no point in setting up ridiculous definitions of ‘faith’ and then shooting them down, with the cry, “There, take that, you faith-heads.” If sceptics have any interest in intelligent debate with believers about faith, then they would do well to take more notice of how believers themselves define ‘faith’. Here are a few examples:-
‘Faith affects the whole of man’s nature. It commences with the conviction of the mind based on adequate evidence; it continues in the confidence of the heart or emotions based on conviction, and it is crowned in the consent of the will, by means of which the conviction and confidence are expressed in conduct’ (W.H. Griffith Thomas)
‘Faith is reason at rest in God.’ (C.H. Spurgeon)
‘Faith is knowledge passing into conviction, and it is conviction passing into confidence.’ (John Murray)
‘Faith is a resting of the heart on the sufficiency of the evidences.’ (Clark Pinnock)
More, much more, needs to be said about what faith in Jesus Christ might look like. But, for the time being, enough has been said to indicate that Christian faith is not against evidence or reason, even if it goes beyond them both.