Skeptics Can’t Even Get the Word ‘Faith’ Right. What Makes Them Think They’ve Got the Rest of Reality Figured Out?

If skeptics can't get one word right, isn't it possible their overall position is just as precarious as this young man's?

By Tom Gilson Published on January 14, 2020

Why do we have to keep explaining it? Christian faith is not belief without evidence. It never has been, but skeptics keep trying to pull that over on us. It’s happening again in comments on my recent article, How to Shield Your Kids from Toxic Internet Atheism. The self-styled “Knight of BAAWA” — whatever “BAAWA” is — insists that “Refusal to think leads to faith. Blind acceptance and obedience leads to faith.

Refusal to think? Come on. He couldn’t take that seriously, could he?. There’s too much obviously wrong with it, unless he’s refusing to think.

One way to avoid thinking is by clinging to self-serving, dismissive beliefs about those one holds in contempt. This man, KOB for short, thinks “Faith is simply belief without evidence or in spite of evidence to the contrary.” It’s “wishing — nothing more.” He tells us repeatedly to “stop trying to redefine faith” to mean something else.

Meanwhile, for Believers

We who believe need to be clear on how to respond to these kinds of attacks on faith. I have five really quick words in that regard.

First, we must hold no person in contempt. We must not dehumanize anyone, even if they seek to dehumanize us.

Second, ideas are different: If they’re really awful ideas, we can say so, and we should. This common atheist mis-definition of “faith” is a really awful way of thinking about it.

Third, we need not cower under the attack of awful ideas like this. They’re wrong, and that’s all we need to say for our own sake. For the other person’s sake, though, usually we do need to explain.

Fourth, some may wonder if there’s a way to treat another person as fully human while pointing out how bad his thinking is. It can be a challenge. One way to go about it is to take their ideas seriously. Give the person the respect of a substantive answer. Don’t just say, “Stop saying that!” as KOB did in that comment thread. Explain your thinking, as I did there and again here in a different form. The idea may not deserve much of an answer, but the person does.

Fifth, if they won’t listen, you’ll eventually realize that’s the way they’re going to be. Give them the respect of not nagging them; not even with good answers they really need to hear.

I explained why his definition is wrong; he responds with authoritarian demands that I stop it. That’s reasonable, right? Wrong. It’s self-serving. He’s entrenched in it. He refuses to listen to reasons; refuses to respond to them as such; will not explain what he thinks is wrong with my reasons, but instead says “Stop it!”

This is how this atheist shows his position is more reasonable than Christian faith. It’s not proving very successful. If he can’t get one word right, isn’t it possible his overall position is just as precarious as the young man sawing off the limb he’s sitting on?

An Odd Belief About Belief

It’s an odd belief to begin with, this idea that faith is believing without any reasons. It is its own belief with no reasons. If it were true that people of faith universally refuse to think, then most of the greatest scientists, artists, poets, playwrights and philosophers of Western history up until at least 1700 were people who refused to think.

It’s a self-serving belief, as I said. It justifies skeptics and atheists — some of them, not all — in treating Christianity with total dismissiveness. George Yancey and others have documented serious anti-Christian hatred among a small yet influential segment of Americans. Americans aren’t supposed to hate people; we’re not even supposed to be intolerant toward other humans. What better way to get around that than to dehumanize believers? Aristotle defined humans as the “rational animal.” If Christians are this irrational, then there’s no need to regard them as human.

And there’s also no need to stop and think whether Christians might have something to say that’s worth listening to. I don’t mean anything as extreme as skeptics listening to the possibility that God is real, and Christ is His greatest revelation. I mean something as simple as believing that the skeptical definition of faith is unbelievers’ own invention, and that real Christian faith is something completely different.

As far as I can track it down, this demeaning view of faith started out rather innocently with a pair of 19th century humorists, Mark Twain and Ambrose Bierce. Most people don’t rely on jokes as their source of accurate social information. Humorists have been known to stretch the truth. Is that a secret or something?

Faith Involves Reasons

Faith has always involved reasons and reasoning. Jesus Himself showed His truth by providing evidence.

In Matthew 11:2-6, when John the Baptist sent to find out the truth about Jesus, Jesus answered by pointing to his signs and his preaching.

In John 10:37-38, Jesus chided the religious leaders, “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

In Acts 1:3 He “presented himself alive after his suffering [his death on the cross] by many proofs.”

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Jesus gave solid reasons to believe. This is how the disciples knew that Jesus was who He said He was. Their faith followed their knowledge. They knew He had risen from the dead; therefore they had faith that death was defeated for all who follow Jesus, that Jesus was with them forever (Matthew 28:20), that Jesus had prepared the way for their own resurrection.

So here’s a better definition, one that fits what Christians actually do. Faith is simply an attitude of trust persons take toward something they consider true.

Now, that doesn’t always mean faith is on the right track. A person’s reasons for their faith might be either good or bad; but it’s not faith that makes those reasons good or bad. It can’t be, because faith isn’t any part of the reasoning. Faith comes along after we’ve decided something is true.

Reasons for Today

We have different evidence today, mostly in the form of the disciples’ testimony recorded in Scripture, along with dozens and dozens reasons to believe that record is reliable history. That evidence is easily available now for anyone who will set aside their self-serving skeptical biases and look it straight in the eye.

Granted, not every Christian comes to faith by testing it that way. Some hear the gospel and recognize it as the explanation they’ve been searching for all along. It fits what they know of themselves and the rest of reality. Some people might even know it’s real because God Himself makes it directly clear to them. A skeptic who says no God could ever do that is a skeptic who doesn’t know the definition of the word “God,” or he’s one who’s decided it’s his own standards that determine whether God is real.

Again, though, this is about the definition of faith. Suppose some people come to faith for weak reasons. That doesn’t mean everyone does. It doesn’t even mean faith itself is unreasoning or blind; it just means not everyone processes reasons the same way. God has never told us He’s prepared an intelligence test for the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s more like a humility test instead.

And that’s exactly the test these hard-core, dismissive, self-serving atheists need to administer to themselves. Their proud contempt toward Christianity keeps them from seeing reality as it is. It keeps them from recognizing something as simple as a word’s definition. If they can’t get that right, what makes them so sure they’ve got the rest of reality figured out?


Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream, and the author of A Christian Mind: Thoughts on Life and Truth in Jesus Christ and Critical Conversations: A Christian Parent’s Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens, and the lead editor of True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism.

Starting Saturday, Tom begins a new series answering “50 Simple Questions for Every Christian.” You can catch a preview Wednesday. 

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