Sunday, February 05, 2012

John Lennox on the Definition of Faith

"Faith is not a leap in the dark; it’s the exact opposite. It’s a commitment based on evidence… It is irrational to reduce all faith to blind faith and then subject it to ridicule. That provides a very anti-intellectual and convenient way of avoiding intelligent discussion.”

- John Lennox
[HT: FaithInterface]


factorysense said...

Very nicely said! :)

revdavemapes said...

I usually say, 'That it is not a blind leap into the darkness of the unknown & unknowable; but a step into the light with both eyes opened to see what we formerly did not know.'

Thanks to John for the part that unmasks the real issue of, 'avoiding the conversation by dodging any meaningful thought on the matter.'

NFQ said...

If some faith is based on evidence, why call it faith (a word which is so readily understood, even used in the Bible, as belief without/in spite of evidence)? Why not call it the scientific method?

Eric Burton said...

What Lennox says seems to be contrary to what most believers think faith is. If you press hard enough on an issue regarding evidence for belief in god, most believers will fall back to "it's about faith, not evidence."

I don't think faith has to be anti-empirical, but the fact is that most who have it, think it is. Their belief in god is rarely based on evidence, and there is a case to be made that this is how it "should" be. Hebrews 11:1 suggests that a believer's faith is separated from evidence.

Even if on a personal basis you regard faith to come from evidence and reason, Lennox's statement is misleading. Most people of faith will in fact say that ultimately, it comes down to faith, not evidence. Lennox is seemingly claiming that those who have faith are basing it on evidence, not just "trusting" that it's true, so you can't ridicule faith as "blind."

However, I would agree that reducing all faith to blind faith is indeed irrational. If I meet someone who has faith in something, they can either tell me the reasons for their faith, or that it's blind. It depends on what you are talking about. Anyone who makes a blanket judgement like "no faith claims have any evidence to back them up" is simply wrong. Whether that evidence is good is usually where the disagreements begin.

Eric Burton said...

Hi, NFQ - I like your blog :D

emmzee said...

What "most believers believe" is really inconsequential. What matters is what the most accurate definition is of "faith." I think Greg Koukl gets it pretty close (2min video):

defenseanddeliverance said...

@ Eric.

Almost every single incident in which God asked individual in the scripture to have faith was preceded by an action that would given them reason to have faith in God. If you pay attention to the scripture the evidence often does precede the charge of God to have faith and the individuals involved acting in faith.

Anonymous said...

If faith means the same thing as belief, then it makes no sense for Jesus to tell His disciples to have faith in what's standing right before their very eyes. Jesus is not instructing His disciples to blindly believe in Him; He's instructing His disciples to trust Him with their lives.

Faith doesn't mean belief.

Ex N1hilo said...

I wonder what evidence one might put forth to support the contention that appealing to evidence is a useful way to determine the truth of a point. Hmmm.

defenseanddeliverance said...

@ Ex N1hilo

Something has to happen before one can believe in it, whether in a physical reality or a mental reality.

Even one who claims "blind faith" must realize that the Holy Spirit has done something which establishes their ability to believe and thus they believe not based on blind intuition, rather because of confidence in some happening that has already taken place.

defenseanddeliverance said...

@ Ex N1hilo

This also makes me think of the "we love Him because he first loved us" statement in 1 John 4:19.

Ex N1hilo said...


I agree with everything you said in your post.

And, I hope you can see that nothing in your post—on which we both agree—invalidates the implicit point I was hinting at. That is, there are truths of which we are aware, which neither sense experience nor rational inference, nor any other human capacity, can fully account for.

defenseanddeliverance said...

@ Ex N1hilo

"fully account for."

I didn't think you did disagree with me. I figured I would take a stab at answering the question you posed.

The key word in your last post is "fully". Almost nothing can be "fully" accounted for but surely all things can be partially accounted for.

That partially accounting for is what removes the "blind" from "blind faith" and leaves us with "faith" instead of strict incontrovertible facts.

Ex N1hilo said...


Yes. After I sent my response, I re-read it and realized that I should have left out "fully." It does tend to water down my point. How about this:

"There are truths we are aware of which cannot be arrived at nor accounted for by observation or ratiocination."

Further, I would contend that the one I brought up—that the consideration of evidence can be a useful means to determine the truth of a claim—is one such truth, and is foundational to our ability to determine other truths. In other words, without assuming this unprovable axiom, we are sunk—epistemologically speaking.

defenseanddeliverance said...

@ Ex n1hilo,

Your newly stated concept seems correct.

One must make an assumption somewhere in order to get started. Of course when it comes to God, if God exists, there is always some form of prior evidence on which one is able to base their beliefs so as not to be simply "blind faith".

I agree with the concept that faith is involved in every decision that we make. I also agree with the concept that faith in the sense of what is meant in following Christ is not a "blind faith".

Remember, everything that begins to exist has a cause, thus every belief that begins to exist can have a prior event which justifies the belief or faith. Thus "blind faith" is either rare or non existent.

Ex N1hilo said...


We appear to be mostly in agreement. I have never been one to support the idea of "blind faith". Although I do hold to "faith in the unseen." Although I know there are those (radical empiricists and promoters of scientism mostly) who would claim this is a distinction without a difference.

Two things in which suspect we might disagree, though:

1) I would contend, that, according to Romans chapter 1, awareness of the existence of the Creator and Judge is a universal reality for all human beings.

2) Justification is pretty much the issue this discussion has turned on. And axioms are not subject to justification.

Well, I'll have to think more on this.

ferlans said...

"I wonder what evidence one might put forth to support the contention that appealing to evidence is a useful way to determine the truth of a point."

I simply have to steal that, Ex N1hilo.

defenseanddeliverance said...

"Two things in which suspect we might disagree, though:

1) I would contend, that, according to Romans chapter 1, awareness of the existence of the Creator and Judge is a universal reality for all human beings.

2) Justification is pretty much the issue this discussion has turned on. And axioms are not subject to justification. "

A Ex N1hilo

I do not disagree with 1 at all. I believe that is a universal reality. Of course it is founded on the concept that there is a Creation and something to judge in the first place

I wouldn't disagree that justification is the issue the discussion has turned on either.

Axioms may not be subject to justification, although they can be justified by some previous cause, event, situation.

Ex N1hilo said...


Thanks for sharpening my iron.


Feel free to use it.


pds said...

Hi Ex N1hilo,

You say that "axioms are not subject to justification"; how do you define an axiom?

Ex N1hilo said...


By "axiom" I mean the kind of basic belief that founds our view of reality, and which we do not question; and which generally cannot be proven. Of course, not everyone holds to the same axioms; although I would contend that there are a number of them we all hold to.

For example, we are all aware that there is a world of objects and people "out there" and that others are not all "just in my head." Even those few who claim that they don't believe in the reality of the world around them actually affirm it by communicating their denial to others.

pds said...

I'd agree that belief in the external world and other minds is basic, in the sense that it requires no reason to believe in it.

However, I would argue that we can have a range of certainty about these basic beliefs, which can be defeated or strengthened by evidence.

My belief in the external world would be shaken if I woke up in a futuristic room, for example, and it might be strengthened if I had an out of body experience.

So simply "not questioning" an axiom or not allowing it to be strengthen by evidence seem problematic.

Ex N1hilo said...


I'd say I'm in basic agreement with what you have said. I wouldn't say we should not question axioms. And, as far as one's belief in axioms being strengthened by evidence; again, no real disagreement there. Of course, in order for that to happen, one has to assume that his experiences and reasoning has a correspondence of some sort to reality.

So, there's no escape. There is an awareness of certain concepts that we take to be truths, which are simply "baked into us;" which we cannot help but appeal to.

defenseanddeliverance said...


Thanks for sharpening my iron.


@ Ex N1hilo,

No problem. Same to you, thank you for the discussion.

dustin smith said...

Think about when you first learned to swim. You knew very well that there was strong evidence that a human body could float or use motion to support itself in water. But when it came time for YOU to jump in a rush of fear and doubt would assault your mind. Faith is a jump or a step into the water despite the rush of emotions.
Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.”
― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
tags: faith, reason

Post a Comment

Thanks for taking the time to comment. By posting your comment you are agreeing to the comment policy.

Blog Archive