Faith Is Not Irrational


In this week of our study, the Workbook used Hebrews 11:1-6 and Hebrews 11:13-16 in its discussion of how another variable in determining if a voice is of God is if it calls us to trust God, to exercise faith.

Hebrews 11 starts off with a definition of faith: “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” This page will examine this statement, especially as it relates to the idea that having faith is not somehow illogical, despite not having “proof” in the sense that science-focused skeptics want.


Technical discussion

The translation of Hebrews 11:1

This sentence is not that complex grammatically. The core sentence is “ἔστιν πίστις ὑπόστασις… [ἔστιν πίστις] ἔλεγχος”. This is a normal “{subject} {linking verb} {complement}” construction, with the only twist being that there are two complements, but without a coordinating conjunction between them (that is, there is no καί between ὑπόστασις and ἔλεγχος). The subject and linking verb are thus implicitly understood to go with both complements: “faith is assurance… [faith is] conviction.”

Ichthys’ translation of this verse – “It is faith [in the Living and written Word], moreover, that substantiates what we hope for. [Faith] provides proof of things unseen” – doesn’t mirror the exact grammatical structure as much, using indirect statement in the first bit (i.e., “it is faith… that”).

Arguably, Ichthys’ translation that translates with verbal phrases (that is, “faith substantiates… faith provides proof”) adds clarity, but on the other hand translating more literally (that is, “faith is assurance… faith is conviction”) works fine too. The meaning is clear either way.

Analysis of Hebrews 11:1

“Things hoped for” have not yet happened. How can you prove that they even will happen?

“Things not seen” are not before us. How can you prove that they even exist?

For us as Christians, our confidence in things that haven’t happened yet comes from faith, as does our confidence in things that we cannot see (the spiritual realm). This is what Hebrews 11:1 says, in essence.

We cannot prove that prophecy will play out how God says it will with science, or verify the promises He makes us about eternity with science. We also cannot prove the existence of the spiritual realm with science, as it cannot be observed or measured like the material world.

This is because science (at least the epistemologically-sound variety, rather than the wild scholarly speculation that is rampant within some fields like evolutionary biology and the branch of theoretical astrophysics concerned with the creation of the universe) by its very nature only deals with the material world that can be subject to observation and experimentation. Metaphysics is simply outside its purview, or at least it ought to be.

All of this is a natural conversation to have when talking about Hebrews 11:1, because while Hebrews 11:1 doesn’t say in so many words that there is no other way (that is, aside from faith) to have assurance of things hoped for or conviction of things unseen, it is very much an inference we are supposed to make.

Why is this important? Well, because it tells us that…

Faith is necessary, not illogical

It may seem incredibly obvious, but faith is actually 100% necessary for us to believe what we must as Christians. Let me repeat that: faith is necessary. Christianity without faith is no Christianity at all.

The fundamentals of Christianity largely center around who Jesus was (fully God yet fully man), what He did for us upon the cross, and how He was resurrected from the dead. Respectively:

  • How could one “prove” that Jesus is God according to observation strictly of the material? You might make the argument that Jesus’ miracles proved his divinity, but Pharaoh’s magicians in Exodus 7-8 did miracles too (presumably somehow through the power of demons, whether that was full demon possession or not), and the false prophet in Revelation is also said to have miraculous power (compare Revelation 13:11-18 – the false prophet is distinct from the beast per Revelation 16:13; 19:20; 20:10, and is somewhat like a cheerleader for the beast, albeit one having great power of his own).
  • What’s more, how could any human actually “prove” that Jesus paid the price for all human sin upon the cross, facing the fiery judgement of God in our place? That’s definitely what the Bible teaches, but how do you prove that with science? You just can’t; the very idea is nonsensical. Because the judgement happened spiritually when Jesus was physically hanging upon the cross.
  • And finally, in the modern day, it is simply impossible for us to test or verify observationally whether Jesus was truly resurrected from the dead. We cannot have video evidence or what have you. It’s just impossible.

The points being brought up here are sorely lacking in many discussions about faith and science. Christians are made to feel like they are uneducated and ignorant for having faith, that faith is somehow illogical. But science can say exactly nothing about whether Jesus paid for human sin when upon the cross, for example. Literally the only way to take a position on that proposition is through faith. Even if you wanted to do things “the science way,” it is simply not a possibility.

The thing is, God never demands that we believe things that contravene reason and logic. That most people in the world have deceived themselves into thinking that Christianity actually does contravene logic (e.g., they’ll say that evolution contradicts Genesis) is neither here nor there. It matters not what other people think or how many of them think it (see the logical fallacy of argumentum ad populum). It only matters what is in fact true.

Where I am going with all this is that we cannot even “prove” (in the scientific sense, according to observation of and experimentation with the material world) that Jesus was God and that He fully paid for human sin upon the cross and that he was subsequently resurrected from the dead – the very most fundamental points of Christianity. If we have confidence in these things, that confidence comes 100% from faith and 0% from material evidence. It is thus no surprise that everything else in Christianity largely follows suit – the “things hoped for” (such as future promises of our eternal home) and the “things not seen” (such as the spiritual battle being waged all around us) all rest upon faith. And the vast majority of them are scientifically untestable propositions.

Define “illogical”

Certain materialists take the epistemological position that any claims that are made absent supporting scientific evidence ought not to be believed. I will readily grant that under the presupposition that this material world is all there is, this is logical. The issue is, that’s a presupposition, not a logically necessary fact. If you presuppose instead that the spiritual does exist, then suddenly talking about about spiritual matters is far from illogical.

The subtle thing that happens in arguments is that people sneak in their presuppositions as fact. How can you scientifically prove that God doesn’t exist? You can’t, if God is spiritual rather than material, and we humans can only measure the material. In terms of formal logic, this is purely “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” In like manner, you also cannot scientifically prove that Goes does exist. Because again, God is spiritual rather than material, and we humans can only measure the material. We can infer his existence (cf. the so-called “God of the gaps” argument), but that is not scientific proof.

Atheists base all their reasoning on the proposition that God does not exist… despite us just saying it is impossible for them to prove such scientifically! They will readily point out that we do the same thing in presupposing that God does exist. And yeah, we do. But we acknowledge the presupposition and call it faith. We don’t pretend our positions are scientifically provable, but instead readily acknowledge that they are not. The difference is that their position is not one whit more scientifically provable, yet they do not similarly acknowledge the fact that their belief that God does not exist actually has no scientific basis. Even though they won’t admit it, theirs too is a faith-based position, a presupposition.

Let me put it this way: what is illogical is asserting that scientifically untestable propositions must (by logical necessity) be true or false “because science”, whichever direction you make the black and white claim. This is illogical because treating things that are not decidable by science as decidable by science is illogical.

Christians do not do this because, while we view our belief as true and correct, we don’t base our confidence in spiritual things on scientific premises, but instead freely acknowledge that our belief rests upon presuppositions that we hold by faith. That our faith picks up where science leaves off, rather than contradicting it.

Final comments

Faith is not just a hunch or something. When we believe things the Bible speaks to, it needs to be absolute, as sure to us as the fact that we draw breath into our lungs. God’s truth, as contained in His Word, is more sure than everything else in the world.

Even if science can’t prove God created the universe from nothing, well, science can’t prove that God didn’t create the universe from nothing either, can it? People can’t run experiments with a controlled randomized trial that has a great enough sample size of universes to ascertain whether there is enough evidence to reject the null hypothesis (e.g.). At best, the astrophysicists can hypothesize based upon the limited evidence available to them. Sometimes their current hypothesis might actually contradict what the Bible says. Well, what of it? The thing about most of the things that trouble materialists (e.g., ex nihilo creation, the ark and worldwide flood in Genesis 6, the virgin birth, etc.) is that there is no way for them to formally disprove these things. They weren’t there. And there are many possible explanations for how things could perhaps end up looking XYZ way to us in the future, yet somehow be misleading at the same time.

The point of all this is that the skepticism of others regarding the Bible’s claims needn’t make us feel ashamed of our faith. For we don’t believe what the Bible says because of empirical scientific evidence; that is going about faith all wrong. We believe it because the Bible says it. That’s all there is to it.

The point I have been trying to make here is that, practically speaking, all those things that atheists have issues believing are no problem whatsoever; their smear campaign against faith is completely toothless, if one takes the time to consider things rationally. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is a violation of natural law, to be sure. But what is that to the God who created and sustains the universe, the architect of said natural law?

That’s just one example, someone might say. Well then, what of Jonah and the fish (how does a man survive underwater for days when humans cannot breathe underwater)? What of God protecting Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the flames of the fiery furnace (how can human beings stand in a furnace and yet not at all be burned or harmed)? If an Omnipotent God external to spacetime exists, these things are perfectly plausible and not at all illogical to believe – such a God would be more than able to accomplish them. It’s just that without having faith in even that most basic proposition, the truth of all other spiritual matters will be veiled from people’s eyes, and seem like so much nonsense (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18). In this way, faith is everything, everything, in this life. And we ought never forget that.