Can a thinking person believe in God?

[Aside: Carson I’ll happily braai for you, but you’ll have to do a ‘talk’ first.]

Mike, can you please expand upon how a “thinking person” can believe in God? When someone asks you that question, what is your response?

Thank you



Hi Bill,

Thanks for your message and question.

The question, ‘Can a thinking person believe in God?’ is, in my experience working in churches and on campuses, often posed by at least two distinct groups: (1) Christians who are suspicious of reason for a number of reasons, but usually because of incomplete or unhelpful definitions of ‘faith’; and (2) skeptics and atheists who see reason and faith as essentially incompatible.

Let’s tackle (1) first.
Christians have come to be suspicious of reason. This may be because a certain reading of Scripture has led to a belief that sin means we cannot ever use reason and come to a godly or good conclusion. Sin has so marred us that we are too depraved to trust reason on any level. While there are elements of truth here - i.e. each part of us has been effected by sin - it is not true that our humanity has been so marred that we represent nothing of the God whose image we continue to bear, even after the Fall (e.g. his rationality). This thinking is quickly dispelled by a thorough reading of Scripture. We are addressed as thinking agents - called to engage our minds in the content and logic of the Gospel, in order to be saved and discipled. The writers of Scripture assume we have this moral and intellectual capability. Others struggle with the idea of a thinking faith because they fear their faith will be undermined when they engage with the evidence and opposing arguments from skeptics. However, this is a mentality totally foreign to church tradition. From the apostles, to the church fathers etc., the Christian faith has been gladly and deeply studied. Moreover, in my own experience, delving thoughtfully into the truth claims of the Christian faith has not undermined my faith but revealed the solid gold of its truthfulness. Christians need to take Paul’s warning seriously, ‘Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up’ (1 Cor 8:1), yet at the same time recognise that ours is an intelligent faith (2 Cor 10:5). We are called to love God with everything, including our minds (Mark 12:30). Moreover, Peter tells us: ‘always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you’ (1 Peter 3:15). While it is certainly helpful to recognise the problems of overintellectualizing our faith, it seems we cannot escape the fact that ours is a thinking faith.

What about group (2)?
The objections here often sound something like this: ‘Christianity is about faith, i.e. a leap in the dark, but I am someone who stands on the side of reason and so cannot accept its unfounded claims.’ What they are trying to say, I think, is that one must either be a person of reason or a person of faith. One cannot be both. However, this is a false choice. It is an incorrect line of thinking for at least three reasons: (1) how Christianity envisages faith within its own tradition; (2) the history of people who have embraced both reason and faith, i.e. a reasonable faith (e.g. Christian academics past and present); and (3) the logical problem of materialism to belief in rationality. In the first instance, we would do well to note that the God of the Bible is considered ordered and rational (“Hear O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one…”, Deut 6:4). When talking of the Judeo-Christian God, we are not talking of a being psychologically chaotic and divided, but a God unified and rational. Thus, what he creates, what comes from Him, is also ordered and rational. Furthermore, the way faith is defined in the NT, couldn’t be further from the above definition of faith. ‘Faith’ or Gk pistis means: “persuasion,” i.e. being convinced on the basis of good evidence. This is everywhere expected in the Gospels – that people would come to trust in Jesus the Messiah because of his signs, power, authority and teaching, i.e. be convinced of his Divine Messiahship (e.g. John 20:31). Secondly, men and women of great learning in history have not seen their faith or their reason to be in opposition. Rather, they found faith to be a kind of fuel for their learning and inquiry. John Lennox in God’s Undertaker mentions Isaac Newton as a brilliant example: when Newton discovered the law of gravitation he did not say, “Now that I have gravity I don’t need God.” Instead, he wrote the Principia Mathematica, the most famous book in the history of Science, hoping it would persuade the thinking person to believe. Newton is one example, there are many others. Finally, we could pose a challenge to the skeptics and atheists on the very ground they have challenged us: on the basis of reason and knowledge. The Philosopher Alvin Plantinga has advanced this argument powerfully. If we take Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection to be correct, how is it that we can trust reason? If we are simply the end product of a mindless and unguided process, how is it that we could trust anything our brain tells us? The process of evolution is not geared towards reason or truth, but merely survival. The rejection of a Transcendent in the defense of reason, turns out to cast doubt on reason itself (something Darwin himself recognised). Whereas, on the theistic view of the world, epistemology and rationality makes perfect sense.

I hope this helps to generate further thoughts for you, Bill.

Blessings and warm regards,

Mike D.

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