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Sir Isaac Newton was not just a great scientist, he was a man of faith. Many will find that surprising. Today, faith has been attacked and ridiculed by a highly vocal group of scientists. Science, we are told, has delivered us from the superstition of religion, and proved God to be unnecessary. Faith is a relic of past ignorance.

Isaac Newton, like many of the early scientists who were also Christians, believed that the universe could be investigated precisely because it had been created by a rational mind. It therefore behaved in a logical way that could be analysed and explained. Scientists were "thinking God's thoughts after Him", as one of them (the astronomer Kepler) put it. The modern challenge to religion from Richard Dawkins and others has attacked the quality of faith itself, attempting to redefine the meaning of the word "faith" in a quite unprecedented way. "Faith" he says "is the great copout, the great excuse to avoid the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of the lack of evidence ... Faith is not allowed to justify itself by argument".

Is there any substance to such extreme claims?
That is what we need, however briefly, to examine.

Everyday faith

Religious faith is just a specific, limited application of a universal human quality. Faith means trust, belief – "confidence or trust in a person, thing or concept" (Wikipedia). Everybody needs faith of some sort – it is impossible to go through life without at some time trusting someone or something. We trust people: our partners, our family, our friends. We trust institutions: the government, the forces of law and order, financial institutions, etc. In all sorts of ways, we entrust aspects of our lives to other people, to organisations outside our control. But why do we trust one person and not another? Why do we put money in one bank and not another? Because of our past experience and knowledge. If we trust somebody we don't really know, then we can hardly be surprised if they let us down. If our investments lose money because we haven't done our homework properly, then we will have only ourselves to blame. Our confidence needs to be based on knowledge – our trust, our faith, needs evidence, a rational foundation. Faith then in everyday life is based on evidence, on experience. We have faith in other people because we think we know them; we believe we can rely on their support in the future because of their support in the past. We trust organisations because of what we know about them, their past record giving us confidence in their future performance. Belief and confidence without evidence is just stupidity and credulity – "blind faith" in other words. That very expression implies that there is a faith which is not blind – genuine faith based on evidence.

Religious faith

We move from faith in a general sense, to faith in its religious sense. Is it really something entirely different to the everyday variety of faith that we have been talking about? 'Evidence' is the foundation. It is the word used by the apostle in his famous definition of faith: "Now faith is the substance (confidence) of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

  • Hebrews.11:1 KJV

Evidence is just as much a requirement for the Christian’s religious faith as it is for faith of the everyday variety. What is different is the things that we place our faith in. Instead of the people we see every day, we are asked to place our faith in a supreme being who is literally invisible to us, and whose voice we cannot hear in any literal sense. We are asked to place our trust in His Son, whom we know only through records written nearly 2,000 years ago, whom also we cannot literally see or hear. Hence the apostle’s words about "things not seen". But the necessity for evidence is just as real, perhaps more so, because the objects of our trust are so much more important, and the consequences for us so far-reaching.

The evidence for Christianity

The big question is, if faith without evidence is not genuine faith at all, what is the evidence for the fundamentals of the Christian religion? Note first of all, that Christianity is different to other major world religions in that it is dependent on a series of (what are claimed to be) historical events. It is not just a philosophy or a system of morality - it is the story of a God who has intervened directly in human history through the life, death and resurrection of one very special human being, Jesus Christ. These events, if they are indeed historical, should stand up to the same test as other events from the same period - the evidence for them should be of the same type. The Apostle Paul tells us that there is one event on which Christianity stands or falls: the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead: " ... if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty ... if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile … you are still in your sins!"

  • 1 Corinthians 15:14,17

The early Christians were not followers of Jesus because they admired his character or were swayed by his charisma. They accepted Jesus because they claimed to be eyewitnesses of his resurrection, or, if they had not seen it themselves, they believed the first-hand testimony of others who had. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus was not some ecstatic or mystical experience – he says he saw and heard the risen Christ, and was left with temporary blindness, a physical reminder of the reality of his experience. He refers to more than 500 people who also had seen the risen Christ, most of whom were still alive when he wrote.

  • 1 Corinthians 15:6

Nearly 2,000 years later their eyewitness testimony has been preserved in the New Testament for our benefit. How can we assess its value? Are the source documents authentic and reliable? Is this evidence that we can trust, and place our faith in? Volumes could be and have been written on this subject, but here are the conclusions of one member of the legal profession, one of several in this field who have weighed up the evidence: "As a lawyer I have made a prolonged study of the evidences for the events of the first Easter day. To me the evidence is conclusive, and over and over again in the High Court I have secured the verdict on evidence not nearly so compelling. Inference follows on evidence, and a truthful witness is always artless and disdains effect. The gospel evidence for the resurrection is of this class, and as a lawyer I accept it unreservedly as the testimony of truthful men to facts they were able to substantiate.’

  • Sir Edward Clarke K.C.

For more information on this vitally important subject, see the series of four articles in recent editions of Light: ‘Evidence for the Resurrection’

  • Light Magazine volumes 32.4 to 33.3

Faith in God

The resurrection of Jesus is the outstanding example of a miraculous event which can be dissected, the evidence assessed, and faith based on the weight of that evidence. But what about the biggest question of all – the existence of God Himself? Is faith in God based on good evidence, or is it just irrational sentimentality, the perpetuation of age-old superstitions? In the letter he wrote to Christians at Rome, Paul says that the creation itself provides clear evidence to all men of the existence of God:

"For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse."
  • Romans 1:19-20 ESV

William Paley, an 18th-century clergyman, argued that just as a watch by its intricacy, its organisation, its obvious purpose, provided its own evidence of its designer and creator (the watchmaker), so the natural order, the universe and the life-forms of our planet, show clear evidence of their designer and creator, the divine 'watchmaker'. This argument has been widely derided by the scientific community in recent years. Yet Paley’s basic observation has not been queried – the natural world which surrounds us looks as if it has been designed. The countless lifeforms on our planet, the life processes and the organs which support life, the molecular coding, language, and communication systems which control every form of life – they all appear to have a purpose, to have been designed to do a particular task. Today we are told this appearance of design is an illusion. The watchmaker, they say, is blind - ‘natural selection’, Charles Darwin’s brainwave, is the blind, unintelligent process which has this most remarkable property of producing this appearance of design – but it is only an appearance – so they say. Why not accept what appears to be so obvious? Why dream up such a totally improbable process to get rid of the Creator? Why not accept the abundant evidence that God has given us of His divine, all-powerful hand at work in creation? The eminent scientist and writer Edgar Andrews comments:

"I was brought up to believe the duck theorem – if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck. That is why I have problems with those who

  1. admit that nature gives every evidence of being intelligently designed;
  2. introduce an alternative materialistic explanation for the appearance of design; and then
  3. without further discussion conclude that only their alternative explanation can be true."

Meet the "neoduckians", whose logic demands that "if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is indubitably a chicken." Such are those who tell us that the cell’s molecular language is merely an accident of nature.

  • 'Who Made God?’' by Edgar Andrews.

Opening our minds to the evidence John’s Gospel tells the story of Jesus' disciple Thomas who was simply not prepared to believe that Jesus was alive. He was surrounded by a number of fellow disciples who all claimed to have seen and spoken to Jesus, and even eaten with him on different occasions. These were all people he knew well – yet he was adamant he would never believe what they told him until he had seen Jesus himself and touched the wounds that proved his identity. Jesus was gracious and showed him the evidence he demanded. At the same time he promised a blessing on all those who in the future would believe on him, without making the demands of Thomas: "because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

  • John 20:29

The attack on faith in our day should not discourage us in any way, rather the reverse, because Jesus predicted it: "when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?"

  • Luke 18:8

The atheists and sceptics of our day have their role to play as God's unfolding purpose nears its conclusion. If we acknowledge the power that brought one man back from the dead; if our minds are open to the evidence of God’s creative work; if we value the things that are not seen above those that are, then that faith will bring us to God’s kingdom. "This is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith."

  • 1 John 5:4
Roy Toms
Norfolk, UK
Source Light on a New World reprint from Volume 33.4

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