The Benefit of the Doubt

A blog about Dialogue, Doubts, and Christian Faith ~Travis Dickinson~

God Never Requires Us to Believe without Evidence

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In his An Essay on the Divine Authority of the New Testament (1804), 19th Century theologian, David Bogue once said:

God never requires us to believe without evidence: but where sufficient evidence is given, he is highly and justly displeased at men’s unbelief.[1]

Is this right? Does God ever require us to believe without evidence? I say he does not.

I’ve often asked my students whether they can come up with even one example in Scripture of someone who is asked to believe blindly—that is, to believe without evidence. It’s harder than you might think…okay, I think it’s impossible, since it is not there. But feel free to try. Every time God requires belief, there are experiences that accompany the request. Take, for example, Moses being asked to confront Pharaoh. There’s of course the burning bush as well as other confirming miracles. Or take Paul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus. He’s literally blinded by an unexplainable light and talked to by Jesus himself. It’s not that these couldn’t have questioned these experiences and disbelieved. In fact, disbelief is always possible with experience (more on this below). The point, however, is it was very rational for them to believe. That is, these extraordinary experiences provided good evidence that rationally supported their beliefs.

Abraham and Isaac

The prime example that people often allege as a clear case of blind faith is Abraham’s being asked to sacrifice Isaac. But, as crazy as this experience must have been, when we look closely at the account (Gen. 22), we see that Abraham acted rationally. How so? We should keep in mind that just having Isaac was already a miraculous experience. God appeared to Abraham and verbally told him that Sarah, Abraham’s wife, would give birth. Abraham actually didn’t even believe this at first because Sarah was a wee bit beyond the child-bearing years at 90 years old! But her becoming pregnant and giving birth to Isaac seemed to change his mind rather quickly. This same divine voice spoke again verbally to Abraham and commanded him to go up to sacrifice the miracle child. Given this history and the verbal expression of God himself, Abraham clearly believed God on the basis of evidence.

Competing Reasons

There’s no doubt Abraham had competing reasons. Isaac was the promised child after all. All the promises that God had given to Abraham were to be given and furthered by Isaac. There’s also his obligations as a father to protect his child that had to have caused him to question whether he should do this thing. All of this, I would think, would provide Abraham with a tremendous intellectual conflict. Does this mean he therefore acted in blind faith? No! It seems to me he made the rational evidentially-based choice in believing God (even if he didn’t understand just what God was up to) and even rationalized it by expecting God to raise Isaac from the dead (according to Heb. 11:19).

Rational Trust

We often find ourselves in similar situations. We are confident we are called to something we don’t understand. We don’t have the first clue how things will play out or even how all the ends will meet. And yet we are called to believe. We are called to trust. However, this is not blind faith. I suspect we have very good evidence for the belief. It’s just that we don’t know all details and we are going to have to trust. The point is, though, trust is the rational thing to do in this case.

Or perhaps we have doubts about our Christian faith. Again, I don’t believe God expects us to believe blindly. The good news: there no shortage of evidence for the truth of Christianity. As long as there have been Christianity, Christians have explored the evidence for its truth.

For Abraham, he was ultimately rational given his knowledge of God. I suspect that it took the very voice of God very God, the creator of the universe, whom Abraham knew very well to be trustworthy to move forward. His neighbor’s voice wouldn’t have been sufficient. A priest or a prophet’s voice perhaps wouldn’t have done it. But that familiar voice, given the bigness of his theology, gave him reason to believe.

[1] You can find the context of this quote and a link for Bogue’s full work at The Library of Historical Apologetics http://historicalapologetics.org/god-never-requires-us-to-believe-without-evidence/

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