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The role of evidence in the Christian faith (Part 2)

March 10, 2015

In my previous post, I said that the Christian faith is based on evidence, and that this is how God has always worked in the Bible. In fact, by closely examining the biblical text, we can discern some clear, detailed patterns for how God interacts with us when he calls for us to have faith. Specifically, some of these patterns are:

1. God provides evidence whenever he asks us to believe something, especially when he does something new. 

2. God expects us to test and verify the evidence he provides. 

3. God does not want us to be irrational. He does not want us to be overly skeptical or overly gullible, but to find the rational center. He rebukes those who refuse to test the evidence, believe too easily, don't believe despite the evidence, or refuse to infer beyond the merely empirical things.  

4. God provides evidence on his own terms. It is meaningless to test the evidence from outside the framework provided by God himself.  

5. We are to remember the previous evidence that God has provided, and take the past history of his faithfulness as evidence for our belief.  

6. Dramatic evidence, in the form of miraculous signs and wonders, comes only when God is doing something new and important. Other time periods are relatively more quiet.

As before, it is instructive to note the close parallels in these patterns to how science works.

1. Scientific claims require evidence, especially when these claims are attempting to establish a new theory.  

2. The evidence provided is to be tested and verified.  

3. While evaluating the evidence, the scientist is expected to think rationally: he or she must follow where the evidence leads, without being too eager to believe or arbitrarily skeptical. The scientist is also expected to actually think: that is, infer from data (which are empirical) to theories and models (which are mental and therefore non-empirical). Someone who says "the data is the data, and anything beyond it is not empirical and therefore can't be known" is not a scientist but a stamp collector.  

4. A scientific theory specifies the kind of evidence that would verify it, on its own terms. General relativity, for instance, predicts the existence of black holes, but this prediction is made on its own terms - using things like the metric or the energy-momentum tensors, which are defined and understood within the theory. It is no good to try to impose from the outside the kind of evidence you would accept in favor of general relativity. You'd end up with ridiculous statements like "I'll believe general relativity when I can take a wormhole from New York to London" or "general relativity is true if yo mamma collapses into a black hole".  

5. We are to remember our scientific history. Again using general relativity as an example, we remember the tests of general relativity that established it as a valid theory, and therefore we do not have to generate new evidence every time we use the theory. 

6. Dramatic evidence, in the form of data that cannot be explained by currently known science, come only in periods of scientific revolutions, when new theory or phenomena are being discovered. At other times, science prods along more calmly.

These parallels are not surprising. After all, the same Author of both nature and scripture has gifted us with reason and intellect to be used in getting to know more of him.

Starting in the next post, we will dig into the specific verses in the Bible which support the above mentioned patterns.


You may next want to read:
The role of evidence in the Christian faith (Part 3) (Next post of this series)
The role of evidence in the Christian faith (Part 1) (Previous post of this series)
How should we interpret the Bible? Look at it as scientific data.
Another post, from the table of contents

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