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Faith Is Irrational

April 20, 2011

Faith in God is irrational.  There I said it…  Now take a deep breath, and relax…  It’ll all be OK.  Breath in.  Breath out…  Good.

Now that you got past my somewhat sensationalistic first sentence, let me be upfront about what this blog post is NOT about.  It’s not about God’s existence and it’s not about Christian vs. Atheist.  The goal is not to convince someone to change their belief system.  I’m hoping that this article will shed some insight on something that Christians take for granted, and therefore tend to loose perspective on.  While primarily written for Christians, even Atheists might learn a thing or two.

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines faith as “firm belief in something for which there is no proof”, and this is my preferred definition.  I think that most of us would accept that definition, but disagree on what constitutes proof.  After all, what convinces one person might not convince another.

What constitutes proof for me lies in the Scientific Method.  In a nutshell, the Scientific Method is a way to prove a hypothesis in a way that’s immune from human interference.  In a previous post, Bad Witness! No Cookie!, I talked about how the human brain and senses can mess with what we think is the truth.  This makes anecdotal evidence very untrustworthy.  Using the Scientific Method is the best way to avoid human error in generating and interpreting data– thus solidly proving or disproving a hypothesis.

So, logic follows that for me:  faith is the belief in something for which the scientific method cannot provide proof.

At this point, some Christians are probably ready to burn me at the stake.  Others would probably picket my house with hateful signs.  Before you start sharpening the pitchforks and lighting the torches, lets look at what does the Bible actually say about this.Cool Church Interior

Hebrews 11:1– Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

John 20:29– Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

So in these two passages, the Bible establishes that faith is the belief in something we can’t see (i.e., don’t have proof) and that this kind of faith is a good thing.

It is interesting that humans, on a whole, have a mixed up sense of proof.  For some things, like nuclear power and medicines, we want absolute proof that something is safe– and sometimes even that is not enough.  But other things, like, oh, say, eternal life, we are willing to take anecdotal evidence as “proof”.  To me, this is illogical.  (Please note, I’m not saying it’s wrong.  Just illogical.)

My definition of the word irrational is something that is not logical.  In my opinion, faith in the God of the Bible is not logical and therefore is irrational.

Saying that faith in God is irrational is not the same as saying that faith in God is bad.  The world is a huge place, and each individual cannot be an expert in absolutely everything.  At some point we must believe in something that we can’t prove.  But admitting that faith in God is irrational has some interesting and far reaching effects.

Many Christians are determined to show that proof of God exists.  They write all these scientific-sounding articles and papers in an attempt to make people believe.  But if faith is the belief in something without proof, then what does that say about their faith?  Maybe they are compensating for their lack of faith!  And what does that say about those who convert because of this “proof”?  The reality is that there has been zero scientific proof of God’s existence, and anyone who has tried to scientifically prove God’s existence has only made fools of themselves and Christians in general.

In a previous post, What Would It Take, I discuss a simple question to ask yourself and others when you get into a discussion.  What would it take to change your or my mind?  If the answer is, “Nothing can change my mind”, then the discussion will not be productive (in the sense of coming to an agreement).

When a Christian tries to evangelize, he/she is at an intellectual disadvantage.  When the non-Christian is asked what would it take, the reply should be “scientific proof”.  Which we know that the Christian cannot provide.  When the Christian is asked what would it take, due to faith his answer is usually, “nothing can change my mind”.   So each side in this discussion cannot sway the other side, and thus the discussion cannot be productive.  But the Christian has taken the irrational side, for better or worse.

So where does that leave Christians?  Between a rock and a hard place!  To have faith you must admit to being irrational.  To share your faith you have to own up to being illogical.  To defend your faith you must risk being fool.  I have no resolution for this.  It is what it is.  The one saving grace is that most people in this world are irrational, illogical, and foolish so you’ll be in good company.

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5 comments

  1. Fascinating discussion. I’m interested to see where you take it. For example, why is this faith good, and beneficial, and who is it beneficial to and who is it detrimental to?

    Human society and survival appears to prove (yes, prove!) that religion is an Evolutionarily Stable Strategy.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionarily_stable_strategy


  2. [...] Regardless how you map 15 billion years to the 6 days in Genesis, it doesn’t make sense.  Just because Gerald Schroeder uses fancy math and physics doesn’t make him any more correct.  Worse, it makes him seem desperate to justify his beliefs using science than just admit that Faith is Irrational. [...]


  3. [...] is a followup to a previous post, Faith is Irrational, where I show that Faith (the Christian definition of the word) is, well, irrational.  This post [...]


  4. Good discussion, however, I wonder if ‘logical’ really contributes much to the understanding of ‘rational’. Logic is a system of inferential principles. Faith in God can be cast formally into logical arguments. It sounds like you want to address empirical and falsifiable evidence for specific premises instead, but simple premises, whether they satisfy your criterion of justified evidence or not, nevertheless is logical. Logic pertain specifically to validity between inferences– NOT the truth/falsehood of an isolated premise. This is quite different. Though I quite agree that ‘irrationality’, of certain sorts, are not necessarily bad things. But this quickly becomes another discussion about the nature of goodness… In any case, ‘rational’ is a very tricky concept to pin down since it stems from variable human experience.


    • For this article, the terms logical, rational, proof, and evidence need to be considered in the context of modern science and the scientific method. The reason for this is quite simple: this is the only tangible proof or evidence that we can have. Once you go beyond the scientific uses for these terms the discussion quickly degenerates into philosophical masturbation– where people argue over the smallest and most subjective of things that nothing can be concluded with any certainty.

      We don’t want discussions to degenerate to Bill Clinton’s, “It depends on what the meaning of the words ‘is’ is.”

      To reword my claims in slightly simpler words: There is no scientific proof in the existence or non-existence of God. So having faith in God is no more or less rational than believing in the existence of the Loch Ness Monster (which there is also no proof for or against).



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