The role of evidence in the Christian faith (Part 4)

This is a continuation of the last post. We're examining biblical passages that demonstrate the following six patterns in how God works to provide evidence for our faith in him. The six patterns are:
1. God provides evidence whenever he asks us to believe, 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 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 have provided, and take the history of his faithfulness as evidence for our belief.  
6. Dramatic evidence, in the form of miraculous signs and wonders, come only when God is doing something new and important. Other time periods are relatively more quiet.
The following is a partial list of the Bible passages in the Gospels that support these patterns:

Matthew 6:28-30:
In this passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus rebukes his listeners for having little faith, right after providing an argument from nature for why they SHOULD have faith. In general, whenever Jesus calls for faith, he always provides a reason to have that faith - in the form of a miraculous sign, an argument from nature, or from a previous revelation.

Matthew 8:23-26:
Jesus calms a storm. When the disciples were fearing for their lives because of the storm, Jesus rebukes the disciples for their lack of faith. He then immediately demonstrates that he's worthy of that faith by calming the storm. His call to faith is backed up by immediate evidence.

Matthew 13:54-58:
Jesus does not perform miracles for those who lack faith. He provides evidence on his own terms.

Matthew 14:22-33:
Jesus walks on water. Peter, seeing this, asks Jesus to call him out of the boat to walk on water as well. Jesus does not rebuff him, but instead tells him to come on out - God is pleased when we act on our faith and ask for more evidence according to his will. Peter comes out of the boat and walks on water, but then begins to fear and doubt and sink into the water. It is only at this point that Jesus rebukes him for having little faith, because he doubted DESPITE the fact that he was ALREADY walking on water. His doubt was not in line with the evidence of that very moment.

Matthew 17:14-20:
Jesus again rebukes his disciples for their lack of faith, because they could not drive out a demon. Their lack of faith was not in line with the evidence of Jesus's numerous previous miraculous signs, nor their previous commission to drive out demons. After rebuking this lack of faith in spite of the evidence, Jesus then drives out the demon himself, again demonstrating that he's worthy of having the disciple's faith placed on him.

Matthew 21:18-22:
Jesus tells the disciples that anything is possible if they have faith, right after demonstrating this to be true by causing a fig tree to wither. His call to faith is again backed up by evidence.

Matthew 27:38-44:
As Jesus is being crucified, people mock him by saying that they will believe he is the Son of God if he could come down from the cross. Of course, Jesus does not. This is a clear illustration how God provides evidence only on his own terms, and it shows why things must work that way: when people without faith ask God for a miraculous sign, it is often done in complete ignorance of how and why God works miracles. In egregious cases like the mockers at the cross, their demand for a miracle is not only in ignorance of God's character, it is diametrically opposed to his purpose in sending Jesus in the first place. To use a scientific analogy, the mocker's demand is like saying "I'll believe in evolution if you could give birth to a monkey right now". OF COURSE God is not going to listen to such a demand for a sign - providing such a sign would in fact would be evidence AGAINST the very idea that it's supposed to prove, that Jesus is the Son of God. This is why God provides evidence on his own terms. In fact, it is why EVERY hypothesis must be evaluated on its own terms.

Mark 5:35-43:
Jesus tells the people sent by Jairus, whose daughter had just died, to not be afraid, but to believe. He then backs up this call to faith by raising the daughter from the dead.

Luke 24:18-35:
Jesus has risen from the dead, and shows himself to two of his followers on the road to Emmaus. Jesus rebukes these two for their slowness in believing in the resurrection, because they refused to believe the women who had seen Jesus, and because they did not understand the Scriptures that prophesied his death and resurrection. God does not want us to just stop upon looking at the evidence in front of us. He wants us to reason with it, and infer things from it, and use the witnesses and the Scriptures to understand things beyond themselves. Jesus rebuked the two on the road to Emmaus because although they knew of the Scriptures and the women's eyewitness testimony, they were not doing anything with it, treating them as mere facts with no further implications. He wants us to think, rather than to merely observe.

John 1:47-51:
This is the meeting between Jesus and Nathanael. Nathanael is willing to believe that Jesus is the Son of God because Jesus knew that Nathanael had recently been under a fig tree. Interestingly, Jesus does NOT commend Nathanael for his faith - Jesus instead tells him that he will see greater things. Jesus is effectively telling Nathanael that he should not YET believe that Jesus is the Son of God, but that it'll be okay because he will see enough evidence in the days to come. God does not want us to believe everything - not even if some of these things are done in his name - but instead wants us to follow the evidence.

John 2:11:
Jesus's disciples started to believe in him because of his miracle at Cana, of turning water into wine. Jesus didn't just say, "just have faith" to his disciples then expected them to believe in him. He provided evidence - a reason for them to put their faith in him.

John 4:4-42:
This is the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. He tells her to believe him, but he also gives her a reason to believe him, first by engaging in a spiritual discourse with her, then by showing that he knows deep, personal details about her. He then stays in the women's town for two days and draws many people to believe in him, giving them a better evidence than a single woman's word for their new faith in him.

John 9:1-38:
Jesus heals a blind man, then asks the man to believe in him. Once again, the call to faith is accompanied by evidence for that faith.

John 10:37-38:
Jesus outright tells people NOT to believe him unless he does "the works of [the] Father". He also says that even if they don't believe him, they should look at the works he's done, so that they would come to believe in him. Again, God does not want us to just believe without evidence, but rather to follow where the evidence leads. On the other hand, he also doesn't want us to refuse to follow the evidence, because the evidence inevitably leads us to him. Believing without evidence and not believing despite the evidence are both irrational, and God opposes both forms of irrationality.

John 11:21-44:
This story starts with Jesus making some incredibly bold statements about himself, then asking Martha to believe him. He then backs up these ridiculously bold statements by raising Lazarus from the dead. Once again, the call to faith is backed with evidence for that faith.

John 19:35:
After describing Jesus's crucifixion, John calls us - his readers - to believe the things written in his book. He does so on the basis of his status as an eyewitness to these events.

John 20:
This is the story of the resurrection: Jesus's resurrection is confirmed by a superabundance of evidence, including the empty tomb, the burial cloth left behind, eyewitness testimonies, encounters with the risen Christ, the Scripture's prophesies, and in case of Thomas - an offer by Jesus to see and touch Christ's wounds. All of this is recorded so that we - the readers - may believe. Once again, the pattern is that God provides evidence when he asks us to believe something, and the record of these things then serves as evidence for those who come after them.

Throughout the Gospels, every single call to faith is accompanied by a reason for that faith. At no point in the Gospels does Christ or any of his disciples ask for anyone to have anything like "blind faith". Both faith without evidence and unbelief in spite of evidence are condemned: we are always to follow the evidence.

In the next post, we will continue to examine select passages from the remainder of the New Testament.


You may next want to read:
How physics fits within Christianity (part 2)
Key principles in interpreting the Bible
Another post, from the table of contents

The role of evidence in the Christian faith (Part 3)

In the last post I introduced six patterns for how God worked in the Bible to provide evidence for our faith in him. They were:
1. God provides evidence whenever he asks us to believe, 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 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 have provided, and take the history of his faithfulness as evidence for our belief. 
6. Dramatic evidence, in the form of miraculous signs and wonders, come only when God is doing something new and important. Other time periods are relatively more quiet.
The following is a partial list of the Old Testament Bible passages that support these patterns:

Exodus 3-4:17:
God speaks to Moses out of the burning bush, and Moses is rightly worried that the Israelites will not believe him. When Moses expresses this concern, God immediately provides him with not just one, but three separate miraculous signs that he can perform before the Israelites to convince them. The Israelites' demand for evidence is treated by God as something natural and expected, and God does not express any displeasure that they would request evidence. He does, however, get angry with Moses when he asks to be excused from his duty, despite all the clear signs that God just provided him.

Exodus 7-12:
God sends the plagues upon Egypt. The Pharaoh had plenty of evidence that they were the works of God, and knew that he had to release the enslaved Israelites. The plagues get worse as the Pharaoh ignores clear, repeated evidence that God is against him. This is a point that many of the film adaptations of the story miss - the long, drawn out, and tedious back and forth as Pharaoh says he will free the Israelites, then goes back on his word after each plague. Movies skip over this part because it is, after all, long and drawn out, and so would kill the pace of the film. They usually compress the first nine plagues into a short sequence, then play up the tenth plague (the killing of the firstborn) as a shocking drama. They do this because of the limitations of their medium. But in doing so they miss an important point of the story: that the Pharaoh had ample evidence of God's will, that he had multiple opportunities to repent, and that God escalates the plagues as a response to the Pharaoh's repeated hardening of his heart despite the superabundance of evidence that God provided him.

The book of Exodus:
As a whole, the book of Exodus is the founding story of the Jews, and it is full of God providing evidence upon evidence for the new revelation that he's giving them - the plagues upon Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the pillar of fire and cloud to guide them, the manna to feed them, etc. This makes perfect sense, as God always provides evidence when he asks us to believe something, and he provides dramatic, supernatural evidence when he asks us to do believe something new and important.

Numbers 14:10-12:
The Israelites reach the edge of the promised land, but they lose heart before the physically imposing inhabitants of the land. They rebel against Moses and Aaron, and talk about choosing new leaders and going back to Egypt. God is angry with the Israelites because they do not believe in him despite all the evidence that he has provided in leading them out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. God wants us to believe as the evidence dictates, and rebukes us when we refuse to believe despite the evidence.

Deuteronomy 4:32-40:
Moses implores the Israelites to believe in God as a part of his farewell speech. He does so based on the evidence of God's work in bringing the Israelites out of Egypt. Once God has worked in history, we are to acknowledge that past work as evidence which still compels us to have faith in him. As I previously said, this is analogous to how evidence works in the sciences.

Joshua 4:4-9:
God stops the flow of the Jordan river, then has the Israelites carry out twelve stones from the river and set them down as a memorial. Again, God wants us to remember his past work and count it as evidence for our continued faith in him.

Joshua 24:16-27:
Again the Israelites affirm God's past work as reason to continue to believe in him. We are to remember how God has worked in history. After the flurry of  new revelation in the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan, much of the rest of the Old Testament is played out against this backdrop. Israel is constantly reminded to be faithful to God based on the evidence of his past work in Israel's history.

Deuteronomy 18:19-22:
God provides a simple test to see if a self-claimed prophet is actually from God: does the prophet's proclamations come true? The test is simple, straightforward, and logical. Note that God expects there to be false prophets and therefore expects us to test the prophets, instead of believing everything that's proclaimed in his name.

Judges 6:11-40:
God calls Gideon to fight the Midianites on behalf of Israel. Gideon is appropriately skeptical, and asks for a sign that the person he's talking to is really God. God obliges him and gives him a sign. Gideon then later requests two additional signs: for the ground to be dry while a fleece he placed on the ground is wet with dew, and next time for the fleece to be dry while the ground is wet with dew. God again obliges him by granting both signs. Gideon is not held to be wrong for asking the first sign - in fact God assures him that he will be fine. But by the time he asks for the last sign there is a hint that he is pushing things too far. This is all in perfect accord with the patterns above: God provides evidence whenever he asks us to believe something, but that evidence is provided on his own terms. He then expects us to follow that evidence and believe, and rebukes disbelief in the face of evidence. By the time he asks for a third sign, Gideon has two reasons for being worried about invoking God's anger: because he's dictating the terms to God, and also because he's had plenty of evidence yet he's still unwilling to believe.

1 Kings 18:20-39:
This is the story of the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal, where God answered Elijah's prayers with fire. This was a simple, straightforward test: "The god who answers by fire - he is God". There are several notable things about this story. First, God provided sure evidence for the people of Israel, and once again gave them a reason for them to follow him. Second, God provided that evidence on his own terms - that's what makes it a valid test. Elijah provided the conditions for the test ("The god who answers by fire"). The prophets of Baal then accepted the challenge, and thereby made it a valid test for Baal as well. Neither party was forced to accept external terms that they disagreed with - as I said before, this is how it also works in the sciences. And lastly, God was willing to provide this dramatic evidence because the times were dire: this was a low point in Israel's history, where the worship of God had declined to the point where Elijah was the only remaining prophet of the true God. At other, more ordinary times, God wants us to look to our past to see the evidence of his former works throughout history.

Proverbs 14:15:
This verse says, "The simple believe anything, but the prudent give thought to their steps". Faith without evidence is not what God wants from us. He doesn't want us to believe anything and everything. He wants us to give thought to our steps, and follow the evidence. Also, it is important to note that this verse is a proverb - a general bit of wisdom that applies in nearly every context, something that we can use as a rule in our lives.

Isaiah 7:10-17:
Here, God tells king Ahaz to ask for a sign - any sign whatsoever. Ahaz refuses, on the ground that he will not "put the LORD to the test". But this refusal, given on seemingly pious grounds, is not what God wants from us. God actually rebukes Ahaz for refusing to ask for a sign. God WANTS us to "test" him when he himself offers us a sign, when it is given on his own terms.

2 Kings 20:8-11:
This is the story of king Hezekiah being healed of his illness, when he asks for a sign that he will recover. Contrast this passage with Isaiah 7:10-17, and Hezekiah's behavior with Ahaz's. Hezekiah is also offered a sign, and he does the right thing by asking for the harder sign.

Habakkuk 3:2:
Prophet Habakkuk, writing in a more "ordinary" time than that of Moses or Elijah, seems to lament that God no longer does miraculous works in Habakkuk's time. He says that he's heard of God's fame, and stands in awe of his deeds, but wishes that he would repeat them again in Habakkuk's day. This is in accord with the idea that God performs dramatic miracles only during times of new and important revelations, while providing records of his previous works in history during ordinary times.

Malachi 3:10:
God straight up says "test me in this", in promising blessings to the Israelites. This illustrates again that God actually wants us to test him. The test, however, is to be done properly, on God's own terms.

In the next post, we will continue to examine select passages, moving on to the New Testament.


You may next want to read:
The role of evidence in the Christian faith (Part 4) (Next post of this series)
Key principles in interpreting the Bible
What is "evidence"? What counts as evidence for a certain position?
Another post, from the table of contents

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

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, 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 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 have provided, and take the history of his faithfulness as evidence for our belief.
6. Dramatic evidence, in the form of miraculous signs and wonders, come 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

The role of evidence in the Christian faith (Part 1)

What is faith? How is it conceptualized in Christianity?

In certain circles, it has somehow become popular to think that "faith is believing in something without evidence". That... is just wrong. That is manifestly not what the Bible teaches, nor is it anything that any thinking Christian has claimed. In fact, a Google search of the phrase basically returns a bunch of atheists attempting to get that charge to stick on Christianity, and a bunch of Christians saying that this is not what Christian faith means. It's a portrait of a typical fight against an attempted straw man, painted in a single search. In this series of posts, we will examine the meaning of the word "faith" in Christianity, and how it's based on evidence.

Part of the confusion is that Christianity uses "faith" in multiple, different, but intertwined senses. In particular, "faith" may refer to:
1. Intellectual assent to a set of propositions, which are backed up by evidence.
(e.g. 1 Cor. 2:4-5, "My message and preaching were ... with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God's power.") 
2. Taking action based on "faith" in the first sense.
(e.g. Matt 15:28, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.")

3. The personal degree of trust or confidence that a Christian places in Jesus, resulting from the accumulation of many instances of "faith" in the first and second sense.
(e.g. Gal. 2:16, "[A] person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.")

4. The lifestyle that incorporates "faith" in the first, second, and third senses.
(e.g. 1 Cor. 16:13, "[S]tand firm in the faith")
The word "believe" is also used in the Bible in these multiple senses. One can merely intellectually assent to a statement as in the first sense (even demons believe there is one God), but to "believe in the Lord Jesus" is to be understood in the third sense. The confusion comes because the Bible focuses a great deal on "faith" in the third sense, as it's the mechanism of God's salvation in us. However, note that the different meanings of "faith" all build on each other, and that they all build on the first sense, which requires evidence.

The situation is as if someone ignorant of quantum mechanics came across a group of physicists discussing it. He sees the physicists pushing around a bunch of mathematical symbols, and saying things that make little sense to him, while hardly discussing, say, the photoelectric effect, or the hydrogen emission spectrum (which are the things that actually serve as evidence for quantum mechanics). This is because physicists do not reiterate all of the evidence for quantum mechanics every time they work with it; they just get to the part that interests them at the moment. But it would be a mistake to then conclude that quantum mechanics is not built on experimental evidence.

The parallels go far deeper than just that single analogy. My faith in Jesus Christ shares many similarities with my faith in science. Consider the above four senses of the word "faith", and you'll see that they are essentially how we process science as well. We first place our trust in some new hypothesis or theory, based on some experimental evidence (first sense). We then act on this belief, by making new predictions and coming up with new technological applications for the theory (second sense). Eventually, based on the many successful tests, the theory becomes scientifically established as it gains our confidence and trust, and we use it to evaluate and interpret other experiments or theories (third sense). And by repeating this process over and over, we become scientifically minded individuals (forth sense).

Wait, but can't scientific theories be wrong? Isn't "being wrong" one of the hallmarks of science? What does that say about my ideas on God? Of course I can be wrong about God. Like in the sciences, in such circumstances it's the new evidence that compels me to adjust my views. This is what it means for faith to be refined - changed for the better through more evidence, such as trials and life experiences. The Bible has multiple instances of this taking place, and it is considered something positive in every case.

So, Christianity (and science) is evidence based. The multiple meanings of the word "faith" all start from the evidence-based assent to some statement. Over the next several posts, I will discuss the Biblical evidence which clearly shows that this is how God has always worked in the Bible.


You may next want to read:
The role of evidence in the Christian faith (Part 2) (Next post of this series)
What is "evidence"? What counts as evidence for a certain position?
Sherlock Bayes, logical detective: a murder mystery game
Another post, from the table of contents

Sherlock Bayes, logical detective: a murder mystery game (version 2.0)

"Sherlock Bayes, logical detective: a murder mystery game" has been updated, and the latest version can be found at:

Sherlock Bayes, logical detective: a murder mystery game 
(http://www.naclhv.com/2015/02/sherlock-bayes-logical-detective-murder.html)

New features include a tutorial, an improved Bayesian calculation, a new resources and scoring system, and new portrayals of the suspects. And there are more features still to come! Enjoy!


You may next want to read:
How to make a fractal
Basic Bayesian reasoning: a better way to think (Part 1)
Interpreting Genesis 1 by looking through John 1
Another post, from the table of contents