When I saw the title of a New York Times opinion piece, "How Can I Possibly Believe That Faith Is Better Than Doubt?", I was pretty sure that I was going to disagree with it.
After reading what Peter Wehner wrote, I know that I disagree with him. Here's what rubbed me the wrong way in Wehner's essay. Let's start with this paragraph.
But faith itself, while not the converse of reason, is still distinct from it. If it seems like that’s asking too much — if you think leaps of faith are for children rather than adults — consider this: Materialists, rationalists and atheists ultimately place their trust in certain propositions that require faith. To say that truth is only intelligible through reason is itself a statement of faith. Denying the existence of God is as much a leap of faith as asserting it. As the pastor Tim Keller told me, “Most of the things we most deeply believe in — for example, human rights and human equality — are not empirically provable.”
This is wrong. Materialists, rationalists, and atheists don't have faith in reason. Rather they, or rather we, trust in reason because it freaking works.
Meaning, reason leads to demonstrable evidence supporting its propositions, when reason is reasonable. This is the power of science. Reason comes up with hypotheses that then are tested through a further extension of reason. The results are analyzed via reason, which leads to a provisional understanding that can be altered through additional applications of reason.
If something worked better than reason to understand reality, then us materialists, rationalists, and atheists would use that instead.
Regarding many things not being empirically provable, this is obvious. To my knowledge no scientist ever has claimed that everything in life can be empirically proven. Value judgements are a big part of being human. But those judgements usually should be made on the basis of solid information, facts, evidence.
My love for my wife isn't mathematically provable. But it stems from experiences that can be described. We met, we got to know each other, we got married, we've been wife and husband for 27 years. This isn't a matter of faith. It is a matter of lived experience.
By contrast, no one has direct experience of Jesus' life and death. All we have are stories put down in writing many years later. So it's no wonder faith is required to be a Christian.
Next, consider this excerpt from the essay.
Perhaps the key to understanding why faith is prized within the Christian tradition is that it involves trust that would not be needed if the existence of God were subject to a mathematical proof. What God is seeking is not our intellectual assent so much as a relationship with us. That is, after all, one of the purposes of the incarnation of God in Jesus.
Every meaningful relationship — parent-child, spouse to spouse, friend to friend — involves some degree of trust. It is better and more vivifying to be the object of someone’s trust rather than the last person standing after a series of logical deductions. That’s true for us as individuals, and it can be true for God as well.
This sort of circular reasoning drives me crazy when I read religious writings. Wehner assumes that God exists, and he even claims that he knows what God is seeking from us. He then uses those utterly unprovable assumptions to bolster his argument that trust, a form of faith, is a good thing.
Well, anything can be shown to be good if we just make up crap. For example: fairies want us to believe in them without any evidence of their existence; I do believe in fairies; so fairies are pleased with me.
If you can believe that, then you probably also believe other ridiculous stuff. Like, Jesus died for our sins.
Moving on, here's another part of the essay that I disagree with.
Faith can allow us to understand things in a different way than reason does, in a manner similar to what J.R.R. Tolkien meant when he said that pagan myths weren’t lies but rather pointed toward deep truths. The imagination could be integrated into reason, he believed, in a way that helped us to see reality a bit more clearly. Reason is one way to perceive reality; faith — rooted not in partisan ideology but in grace and a sense of the sacred — is another.
Well, one person's pagan myth is another person's religion. And vice versa. Billions of people in the world look upon Christianity as a myth. Other billions believe in the Bible. People have faith in all kinds of supernatural beliefs. How would Wehner have us sort of which sorts of faith are justified, and which are not?
By reason and evidence? No, because he has said that faith is greater than reason. Thus apparently Wehner is fine with Muslims having faith in the Koran and Allah, since no one can disprove faith.
Again, Wehner believes that the New Testament is true despite plenty of scholarly evidence that little of it can be substantiated by evidence, contemporaneous or otherwise. So his whole essay about faith is based on faith.
Which is fitting, I guess. Just not persuasive.