Given the amount of blathering I’ve written about evidence, one wonders how any of this applies to a Christian perspective of the world. Epistemology (the study of knowledge) may provide a sturdy ground for philosophical debate, but how does this help us outside of that study? Does the criteria for evidence matter?
Absolutely! The first way that understanding evidence past the socially accepted understanding means that we are better able to discern between truth and non-truth. Christians base their beliefs not on evidence, but on faith – but specifically WHAT we believe needs some sort of evidence to either confirm or deny it. We know, for example, that one who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved, and this is corroborated in several other Biblical texts (i.e., click here and see the Scripture references in particular). We use Scripture as a basis for ths specifics of belief and NOT the faith in itself.
I make that clear distinction PRECISELY because our biggest problem in Western Christianity comes from a conflation between scientific inquiry and Christian faith. You know the drill – people “lose” their faith because the earth wasn’t created in seven days, and the accumulated weight of scientific evidence suggests that scientific usefulness should usurp Christian belief because…it’s more useful, I guess? If you assume all “truth” derives from logic, rationality, and specifically empirical evidence, then Christianity will lose that battle. It is not based on any of those various methodologies, and to assume it is leads you to dark places.
Furthermore, how much evidence would lead you to believe/disbelieve Christianity, anyway? What accumulation suggests that either one is ultimately right? That criteria really varies, and while some find no conflict between science and religion, others believe methodology X = truth. But then, we must define what we mean by “truth”, and things will get quite confusing!
Evidence, I find, is often dependent on the context of that belief. Within faith and science, we see vastly different criteria for what constitutes proper “Evidence” as a category, if in fact it is used at all. I imagine most people do not come to faith based on anything but “experience”, and rarely will they define that experience as a piece of evidence. That would be like trying to (in an evangelical setting) calling your friend as “evidence” that suggests he exists. Frankly, it very much depends on how you perceive religion – does it fall under the rules of the common culture at large, or does it not? I would say it does not, and to kowtow to that worldview would say that God must fit within that worldview or we shouldn’t believe in Him.
In effect, that ever-present conflict between science and faith is often a battle between presuppositions and assumptions rather than a debate on fact X or truth Y. While people attacking your beliefs do, admittedly, make you feel them more strongly than you did before, that often isn’t what people are talking about. They talk past each other while each holds various unwritten assumptions and rules, never much going anywhere. Either everyone accepts the same rules or you don’t make progress.
Have you seen a debate regarding apologetics? That’s the key problem with most of these events, and it will continue to be the case. In fact, for Christians to participate at all we need to accept their presuppositions. The onus is on us to explain our faith in terms of logical/rational reasoning – and we will always lose that battle in the long run, guaranteed. Christianity either exists as the primary truth or other things hold sway over it, and to do anything else constitutes a form of idolatry. To let any form of knowledge hold sway over Christian faith will always produce a negative affect on Christians and the culture that surrounds them. We do not believe in God enough that we must defend Him in silly forums and allay the fears of those outside the faith (this is sounding very Barthian, now that you mention it…).
And you might say “isn’t that the right thing to do? Didn’t Jesus do that?” Not exactly! Jesus did not go around defending His Godhood or attempt to prove Christianity and God as the One True God – he just talked to people. He formed relationships. He acted like God, and people believed Him (well, to a degree, but you get what I mean). He got to know people, not by arranging a set of proofs or providing all the evidence they needed to believe. They just believed! This is why people often call faith a “relationship” – it’s not about “who’s right!” but about getting to know the other person. So it is with God. And heck, even a cursory reading of Hebrews would give you that impression:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the men of old gained approval. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.
Precisely because they believed in a promise, and not in a set of scientifically proven evidence, was that faith credited as righteousness. It’s not about proof, but about trust. And if you’re missing that, well, you’ve missed the whole thing. I know this sounds difficult, and honestly it will be impossible to convey to someone who does not also believe. but there are surely ways we can become friends with other people, right? God does not work in the ways we want, nor expect. If it worked in an explainable, quantifiable way then things would look quite different, wouldn’t it? And I am certainly glad I am not in charge of it!
In sum, evidence isn’t strictly a part of faith. I wouldn’t call it antithetical, but we certainly need to familiarize ourselves with it, understand it, and then use it in a way that’s fitting for whatever discussion. Once it oversteps its bounds, though, Christians must personally put it in its place.