Against the Idea that “Faith is that which has no evidence”

This is one of the questions for my Theology of Revelation Final Exam.  I am sharing it in full below, though I do use some ‘bigger terms’ than I normally do in my posts, for which I apologize.  However, I think the essence of my answer is well within the tradition of the Church: evidence is much more than scientific (as we understand that term today).  So I have attached the question and answer in full below.

Question 1: Recently, I read a newspaper article where faith was described as that for which there is no evidence, or for that where the evidence is found wanting.  Would you agree with this?  If yes, then why; if not, then why not?

I do not agree with this statement at all, though I understand where it comes from.  I will argue for why I do not agree with this statement as follows.  First, I will analyze the concept of evidence to note that there is in fact evidence for faith.  Secondly, I will respond with what faith actually is in both its objective and subjective forms.

The statement that faith is in something in which there is no evidence or where evidence is found wanting is fundamentally flawed because it presumes a positivistic view of evidence.  The person of faith, according to the statement, is one who cannot find the evidence of God in the visible.  God is not sensible or tangible and therefore it is not possible to give a scientific (in the positivistic sense of the term) account for God.  This in itself is false, for it presumes that God cannot be known through the tangible, which we will discuss in a moment.

However, evidence does not and, in fact, cannot be reduced to the phenomenal, it cannot be reduced to mere positivism for the positivistic worldview is wanting in its ability to explain reality.  Everything in reality is greater than the parts, while the positivistic worldview looks at the world only in parts, often to the neglect of the whole.  For example, take water.  Water is the result of the combination of hydrogen and oxygen and when the reality of water comes to existence, hydrogen and oxygen do not cease to exist, but they find a new identity in the reality of water.  Water, then, gains an element of mystery by virtue of synthesis.  Water cannot be described simply in its parts, it is now more than its parts.  There is now an infinite complexity that can no longer be reduced to the parts: the sum, in the end, is indeed greater than the parts, but the parts do not cease to exist or be overwhelmed by the new reality.

What does the above criticism of positivism have to do with the concept of faith and evidence?  If we apply the concept of synthesis to a much larger and more complex level, we see that, by virtue of the synthesis of the human person, the person contains within them an infinity that nothing in the world can satisfy.  Though we cannot go into great detail here, what we can say is that is infinity looks to be matched by infinity, and so the human person tends outwards and upwards in his action to find something to fulfill his desire for the infinite.  This desire for the infinite is in man, and scientifically observable if, by science, we understand that it proves the necessity of a thing by eliminating all possible obstacles to that thing’s necessity.  If we look at our action, if we look at our conscious mind with humility, we will observe this infinite tendency that dwells from within.  We will eliminate all obstacles that would argue the contrary, and we would discover that deep in the depths of our being is a mystery which we are contingent upon for existence.  This mystery is the transcendent God present to our being, allowing us to exist, giving us life, and is the source behind the spontaneity of our will.  In other words, if we look deep and hard enough, we will see, though not in a positivistic way, that there is a mystery deep in our being that is not us, nor are we it, but that we are united to through action.[1]  Within the life of the subject, then, we can discover that there is a source to our life that is also our end.  It is knowable, but we cannot completely comprehend it.  The positivistic worldview wants to be able to grasp and comprehend, but it never completely grasps reality, it only gets a snippet of a thing and is never able to look at the thing as it is in all its unity.  Knowledge can never be complete of anything.  If this is the case with the realm of nature and the observable – in the sensory sense – then it is even more true when it comes to the realm of God.  Though we can know that God exists, that He is necessary for me to be, I am unable to completely grasp Who He is.  In humility, we allow the objective element of God to reign in our lives, we submit to His presence knowing that we need Him to fulfill our destiny, our desire.  But we do not grasp the totality of the mystery, though we know it’s there.  Just as I can know that I see the screen I am looking at – though I cannot grasp the infinitude of it – so it is with God: I know I see Him, experience Him, encounter Him, I do not have a complete grasp of Him.  Positivism demands the ability to grasp the totality of a particular, but never can.  Faith acknowledges that a reality is real, it acknowledges the evidence of the reality of God, but does not claim to know God in His totality for to know God in His totality, God would not be God.

Before going onto what faith is, we must address one more element of the issue of evidence.  Evidence – again, in the positivistic sense – presumes the thing to be all there is.  In short, the positivistic view of evidence denies mediation.  It presumes that the universal cannot be revealed in the particular, that the objective cannot be revealed in the subjective, that the supernatural cannot participate in the natural.  The tangible, the sensible, the particular: all of this is totally distinct and apart from the invisible, the objective, the universal.  In short: the positivistic view negates the possibility of the supernatural acting in concert with the natural.  Yet we know from experience that the sensible we experience always points to something more.  Due to the infinite depth of each particular thing, we see in our experience more than just water, for example.  We see fluidity, liquid, clarity, rhythm, etc in water.  Thus the particular of water points to something more than just itself: it mediates a greater reality than it is and points to a dependence deeper than itself.  Thus, evidence of God can be seen in the natural realm as well: the beauty of nature, the truth of faith, the holiness of a Christian, the unity of the Church: these are all mediating realities which, through their participation in the life of God, point to Him in their particularity.  Evidence of God is sensible, positivism simply cannot stand the scandal of mediation.

What we have just engaged above is both cursory and lacking many necessary nuances.  Evidence for faith does exist, it simply means moving away from a positivistic view of reality since such a view does not stand the test of reality anyways.  What must be embraced, because it is the reality of our experience, is the sacramental world view.

What, then, in view of the above discussion thus far, is faith?  Faith has two dimensions: the objective and the subjective which come together in the person through the Church from Christ.  In the realm of the objective, faith is a gift in that the Person of Jesus gives Himself totally to the Church and, through the Church, to each individual.  The subjective response is one of openness, receptivity, and indifference.  Jesus is the object of our faith and faith is the living out our existence in the His existence, allowing ourselves to unfold in His love through the practice of Christian life.  Faith, in the realm of the subject, is only true when it is lived in Christian love, when that openness to the existence of Christ in the life of the subject.  In fact, the ‘proof’ of faith is not in an intellectual assertion, but is in the living the reality of the encounter of Jesus in the daily walk of life.  Faith is affirmed only when one delves into the mystery they experience in the depths of their soul, when they abandon themselves to the mystery of God in their action.  This action then becomes reflected in their mind: action is the lab in which faith is encountered and affirmed.  Pascal’s wager is not about an intellectual assent, but of a lived abandonment to God and, in that lived abandonment, one discovers that God is real, that He exists, and that they wish to throw their life at Him.  Faith is not a lacking of evidence, but the encounter with an evidence that is so real that it is mysterious, so visible that it is hidden, so beautiful that we are blinded, so true that we are silenced, so good that we are enamoured.

Thus, in a way, there is a splinter of truth to the statement that faith is in that which lacks evidence.  There is a certain abandonment to the unknown, the ungraspable.  It is to delve into the depths of the ocean of mystery and to not know where one is going, but to only go on ahead for it is that movement that we look back and see in our active life of faith the evidence of God in our lives.  We cannot see God until we first respond to His love with the abandonment of our self to Him in the lived life of active faith.  Thus, it has an element of the unkown, but the uknown is known.  We enter into the known unkown and, as we go deeper within the mystery, we come to know the unknown more as the unknowable, but we are comfortable with that because we know Who it is and that to grasp Him is to make Him into an idol and not the living God Who permeates our lives, sustains us, and is encounterable each moment of the day.


[1] Most of this comes from Maurice Blondel.  Please refer to his book L’Action for a more complete account.

 

In Christ

-Harrison

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Against the Idea that “Faith is that which has no evidence”

  1. Tom

    I’m going to disagree with your criticism of positivism as related to evidence. Water being represented solely as 2 hydrogen atoms with 1 oxygen atom may not initially seem sufficient to describe it, but an underlying knowledge of the molecular structure of water explains its special properties, and dispels the “mystery”, as it were.

    Furthermore, even if we were to accept the “mystery” within a complex being such as a human, it is impossible to positively ascribe that mystery to God, instead of Odin, Zeus, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Supernatural evidence has nothing testable, making empirical attribution impossible; therefore faith (without evidence) is required to attach a label.

  2. Thanks for your comment Tom. However, I think you completely misunderstand everything I have just said and, to an extent, prove the point I was making.

    I think you, first, misunderstand what I mean by mystery. Mystery is not the unreasonable, that which we cannot investigate, etc. You are right, positivism allows us to understand parts of a thing, but never the whole. Parts never explain the whole in its entirety, nor does it take particularity into consideration – it tends to idealism and universalism. Can hydrogen and oxygen explain how water evokes in man a variety of symbols: life, destruction, beauty, wonder, etc? No, it canno0t – that is where “understanding molecular structures” totally and utterly fails. It can explain the “what brings this to be” but it cannot explain “what this is” because, to the human person, it is always more than the sum of its parts. A thing must ALWAYS be greater than the sum of its parts. This is a basic metaphysical assumption that, if denied, makes all of reality – and thus science – unreasonable and unintelligible.

    Anyways, I used the water analogy simply as an example. To speak of this in all the detail required requires, well, a MUCH longer post than what I’m willing to post. Essentially, as we go up the latter of reality we realize that what is out there does not satisfy our desire, our will, and thus we never find complete fulfillment.

    The other issue with your post is your equation of Odin, flying spaghettie monster, and God in the same category. That is intellectually dishonest because they are not the same properties. It actually is incredibly possible to ascribe this mystery to God and not to those others because it is an infinite desire. Odin is not equal to God: he falls under the category of superstition.

    The whole point of my article is that science qua science as we understand it in positivistic terms is in and of itself insufficient to comprehend the totality of reality and therefore insufficient for analyzing the totality of the human person. However, if science were understood in its broader and more ancient use – as something testable – then we can go somewhere to use it to aid us in explaining reality. How is it that experience is not empirical and testable? I put forward, in fact, that the self is the place where science begins: without the self and the experiences of the self, science cannot take place. For knowledge to occur, there first needs to be someone to pursue said knowledge. How is it that analyzing my action and, through a complex and methodical elimination, I see that there is an infinite desire within me that I cannot fulfill myself is not empirical, observable, and therefore scientific?

  3. An addendum:

    In short, the point of positivism is that it doesn’t take reality sufficiently into account. It focuses on the particular but, in the end, forgets all that is particular. It is inductive, not deductive, though it claims to hold all the truths to reality. Reality is more complex by virtue of the fact that human persons exercise freedom within this realm. Positivism is insufficient because it doesn’t take reality seriously enough. What happens with a discovery of a thing? It is universalized to all things. This is not bad, but it is insufficient, because it ignores the particularity of each thing as it is in its wonder and splendour. It sucks the aesthetic out of life.

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