Fisking Feser: Is Faith “Belief without…Evidence”?

In a recent review of Jerry Coyne’s new book, Faith vs. Fact, Thomist philosopher Edward Feser writes this: “[Jerry Coyne] characterizes ‘faith’ as ‘belief without—or in the face of—evidence’ and repeatedly uses the term as if this is what it generally means in religious contexts….But this simply is not how faith is understood historically in Christian theology.”

Well, does the author of the Gospel of John count here as a theologian and source for historic Christian theology or not? Look again at the famous passage from the Gospel of John that gave Thomas the moniker “Doubting Thomas” (20:25 KJV): “The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Thomas flunked the resurrection belief test. This was the wrong answer. In fact, in verse 29 of the same chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus gave a blessing to those who believe absent verifiable data, relying on testimony alone: “Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

The ear is all that is needed for belief, not the eye (or the hand with touch and investigation).

Jesus thus specifically and explicitly downplays the value of a central form of evidence: independently verified public data. Testimony is enough.

So what is a scientist like Coyne to make of this? Obviously, for a scientist, it’s not enough that a religious claim appeals to testimonial evidence from enthusiastic and biased advocates (converts bearing “witness”), it must also, to be scientific, make the witnesses available for cross examination and scrutiny by impartial and objective outsiders, and make physical evidence available for independent verification (sight, touch, experiment, debate, reflection, theorizing).

In this sense, the central claim of the Christian religion–the resurrection of Jesus–has never really been about systematic and disinterested testimonial and physical evidence gathering and fact-finding, but about believing in the absence of these, exactly as Coyne says.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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