(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, p. 26)
We’ll skip over the little story of Steve and Barry, which Turek uses to try and reinforce his mistaken idea that you need omniscient knowledge in order to rule out the possiblity that the self-contradictory stories of the Gospel might be true. Instead, let’s look at the central theme of the book, as presented by Geisler and Turek:
You may be thinking, “The atheist has to muster a lot more faith than the Christian! What possibly could Geisler and Turek mean by that?” We mean that the less evidence you have for your position, the more faith you need to believe it (and vice versa). Faith covers a gap in knowledge.
Let’s interrupt the authors right there. They’ve got some pretty interesting stuff coming up, but this remark, and the worldview that it reflects, have some very serious consequences when we apply them to the Christian doctrine(s) of salvation by grace through faith.
One of the chief differences between Catholics and Protestants is that (most) Protestants believe in salvation by faith alone, whereas Catholics don’t. Both Catholics and Protestants, however, agree that faith is at least a crucial component in the salvation of the believer’s soul. Whether or not any other factor plays a significant role in the process, virtually all Christians agree that faith is what defines one as a (saved) Christian. Those who have faith are saved, those who do not have faith are not saved.
The reason we’re supposed to have faith is because the things we are supposed to believe in are supposedly true. Since truth is consistent with itself, however, there’s a real-world feedback mechanism: if we’ve believed in something that is really true, we ought to find that our real-world experience is consistent with what we believe. Evidence-based faith does not need to “cover the gap” between what we believe and what we actually find in the real world, because there won’t be a gap to cover. There may be experiences we haven’t had yet, and we may have evidence-based faith that our future experiences will be consistent with what we’ve seen in the past. For example, we haven’t seen the sun rise tomorrow, but we have plenty of evidence-based faith that it will rise.
Christians, however, have a different experience of faith. 2,000 years of real-world experience have taught Christians that “walking by faith” is the mutually-exclusive alternative to “walking by sight,” as Paul put it. For Geisler and Turek, it’s ok to claim that atheists have more faith than believers do, because in the Christian experience, faith means believing in something because you have no evidence for it. Otherwise, it would be silly and possibly even blasphemous to suggest that Christians are saved by faith despite having less faith than atheists.
There’s another factor to consider, though. The Gospel plan of salvation, remember, is supposedly designed by God Himself. Salvation by grace through faith isn’t just some ad hoc contingency that God stumbled His way into as things worked themselves out. God supposedly intended from the very beginning that a key component of salvation would be the faith of the believer.
So let’s suppose that “faith” means “belief that is not consistent with the available evidence,” as Geisler and Turek seem to think. Atheists, according to Geisler and Turek, have faith in the sense that they believe things which Geisler and Turek assert are inconsistent with the available evidence. But if that’s faith, and if God’s original plan called for men to be saved by faith, then God is insisting that people believe things that are inconsistent with the truth as a prerequisite for salvation!
That’s right: heaven is reserved for the gullible, for people who will believe what you tell them even when it’s inconsistent with real-world truth that we can verify for ourselves. You must be gullible to be saved, because salvation requires faith and faith is defined as believing that which is not supported by the evidence. Evidence-based faith, being consistent with the real-world evidence, is not going to be something you can turn to in order to “cover the gap” between what you believe and what you actually find in the real world. Truth is consistent with itself, so evidence-based faith isn’t going to have a gap that needs covering.
According to Geisler and Turek’s definition of faith, therefore, it has always been God’s intent to require a kind of militant and unreasonable gullibility on the part of His believers, as a prerequisite for salvation. If faith means believing something anyway even though it’s contrary to the evidence and you only have man’s word for it, then you’ve got to be gullible in order to meet the faith requirement for salvation.
We can’t really say why it would be so important to God for His disciples to make such a wholehearted commitment to gullibility. When you look at the things people believe, and the behaviors they manifest, as a result of their “faith,” however, it becomes much easier to see why gullibility would be needed to keep the “kingdom of God” running.