Don’t Let Dawkins Define Your Faith

I have a close friend with whom I enjoy over-analyzing concepts. It’s a silly game with wildly entertaining results. For example, what makes a sandwich truly a sandwich? Are hamburgers just a subcategory of sandwich? Where is the line between bread and cake? If high sugar content distinguishes cake from bread, then why is it called banana bread? Don’t even get me started on the difference between soups and stews!

It’s obviously of little importance whether we appropriately label our supper. However, people, religious or otherwise, tend to assume definitions regarding life’s most important topics – with devastating results.

Let me outline a few examples.

The Importance of Defining “Faith”

New Atheists like Richard Dawkins define faith as “belief in something for which there is no evidence.” Upon this definition Christianity stands starkly contrasted to the verifiable system of science, making it indefensible by definition. Of course, this is not the definition of faith at all. Faith is synonymous with strong trust or confidence and as such it is built on all kinds of evidence, not in spite of it. The more evidence for a proposition, the more faith we should have in it. When we adopt the proper definition of faith, Christianity stands on a level playing field and can actually have a fair hearing. Sometimes we poorly defend what we believe because we let others poorly define our beliefs for us.

The Importance of Defining “Morality”

It’s easy to accept something as a correct definition simply because it’s familiar. Everyone can give an example of evil, like lying, but far fewer can explain why lying is objectively wrong. By what standard do we determine that an action ought or ought not to be done? Let’s take from above the example of banana bread. If our definition of cake is that it is sweetened bread then banana bread is really banana cake. Definition determines classification. In the same way, our classification of actions as right or wrong depends on our definition of morality. Christians believe that morality is definitionally connected to God; God’s character is where objective morality is found. Therefore, lying is wrong because God is a completely truthful being and to lie is to violate his goodness. Trying to change someone’s moral beliefs without addressing his or her definition of morality is like treating symptoms without diagnosing the cause. As someone’s definition of morality adjusts, his or her moral beliefs will follow accordingly.

The Importance of Defining “The Trinity”

When discussing the tri-unity of God it can be tempting to throw our hands in the air and declare it all incomprehensible. In attempt to simplify the trinity, God is usually compared to something more tangible like water or an egg. Yet Christians admit that all illustrations fall short, leaving the doctrine vulnerable to the criticism of cynics. What hope is there for a belief so poorly defended? By now it should be clear what I think a helpful solution may be. To define God simply as “three in one” is as confusing as it is misleading. More adequately put, God is one being who is three persons; he is one “what” while being three “whos.” A tri-personal being. There is mystery concerning the functionality of God’s tri-personal nature since human beings experience life mono-personally. However, upon proper definition, there is no internal contradiction with these concepts. To summarize, when we haven’t defined doctrines, we cannot begin to defend their coherence or truthfulness.

Faith, morality, and the trinity are only a few terms essential in adequately representing and effectively defending our Christian worldview. Defining terms is vital to mature belief. In doing so, we can have firm confidence in what we believe, not a faith as defined by Dawkins.

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