Atheists often chide Christians about the concept of faith and the part it plays in a Christian’s belief system. For example, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “When faith is thus exalted above everything else, it necessarily follows that reason, knowledge and patient inquiry have to be discredited: the road to the truth becomes a forbidden road. Faith means not wanting to know what is true” (The Antichrist, 1888, § 52).
In the same vein, atheistic philosopher Peter Boghossian, in his book A Manual for Creating Atheists, separates faith from reason, asserting that faith is “pretending to know things that you don’t know” and “belief without evidence” (Pitchstone Publishing, 2013, p. 23–24). He calls faith “an unreliable epistemology” and a “virus.”
Both Nietzsche and Boghossian are incorrect in their assertions about faith and its relationship to reason and truth. They use a distorted redefinition of faith and wrongly assert that it is an epistemology (a system or study about how one acquires knowledge). Faith, properly defined, is trust developed through the acquisition of prior information. Reason is part of the formula used to gather the information and accept or reject the truth claim.
In the Scriptures, reason and faith are seen working together in many places. For example, in the book of Acts, the author records six times (Acts 17:2,17; 18:4, 19, 19:8, 9) that the apostle Paul “reasoned” or was “reasoning” with his audiences. Moreover, in Acts 9:29, Paul is “arguing” with his opponents; in Acts 14:1, he “spoke in such a manner” that a large number of unbelievers were converted; in Acts 17:3 the apostle is “explaining and giving evidence”; in Acts 18:5 he is “solemnly testifying” (also used in Acts 20:21 and 28:23); in Acts 19:8, Paul is “persuading”; in verse 26 his opponents admit that Paul has “persuaded” people; in Acts 20:2, he gives “much exhortation”; and in Acts 28:23, the apostle is “explaining” and attempting to “persuade.”
The use of reason and logical argumentation like that of Paul results in one of two outcomes—rejection or acceptance, with the latter being where faith comes in.
Regarding faith, the definitions atheistic philosophers use are foreign to the true biblical meaning of the term. In the Greek New Testament, the word pistis is used, which is a noun that comes from the verb peitho, meaning “to be persuaded.” According to the best Greek lexicons, the word translated “faith” means “a state of believing on the basis of the reliability of the one trusted”; “trust, confidence, that which evokes trust”; “reliability, fidelity; pertaining to being worthy of belief or trust.” The same is true of the Hebrew term for “faith” (ěměṯ), which denotes “firmness, trustworthiness, constancy, duration, and truth.”
Faith is summed up in Hebrews 11:1 this way: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith relies on “substance” and “evidence” as in the way a husband has complete faith and trust in his wife, although he may not be able to demonstrate that faith in an empirical manner to others.
In the end, the proper way to view reason and faith is to understand that faith is a trust given in response to acquired knowledge, and that arriving at faith involves reason and a commitment to the truth.