Faith is not a guess that you feel really good about.
True faith is knowledge based upon credible evidence. If, because my friend told me that investing in the stock market is a sure thing, I believe that the stock market will perpetually grow with no hiccups, my faith is based upon faulty reasoning at best. If, because I have done extensive research on the history and mechanics of the stock market, I believe that the stock market will generally grow with some hiccups, as long as market conditions remain relatively stable, then my faith is reasonable. It is based upon observable evidence and sound reasoning. If I say I believe that my wife loves me, but she treats me badly all the time, I am either lying, or I am trying to convince myself that she loves me because the implications of the evidence are too painful to deal with. If I say I believe that my wife loves me because she consistently treats me in a loving manner despite my failings, then my belief is based on evidence. You might say it’s not faith anymore but knowledge. I know my wife loves me. As a point of faith, I might say that I believe she will love me for the rest of her life. Now I can’t predict this with absolute certainty, but because of her track record over the history of our marriage, this is a reasonable, evidence-based faith.
Faith should be based on evidence and reason. If faith is not based on evidence, it is simply wishful thinking.
God does not drop us into a world with 300 religious narratives, some narratives differing radically and some differing only by slight nuance, and tell us that we must pick the correct one or we’re going to burn in hell for ever and ever. You see, God is a rational being, and He created humans to be rational beings. He doesn’t demand that we believe a non-credible narrative (and you had better pick the right one!) in order to prove our loyalty.
You shouldn’t have to play mind games to trick yourself into bolstering your faith during times of doubt. If you have questions about God and dogmatic religious answers don’t quite ring true, it’s ok to admit that you don’t know. If your religious peers seem sure of themselves but can’t offer evidence-based reasons for their answers, then their faith is built on a hollow foundation.
Many Christians proudly claim that you can’t rely on reason to reach God—you must accept Him as a matter of faith. They say this to assuage their feelings of uncertainty. There are two major problems with this line of reasoning. The first, is that God has given us the ability to reason and expects us to use this ability to the extent that we are able, while understanding the limits of human reason. The second problem is that if we disregard reason, we are left with only our feelings to guide us. Feelings are important, but are notoriously unreliable.
Christians tend to criticize the Enlightenment, higher critics, Skeptics, and anyone else who dares challenge their narrative. Their approach is usually “How dare they attack The Bible or Christianity!” Any challenge to the Christian narrative is characterized as an attack. The response to the challenger usually consists of, “Well, we have the Bible, so we know we’re right. If you don’t believe the Bible, that’s your problem!” “The Bible” is not an answer. Christians must have an evidence-based foundation for their faith so that they can first, achieve peace of mind, and second, assist others who are seeking God.
Faith and reason are not incongruous. If evidence is the foundation, then reason provides the structure of our faith. Rather than criticize challengers for their audacity, offer a reason for what you believe. You can’t argue people into agreeing with you, but you can use the knowledge you’ve gained to help other seekers.