Against Deism – Goodness, Consistency, and Evil

Many people object that philosophical arguments for theism such as the cosmological argument do not arrive at the God of any particular religion, but instead prove the existence of a deistic God: who created the world or who upholds existence but who does not interact at all with humanity. I think we can make a good argument against this by looking at Christianity and arguing that this does appear to be the God of philosophical arguments.

But I think also we can extend the philosophical arguments to rule out deism. We can extend the cosmological arguments to show that God actually would interact with humanity, based on what we’ve already concluded about God. And not only that, but I think we can extend them in a way that rules out several of the other contenders for claims about God.

From the philosophical arguments, we conclude that God is good, and indeed perhaps Goodness Itself. At the very least, God is the highest good. We also conclude that God is all knowing and all powerful. So we take these conclusions as premises now.

Supposing that God is all good, He must want good for the entire universe. He wants the galaxies to be good galaxies, He wants the atoms to be good atoms, and He wants the people to be good people. And it seems that for people to be good people, the goodest people they can be, He has to direct their affections towards the good. That is, God must direct their affections towards God. Perhaps not each individual person (He may have other purposes in mind for individuals, see Romans 9), but people in general. It seems that God, being good, must draw the world to Himself. And so He must reveal Himself to them, so that they can pursue Him.

By being good and rational, God must be incapable of lying and self-consistent. So that means that all of God’s revelations must be consistent with each other, and they must be truthful. I believe this rules out Islam, which is inconsistent with the previous revelation from God. Muslims will claim that the previous revelations have been corrupted, but not only is there no evidence of this, there is significant evidence that they have remained in their original form. The Old Testament and New Testament were written over centuries by ~40 different authors, while the Quran was written by one man over a few decades. The New Testament is a perfect fulfilment of all prophecy in the Old Testament, is perfectly consistent with the Old Testament, and presents itself as the final revelation. This is of course only a summary of a fuller argument against Islam that I may one day make, but it gives us plenty of reason to prefer Christianity over Islam.

Returning to deism, I claim that deism does not have a sufficient response to the problem of evil. Remember that if there is a deist God, then that God is still good. So we’d expect some pretty convincing reasons as to why the deist God knowingly (because the deist God is still omniscient and omnipotent) created a universe that contains evil and suffering. Theists appeal to God’s purpose for the universe in explaining why evil exists: in order to bring about some higher order good. Some appeal to free will as a specific higher order good, but I don’t think we need to do that here.

But under many conceptions, the deist God is a God who doesn’t have any specific purpose for the universe, or at least for the rational beings within the universe. But if there is no purpose for the rational beings in the universe, then there cannot be a sufficient reason to ordain that evil would exist.

So it seems that on the whole deism is significantly less plausible than theism, and that Christianity provides the most plausible theism.

My Thoughts on Jordan Peterson

Jordan Peterson has recently become an influential figure in modern culture, especially among young men, especially those young men who have previously found themselves at odds with feminism, progressive culture, etc. I think much of this admiration is misplaced, and that there are good criticisms to make of Peterson. However I think it’s also important to understand what it is that’s drawing people to him.

I find myself in two communities here. First I am part of the community of conservative young men. Men who have strong criticism of modern culture, who feel that the direction of progress is wrong, who feel like people have become soft, weak, shallow and thoughtless. A group of people who have grown up in a world lacking direction, purpose, or meaning. A world which is hostile to the nature of young men.

Second, on the outskirts of the academic philosophy community, engaging with it as an amateur and autodidact. Here, Peterson is widely considered to be a moron, who thinks he has engaged with important issues but has thoroughly missed the point.

I think these second people are right. Peterson is a psychologist, who was unknown until he started a controversy about the use of transgender pronouns. This was picked up by the alt-right, who used Peterson as a figurehead for their own opposition to transgenderism. He also fuels their rage against “post-modernism”, which I think both they and Peterson misunderstand, and “cultural Marxism”, which isn’t a real thing at all. In fact, Marx would be thoroughly modernist, not post-modern. But I don’t want to get into those things here, instead, I’ll just encourage anyone reading this to research modernism, post-modernism, and Marxism yourself. I am indeed thoroughly opposed to post-modern thought and to Marxism, but I doubt most of Peterson’s fans understand these topics. I do not think Peterson does either. This is why academics do not like Peterson in general.

But most of the people who like Peterson do so for reasons unrelated to his philosophical positions. Young men have grown up in a world of coddling, victim-mentality, and weakness. As a young man, I’ve felt this too. We are encouraged to have a weak will, to blame others when we fail, we’ve been told: “believe in yourself and you can do anything, because you’re unique like a snowflake”. We live in a culture that glorifies narcissism, fragility, and an external locus of control. A culture that raises what C.S. Lewis calls “Men without chests”. 

Peterson has been adopted as the intellectual of the right-wing movement because he speaks against this. He tells young men to grow up and take responsibility. To grow a backbone, to do hard things because you know they’re right, to act with honour and integrity. To not worry about your rights being violated (since rights exist to protect weak and vulnerable) and instead worry about your own competence (since the competent never need to refer to their rights). Some people are weak and vulnerable and should be protected, but you should do whatever you can to take yourself out of that category. Virtue requires a strong will.

Peterson is right about these things. Young men especially should grow a backbone, accept responsibility, and forge themselves into strong, honourable, skilled men. This is what appeals to young men. They fundamentally know this is right.

But this isn’t a good reason to revere Peterson. Many have said this before, many have said it better, and many have said it without bringing in misunderstandings of philosophical and literary narratives, or without Peterson’s rather strange metaphysical background.

Further reading:

Does monotheism entail normative skepticism?

The somewhat intimidating title of this post was taken from a Reddit post of the same title, which presented the argument made in a paper by Sharon Street. I won’t reproduce those arguments here, the Reddit post does a good job of explaining them. I’ve been unable to find a publically accessible mirror of the paper, but I am happy to update this if I do find one. The main idea here is this: If everything happens for a reason, then we have no idea what reasons are.

I think pretty clearly that we must take the agent-relative horn. There are some things that God does that are only right for God to do, and not for us to do. Many of God’s reasons for actions are agent-relative, they are not the kinds of reasons we should have.

In that case, we must answer how we know what is moral and what is not. Seems to me that the Christian can give several avenues of knowledge here. We have moral facts revealed in scripture, we have moral facts as testified to us by our conscience, we even perhaps have moral facts that we have deduced via a secular moral system such as Kantianism. That last statement may be controversial to some Christians, but I think it is reasonable to say that we can use our God-given reasoning abilities to determine what is right and wrong. It’s not like those moral facts are not still grounded in God, as He grounds reasoning itself and indeed all facts.

So with regards to “secular” moral reasoning, the argument is that one of the main “selling points” of religion is that it gives us some advantage in moral reasoning, and if we are forced to appeal to “secular” moral reasoning then religion becomes weaker. But I am not sure this is a very significant problem for the Christian since we are already told in scripture that the “secular” use of the conscience is appropriate, because God gives that to us. Presumably, God gives us reason as well, and so using reason to arrive at moral conclusions is valid. Hence the scare quotes around “secular”: for the Christian, nothing is ever really secular. It is all grounded in God.

But let’s suppose that we do not take this route, and instead, we rely on what we might call a “sacred” moral reasoning. Perhaps this can be written revelation, or a God-given conscience, some kind of innate moral intuition. And now the sceptic launches into another argument: this revelation given by God should be clear and unmistakable. And since the sceptic doesn’t think it is clear and unmistakable, we cannot believe that any such revelation has been given.

I do not agree with the premise that any revelation from God should be clear and unmistakable. I instead would believe this premise: revelation would be clear and unmistakable to a reasonable person. But I also believe (as Romans 1 teaches) that the heart of every foolish man has been darkened so that they suppress knowledge of God, and so the revelation that ought to be clear and unmistakable is now no longer.

I might be willing to accept that God ought to give moral revelation (again, including a conscience and scripture) that should be clear and unmistakable to a reasonable person. But I don’t see any reason to think He ought to give one that would be so to an unreasonable person. Certainly, He could, just like He reaches in and regenerates someone before they repent of their sin and before they know Him, so that they can do those things. But I don’t think He has any obligation to.

But I might even go a step further and say that the conscience that God has given us is pretty clear and unmistakable. I think the vast majority of people have a pretty accurate innate sense of right and wrong. It can get a bit messy in weird edge cases (like trolley problems) but that’s not a big deal. I think the vast majority of us if we are honest, will say that in the vast majority of the time we know what is right and what is wrong. We might still do wrong, but we know it’s wrong. And for the rare person with a defective conscience (which normally happens because a person has essentially starved it by ignoring it) the fact that everyone else has one is good enough evidence of right and wrong.

This all together seems like a sufficient response to the argument that monotheism entails normative scepticism.

The Fine Tuning of Cosmological Constants

The fine tuning argument is in principle quite simple. Atheism strongly predicts that this universe will forbid life. Theism strongly predicts that this universe will permit life. Clearly, the universe does permit life, so this favours theism over atheism.

Let’s elaborate on what it means for the universe to permit life. I’m not referring to things like the location of Earth relative to the Sun (though others have done so), instead I’m talking about universal constants. Things like the charge on an electron, or the gravitational constant, or the rate of the expansion of the universe at the Big Bang. It’s no secret that these constants are finely tuned to create a universe that can permit life, and if they were changed often by a fraction of a percent, the universe itself could not exist for more than a few seconds. Sometimes not even that.

In support of this, I’ll cite some physicists:

  • Stephen Hawking:

“The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life… It seems clear that there are relatively few ranges of values for the numbers that would allow the development of any form of intelligent life. Most sets of values would give rise to universes that, although they might be very beautiful, would contain no one able to wonder at their beauty”

  • Paul Davies (British astrophysicist):

“There is for me powerful evidence that there is something going on behind it all….It seems as though somebody has fine-tuned nature’s numbers to make the Universe….The impression of design is overwhelming”

  • Arno Penzias (Nobel prize in physics):

“Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say ‘supernatural’) plan.”

I’ll allow you to do your own research on the topic, but the fact is that the level of precision in the cosmological constants is overwhelming. This paper gives some more details about the specific constants. 

Many people will counter this argument by appealing to the anthropic principle. That is, the fact that we are observing the only type of universe that could permit us is not surprising, because we are here to observe it. We could not observe it if we did not exist.

It’s clear that this type of reasoning alone is not sufficient. Anthropic reasoning only indicates that the probability that the universe will permit life given that it is observed is high. It doesn’t indicate that the probability that the universe will permit life given atheism is high. If I were about to be executed by a firing squad of 100, I heard them all shoot, and then observed that I was uninjured, I’d rightly be surprised. It’s true that it’s not surprising that I’m observing it, given that I’d have to be alive to observe it. But it is surprising that all 100 missed. That’s the flaw in this reasoning.

Another common counter-argument is that the cosmological constants can’t actually vary. That they must necessarily be the way that they are. That the laws of physics couldn’t have been different, and neither could the starting conditions of the universe. It seems to me that if you’re willing to accept this, then you implicitly accept the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which states “For every true fact, there is a reason or explanation for why that fact is true”. To accept that the physical state of the universe is necessary is to accept the PSR for at least the physical universe.

If you’re happy to do that, then you should stop reading this argument and instead read my page on the cosmological argument, since the PSR is one of the premises of that argument. If you reject the PSR, then you only have one option available to you to reject the teleological argument.

By far, the most common objection to the teleological argument is the argument that there exists some large (perhaps infinite) number of universes. Couple this with the anthropic principle mentioned above, and you do seem to have a strong objection to the argument.

So why should we reject the multiverse? The most obvious argument is that of Occam’s Razor. We shouldn’t multiply entities needlessly. Since we’re talking about something on the order of 10^500 universes (there are 10^80 atoms in the observable universe) that’s a huge multiplication of entities. Entities that we can not observe, and have no evidence for. If our options are either a designer of this universe, or an unimaginably large number of universes, one of these certainly seems to have fewer entities.

Let’s suppose, however, that we don’t accept Occam’s Razor. We might have good reason to reject it here: under a model like Vilenkin’s, it’s not clear that the universes in the multiverse are separate entities, they are just different locations in space. Or perhaps we take a different understanding of Occam’s Razor, perhaps it is not entities that we want to avoid multiplying, but types of entities, or perhaps behaviours. 

Let’s suppose that there is some huge number of universes. Then there must be something which has conditions which allow multiple universes to begin. Vilenkin proposes such a meta-universe, but this structure itself requires some fine-tuned constants in order to exist. Vilenkin requires a particular level of inflation for his model, for example. We have not really defeated the argument, instead, we’ve just moved the problem.

(The existence of a multiverse comprising mostly life-forbidding universes would lower the degree to which theism predicts that this universe will permit life, but multiverse-hypotheses only predict a generally life-forbidding multiverse given atheism, which begs the question in this context.)

I am no physicist, but the interpretation of QM which predicts multiple universes is not popular among physicsts who specialize in foundations of quantum mechanics, instead the most popular interpretation among this group is a pilot wave theory, in which not only is there no multiverse, but the universe is in fact deterministic. So even appealing to physics doesn’t necessarily make the case for a multiverse. 

For a more detailed discussion of more modern inlfation multiverse models, see chapter 5 of this paper. I will in the future attempt to produce a summary of this, but for now the paper will have to do. Helpfully, the author of the paper also wrote this blog post in summary.

Further reading

 

The Convincing Moral Character of Jesus

This argument will assume that you’re familiar with Jesus, and that you think He does have a supremely good moral character. If you do not believe this, then I suggest you carefully read the Gospels, study and think about them, and come to your own conclusion. This is more intended as an explanation of why I believe, rather than an argument to convince someone else, based on what I see in Jesus.

And what I see is, as I say, a supremely good moral character. In defiance of all custom and authority of the day, He did what was right. And not only did He do what was right, He explained and taught others, He had insights into the moral good that have never since been replicated. The greatest moral figures throughout history, those with the highest levels of moral reasoning, those who we have all looked up to, have looked up to Jesus. Even they recognise it.

Decades ago, Lawrence Kohlberg made some very interesting discoveries about the moral development of children and adults. To summarize (here’s some more detail), what we find is that people develop their moral reasoning ability in distinct, qualitatively different stages. It’s reasonably easy to recognise one stage from another, people always go through them one after the other and never skip, and rarely regress. People at higher stages can understand the reasoning of the stages below them (though they are distasteful of that reasoning), they feel drawn to and recognise higher stages, but importantly cannot imitate those higher stages. If you have a stage 4 person pretending to be stage 5, and a stage 5 person, and you question them and challenge them enough, the stage 5 person will remain consistent while the stage 4 person will eventually break down and admit (or demonstrate, if they’re stubborn) a lack of understanding.

So while none of us are at a stage of moral reasoning high enough to properly fully understand Jesus, we can recognise the supremacy of His moral character. The person of Jesus has a true moral character that cannot be faked, He really is that good. He is questioned and challenged enough in the Gospels to verify it to me, He really is supremely virtuous.

And so if He is that virtuous, I trust Him. Jesus alludes to this kind of reasoning in John 14:11, where He tells the disciples to trust what He says because He’s the one saying it. And then He says “or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.”. Jesus believes that His character should actually be more convincing than His miracles. Miracles can be faked, but moral character cannot.

The fact that this moral character cannot be faked also means that Jesus cannot be an invention. An author cannot convincingly write a character wiser than they are, they’d have to be that wise themselves. They might be able to provide one or two deepities, but if the character is challenged enough in their story, their “wisdom” will be exposed. Similarly, no author (let alone 4 authors in the case of the Gospels) could write a character at a higher moral stage than they themselves are at.

Now it’s relatively easy to write a character who behaves more morally than we do. I might write a character who gave money to the homeless person that I callously walked past, that’s not hard. We all recognise our own moral failures, and could create someone without them. What can’t be faked is the actual moral reasoning, the explanations and arguments for why we ought to do what we ought to do. Read more of Kohlberg to understand properly what I mean here.

And so if Jesus was an invention of an author, then it must be the case that the author was at the same level of moral reasoning that Jesus was at. And so we should trust them when they tell us that Jesus was a real person who did all of these things.

There are some objections here. Someone might say that Jesus was a real, virtuous person, but that later authors added the claims of divinity to the story. However if you look at Jesus’ moral system, you can see that these claims are central and integrative to the entire system, which would be incoherent without them. They can’t have been added without the system itself being added.

And now we are at the conclusion: Jesus has a supremely virtuous character that compels us to trust Him, and so when He tells us that He is the incarnate Son of God who died for our sins, and that we must repent of our sins, trust in His name, and obey God, we are compelled to believe Him. Because as the officer says in John 7:46: No-one ever spoke like this man. 

A summary of scriptural support for the Trinity

Defence of the Trinity

I regularly get criticism that the doctrine of the Trinity is not found in the scriptures, but instead is invented by men. I have decided to write this as a summary of the biblical evidence for the orthodox position on the Trinity. That is, that the Father, Jesus, and the Spirit are equally God, three persons of one divine being/substance. Eternal, indivisible, and unchanging. I won’t lay out exactly what this means, or the full implications,  that is for other people to do. But I will provide the evidence for it.

Part 1: The Father is God

This will be the easiest section. Unitarians, those who deny the Trinity, believe that only the Father is God. But I will include it for the sake of completeness.

Here is a single, sufficient piece of evidence: Jesus calls the Father God.

John 10:27: Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.'”

If the Father is Jesus’ God, then the Father is God.

Part 2: Jesus is God

This will be the first contentious section. The most obvious part of scripture to talk about here is John 1:1-3. Now the Word here is Jesus. John 1:14 is pretty clear about that. So what does John 1:1-3 say?

John 1:1-3 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.

Jesus was not only with God, but He was God. Some translators note that there is an article in the first mention of God and none in the second. A more literal, word-for-word reading is this: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with the God, and the word was God”. So the Word is not “the God”. But Trinitarians accept that the God that the Word was with is the Father, and the Word is not the Father. But the Word is the God Himself, even if He isn’t the Father. He was God.

He also is the creator. How many thing exist that are uncreated? Only one: God. God is the creator of all that exists apart from Himself. But in v3, we see that the Word is the creator of everything that was created. So the Word Himself must be uncreated. That is, He is God.

We will also look at the end of John.

John 20:27-29 Then He *said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

Thomas recognises that Jesus is God. In the Old Testament, what happens when someone calls an angel “Lord”? The angel rebukes them, and tells them to worship God alone. But what does Jesus do? He encourages people to believe the same thing as Thomas. That He is God.

Consider:

2 Peter 1:1 Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ:

Jesus is the God and Saviour. No way around it, Jesus is God. Some might say He’s simply “a god”, rather than “God”, that He’s a lesser deity to YHWH the creator. But we know that Christians are forbidden from worshipping anything other than YHWH the creator, the almighty God. And yet we are told to worship Jesus. So Jesus is YHWH. Which he claims in John 8:58. Remember that YHWH means “I am”. When Jesus says “Before Abraham was, I Am”, He is calling Himself YHWH. He could have said “I was”, but He chose His words carefully to carry this meaning. The audience understood this, they picked up stones to stone Him.

As The Gospel Coalition has helpfully summarised:

Jesus has honour that is only to be given to God. Christians may only worship God alone (Deut. 6:13; Matt 4:9-10), and yet they are  to worship Jesus (Matt. 14:33; Heb. 1:6; Rev 1:17).  Jesus has the same attributes as God: eternal (John 1:1-3; 8:58), all-powerful (Matt. 28:18), all-knowing (John 21:17), and loving (Rom 8:35-39). Jesus has the name above every name, (Phil. 2:9-11). Jesus is called God (John 20:28), Lord (Acts 1:24), the King of kings (Rev 19:16), Saviour (Luke 2:11), and the First and the Last (Rev 1:7-8). These titles belong to God alone. Jesus is said to be the creator (John 1:3), the sustainer of all things (Heb. 1:2-3), He is sovereign over the forces of nature (Matt. 8:2327), the one who forgives sins (Matt 9:1-8), and even the one who gives life (John 1:4; 5:21). In fact it could be said that everything that God does for us, Jesus does for us.  Jesus sits on God’s throne (Rev. 3:21), ruling over all things (Rev 5:13). This is nothing short of claiming to be equal with God (John 10:27-33). Jesus is the judge of all history, of the entire world, of each person – to Him every knee will bow

Jesus is almighty God, the creator, equal in divinity with the Father.

Psalm 102 praises the “Lord” quite a lot. The Lord sits and rules in heaven, the Lord will restore Zion, the Lord laid the foundations of the Earth, the Lord endures forever and never changes. I don’t see any reason to say that the Psalmist is talking about a different being here than they normally are when they use the word “Lord”. But Hebrews 1 takes this Psalm as being about the Son, the Son is the Lord, as much as the Father is. The Son is God as much as the Father is.

Part 3: The Spirit is God

Some people don’t even believe that the Spirit is a real person, but instead is just a manifestation of the Father’s action, or something like that. So here we will show that the Spirit is the third person of the Trinity.

We see the Spirit being given attributes that only God has. This will demonstrate that the Spirit is divine Himself. The Spirit creates (Job 33:4, Psalm 104:30), the Spirit is eternal (Hebrews 9:14), the Spirit is omnipresent (Psalm 139:7–8) and omniscient (1 Corinthians 2:10). Who is the eternal, omnipresent, omniscient creator? God alone.

The Spirit is a person distinct from the Father, as He is sent by the Father (John 14:26). The Spirit is distinct from the Son, as the Son calls the Spirit a “He”, a different entity to the Son. (John 14:27).

The Spirit is referred to as God in Acts 5. In v3, Peter says that Ananias has lied to the Spirit. Then in v4, he says that he has lied to God. Clearly the Spirit is God. A similar interchange is used in 1 Corinthians 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 6:19. In 3, we are temples of God. In 6, we are temples of the Spirit. So the Spirit is God.

The Spirit is not just God, but YHWH, the almighty creator. In Hebrews 3:7–11, it is the Spirit who says “Israel tried and tested me…”. But who did Israel try and test? It was YHWH, their God. In Hebrews 10:15–17, it is the Spirit who makes a covenant with Israel. But who made a covenant with Israel? It was YHWH. So the Spirit is fully YHWH. Just as Jesus is, and just as the Father is.

Part 4: There are only three

Some have asked why there are three rather than four (or more or less). Some theologians such as Aquinas have attempted to articulate precisely why it is that God exists as a Trinity in terms of theology and philosophy. I will not attempt to do this, that’s beyond me. Instead, here’s the evidence that God is only and precisely three persons.

We see in many places all three mentioned together, with no others. Here are some examples of the three together:

  • 1 Corinthians 12:4–6
  • 2 Corinthians 13:14
  • 1 Peter 1:2
  • Matthew 28:19
  • Matthew 3:16
  • Matthew 12:28
  • Luke 3:22
  • John 14:26
  • John 15:26
  • Acts 2:33
  • Romans 1:4
  • Romans 8:9
  • 1 Corinthians 6:11
  • Galatians 4:6
  • Ephesians 1:17
  • Ephesians 2:18
  • Ephesians 2:22
  • Hebrews 9:14
  • Acts 10:38
  • Acts 1:4

Now I won’t exegete each of these, I leave that to you. But you can see that the three members of the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, appear together all throughout the New Testament. And when they appear, they do so alone. There is none another among them, and so there is no other member of the Godhead. There are precisely three.

Do Hebrews 11:1 and John 20:29 teach that faith must be without evidence?

There are two commonly cited verses used to justify Fideism (faith is belief without or against evidence). These are Hebrews 11:1 and John 20:29.

Hebrews first, let’s look at some parts of the rest of the chapter. I recommend reading through the whole chapter (and indeed the whole book) to understand the context of Hebrews 11:1.

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.

Did Noah believe without evidence? Not really, God literally spoke to him, he heard the voice of God. What was it that he had faith in? He had faith in the promises of God, that what God said would happen would happen. And it did, God did flood the world. In other words, Noah trusted God.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

Did Abraham believe without evidence? No, God spoke to him and made promises to him. Abraham trusted in God’s promises, trusted that God would do what He said. And He did. This was his faith.

And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise.

What was Sarah’s faith? Considering God faithful when He made a promise. Again, faith is trusting in the promises of God.

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.

Why is this faith? Because they trusted the promises of God, that God would keep them safe and deliver them to the promised land.

The chapter gives many more examples, and in vs 13-16 makes it clear that faith is trusting in the promises of God. Specifically, the promise of eternal life. That we will come to live in our own promised land, taken out of where we were, like Abraham and Moses.

So faith is not being confident in something we have no evidence for. Faith is trusting in the promises of God, trusting that God will do what He says He will do.

What then is it that we hope for that we do not see, as per verse 1? It is eternal life. Abraham, when he trusted God, hoped for the new land he was going to be given. He didn’t see it, but he hoped for it and was assured of it, because God promised it to him. The same is true of Moses. The same is true of Sarah and her child. But it is not reasonable to say that none of these people had evidence, they all had direct conversations with God, where He promised these things. A promise from God is strong evidence.

What then of Jesus’ words? “Blessed are those that have not seen, and believe”? It doesn’t clearly say that believing with no evidence = blessed, like many claim. In fact it seems that the meaning is quite different. The verse is a resurrection appearance of Jesus. In every other resurrection appearance, Jesus is commanding the disciples to go and tell others.

This starts in 20:17, where Jesus commands Mary to tell the other disciples.

Then in 20:21 in another appearance, where Jesus sends the disciples out.

Then 20:29, the passage we are discussing.

Then all of chapter 21, in which the net full of fish that the disciple catch represents them being made “fishers of men” as Matthew calls it, it represents the fruits of their evangelism.

Every other resurrection appearance in John has a focus on evangelism, and spreading the Gospel that they know to other people.

So when Jesus tells the disciples “Blessed are those that have not seen and yet believed”, it seems reasonable to expect this to follow the same pattern. It seems more reasonable to interpret this as “There will be others who have not seen me, who are not of us now, who will come to believe and be blessed”, or something along those lines. It’s reminding the disciples that they are not the only people that God has planned to receive.

Furthermore, Jesus desiring belief without evidence is contradicted by John 14:11, where Jesus expects His disciples to believe He is one with God because of the miracles that Jesus has performed. He expects the miracles to be evidence for this belief. If Jesus wanted belief without evidence why would He say this?

So the commonly cited verses do not support Fideism, and there is scriptural evidence against it.

Further reading:

Ed Feser on Classical Theism: SES Podcast

Here is a good podcast from Southern Evangelical Seminary with Ed Feser on Classical Theism vs Theistic Personalism. People who know me will know that I am firmly in the Classical Theist camp.

Podcast: https://ses.edu/edward-feser-theistic-personalism/
Feser’s blog: https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com.au/2018/04/ses-podcast-on-classical-theism.html