As it happens, I have spent a fair amount of time discussing and debating God with atheists. Popular books by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett, among others, have provided more heat to the ongoing dialogue, but not much light. These books (not to mention blogs and internet atheist discussion boards) pretty consistently try to define faith as “belief without evidence.” However, that isn’t faith in a Christian context and doesn’t conform to standard dictionary definitions. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary defines faith as
“a. Confidence, reliance, trust (in the ability, goodness, etc., of a person; in the efficacy or worth of a thing; or in the truth of a statement or doctrine).
“b. Belief proceeding from reliance on testimony or authority.”
For the Christian (at least), faith is confident belief in God as revealed in Jesus Christ. It doesn’t relate to a set of propositions at all and thus evidence as to the truth or falsity of such propositions is manifestly irrelevant. That is not to say that such evidence doesn’t exist, however.
The Bible’s view of faith is consistent with this approach. Some atheist apologists will point to Heb. 11:1-2 (“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.”) to support their claim that faith really means belief without evidence or in spite of the evidence. Yet the heroes of faith “roll call” that follows for the rest of the chapter includes hero after hero who had directly experienced God and seen Him in action, suggesting that faith allows more confidence than the evidence might otherwise allow, not that there is no evidence. Those same critics often point to Thomas and his failure to believe in the resurrection without seeing Jesus firsthand (John 20:29: “Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'”) as further basis for their preferred definition of faith. Yet Thomas wasn’t criticized for not believing without evidence. He was criticized for not taking Jesus at His word with respect to His resurrection.
The unsupported claim that faith is belief without evidence is a purported argument disguised as a definition. And it’s a pretty lousy argument at that.