I have read at my church this passage from Galatians: “I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” Many Christians would count this idea (if not this exact expression of it in Scripture; 2 Corinthians 5:7 is a much more popular rendition) as one of the fundamental tenets of Christianity, but I have difficulty reconciling it with my experience of life so far.
Professionals in every field from medicine to programming to teaching all use very similar methods in the practice of their trades: they gather evidence, evaluate it, and adjust their understanding of the world appropriately. Doctors do differential diagnoses to determine what ails their patients; programmers write tests to confirm that their software executes to its specification. Teachers use their experience teaching their material to guide their examples and socratic questions in the future. All of this is the same basic process: evidence is gathered, evaluated, and integrated into their knowledge base.
It is well established that this process of evidence gathering and evaluation is key to success in these fields and others. A physician who relied solely on intuition or feeling to diagnose his patients would quickly find himself facing malpractice litigation; a programmer who refused to test his code would find himself repeatedly introducing bugs into his software, and a teacher who staunchly refused to adjust his teaching style to the needs of his class would find many students knocking on his door after returning exams.
When it comes to professional success, it seems very clear that we walk by sight, not by faith. My understanding is that (respecting certain limits), professional success and success in Christianity are two very aligned goals: Paul even wrote, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men”. Working in our professions with all our hearts means applying this continual process of evidence gathering, evaluation, and integration in a systematic way. I am constantly doing so in my own professional life; I expect many readers’ experience is no different.
When I try to apply this process to my faith life, however, my attempts fall flat. What real evidence do I have for God’s existence? How am I to evaluate that evidence with respect to the evidence I have of the existence of other people? I see my wife nearly every day; she acts independent of my will and (disregarding the philosophical free will debate at this point) initiates causal chains that I could not initiate myself. I have very strong evidence of her existence as a sentient lifeform apart from myself. What comparable evidence do I have for God’s existence? Jesus has never appeared in physical form before my eyes; I haven’t touched the holes in his hands or his side. All the evidence I have of Christ’s life is stories: the same evidence I have of the life of Socrates, or of Olórin, or of Mithra. Is it really God’s intention for me to have far more compelling evidence of the existence of his creatures than of his own existence? Why would he so design this world?
Why would God design a world where in every realm but one we would walk by sight, not by faith; but in one realm, in the most important realm, he would require that we reject our standard evidential process and walk by faith, not by sight? This is the “epistemic” in “epistemic faith crisis”: the epistemic process by which I seek knowledge in my life does not appear to suffice when I seek knowledge of God, and I find that very intellectually unsatisfying.