In John 20:24-29, Jesus praises those who have faith in the absence of evidence:

24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

[John 20:24-29, ESV]

However, other passages seem to validate the use of evidence to persuade others into the faith:

4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. [1 Corinthians 2:4-5, ESV]

37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” [John 10:37-38, ESV]

18 The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, 19 calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 20 And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” 21 In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. 22 And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. 23 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” [Luke 7:18-23, ESV]

Question: Is believing based on evidence good or bad? Is the answer nuanced? Are there situations in which (more) evidence is appropriate and situations in which it is not?

  • 1
    Faith that is satisfied with minor evidences is like the solver of a code cracker crossword. Apr 18, 2021 at 6:12
  • 2
    They who have not seen, still have evidence : they have the report of them who have seen. Which we have, for we have the scriptures and we have the record of faithful witnesses who saw Jesus Christ arisen from the dead. Who hath believed our report ? Isaiah 53. Faith cometh by hearing (not seeing). This question is focusing on the wrong thing.
    – Nigel J
    Apr 18, 2021 at 6:28
  • 4
    The problem here is a matter of degree - all faith is based on evidence - some need far more than others and some will not believe no matter how much evidence is available. (I get that feeling from contributors here as well!! [not you])
    – Dottard
    Apr 18, 2021 at 11:12
  • @NigelJ - upon revisiting your comment, and in light of my recently asked question, I noticed that your comment works unintendedly as an argument for the belief in the foundational testimonies of Mormonism as well.
    – user38524
    Jun 26, 2022 at 6:04

3 Answers 3


I will defend 3 basic contentions; I will then apply them to the question in the OP.

  1. All belief is based on evidence
  2. All evidence is at its core experiential
  3. Faith is not passive belief


1. All belief is based on evidence

Sometimes people looking for a fight will say “there’s no evidence for God” or something similarly provocative. When carefully investigated, the claim is found to be a word game. This statement is achieved by defining evidence to mean something different from its customary use. For example, one might define evidence as “absolute, unimpeachable, empirical proof.” The trouble with this definition is that it would mean we have no evidence for anything. No human discovery of science, philosophy, or theology meets that burden of proof.

The reason science cannot meet this challenge is that science doesn’t prove things, it disproves things. It’s a remarkably effective method for minimizing type 2 errors. Of course, that comes at a cost—it means committing a lot of type 1 errors. You are grateful for those type 1 errors every time you board an airplane.

On the other hand, if we define evidence in a way that accords with the ordinary use of the word, something like “an observation that lends credibility to a hypothesis”, now we have a definition that matches actual human experience and behavior.

Humans believe things because they have discovered or been given reasons (i.e. evidence) to do so. Whether or not those reasons are valid is beside the point I’m making here—the point is there are reasons.


2. All evidence is at its core experiential

Some will assert that experiential evidence doesn’t count. The trouble is, this too will rule out all evidence, because all evidence of any form rests upon a foundation of experiential evidence. Whether that evidence came from an equation, a machine, or human senses, take it back a few steps and you’ll end up with a human mind. A human mind developed the mathematical axioms and the machine, and a human mind interpreted information presented by the senses.

Experiential evidence can be aggregated for statistical significance, filtered to remove errors, controlled to exclude outliers, etc., but it still passes through the experience of the human mind.

Whether or not those experiences are appropriately interpreted is beside the point I’m making here—the point is we believe things because of experiences.


3. Faith is not passive belief

Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. (James 2:19)

Clearly something more is expected of the faithful. The word itself connotes action, because sincere belief leads to action. We act in accordance with what we believe, whether that belief is that pressing the brakes on a car will prevent an accident, or believing that refraining from sin will produce a better result than the alternative.

Faith is sometimes defined as “belief without evidence.” Not only has this been addressed in the first section of this post, but it is also a non-Biblical definition. The English theological word faith relies upon the Greek “pistis” (conveying trust) and the Hebrew “aman” (conveying certainty).

Faith is exercised when we say “this person/book/process/source/etc. worked for me last time, so I will trust it enough to use it again." Thus trust implies belief sufficient to justify action.

Whether or not that trust is well-placed is beside the point I’m making here—the point is we act because we trust.



To those who say you cannot believe in things you do not see, I would ask, do you believe in protons?

To those who say it is foolish to believe the testimony of another, I would ask, do you believe in the Big Bang, and if so, have you personally validated the Einstein Field Equations? If not, you are trusting the testimony of someone else.

Since none of us are experts in everything, we have a system of degrees, accreditations, credentials, and references to help people figure out who is reliable. It's a system that produces a lot of good results, so we exercise a lot of faith in it. But that's important--all of us rely on things in one or more discipline of science because we trust the people or the results, not because we understand all of the details. That's what faith is. Curiousdanni has thoughtfully described faith as "Relying on something because of its past behaviour".

Those of us who believe in science believe in things we do not fully understand, and we do it all the time, on the basis of faith. And we're rational to do it!

For those who find this unsettling and would like a more extended discussion, I go into further detail regarding the interaction between faith and science in this video.

My understanding of the passage in the OP is that Jesus is not scolding evidence-based belief (that would be all belief), but pointing out that where sufficient evidence has been given He expects people to accept it and act on it.

Thomas had been given reason to believe—he had felt the power of Jesus’ teachings, witnessed miracles, listened to the predictions of Jesus’ death & resurrection, received the promise of the Holy Ghost, and heard the testimony of trusted peers that Jesus had risen. Apparently God expects many people to believe—sufficiently to act—with less evidence than this.


Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (John 20:29)

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power (1 Cor. 2:4-5)

If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. (John 7:17)

Indicate that God expects to provide reasons to believe, expects people to test His promises, and expects them to act rationally based upon that evidence. To demand more evidence ad infinitum is contrary to the purposes of God and is irrational.

My own experience with this process is described here.



We never make life decisions with all the evidence; we evaluate some of the evidence and eventually make a decision to trust, or not to trust.

God wants us to learn to trust, and specifically to learn to trust in His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ. If He gave us literally all the information He has it would both blow our minds and destroy the exercise of learning to trust.

Is believing based on evidence good or bad?

  • It is good to believe based on evidence. It is good to put God’s promises to the test.
  • It is bad to tell God we don’t like the evidence He’s given us.

Based upon

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: (Matthew 7:7)

I conclude that it’s okay to ask for more evidence, provided we are also willing to act on the evidence we already have.

Further Reading

Richard Scott, a man who was not only a nuclear engineer, but also one of the great theologians of the last century, gave a discourse about truth, and how it is accessed through scientific and theological methods--see here

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    – curiousdannii
    Apr 19, 2021 at 23:19

Jesus didn't say "blessed are those who believe with no evidence." He said "blessed are those who have not seen and still believe." We have the evidence of eye witnesses.

This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. (John 21:24, ESV)

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Cor. 15:3–8, ESV)

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1–3, ESV)

Consider these verses in John:

Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe. (John 4:48, ESV)

John does not inform us what prompted this abrupt rebuke. On the surface it would seem that the man had exercised faith to take the trouble to urge Jesus to go to his son. What then was the point of Jesus’ remark? When considered as a part of the whole purpose of the gospel it becomes intelligible. The connection between faith and signs is part of the warp and woof of the gospel, but John is concerned to record our Lord’s distinction between faith based on mere wonder working and faith based on an essential spiritual understanding of the sign. It is as if Jesus had said to the man, Is your faith really of the kind which can exist without any props? The man’s answer is the cry of a parent’s aching heart, but when Jesus assured him that the son would live John records that the man believed (iv. 50). When he returned home and discovered that the healing happened simultaneously with Jesus’ command, not only he but his whole ‘ household believed. In this sign, therefore, is seen a definite extension of faith. The whole incident becomes an incentive to faith on the basis of Jesus’ word of power, but without reliance on any external attestations. Such a faith is deeper than that of the disciples’ faith in ii. 11, which was based on what they themselves had seen. -- Donald Guthrie, “The Importance of Signs in the Fourth Gospel,” Vox Evangelica 5 (1967): 74-75.

But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. (John 6:36, ESV)

Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. (John 8:43, ESV)

See Is there a linguistic basses for how to translate John 8:43, or are translations basing their translation on context alone?

Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40, ESV)

See When Jesus told Martha if you believe, wasn’t he saying her spiritual insight depended on her belief, not Lazarus’s return to life?


According to Paul, there is evidence of the creator God everywhere:

Romans 1:20

For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Jesus was being very specific in 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.”

Very few people have seen the resurrected Christ. Blessed are we who have not seen the resurrected Christ and yet have believed in his resurrection.

Is believing based on evidence good or bad? Is the answer nuanced?

Right. To believe in the creator God, all you have to do is to look around. There is evidence everywhere. To believe in the resurrected Christ, you are more blessed or especially blessed if you believe without the need of having Jesus showing up in front of you.

Are there situations in which (more) evidence is appropriate and situations in which it is not?

To begin to answer this, let me cite Dottard's comment:

The problem here is a matter of degree - all faith is based on evidence - some need far more than others and some will not believe no matter how much evidence is available.

Right, it depends on the people. For some of the Jews at Jesus' time, no matter what Jesus did, they wouldn't believe:

John 20:22 If I [Jesus] had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.

They had Jesus walking among them and they refused to believe.

Is believing based on evidence good or bad?

It is good but for some situations, it is even better that you don't have all the evidence and yet believe. That's where faith comes in.

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