Faith and rationality
Faith and rationality are two ideologies that exist in varying degrees of conflict or compatibility. Rationality is based on reason or evidence. Faith is belief in inspiration, revelation, or authority. The word faith generally refers to a belief that is held with lack of, in spite of or against reason or evidence.
Although the words faith and belief are sometimes erroneously conflated and used as synonyms, faith properly refers to a particular type (or subset) of belief, as defined above.
Broadly speaking, there are two categories of views regarding the relationship between faith and rationality:
- Rationalism holds that truth should be determined by reason and factual analysis, rather than faith, dogma, tradition or religious teaching.
- Fideism holds that faith is necessary, and that beliefs may be held without evidence or reason, or even in conflict with evidence and reason.
- 1 Relationship between faith and reason
- 2 Views of the Roman Catholic Church
- 3 Reformed epistemology
- 4 Jewish philosophy
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Relationship between faith and reason
From at least the days of the Greek Philosophers, the relationship between faith and reason has been hotly debated. Plato argued that knowledge is simply memory of the eternal. Aristotle set down rules by which knowledge could be discovered by reason.
Rationalists point out that many people hold irrational beliefs, for many reasons. There may be evolutionary causes for irrational beliefs — irrational beliefs may increase our ability to survive and reproduce. Or, according to Pascal's Wager, it may be to our advantage to have faith, because faith may promise infinite rewards, while the rewards of reason are seen by many as finite. One more reason for irrational beliefs can perhaps be explained by operant conditioning. For example, in one study by B. F. Skinner in 1948, pigeons were awarded grain at regular time intervals regardless of their behaviour. The result was that each of pigeons developed their own idiosyncratic response which had become associated with the consequence of receiving grain.
Believers in faith — for example those who believe salvation is possible through faith alone — frequently suggest that everyone holds beliefs arrived at by faith, not reason. The belief that the universe is a sensible place and that our minds allow us to arrive at correct conclusions about it, is a belief we hold through faith. Rationalists contend that this is arrived at because they have observed the world being consistent and sensible, not because they have faith that it is.
Beliefs held "by faith" may be seen existing in a number of relationships to rationality:
- Faith as underlying rationality: In this view, all human knowledge and reason is seen as dependent on faith: faith in our senses, faith in our reason, faith in our memories, and faith in the accounts of events we receive from others. Accordingly, faith is seen as essential to and inseparable from rationality. According to René Descartes, rationality is built first upon the realization of the absolute truth "I think therefore I am", which requires no faith. All other rationalizations are built outward from this realization, and are subject to falsification at any time with the arrival of new evidence.
- Faith as addressing issues beyond the scope of rationality: In this view, faith is seen as covering issues that science and rationality are inherently incapable of addressing, but that are nevertheless entirely real. Accordingly, faith is seen as complementing rationality, by providing answers to questions that would otherwise be unanswerable.
- Faith as contradicting rationality: In this view, faith is seen as those views that one holds despite evidence and reason to the contrary. Accordingly, faith is seen as pernicious with respect to rationality, as it interferes with our ability to think, and inversely rationality is seen as the enemy of faith by interfering with our beliefs.
- Faith and reason as essential together: This is the Catholic view that faith without reason leads to superstition, while reason without faith leads to nihilism and relativism.
Views of the Roman Catholic Church
St. Thomas Aquinas, the most important doctor of the Catholic Church, was the first to write a full treatment of the relationship, differences, and similarities between faith—an intellectual assent—and reason, predominately in his Summa Theologica, De Veritate, and Summa contra Gentiles. Notably, he writes:
We have a more perfect knowledge of God by grace than by natural reason. Which is proved thus. The knowledge which we have by natural reason contains two things: images derived from the sensible objects; and the natural intelligible light, enabling us to abstract from them intelligible conceptions. Now in both of these, human knowledge is assisted by the revelation of grace. For the intellect's natural light is strengthened by the infusion of gratuitous light.
[Faith is] a kind of knowledge, inasmuch as the intellect is determined by faith to some knowable object.
Faith does not involve a search by natural reason to prove what is believed. But it does involve a form of inquiry unto things by which a person is led to belief, e.g. whether they are spoken by God and confirmed by miracles.
[O]pinion includes a fear that the other part [of the contradiction] is true, and scientific knowledge excludes such fear. Similarly, it is impossible to have faith and scientific knowledge about the same thing.
There is a great difference between Christian philosophy and human wisdom. The latter, guided solely by the light of nature, advances slowly by reasoning on sensible objects and effects, and only after long and laborious investigation is it able at length to contemplate with difficulty the invisible things of God, to discover and understand a First Cause and Author of all things. Christian philosophy, on the contrary, so quickens the human mind that without difficulty it pierces the heavens, and, illumined with divine light, contemplates first, the eternal source of light, and in its radiance all created things: so that we experience with the utmost pleasure of mind that we have been called, as the Prince of the Apostles says, out of darkness into his admirable light, and believing we rejoice with joy unspeakable. (1 Pet. 1:8; 1 Pet. 2:9) Justly, therefore, do the faithful profess first to believe in God, whose majesty, with the Prophet Jeremias, we declare incomprehensible (Jer. 32:19). For, as the Apostle says, He dwells in light inaccessible, which no man hath seen, nor can see (1 Tim. 6:16); as God Himself, speaking to Moses, said: No man shall see my face and live (Exod. 33:20). The mind cannot rise to the contemplation of the Deity, whom nothing approaches in sublimity, unless it be entirely disengaged from the senses, and of this in the present life we art naturally incapable.
Dei Filius was a dogmatic constitution of the First Vatican Council on the Roman Catholic faith. It was adopted unanimously on 24 April 1870 and was influenced by the philosophical conceptions of Johann Baptist Franzelin, who had written a great deal on the topic of faith and rationality. On faith and reason, it said:
The impossibility of opposition between faith and reason
1797. But, although faith is above reason, nevertheless, between faith and reason no true dissension can ever exist, since the same God, who reveals mysteries and infuses faith, has bestowed on the human soul the light of reason; moreover, God cannot deny Himself, nor ever contradict truth with truth. But, a vain appearance of such a contradiction arises chiefly from this, that either the dogmas of faith have not been understood and interpreted according to the mind of the Church, or deceitful opinions are considered as the determinations of reason. Therefore, "every assertion contrary to the truth illuminated by faith, we define to be altogether false" [ Lateran Council V, see n. 738.
1798 Further, the Church which, together with the apostolic duty of teaching, has received the command to guard the deposit of faith, has also, from divine Providence, the right and duty of proscribing "knowledge falsely so called" 1 Tim. 6:20, "lest anyone be cheated by philosophy and vain deceit" [cf. Col. 2:8; can. 2]. Wherefore, all faithful Christians not only are forbidden to defend opinions of this sort, which are known to be contrary to the teaching of faith, especially if they have been condemned by the Church, as the legitimate conclusions of science, but they shall be altogether bound to hold them rather as errors, which present a false appearance of truth.
The mutual assistance of faith and reason, and the just freedom of science1799. And, not only can faith and reason never be at variance with one another, but they also bring mutual help to each other, since right reasoning demonstrates the basis of faith and, illumined by its light, perfects the knowledge of divine things, while faith frees and protects reason from errors and provides it with manifold knowledge. Wherefore, the Church is so far from objecting to the culture of the human arts and sciences, that it aids and promotes this cultivation in many ways. For, it is not ignorant of, nor does it despise the advantages flowing therefrom into human life; nay, it confesses that, just as they have come forth from "God, the Lord of knowledge" 1 Samuel 2:3, so, if rightly handled, they lead to God by the aid of His grace. And it (the Church) does not forbid disciplines of this kind, each in its own sphere, to use its own principles and its own method; but, although recognizing this freedom, it continually warns them not to fall into errors by opposition to divine doctrine, nor, having transgressed their own proper limits, to be busy with and to disturb those matters which belong to faith.
Because the Roman Catholic Church does not disparage reason in preference to faith, there have been many Catholic scientists over the ages.
Fides et Ratio is an encyclical promulgated by Pope John Paul II on 14 September 1998. It deals with the relationship between faith and reason.
Faith as underlying rationality
The view that faith underlies all rationality holds that rationality is dependent on faith for its coherence. Under this view, there is no way to comprehensively prove that we are actually seeing what we appear to be seeing, that what we remember actually happened, or that the laws of logic and mathematics are actually real. Instead, all beliefs depend for their coherence on faith in our senses, memory, and reason, because the foundations of rationalism cannot be proven by evidence or reason. Rationally, you can not prove anything you see is real, but you can prove that you yourself are real, and rationalist belief would be that you can believe that the world is consistent until something demonstrates inconsistency. This differs from faith based belief, where you believe that your world view is consistent no matter what inconsistencies the world has with your beliefs.
Some have asserted that Martin Luther taught that faith and reason were antithetical in the sense that questions of faith could not be illuminated by reason. He wrote, "All the articles of our Christian faith, which God has revealed to us in His Word, are in presence of reason sheerly impossible, absurd, and false." and "[That] Reason in no way contributes to faith. [...] For reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things." However, though seemingly contradictorily, he also wrote in the latter work that human reason "strives not against faith, when enlightened, but rather furthers and advances it", bringing claims he was a fideist into dispute. Contemporary Lutheran scholarship however has found a different reality in Luther. Luther rather seeks to separate faith and reason in order to honor the separate spheres of knowledge that each understand. Bernhard Lohse for example has demonstrated in his classic work "Fides Und Ratio" that Luther ultimately sought to put the two together. More Recently Hans-Peter Grosshans has demonstrated that Luther's work on Bibilical Criticism stresses the need for external coherence in right exegetical method. This means that for Luther it is more important that the Bible be reasonable according to the reality outside of the scriptures than that the Bible make sense to itself, that it has internal coherence. The right tool for understanding the world outside of the Bible for Luther is none other than Reason which for Luther denoted science, philosophy, history and empirical observation. Here a differing picture is rightly presented of a Luther who deeply valued both faith and reason, and held them in dialectical partnership. Luther's concern thus in separating them is honoring their different epistemological spheres.
Rationalist point of view
In this view, there are many beliefs that are held by faith alone, that rational thought would force the mind to reject. As an example, many people believe in the Biblical story of Noah's flood: that the entire Earth was covered by water for forty days. But most plants cannot survive being covered by water for that length of time, a boat of that magnitude could not have been built by wood, and there would be no way for two of every animal to survive on that ship and migrate back to their place of origin (such as penguins). So one must choose between accepting the story on faith and rejecting reason, or rejecting the story by reason and thus rejecting faith.
Within the rationalist point of view, there remains the possibility of multiple rational explanations. For example, considering the biblical story of Noah's flood, one making rational determinations about the probability of the events does so via interpretation of modern evidence. Two observers of the story may provide different plausible explanations for the life of plants, construction of the boat, species living at the time, and migration following the flood. Some see this as meaning that a person is not strictly bound to choose between faith and reason.
The 14th Century Jewish philosopher Levi ben Gerson tried to reconcile faith and reason. He wrote, "The Torah cannot prevent us from considering to be true that which our reason urges us to believe." His contemporary Hasdai ben Abraham Crescas argued the contrary view, that reason is weak and faith strong, and that only through faith can we discover the fundamental truth that God is love, that through faith alone can we endure the suffering that is the common lot of God's chosen people.
- Faith and Reason (Fides et Ratio)
- Asa Gray
- Atheists in foxholes
- Søren Kierkegaard
- William Alston
- Alvin Plantinga
- Cornelius Van Til
- Faith and Philosophy
- Reformed epistemology
- Leo Strauss
- Presuppositional apologetics
- Theory of justification
- Methods of obtaining knowledge
- Relationship between religion and science
- Society of Christian Philosophers
- Theory of everything
- Value (personal and cultural)
- Skinner, B. F. (1 January 1948). "'Superstition' in the pigeon.". Journal of Experimental Psychology 38 (2): 168–172. doi:10.1037/h0055873.
- "Faith" from the Catholic Encyclopedia
- "Reason" from the Catholic Encyclopedia
- For an overview—with copious quotes from St. Thomas Aquinas's works, some of which are quoted here—of his exposition of the topic of faith and reason, consult this summary.
- Summa Theologiæ, Iª q. 12 a. 13 co.
- Summa Theologiæ, Iª q. 12 a. 13 ad 3
- Summa Theologiæ, II-IIª q. 2 a. 1 ad 1
- De veritate, q. 14 a. 9 co.
- De veritate, q. 14 a. 9 ad 6
- On the differences between Thomas Aquinas's conception of faith and reason and that of Martin Luther, see Bruce D. Marshall (1999). "Faith and Reason Reconsidered: Aquinas and Luther on Deciding What is True". The Thomist 63: 1–48. Retrieved 2011-05-11.
- Dei Filius cap. 4
- "Faith & Reason" from Étienne Gilson's Le Thomisme.
- Martin Luther, Werke, VIII
- Martin Luther, Table Talk.
- Martin Luther, "On Justification CCXCIV", Table Talk
- Jewish Encyclopedia, volume VIII, page 29
Apologetics and philosophical justifications of faith as rational
- FaithandReason.org advocates natural theology and that faith and reason can work together; maintained by the D.L. Dykes, Jr. Foundation
- Should Faith Be Based On Reason? Considers how the Bible's view of faith is dependent on reason
- Profound Spiritual Quotations at Age of the Sage Demonstrable evidence of agreement across the major World Faiths about their respective Core Spiritual Teachings lends reasonablness to an acceptance of the Existence of God.
Neutral critiques and analysis
- Lecture on The Rationality of Religious Belief Contemporary Christian Philosophy, University of Texas
- Are Christian Beliefs Properly Basic? A critical examination of Alvin Plantinga's claim that Christian beliefs can be justified even without any evidence for them by Keith DeRose, Professor of Philosophy, Yale University
- Folly of Faith, Folly of Reason Examination of science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov's view in "Reason" and discussion of faith and reason in Asimov's cultural tradition of Judaism
Criticisms of the belief that faith is rational
Historical overview of the relationship between faith and reason
- Faith and Reason Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy