Faith and rationality

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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 usually refers to a belief that is held with lack of, in spite of or against reason or evidence, while another position holds that it can refer to belief based upon a degree of evidential warrant.

Although the words faith and belief are sometimes erroneously conflated[citation needed] 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:

  1. Rationalism holds that truth should be determined by reason and factual analysis, rather than faith, dogma, tradition or religious teaching.
  2. Fideism holds that faith is necessary, and that beliefs may be held without evidence or reason, or even in conflict with evidence and reason.

The Catholic Church also has taught that faith and reason can and must work together, in the Papal encyclical letter issued by Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio ("[On] Faith and Reason").

Relationship between faith and reason[edit]

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.[1]

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.[citation needed] 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 as based on warrant": In this view some degree of evidence provides warrant for faith. "To explain great things by small."[2]

Views of the Roman Catholic Church[edit]

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[3]—and reason,[4] predominately in his Summa Theologica, De Veritate, and Summa contra Gentiles.[5] 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.[6]

[Faith is] a kind of knowledge, inasmuch as the intellect is determined by faith to some knowable object.[7]

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.[8]

[T]he object of faith is that which is absent from our understanding. As Augustine said, "we believe that which is absent, but we see that which is present."[9]

[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.[10]

The Council of Trent's catechism—the Roman Catechism, written during the Catholic Church's Counter-Reformation to combat Protestantism and Martin Luther's antimetaphysical tendencies[11]

[12]—echoes St. Thomas:

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:[13]

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 science
1799. 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.

Twentieth-century Thomist philosopher Étienne Gilson wrote about faith and reason in his 1922 book Le Thomisme.[14] His contemporary Jacques Maritain wrote about it in his The Degrees of Knowledge.

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.

Pope Benedict XVI's 12 September 2006 Regensburg Lecture was about faith and reason.

Lutheran epistemology[edit]

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."[15] 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."[16] 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",[17] 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 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.

Reformed epistemology[edit]

Faith as underlying rationality[edit]

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.

Rationalist point of view[edit]

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 objected that 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), Although Christian apologists offer answers to these and such issues,[18][19][20] under the premise that such responses are insufficient, 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.

Evangelical views[edit]

American biblical scholar Archibald Thomas Robertson stated that the Greek word pistis used for faith in the New Testament (over two hundred forty times), and rendered "assurance" in Acts 17:31 (KJV), is "an old verb to furnish, used regularly by Demosthenes for bringing forward evidence."[21] Likewise Tom Price (Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics) affirms that when the New Testament talks about faith positively it only uses words derived from the Greek root [pistis] which means "to be persuaded."[22]

In contrast to faith meaning blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence, Alister McGrath quotes Oxford Anglican theologian W. H. Griffith-Thomas, (1861-1924), who states faith is "not blind, but intelligent" and "commences with the conviction of the mind based on adequate evidence...", which McGrath sees as "a good and reliable definition, synthesizing the core elements of the characteristic Christian understanding of faith."[23]

Peter S Williams[24] holds that "the classic Christian tradition has always valued rationality, and does not hold that faith involves the complete abandonment of reason will believing in the teeth of evidence." Quoting Moreland, faith is defined as "a trust in and commitment to what we have reason to believe is true."

Regarding "doubting Thomas" in John 20:24-31, Williams points out that "Thomas wasn't asked to believe without evidence." He was asked to believe on the basis of the other disciples' testimony. Thomas initially lacked the first-hand experience of the evidence that had convinced them... Moreover, the reason John gives for recounting these events is that what she saw is evidence... Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples...But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that believing ye might have life in his name. John 20:30,31.[25]

British Christian apologist John Lennox argues that "faith conceived as belief that lacks warrant is very different from faith conceived as belief that has warrant." And that, "the use of the adjective 'blind' to describe 'faith' indicates that faith is not necessarily, or always, or indeed normally, blind." "The validity, or warrant, of faith or belief depends on the strength of the evidence on which the belief is based." "We all know how to distinguish between blind faith and evidence-based faith. We are well aware that faith is only justified if there is evidence to back it up." "Evidence-based faith is the normal concept on which we base our everyday lives."[26]

Alvin Plantinga upholds that faith may be the result of evidence testifying to the reliability of the source of truth claims, but although it may involve this, he sees faith as being the result of hearing the truth of the gospel with the internal persuasion by the Holy Spirit moving and enabling him to believe. "Christian belief is produced in the believer by the internal instigation of the Holy Spirit, endorsing the teachings of Scripture, which is itself divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit. The result of the work of the Holy Spirit is faith."[27]

Jewish philosophy[edit]

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."[28] 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.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Skinner, B. F. (1 January 1948). "'Superstition' in the pigeon.". Journal of Experimental Psychology 38 (2): 168–172. doi:10.1037/h0055873. PMID 18913665. 
  2. ^ Hawker, Robert (1805). Poor Man's Commentary. pp. Hebrews 11. 
  3. ^ "Faith" from the Catholic Encyclopedia
  4. ^ "Reason" from the Catholic Encyclopedia
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Summa Theologiæ, Iª q. 12 a. 13 co.
  7. ^ Summa Theologiæ, Iª q. 12 a. 13 ad 3
  8. ^ Summa Theologiæ, II-IIª q. 2 a. 1 ad 1
  9. ^ De veritate, q. 14 a. 9 co.
  10. ^ De veritate, q. 14 a. 9 ad 6
  11. ^ Faith and Reason in Martin Luther
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ Dei Filius cap. 4
  14. ^ "Faith & Reason" from Étienne Gilson's Le Thomisme.
  15. ^ Martin Luther, Werke, VIII
  16. ^ Martin Luther, Table Talk.
  17. ^ Martin Luther, "On Justification CCXCIV", Table Talk
  18. ^ Ham, Ken. "Was There Really a Noah's Ark & Flood?". Answers in Genesis. Retrieved 23 January 2014. 
  19. ^ Wright, David. "How Did Plants Survive the Flood?". Answers in Genesis. Retrieved 23 January 2014. 
  20. ^ "How did animals get from the Ark to isolated places..". Christian Answers Network. Retrieved 23 January 2014. 
  21. ^ Robertson, Archibald Thomas. WORD PICTURES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT. pp. Chapter 17. 
  22. ^ Price, Thomas. "Faith is about 'just trusting' God isn't It?". Retrieved 23 January 2014. 
  23. ^ McGrath, Alister E. (2008). The Order of Things: Explorations in Scientific Theology. John Wiley & Sons. p. 33. ISBN 140512556X. 
  24. ^ http://www.peterswilliams.com
  25. ^ Williams, Peter S (2013). A Faithful Guide to Philosophy: A Christian Introduction to the Love of Wisdom. Authentic Media. pp. Chapter 1.4. ISBN 1842278118. 
  26. ^ Lennox, John (2011). unning for God: Why the New Atheists Are Missing the Target. United kingdom: Lion. p. 55. ISBN 0745953220. 
  27. ^ Plantinga, Alvin (2000). Warranted Christian Belief. USA: Oxford University Press. pp. 250, 291. ISBN 0195131924. 
  28. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia, volume VIII, page 29

External links[edit]

Apologetics and philosophical justifications of faith as rational[edit]

Neutral critiques and analysis[edit]

Criticisms of the belief that faith is rational[edit]

Historical overview of the relationship between faith and reason[edit]