Faith Verses Reason: A mutual necessity

Today’s post was written by my husband. I thought the subject appropriate and post it here with his permission. A complete Bibliography can be provided upon request.

Faith verses reason is the eternal struggle to find out who we are and where we came from and sadly, it seems, might be a debate that might never be fully settled. It is never a comfortable thing to doubt one’s faith. Nor is it convenient to question reason in the face of evidence. For it is distinctly human to have faith or to reason out a thing. To change one’s belief or alter one’s opinion because of truth does not exist in any living thing but the Homo-Sapiens. Perhaps we can assume that the two go hand in hand, that they complement one another. It all depends on who we ask, how we were raised and what we believe.

What is reason? In his speech “Reason and Faith: A Lenten Reflection” by Pierre Manent the Professor defines reason this way: “Reason, one might say, is what allows us to link sight to touch.” (page 84) But then, almost in contradiction he says: “We can even see what does not exist, since we can imagine it.” (Page 84) This comment begs the question: can we always believe what we see? Reason, it seems, can be relative.

The bible has its own definition of faith. At Hebrews 11:1 we read: Faith is the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld.”(New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, Page 1438) The word “faith” once defined someone who was loyal and trustworthy, a faithful friend. But with the advent of Christianity the meaning was, over time, changed to something like the scripture quoted above. Jesus himself even encouraged the kind of faith that would in other situations be laughed at. At John 20:29 we read: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet shall believe.” Here Jesus was speaking to the Apostle Thomas after his resurrection. Except for those present in that room two-thousand years ago, how could anyone really know if this exchange really happened? Faith, it seems can also be relative.

Just before his death Pontius Pilate asked Jesus this question:”What is truth?” Pilate did not wait for an answer. Though that question was asked two millenniums ago it was hardly the first time humans have uttered those words and it certainly was not the last. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle and many other great thinkers of the ages of men have struggled with the concept of truth since the dawn of time.

The scripture in Hebrews shows us that faith in itself is immobile; it is a concept based on hope. Faith tells us we must wait on God. We might think that God has left us to our own devices. Unlike the Mosaic Law of the Jewish people, Christianity requires more faith. The Mosaic Law was spelled out to the very last detail and enforced by God himself. If one was an ancient Israelite one did not have to guess at God’s existence–he knew. Therefore it was a law. The Christian faith is based on hoping things will happen even though there is no evidence it ever will.

It would seem that if we chase after truth, be it based on reason or faith we are chasing after the wind. After all, truth is itself relative. Pilate’s questionWhat is truth?” is not one that can readily be answered. How many books have been written about “reason”? How many about “faith”? How many have held the real truth?

The Concept of Reason and Faith

Reason asks us to question everything. It asks the believer to come forth with evidence about what he believes. “Where is your evidence?” reason asks, “Where is your truth?” Faith on the other hand asks reason when it will stop questioning and accept something as truth? Can one really spend eternity trying to prove every little point and ever find the truth? Does this mean that truth is unverifiable?

Faith, I believe, is very important. But one must temper it with reason. The two are not mutually exclusive. Blind faith is not reasonable–conversely, reasonable faith should not be blind. Science is ever changing. What we knew fifty years ago is often no longer the case. It is reasonable then to have faith that the science is correct, that the proof is believable…for now anyway.

A person must be careful not to confuse reason with faith or vice-versa, but the key is to learn how to make them work together. Two heads are better than one. Is it reasonable to ask whether or not one should put faith in something? At John 17:3 it is said that everlasting life is dependent on “Taking in Knowledge”. Why? Did Jesus recognize that one could not have faith in something without something to reason on? Can we come to the conclusion then that faith without reason is useless? I think so.

I believe that faith without reason cannot understand what it has faith in, and reason without faith cannot understand why it exists. The why is very important. Why do we love? Why do some give up their very lives based on the things they have faith in? Why do we form friendships? Why do we want to believe in God? And if this life is all there is, then why does any of this matter? These questions cannot be answered unless one uses the power of reason tempered with faith. Why?  Because there are two questions that need to be answered: what and why. What do I have faith in: Fill in the blank; why do I have faith: logical reason.

Why?  We use our senses to gather evidence and use reasoning to decipher it and draw a conclusion. Sometimes it is hard to define evidence that is not encountered by our senses. That is where we must reason whether or not something deserves faith. These things can be rather personal. That is why it is said that truth is relative.

In his speech Professor Manent concludes by saying “Reason, which questions, does not always listen to the answer; but the believer who believes he has the answer often has not listened to the question. The rationalist and the believer do not limp on the same foot. Thus they sustain each other, despite everything, and our limping species makes its way towards truth.(Page 86)

I think the illustration of two people limping on different feet supporting one another to a common goal is a very apt one indeed. It correctly describes how we need to moderately use both faith and reason to make decisions in life. That is how we may find truth, at least our truth.  Oscar Wilde said “that the truth is rarely pure and never simple.” Two heads are better than one.

In my own journey through life I have found that the older I get the less I understand. I heard my father say this and I am only now beginning to understand what he meant by that phrase. I have found my faith shaken, not by God, but by man. I did not use reason like I should have and now I find I am paying the price. Everything I thought I knew I am slowly debunking and throwing unceremoniously out the window. I find now that I need more than just blind faith. I need more than just “Because I said so.” I still believe in God, I just don’t believe in faith without reason anymore–my mistake.

“You never find yourself until you face the truth”, Pearl Bailey said. I am finding that out now after all this time. Reason and faith together are a formidable duo if used properly. I cannot say that I will always do so but it is reasonable to say I will try and I have faith in myself that I will overcome the habits of extreme naivety.

In his review of “Reason and the Reasons of Faith,” edited by Paul J. Griffiths and Reinhard Hutter. David Trenery points out: “The starting-point of this book is the perception of a double crisis. On the one hand, there is a crisis in theological confidence in reason as a means of disclosing the nature of the reality presupposed by a belief in Christian doctrine. This crisis of

the application of reason to faith in theology is paralleled by a crisis of faith in reason

in philosophy”(Reason and the Reasons of Faith, David Trenery page 1).

Trenery shows how people cannot seem to grasp the relevance of using both faith and reason in tandem to come to their own conclusions about life, God, relationships, etc. It seems mixing religion and philosophy is like mixing oil and water–it never works. Because all things are relative though, we can make it work on a personal level. We just have to reason out what is best for ourselves and have faith we can make it happen, not forgetting the scripture that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). You get out of something what you put into it. In his review of “Reasonable Faith,” by John Haldane. Ryan T. Anderson quotes the author: “In his 2004 book Faithful Reason, “John Haldane noted ‘without qualification’ that throughout his training in analytic philosophy he never felt any tension between faith and reason. He went on to add that ‘my faith seems reasonable and my reason faithful.’”  Maybe that’s all we can expect. Maybe that’s about as close to settling the debate as we will ever get. Faith, reason and truth are all relative and the paths we choose and the journeys we take make them personal. Being reasonable and keeping the faith can be a struggle in this world, but all we can do is try, think, and hope.



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