Saturday, September 7, 2013

No Such Thing As Faith Without Reason

 I have recently heard/read a lot of people claiming that faith and reason are opposed to one another. Sadly, the sentiment is not only advanced by non-believers but often by Christians as well. Recently, I have been considering whether this claim even makes logical sense. Are faith and reason polar opposites? That is, does faith necessarily decrease as reason increases and vice versa? Or, to put it another way, are faith and reason inversely proportional? That is the question I want to consider here.

I think the best way to handle the question (and many similar questions) is to "de-spiritualize" it. That will help to unload some of the religious baggage and see the core principles at work more clearly. To do this, I will use marriage as an analogy. I have faith that my wife loves me. That is to say, I trust that she loves me. Of course, I cannot know with complete certainty, but simply have to take it on faith. It is entirely possible that she is deceiving me. However, that seems incredibly unlikely. Why? The answer is because of reason. There is a great deal of evidence that gives me reason to trust (by faith) that she loves me. What is more, as reasons for thinking she loves me increase, so does my faith that she loves me.

Are there any counter evidences that might make me think she doesn't love me? Of course. Any (honest) married person will testify to this. I often struggle to understand why she reacted a certain way or said a certain thing, and if I only analyzed my emotional response to those particular moments, I might say "there is no way she loves me." But are these isolated incidents -- the highly subjective, emotionally charged moments of confusion -- enough to overthrow the wealth of evidence that points to her love for me? Absolutely not!

Now, let us consider how absurd it would be if I reassessed my marriage using the formula that faith and reason are inversely proportional. In order for my faith in my wife's love to grow, I would actually need less reasons for it. The less she showed her love and the more she voiced her contempt, the greater my faith that she loves me would become. Stepping back from the analogy for a moment, that would mean a person of faith would be in the awkward position of actually wanting his beliefs to be disproven in order that his faith might reach its greatest potential. That is totally ridiculous. 

At this point, I can imagine that someone accusing me of having grossly misrepresented the "faith vs reason" position. They would likely argue that the absence of reason simply makes more room for faith. That is, I do not have to express very much faith in my wife's love since there are abundant reasons for knowing it is true. In the absence of reasons, I would have to exercise a tremendous amount of faith in order to believe that she loved me. My question at that point would be: is faith the sort of thing that changes size to fill gaps? I do not think so. Faith can certainly increase or decrease, but I do not have any reason to think that the supply necessarily responds to the demand. It seems to me that when a  person has no apparent reasons for faith in something or someone, he usually has less obvious reasons that he finds just as, if not more compelling. These might be emotional or psychological reasons rather than emperical. Maybe the reasons come from experience. Or maybe they come from the perceived trustworthiness of an authority. These are all legitimate sources of reasons for faith. Granted, someone might say these are not good reasons. But they are still reasons! In the end, I would argue that no one expresses faith in the absence of reason. That idea is just false. There is no such thing as faith without reason.

Proponents of the Christian "faith vs reason" crowd generally want to argue that no reason is necessary beyond the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit. To that I would simply say that they need to re-phrase their position. They do not actually believe that faith is opposed to reason but simply that the testimony of the Spirit is reason enough for faith. In which case, they maintain my claim that no one believes without reason. I would even agree with them up to a certain point. I affirm that the testimony of the Holy Spirit is necessary for faith in Christ. However, I do not think that in any way logically precludes the possibility that faith can be increased by additional evidence. I also do not believe there are compelling reasons to think the testimony of the Holy Spirit cannot work through the presentation of evidence. In fact, I think there are biblical reasons to think he often does. If we want to be strict about our soteriology and argue that "no one is saved based on the presentation of evidence", then I think we have to say the same about the presentation of  the Gospel. Do we want to go there? I really hope not, but strictly speaking, people are not saved by the act of evangelism. I believe the same way the Holy Spirit uses the presentation of the Gospel as a tool, He also uses the presentation of evidence. Come to think of it, why should we assume that the testimony of the Holy Spirit is some kind of ethereal feeling completely detached from reason? I don't know of any biblical reason for thinking that. But I will leave that for now and address the other side of the "faith vs reason" coin.

I would argue that advocates of the atheistic "faith vs reason" crowd also need to re-phrase their objection. In my estimation, when they say, "faith is opposed to reason", what they really mean is, "people of faith lack any good reasons for belief." But that is a completely different argument and a highly subjective one. Who decides what constitutes good evidence? Are emotional and psychological evidence always misleading? Of course not. What about beliefs based on experience or the perceived trustworthiness of authority? Should these always be rejected? That would be ridiculous. In reality, the majority of beliefs held by human beings (regardless of their worldview) come from experience and authority.

More importantly, what really matters is not the goodness or badness of the reasons Christians have for their faith. What matters is whether or not what they believe is true. The question is not, "Does the random Christian on the street have any good reasons for his faith?" but, "Do any good reasons for the Christian faith exist?" After a lot of study and skepticism (contrary to popular belief, Christians are often the harshest skeptics of Christianity), I am absolutely convinced that they do. What is more, I am convinced that anyone who is genuinely seeking the answer to that question will find the same to be true.

No comments:

Post a Comment