Monday, September 9, 2013

Can Faith Be Divorced from Reason or VIce Versa?

Conversations about faith can become volatile pretty quickly, especially when the other person in the conversation is anti-faith or has a misunderstanding about faith. Take for example, those who have read Richard Dawkins and read things from him like,

Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where's the harm? September 11th changed all that. Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labelled only by a difference of inherited tradition. And dangerous because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects religion from normal criticism. Let's now stop being so damned respectful![1]

And then in recent days, another atheist named Peter Boghossian, recently stated that faith is  "pretending to know what you don't know."[2] While Boghossian's definition of faith is wrong, his statement demonstrates more of a lack of reason than those he is accusing of abandoning  reason; namely Christians who believe in having a faith in the risen Jesus Christ.

The critics of the Christian faith, accusing that it is an unreasonable faith, have never been more venomous. Whether they accuse us of "taking a leap in the dark" or pontificating that "faith has been rendered meaningless in an age of scientific and intellectual enlightenment" we must understand that faith and reason cannot be detached or divorced from one another. Why is that? Here are five things to think about when think on this faith and reason debate.

First,  the Early Church Fathers, the Medievel scholars and Protestant Reformers believed that faith fits the biblical view of reason. One must remember that there is a reasonableness to faith and that the finite human intellect is not able to fully grasp infinite divine truth.  There is something else is needing to be remembered here as well; and that is the fact that just because something cannot be fully understood by reason does not mean that it is unreasonable.

Second, our reasoning capacity is part of God's image in us. Human rationality reflects the Creator's rationality. We use our minds to glorify God, and this in turn reveals His nature. The greatest commandment that was given to us is found in the Hebrew Torah, in the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) and it is applied by Jesus in Matthew 22:37. That commandment tells us that we are to love God with all our being, and that includes our minds.  We show that we love God by pursuing truth, using reason well, and rejecting that which is logically and empirically false, and experientially irrelevant.

Third, faith is not unreasonable. Nothing is inherently irrational about believing Jesus Christ is God's Son, who died to pay for my sins. NonChristians may call it foolish (1 Corinthians 1:18), but they cannot demonstrate there charge (1:25).  The Protestant Reformers rationally explained the threefold nature of saving faith: a) knowledge of the facts of the gospel, b.) believing or assenting to the truth of the gospel, and c.) the act of the will, or trusting in Christ alone for our justification before God. We were saved by faith, but our minds played a part in that act of faith. We heard, we processed, and we responded to the gospel by using our minds, not abandoning them. Faith and reason cannot be separated.

Fourth, the Christian faith is distinct from other kinds of faith which are not so reasonable. For example, the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormon Church, along with the other world religions have a type of faith, but none of them hold up to serious scrutiny. Christianity has survived the most serious scrutiny and it will continue to do so when properly presented before its critics. It has stood strong against the Voltaires and it will stand firm against the likes of the  Richard Dawkinses, the Peter Boghossians, the Brian Leiters, and the John Grays. 

Fifth and last, there are some Christian teachings that are mysterious and beyond our finite understanding. The doctrines of the faith like the Trinity [God's single essence and yet threefold in personhood] and the Incarnation of Christ [how two natures, one fully Divine, and one fully human can be found in the Person of Jesus Christ] are profound mysteries. But despite the fact that they are mysteries and they cannot be FULLY understood, they are not contradictions. They do not violate any fundamental laws of logic. In the final analysis, however, the Trinity and the Incarnation can never be fully understood through shear reason alone. But this does not render biblical Christianity faith irrational.

In summation, faith and reason do not compete with one another.  Throughout history the church has had a high view of the use of reason in the live of the redeemed. Christian should use their mind to glorify God by diligently pursuing and knowing truth, by thinking clearly and properly, and by rejecting falsehood. The Christian faith, when properly presented, is a reasonable faith and we should value the use of reason, which is one of God's greatest gifts.

Notes

[1] Richard Dawkins, when asked how the world had changed following the September 11, 2001 attacks, "Has the world Changed?, The Guardian (October 11, 2001)

[2] Quoted from Tom Gilson's blog, Thinking Christian, where he is addressing the claims of Professor Peter Boghossian.  Tom's articles on this subject can be found here: http://www.thinkingchristian.net/series/peter-boghossian/

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