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FAITHLESS REASON BUT NOT REASONLESS FAITH

February 6, 2010

By Dr. Gary S. Day

There is always a need to reflect on the topic of Christian faith and reason for several reasons, not the least is that one ought to continuously study Biblical faith.  The growing number of agnostic Christians, if there is such a creature, are those who throw away the law of rationality because they cannot hold their ground in intellectual confrontations about the Christian faith is another reason.  Yet the Word of God says to produce your cause and bring forth strong reason, to prove all things (Isaiah 41:21; I Thessalonians 5:21).  Lastly, Christian faith and reason should be investigated because of the consistent attacks on Christianity from the atheistic crowd.  They, like George Smith believe that “Reason and faith are opposites, two mutually exclusive terms; there is no reconciliation or common ground” (Atheism: The Case Against God, 1979, p.5).

The essential error that Smith exudes is what the Christian ought also to avoid; using reason and revelation in terms of “either/or” rather than “both/and”, for although faith and reason are distinct, they are not separate.  Faith and reason are both action tools.  The difference is in the place of their action.  Reason acts in the place of the intellect alone, while faith acts both in the place of the intellect and the will (Romans 1:18-21).

Biblical Faith

First, let’s examine Biblical faith as is told in the Word of God, the Bible.  The Greek scholars would agree that the three words representing “faith” in the New Testament not only implies a prior knowledge or understanding of what is to be believed or trusted, but also that it can lead to greater knowledge.  In other words faith is founded on knowledge that leads to greater knowledge. 

Though “faith” is used in a general way concerning things revealed, by God both naturally and supernaturally, there are at least seven ways faith is distinctly used in
Scripture:

1.  To designate belief —John 1:42; Hebrews 11:6

2.  Meaning trust—John 14:1; Romans 4:17-20

3.  Referring to obedience—Numbers 20:12; John 3:36

4.  Steadfastness, loyalty or faithfulness (often) —Habakkuk 2:4; Galatians 3:9

5.  Objectively as “the faith”—Romans 10:9; Jude 3

6.  Strong personal convictions—Romans 12:2, 23

7.  Referred to as a spiritual gift—1 Corinthians 12:8-9; Matthew 17:20

Although faith is contrasted with doubt, sight and deeds of the Law, it is never contrasted as being separate from knowledge.  The Gospel of John uses “faith” often in the sense of being convinced, with Christ Jesus being the object of faith.  And, Scripture refers to itself as having been written to construct both faith and knowledge (John 20:30-31; 1 John 5:13), especially in relationship to the person and work of Christ.   Yet, faith and knowledge often materially refer to the same thing (1 Timothy 4:3; 2 Timothy 1:12).  The main objective of Christian faith is to lead to a commitment to Christ.  This is often urged by the Apostles by the evidence of testimony, miracles and predictive prophecy.  So, Biblical faith is not based on thin air, but portrayed as knowledge based upon testimonies of evidence (i.e. facts).  So, Biblical faith is the conclusion of sufficient evidence, and thus is rational belief.

Like Albert Einstein’s theories of Specific and General Relativity concerning the universe, in the Scriptures there is Specific and General Revelation.   The information needed in regard to “salvation of the soul by faith” is the ilk of God’s Specific Revelation, without which man cannot be saved (Romans 10:17; John 6:44-45).  Yet, nothing is only ‘probably true’ concerning our salvation in Christ.   However, there is a “faith” derived from God’s General Revelation (such as nature; Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:19-22) that will evidence the existence of God.

Coming to Knowledge

There are at least six legitimate ways the Bible portrays that we come to knowledge through proofs, which is not limited to empirical proof of the senses as Scientific reasoning limits proof (see my article Proof or No Proof to gain an understanding of the differing types of proof):

1.  Induction or inductive reasoning, a simple gathering together of evidence, like a doctor gathers together symptoms to make a diagnosis

2.  Deduction or deductive reasoning, assembling evidence for conclusive results (often used in Scripture Mark 3:4, et al)

3. Through empirical data, a direct experiencing of an object or event (Luke 12:54-56)

4.  Credible testimony from credible witnesses (John 20:25-31; 1 Peter 1:8-11)

5.  Intuition as knowledge immediately grasped independent from sense perception or empirical experience, such as is used in Mathew 12:24-28.  Intuitively one knows that it is ridiculous to suppose that Jesus would cast out demons by satanic power.  Under this heading would abide the principle of non-contradiction, “a thing cannot both exist and not exist at the same time and in the same sense.”  Also, the law of contradiction of logic, derived from the former principle that states that “contradictory statements cannot both be true.”  Both are known immediately with absolute certainty to be true.  These principles can be applied to and relates to arguments for the existence of God, e.g. God cannot both exist and not exist at the same time, etc.  Either He does or He doesn’t;

Empirical observation is a meaningless method here. 

6.  Metaphysical deduction, a term coined by Dick Sztanyo in Faith and Reason.  This refers to “a deduction made from things that can be observed to things that potentially may never be seen” (cf. Luke 17:20-21 and Hebrews 11:3).

As Acts 14:17 puts it, God “did not leave Himself without witness,” yet it is each person’s responsibility to reason correctly, so that right conclusions are drawn.  Nowhere is proof limited to only one means of gathering truth, as some would have you believe.   Each mode of coming to knowledge outlined above has its limits, including empirical or scientific reasoning, but each is a legitimate method to obtain knowledge and to prove your case.  Bertrand Russell and many others wrongly would make a dichotomous separation between faith and reason, primarily because they elevate only one method of evidence gathering in exclusion of all others: “Whatever knowledge is attainable, must be attained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know” (Religion and Science, 1935; 1961, p. 243). This is the platform that atheists’ often use to try to disprove God, but their platform is far from solid.

Shaping Modern Faith

Atheist Antony Flew correctly understands that the important issue in the argument to prove of the existence of God for the committed Christian is the issue of “the rationality of the commitment” (God and Philosophy, 1966, p. 19).  It makes all the difference in the world for the committed Christian whether God exists or not, for if God exists, the believability and the defensibility of the Gospel are sure, and thus his convictions are also sure.

However, the weakness of the modern Christian is the tendency to be unsure of the reality of God.  The philosophies of the past have influenced carnal man’s concept of faith, and thus of God.  These concepts have crept into the thinking of the faithful, replacing the sure Word of God with winsome philosophies of man, thus creating doubt based on false reasoning.  The writings of such men as Kierkegaard, Kant, Russell and William James scarce can be separated in some Christian writers when it regards rational belief. 

Kant wrote that he had to disregard knowledge to make room for faith.  Kierkegaard wrote that man lets go of rationality and takes a “leap of faith” into the Unknown called God, when reason reaches its limits.  James wrote that though we cannot know, and do not know that God exists man should live as if He did.   A similar reasoning is also found in Pascal’s writings.  Since Kant faith and reason has been separated from each other into un-blending spheres.  As was mentioned above, Russell and many others exalt scientific reasoning and empirical proofs above all others, which is faulty thinking about proof.

Clark Pinnock gave a charge to the Christian when he wrote, “Loud rhetorical assertions that God is ‘really’ out there are not going to substitute for an intellectually solid theology that backs up its faith with works.  Evidence has to be forthcoming to validate the confidence that God is not made in man’s image but is the Lord and Savior of mankind”  (Christianity Today, Sept 3,1982).

“Vain philosophies” have arisen because the carnal mind cannot grasp the things of God, and thus man separates God and faith from his reason.  Walter Kaufmann in his book, Christian Religion and Philosophy, 1961) gives seven reasons why men “believe.”  Of these seven, the first is the only Biblically valid reason: Any statement (such as ‘God exists’) may be believed because arguments have been (or can be) offered in its support (1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 Peter 3:15).   This is rational belief based upon evidence.  Irrational beliefs are of two kind; those that have a non-rational ‘reason’ based upon emotion, prejudice, habit and the like, such as believing what is told without thought; secondly, those beliefs that are produced by inadequate of insufficient reasons.

Lionel Ruby coined the phrase ‘law of rationality,’ designating it to mean “We ought to justify our conclusions by adequate evidence” (Logic: An Introduction, 1961, 131).  In short, there are enough justifiable conclusions based on adequate evidence where we can be absolutely certain intellectually about the deity of Christ, the existence of God the inspiration of the Bible and other matters of the Christian faith.

Some Scriptural Evidence for Rational Belief

In1 Peter 3:15 believers are called upon to “always give answer to every man that ask you a reason concerning the hope that is in you,” which means that the obligation to give a rational account of the hope in Christ, the Word of God, etc. is laid at every Christian’s feet.  From 1 Thessalonians 5:21 Christians are called upon to “prove/put to the test all things” which would include the existence of God (Cf. 1 John 4:1; 1 Timothy 3:10 and many others).  Paul’s “defense and confirmation of the gospel,” in Philippians 1:7, purports that a justification of the position is intended, as does 2 Peter 1:10, 19.  Also, Luke 1:4; Acts 1:3; 2:36; 9:22; and 13:38 all deem that the inspired Scriptures are sufficient for us to “know the certainty of those things.  The abandonment of rational belief by the Christian populous is a crucial problem, which should be addressed behind the pulpit, in our homes, and in the streets where the battle for our minds takes place.

The accumulation of information based on rational beliefs does not denote a ‘saving faith.’ It just proves that the intellectual foundations upon which ‘saving faith’ is based, is true.  In other words, you ‘believe that’ before you can ‘believe in.’ For example, we believe that God exists before we believe in God. 

The philosophical concept of fideism (the thought that truth in religion is based upon something unproved or un-provable, and thus without reason), permeates much of modern thinking, including Christian thought (aware of it or not).  At best fideism is a variant of agnosticism, which accepts the unknown by faith.  Yet, this is not a Biblical approach to belief, for Biblical faith is founded on obtainable and rational knowledge.

Viewing reason as the barrier to faith, some would believe that real faith is the ‘as if’ variety.  It is acting ‘as if’ there really is an object of faith out there somewhere.  Others viewing reason as the barrier to faith, more insidiously think that faith only probably exists, allowing for the possibility that there is no object of faith out there somewhere.  While still others who see faith as divorced from knowledge, take a ‘leap of faith’ over the barrier of reason to a supposed object of faith.  The commonality between these erroneous views, that the vast majority of the people populate, is the explicit rejection of knowledge in connection to the object of faith. 

Yet the Apostle Paul was determined to know Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).  In the Biblical construct of rational faith, faith is a volitional commitment of an informed intellect; for commitment without knowledge is irrationality, and knowledge without commitment is disbelief.  The Bible is clear that faith is described as both belief and knowledge at the same time and in the same sense (John 6:69; 1 Tim 4:3, etc.).  Also, sight, knowledge and faith are not necessarily separate (cf. John 4:59, 41-42).  There is a claim (Jesus is savior), evidence showing that the claim is true, and belief in Christ based upon the knowledge of the truth of the claim (John 8:32; 17:3).  In Luke 16:31 belief (being persuaded) is in both written evidence (Moses and the prophets), and visual inspection (a resurrected body), and both are evidenced as markers of proof that would/should produce belief through knowledge. 

Stand up for Christ Christian, and have your minds transformed from this world’s thought pattern into God’s pattern and the rationality of the Christian faith will become evident.

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