Philosophy and Religion

Is Faith Compatible with Reason?

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Well of course not! is the type of response some might be tempted give upon pondering the question for less than a few seconds. Many people today assume that faith is about taking a leap into the dark and believing in something where there is no evidence. (This is a common thought process about belief in the Bible). But is it really the case that faith and reason are not compatible? Not only is it not the case, but the evidence suggests that it is the other way around, reason depends on heavily on faith! How so? Let’s take a quick look.

Firstly, what does it mean to reason? To reason means to be able to think clearly about an event/occurrence and to formulate a judgment. Reasoning is about giving justification for something and having rational grounds for giving that justification.

Secondly, what does it mean to have faith? Well there are at least 4 different types of faith, I will briefly explain.

  • Warranted faith: this is faith that everybody employs e.g. you don’t check the four legs of your chair every time you go to sit on it – You don’t run your tap water under chemical lab tests each time you go to drink from it. You essentially have faith in that these things will not end up harming you in some unexpected way.
  • Irrational faith: irrational faith is faith where there is simply no supporting evidence e.g. the belief that there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is irrational simply because there is no evidence for it whatsoever (not to mention that it is physically impossible when you understand the mechanics of a rainbow!)
  • Blind faith: this is when someone ignores the evidence in front of them in order to keep believing what they want to (religious people are charged with this most of the time).
  • Evidence based faith: this is faith that you put into something when there is enough evidence to support it e.g. you allow your dentist to peer into your mouth with extremely sharp objects based on the conviction that they know what they are doing (because the evidence supports the fact that they do).

Looking at the definition 1) and 4) of faith, we can see that reasoning is at the centre of their claims. 1) requires us to have faith based on what we have done and/or observed in the past (inductive reasoning), and 4 requires us to have faith based on the evidence that is at hand. Number 3) and 2) use reason in a negative way, but notice even with both of them you still need to employ some type of reasoning ability in order to hold to those positions, even if it is bad reasoning ability.

How does reason/logic depend on faith?

Let’s look at reason first. What do we reason with? “Our brains/minds”, and how do we know that our logical capabilities are trustworthy? “Well I know that my mind is trustworthy because I can trust it…I can have a rational conversation with someone…”, and right there is the problem! In order to argue that your mind/logic is valid you have to use your mind/logic to think about and then form the sentence that you want to say. In other words, you have to assume that you are logical in order to argue that you are…logical, there is no real way out of this loop and in philosophy this is what is called circular reasoning.

Both atheists and theists have to deal with this problem, but unfortunately for atheism there is no good justification for this it seems since human beings (and their minds) are the product of time and chance (on atheistic naturalism), so there is no way to appeal to anything other than the human mind, which means that the atheist worldview is built upon circular reasoning [see Prof John Lennox]. Fortunately, on biblical theism, God is a logical being and He is beyond the universe meaning that even though a theist has to use their own logic in order to argue for their logic, they can reasonably ground the idea that their logic is trustworthy upon the concept that God – who is a logical being – has created us to be logical beings so that there is good reason for us to believe that our reasoning is in fact valid. 

Can science and faith mix?

What is science? Science effectively is the study of the natural world, especially relating to casual relations, the scientific method is usually (but not always) based on observation, testing, repeating and then validating results.

Today, science is a go to for many people who are opposed to religion, the usual claim is that “we believe in science, and you just believe in an old disproven book”. (I have dealt more fully with this question in another of my articles I don’t believe in God, I believe in Science). Now what is the assumption implicit in this claim? The assumption is that science is to do purely with logic and evidence whilst faith in the bible is simply about blind faith in a disproven book. (if you want to look at some reasons why the bible is a reliable historical book then check my other articles Can We Really Trust the New Testament?Atheist Scholar Agrees that the New Testament is Reliable?). What is the problem with the assumption? Well simply put…it’s wrong. We have already look at the various definitions of faith we have also looked at how reason by default relies on faith itself, but we can take this further.

Science as an endeavour is based upon a multitude of beliefs i.e. scientists have to ground what they do in certain beliefs before they can do what they do, in others words they need to exhibit faith. How so? Let’s look at a few examples.

  • Our minds have the capability to study the world: this is not something you create in a lab, scientists do not create their minds to be able to study the world, they can only work with the fact that they are able to, but then this becomes a belief, it is not scientifically justifiable, it is a faith position that scientists hold to every single day that they step into the lab. [See Prof John Lennox 5:06]
  • the laws of logic and universe: scientist cannot account for why the world seems to act so orderly and why their logic also seems to, in fact it baffles them, but it is a blessing because it allows them to do their work. Since science is based heavily on prediction and repetition, an orderly universe is the perfect environment to work in however scientist didn’t create the order, it is something which they have to have faith in before they can work from it. [see atheist physicist Paul Davies article Taking Science on Faith]
  • The idea the “science should be done”: again, this is not something that you test and find the results to in a lab, it is a philosophical (and political) position/belief that one takes with them into the lab in order to do science.
  • Moral truths: Science can tell you what will happen if someone drowns in a river, but science cannot tell you to jump into that river in order to save the person who is drowning. Moral truths are outside the bounds of science, yet scientists rely on ethics and ethical conduct e.g. “science is a good thing to be done” and that “truth telling is a principle that should be upheld” in order for them to keep doing what they do.
  • God’s existence: the fact of God’s existence or non-existence is not something that science can demonstrate because by definition, God is outside of the realms of science. Science deals with the natural only, God is a supernatural metaphysical being so there is no possibly way for science to decide on the status of God. Anytime a scientist states that God has been disproven by science they are making a fallacious and unscientific faith claim.

Faith and science are involved in a much more complicated relationship then is assumed by much of the general public, and once people begin to understand this point more clearly, I think it will serve as a useful foundation for positive dialogue between faith and science. In the academic field in fact, this understanding is already largely coming into prominence with many university course now developing such as Philosophy, Science and Religion and Philosophical Theology. Also, well established organizations such as the Faraday Institute, ISSR and CTNS (and many more around the world) employ and/or work with world-class theologian and scientists and philosophers from wide ranging backgrounds (theism, atheism, Buddhism, Hinduism etc.) in order to promote this type of unifying dialogue.

4 thoughts on “Is Faith Compatible with Reason?”

  1. Science and faith and religion need not be enemies. Great post. We have addressed your last point above, God’s existence, a couple of times on our blog previously. But, you did a more comprehensive job than we did in discussing the limitations of science. More people need to recognize the limitations of science (which is not competent to take a stand on God’s existence). Sadly, for many science has become a substitute for religion. We call this “scientism” and it is for those who are trapped in a bodily level of consciousness and have not achieved a spiritual level of consciousness.

    Science and its endeavors ought to (need to) be governed by the moral laws coming from bona fide religion. Today, we have immoral science where the tissues and organs of children ripped from their mothers’ wombs are sold to biotech companies doing immoral research. Truth is indeed stranger than fictions and more horrific.

    Like

    1. Thanks very much Larry! I agree (I will have a read of your posts too).
      Yh in regards to the limits of science, I agree with you as well “scientism” is a very dangerous ideology (although self-defeating!), and people need to really rise beyond it.

      Last point is also very key! The moral realm that governs science is so important, without proper moral guidance science (that we can arguably say comes from religion) can be used for just about any means with no moral justification, and there is ample evidence to show that (just as the example you have rightly brought up).

      Liked by 1 person

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