Sunday, May 11, 2014

The False Conflict Between Reason and Faith

There is supposedly today a great debate between reason and faith. The two are irreconcilable, it is said, and one must ultimately choose which one will decide to follow.

Those who champion reason do everything possible to denigrate the grounds for faith. They call faith "irrational", "delusional", and -- yes, even "mad", or "blind".

But just who are the ones making these charges most vociferously?

You guessed it: they are the self-anointed atheists -- the ones, like Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris, who proudly proclaim themselves immune to the non-rational bases for what they term as "blind faith."

To be an atheist, by definition, is to reject faith. So what is so momentous about atheists disparaging faith? It is like the Flat Earthers rejecting the hypothesis that the Earth might be round -- to accept the hypothesis would spell the end of the Flat Earthers. Just as to accept the validity of faith would completely undermine the grounds for atheism.

But what if faith and reason were not opposed, but instead were fully reconcilable?

Ah, then we would be talking -- except we would leave Dawkins, Harris and company back in the dust of their self-righteous atheism. Well, that is no loss, so let us proceed.

For those people of faith, reason is a God-given attribute of man. It is, indeed, what the Bible means when it says that God made man "in his image." Reason is part of the imago Dei, because God is the ultimate Logos, the Truth Absolute, and hence the Infallible Reasoner.

I believe it is a standing principle of French culture -- the country, after all, that gave us Descartes, Fermat, Pascal, Lavoisier and Legendre -- that "ce qui n'est pas logique n'est pas fran├žais" -- "that which is not logical is not French."  Well, I happen to think it is also a hallmark of Christianity -- even though there are those Christians who would submit, for example, that the three-in-one concept of the Trinity defies all logic.

No, the Trinity does not defy all logic -- we humans simply cannot say that. The most we can say is that the Trinity is a puzzle for human logic.

And thus the Trinity provides the perfect foil for my thesis that there can be no conflict between logic (reason) and faith. Faith asks us to accept that God is Three Persons in one Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. (Human) reason tells us that three identifiably separate things cannot be one and the same.

If we accept the dictate of faith on this question, however, there is no longer any conflict with reason.

Why? Because if faith is true in this matter, then the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost obviously have no logical problem with their co-existence, because that is how they manifested the Trinity to us.  The genius of St. Gregory's resolution of the "problem" of the Trinity was to recognize that for the triune God it was no problem at all.

So just as faith operates beyond reason's abilities to grasp truth in some matters, so there must be a higher reason toward which we humans may only aspire.

Stop and reflect for a moment: why should God, the Universe and Everything be limited to just what puny Man's "reason" can perceive of them?

There is no reason for that to be true -- and it is our God-given reason that enables us to know that fact. So thanks be to God, who has given us His divine faculty which, even though it be corrupted by man's original sin, may yet show us the path to Truth.

Reason is unquestionably the God-given tool by which we may come to understand and appreciate the unbounded magnitude of our Creator.

But faith is the obverse of the God-given coin: it is the "ring of truth written on our hearts" when we encounter -- not through the efforts of logic and reason -- truth that is beyond the power of reason to grasp but dimly. Faith is that higher vision -- the heavenly gift to humans that enables them inwardly to see that their reason is right and true when it points to God.

Faith has been compared to instinct in animals, but I am not so certain that it functions in humans as  does instinct in animals, or in humans. Instinct tells an animal (or human) how to act without reason being involved. But instinct may err -- as in the lemming (or in the human crowd).

Instinct is the trait we share with (and have inherited from) the animals. Reason is the God-given faculty of divination that sets man apart from the animals.

And faith is the divine key to solving the mystery of why we exist. It unlocks the door to which instinct is wholly blind, and which reason can but partly glimpse.

God asks that we accept Him on faith, that is to say, without rational evidence that compels but one conclusion. The rational evidence fully supports and justifies one's faith. But it cannot, in and of itself (pace, Bertrand Russell), supply the proof.

For that, we have faith -- the conviction of a proof that we are too fallen to grasp in its ineffable beauty and greatness.

Deo gratias agimus tibi.

1 comment:

  1. In looking at the evidence, it requires more faith to be an atheist than to believe in God. Therefore, atheists who criticize faith undercut the ground upon which they, themselves, stand. Reason is limited to drawing conclusions from premises and pure reason can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God. “A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.” -- C.S. Lewis