Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Check your brain at the door, please ... (Part 4)

This church sign series on Faith and Reason has taken some interesting turns. In doing so, it has moved away from my original purpose. I did not expect it to become a referendum on theistic evidence, though the discussion has been lively, invigorating, and hopefully useful.

My intent in the original post was not to engage skeptics. Rather, I was hoping to hear from other believers, particularly believers who are resistant to reason. The title of the series, “Check your brain at the door, please ...”, is a comment upon the attitude I encounter among many of my Christian friends who sincerely believe that the exercise of rational thought can undermine faith. These believers (whom I respect and who are quite intelligent) will cite various New Testament scriptures suggesting that faith cannot prosper in an atmosphere of rational thought. They would actually agree with my skeptic friend Tom who contended in the last thread that faith and reason are like water and oil; though their reasons would be different from Tom’s.

Some of my Christian friends have expressed concern, sometimes even alarm, over the degree to which I rely upon science and reason in my evolving understandings of Christian theology. I would love to offer this venue for these friends to build their case. And so the question here is whether faith is undermined by reason, whether reason poses a threat to faith as the reader board above (from a church across the street) would suggest.

So, back to the original question ...

“Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has.”




Tom said...

Luke 10:21-24

Pete said...

Before I answer this I want to qualify once again that I see two working definitions of faith

1)believing despite having a lack of evidence (insert Hebrews verse here)
2)trust in, such as “I believe in you”, type belief.

The latter is what I feel like is meant when we refer to faith in Christ (this was one of the main points my Greek teacher tried to stress with regards to the verb pisteuo, which we often translate belief but which is better captured by trust).

I am exercising faith in my chair right now, that it will hold me up and not crumble. But this faith is certainly not with evidence, I have a lot of good evidence this will be so, namely I have sat it in for six months now and didn't notice any obvious deficiency when I came in this morning. Likewise, my faith in Christ, namely my trust into him to forgive me and grant me righteousness was not blind, is was based on the reality of hearing about Jesus, his Divinity, His power, what He did, and what was promised to me because of that work. (I'll leave off for a moment what evidence I have that any of that actually took place). The point I am making is that I am not pleased with myself because I truly truly truly believe in pink hoping unicorns that hang out in my garage but our invisible, ie, not that I simply belief something I have no reason to do so. Instead, it is repentance toward's God and dependence on Him for mercy that is faith to me.

With that out of the way, is reason a enemy of faith? If Jesus really is God, really died, really came back to life, then the more sound our empirical observation of this reality, the closer we should come to confirming that my dependence is based on factual history. In this sense, of course reason should help support faith, as it would validate what that trust is dependant on. But now let me back up. There are several things that are non-negotiable among conservative Christians. The infallibility of the Bible is one. I know this has been discussed on many blogs now, but I'll just touch on the specific issue over whether the OT tells factual history as understood in 21 century terms. If I began to research, observe, and reason I might come to a different conclusion. Personally, and this is common on this blog, I myself concluded common descent was a reality. Further thought and research led me to think that pretty much all of Genesis 1-11 is mythology. And now I might be more on my own, but I think a good amount of the Pentateuch itself is at least slightly if not heavily based on legend.

Now as I return to my conservative church, I might be apt to show them why I feel this is. But now I have already crossed the line. They don't care what evidence I have. Suggesting Exodus is not purely history is not a negotiable option. Assuming this was true, purely on faith (faith #1 that is) to them is part of what it means to be a Christian. Sure, they would encourage me to reason, think through, and explore the history of the OT. But only if I accepted the already predetermined conclusion they accepted purely by faith. Anything else and I am shamed for not being a good Christian. At this point, reason is definitely an enemy of faith. Now they want me to stop reasoning. Not everyone reaches my conclusion. I see people studying it who are presented by a good dose of evidence and yet ultimately reject it for conservative interpretations. But the reasons they give are always less then compelling, which makes me think in reality they simply never really considered or were able to question their predetermined faith in such passages. If they were, I can't image they would think their responses were at all persuasive. Questions of personality like this are being discussed over on an Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution with the quest psychology professor's posts.

I think a extremely strong case can be made that the Pentateuch had multiple authors, often telling the same story, often with mutually exclusive details which calls into question the accuracy of at least of the accounts. I think this conclusion is based empirical research and reason. This is unacceptable to my current Church circles. They will try to defend the historicity (and Mosaic authorship) of the Pentateuch through their own research and reason, but it seems thinly disguised. And away from the scholarly level, at my level of just the interested laymen, there is some disappointment that I would even consider listening to “Man's Philosophy” over the truth of God's word. You see, even if they can't answer every accusation brought to the text by researchers, they will (and I am expected to) fall back on pure unevidenced faith, indeed, in this case faith despite contrary evidence; that this is factual history. Reason is an enemy of this kind of faith.

Cliff Martin said...

In Luke 10:21-24, do you suppose Jesus was contrasting reasoning minds with unreasoning, or pride with child-like humility? Which would lead to another question: Is it possible to exercise "child-like" humble faith using mature reasoning capacities? That is not a leading question ... I am asking it sincerely.

Very insightful comments, especially your final simple summation, "Reason is an enemy of this kind of faith."

Tom said...

What I take Luke 10:21-24 to mean is that revelation comes to the humble, and perhaps the ignorant, naive, and gullible. (Look at a number of translations at The context is of wise, learned, educated vs. little children and ordinary folk).

Is it possible to exercise "child-like" humble faith using mature reasoning capacities?

I say yes because it sounds like that's where you are leading me and you aren't out to trip me up. (How's that answer as its own example?)

Psiloiordinary said...


By Pete's clarification of the definition of faith then I go with number one and say "agreed".

Larry said...

Dear Cliff,

Stumbled upon your blog spot. Interesting stuff. It seems to me that Paul engaged in rational discourse with the Athenians in his attempt to share the Gospel in Acts 17. The discourses of Jesus in the Gospels certainly don't strike me as antirationalistic - in fact, them seem quite logical given his premises. So, I'm wondering why folks make the assertion that rational thought is antithetical to religious faith, when the founders of said faith seem to employ the very devices under attack.

Enjoy your style of writing and thoughts - keep up the good work.


Larry said...

The other thing I thought about later in reference to this topic, is the absurdity of the anti-reason folks of trying to argue their point: they would be undermining their anti-rational stance by attempting to use rational arguments to convince others of the correctness of their position. In other words, it would seem that one is backed into an intellectual corner, as one would be unable to give reasons for holding an anti-rational stance, as "giving reasons" is an exercise of ratiocination, which is precisely what is being debunked. Also, Peter exhorts us in I Peter 3:15 to give a "reason for the hope that is in you" - a clear command to use ratiional discourse in our interactions with others.


Isaac Gouy said...

"Faith is something more than the mere belief that there is a God: it is an assent to a purported revelation of God, communicated through a sacred text or a religions community.
The common characteristic of faith in almost all religious traditions is its irrevocability. A faith that is held tentatively is no true faith. It must be held with the same degree of certainty as knowledge. In some traditions the irrevocability of faith is reinforced by the imposition of the death penalty for apostasy, which is the abandonment of faith. Now the kinds of arguments that believers offer in support of their religion cannot be claimed to have anything like the degree of cogency that would rationally justify the irrevocable commitment of faith. Again, no argument will make a true believer give up his faith, and this is something that he or she must be resolved on in advance of hearing any argument."

The irrevocability of faith