Mythology that Currently Haunts the Relationship between Fides et Ratio
The Discourse on Faith and Reason Revisited
We suggest that our current state of skepticism in Western late modernity stems from a significant confusion about the relationship between various types of faith and various types of reason. There is more than one type of reasoning or knowledge and more than one type of faith. Alasdair McIntyre notes three massively different paradigms of reason in Three Version of Moral Inquiry: pre-modern, modern and postmodern. This helps us understand the breadth of discourse at university. Faith also is a multivalent concept and applies equally to hard science as well as relationships or the study of Holy Scripture or a personal spiritual journey. There are several assumptions that have to be made which cannot be proven by science; they are meta-scientific. God, in the classic sense, asks humans to the table of reason; it is intellectual hospitality. He asks them to test his wisdom and revelation against the reality of their lives, against their deepest aspirations. Brilliant biochemist turned philosopher Michael Polanyi revealed that faith is operative at all stages of scientific research and discovery, both theoretical and experimental.
Below are listed ten of the most common myths about the relationship between reason and faith. They need to be examined as to their cogency. We suggest that there is a critical need to get beyond the hard, abstract (often not useful) categories of fideism and rationalism. Both are a form of dogmatism/fundamentalism. There are good ways to reason and bad ways to reason (talk to a professor of logic), and this matters immensely. The following myths (aka misconceptions) are commonly believed even by PhDs and some of the top intellectuals of our day. We appeal to some of the sharpest minds to confront these harmful misconceptions. The unexamined assumption can lead one astray. It is not an accident of history that many of the top modern universities, (e.g. Harvard, Queen’s, Oxford, Cambridge, Princeton, the Sorbonne) have their roots in Christian faith and many of their campus mottos reveal this. Religion is not the friend of ignorance nor the enemy of knowledge. Christian faith involves the mind as well as the heart, reason as well as intuition.
~Gordon E. Carkner PhD
Ten Myths about Faith and Reason Examined
Myth #1. Faith and reason are inherently incompatible, or in opposition.
Philosophy should be the love of wisdom that prompts persons to use reason in the quest for truth, goodness and beauty…. Philosophy and theology have distinct tasks, but those tasks cannot be delineated solely in terms of nature and supernature or reason and faith. ~D. Stephen Long (statement about non-overlapping magisteria)
“The question of God… is one that can and must be pursued in terms of the absolute and the contingent, the necessary and the fortuitous, potency and act, possibility and impossibility, being and nonbeing, transcendence and immanence…. Evidence for or against God, if it is there, saturates every moment of the experience of existence, every employment of reason, every act of consciousness, every encounter with the world around us.” ~David Bentley Hart, philosopher
“As I try to discern the origin of that conviction [that the universe is orderly], I seem to find it in a basic notion discovered 2000 or 3000 years ago, and enunciated first in the Western world by the ancient Hebrews: namely that the universe is governed by a single God, and is not the product of the whims of many gods, each governing his own province according to his own laws. This monotheistic view seems to be the historical foundation for modern science” Melvin Calvin, Nobel Prize for Biochemistry (Chemical Evolution, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1969, p.258).
See Prayson Daniel’s Blog post on Max Planck:
Science and Religion http://withalliamgod.wordpress.com/2010/11/28/max-planck-on-god/
Myth #2. Reason does not involve faith at any level of its operation.
“Modern rationalism makes us choose truth against beauty and goodness. Only a permanent, living unity of the theoretical, ethical and aesthetic attitudes can convey a true knowledge of being.” ~D. Stephen Long on the relationship of the culture spheres
“Philosophy has its limits, but it must be redeemed, and a place must be made for it within the gift we receive in sacred doctrine. Philosophy has its own integrity when it does not exceed its proper limits and seek to police the questions asked. The limits Wittgenstein placed on philosophy for the sake of a life worth living is similar to the limits Acquinas put on philosophy for the sake of the Christian life as a way of following Jesus into the truth of God.” ~D. Stephen Long
Albert Einstein once observed that “science can help human beings attain their goals; science cannot, however, supply the goals”.
See Roy Clouser, The Myth of Religious Neutrality; An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories (rev. ed.; University of Notre Dame Press, 2005).
Faith as underlying rationality: In this view, all human knowledge and reason is seen as dependent on faith: faith in our senses, faith in our reason, faith in our memories, and faith in the accounts of events we receive from others. Accordingly, faith is seen as essential to and inseparable from rationality (Alvin Plantinga).
Myth #3. Modern reason has made Christian faith redundant; faith is a primitive disposition of our medieval ancestors.
“The certainties which the church has received as a gift require its participation in humanity’s “comom struggle” to attain truth. The human search for truth, which is philosophy’s vocation, is not set in opposition to theology’s reception of truth as gift. What we struggle to understand by reason we also receive by faith. No dichotomy exists between the certainties of faith and the common struggle by human reason to attain truth. … the truths humanity seeks by common reason (philosophy) and the certainties of faith can be placed over against each other such that each illuminates the other and renders it intelligible until the two ultimately become one, which is of course what the incarnation does in reverse. The concretion of the one Person illumines the natures of both divinity and humanity. Faith seeks reason and reason assists faith. They mutually enrich each other.” ~D. Stephen Long
“The common belief that . . . the actual relations between religion and science over the last few centuries have been marked by deep and enduring hostility is not only historically inaccurate but actually a caricature so grotesque that what needs to be explained is how it could possibly have achieved any degree of respectability.” ~Colin Russell, UK Historian of Science.
“Science is simply incapable of supplying answers in the realm of ethics, theology, and the purpose of life. In dealing solely with observable and measurable phenomena, modern science actually has nothing to say about love, compassion, beauty, self-centredness, altruism or cruelty. It concentrates on secondary causes and questions. Unfortunately, some scientists conclude that since the scientific method cannot handle non-material matters, they have little legitimacy in a university curriculum. They argue that because non-material issues cannot be scientifically proven, there is no point in investigating primary causes and questions. From within their closed system of reasoning this may make sense, but they gloss over or ignore the most important questions of human existence…. Even the most brilliant scientist, after all, has no inherent competence in ethics or other non-scientific matters.” ~John R. Redekop, Political Scientist
What if, as Oxford mathematician John Lennox says, faith in a transcendent God helps make better sense of human experience, human reason and science itself?
This subtraction view of secularity is contested very strongly by top Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor in his award-winning book, A Secular Age.
Myth #4. Faith is credulous assent to unfounded premises, a belief in something that is untrue or at least suspect.
“Faith not only seeks and presumes reason, it converts it. Every account of reason assumes something beyond it, some enabling condition that makes it possible but cannot be accounted for it within its own systematic aspirations… Likewise faith can never be pure; it will always assume and use reason even as it transfigures it.” ~D. Stephen Long on the interdependency of faith and reason
“Newton argued that the regulation of the solar system presupposed the ‘counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being’ and indeed hoped that his Principia would convince the thinking person of the existence of a Deity.” ~John Lennox, Mathematician/Philosopher
Clearly there exists both good faith and bad faith. Believing a lie or promoting a falsity, as in a ponzi scheme, for the sake of an advantage or con is bad faith. Sophism is bad faith and bad reason. Evidence is vitally important to good faith; clarity, consistency, coherence and unity are important to good faith; exposing fantasy or superstition is an essential goal of good faith. One needs good faith in signing a major contract for a merger of two businesses. Faith is a form of knowing that can go beyond the evidence but should not contradict it, or be hopelessly uncritical or unexamined. Does the Christian narrative have resonance, or make good sense of our experience? That’s a key question. ~Gordon Carkner
Because God is the God of the universe there is, at the deepest level, no secular learning for Christians. There is no secular subject matter. Indeed, in this perspective the only secular learning is the effort of these scholars and students who deny the existence of God. Second, there is no area of human existence or history which lies outside the realm of Christian inquiry. Third, the church has much to offer the university because it challenges the university to acknowledge the historic and continuing contributions of Christianity and to establish inclusive curricula. Fourth, the university has much to offer Christian because it helps them to develop critical thinking, to enlarge their understanding of options, to improve their learning skills, and to approach intellectual pursuits systematically and efficiently. ~John R. Redekop, Political Scientist
Myth #5. Reason is a pure, disinterested obedience to empirical fact; methodological naturalism implies/requires belief in philosophical naturalism.
“Naturalism, alone among all considered philosophical attempts to describe the shape of reality, is radically insufficient in its explanatory range. The one thing of which it can give no account, and which its most fundamental principles make it entirely impossible to explain at all, is nature’s very existence. For existence is most definitely not a natural phenomenon; it is logically prior to any physical cause whatsoever…. In fact, it is impossible to say how, in terms naturalism allows, nature could exist at all.” ~ David Bentley Hart, Philosopher
“Note that I am not postulating a ‘God of the gaps’, a god merely to explain the things that science has not yet explained. I am postulating a God to explain why science explains; I do not deny that science explains, but I postulate God to explain why science explains. The very success of science in showing us how deeply ordered the natural world is provides strong grounds for believing that there is an even deeper cause for that order”. The issue here is that, because God is not an alternative to science as an explanation, he is not a God of the gaps. On the contrary, he is the ground of all explanation: it is his existence which gives rise to the very possibility of explanation, scientific or otherwise.” ~Richard Swinburne, top Oxford Philosopher
“An admirably severe discipline of interpretive and theoretical restraint [modern empirical science] has been transformed into its perfect and irrepressibly wanton opposite: what began as a principled refusal of metaphysical speculation, for the sake of specific empirical inquiries, has now been mistaken for a comprehensive knowledge of the metaphysical shape of reality; the art of humble questioning has been mistaken for the sure possession of ultimate conclusions. This makes a mockery of real science.” ~David Bentley Hart
Alvin Plantinga raises major questions about the compatibility of materialistic naturalism with science (Where the Conflict Really Lies, 2012, especially Chapter 10)
Myth #6. Reason is morally and ideologically neutral, the same for all thinking human beings, therefore universal—unifying society.
“The good characterizes a public, successful performance of truth; it refuses fideism….Truth is an activity, a judgment inextricably linked to the good, and therefore to moral transformation. When I am pursuing truth I am pursuing goodness…. This truth both an undying fidelity and love, and at the same time a generosity towards others. By refusing to subordinate itself to ‘power’, understood as willful self-assertion, it best serves the tradition of democracy.” ~D. Stephen Long
Charles Taylor’s contention is that the power of materialism today comes not from scientific “facts”, but has rather to be explained in terms of the power of a certain package uniting materialism with a moral outlook, the package we call “atheistic humanism” or exclusive humanism. (C. Taylor, A Secular Age, p. 569) It works off an ontological thesis of materialism: everything which is, is based on “matter”, without explaining why this is taken as true.
Read Alasdair McIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality?; also see Roy Clouser, The Myth of Religious Neutrality; An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories (rev. ed.; University of Notre Dame Press, 2005).
All science is both theory and value-laden as Michael Polanyi notes in his book Personal Knowledge. It is personal knowledge held passionately by persons. Without a code of virtues and ethics, science could not be considered reliable knowledge.
Myth #7. Faith & reason exist is separate incompatible arenas; reason deals in physical causes only, while faith deals with supernatural/spiritual/magical causes.
“Polanyi probably criticised Popper, as most philosophers of science reject falsificationism. Duhem and Quine showed, for example, that theories only make predictions when combined with a framework of background assumptions. So when a prediction is false, the problem could be with the framework, not the theory itself. Kuhn showed that all theories, even the best ones, are inconsistent with some of the data. Hempel showed that many scientific statements aren’t falsifiable. Bayesians (who are now the dominant group) reject Popper’s fundamental claim that theories are never probably true. Popper is much more popular among scientists than among philosophers of science. Also, while there is disagreement among Bayesians and others, present views don’t allow such a sharp separation between science and religion. Kuhn for example says that the present “paradigm” isn’t open to rational scrutiny, but shielded from criticism, and paradigm shifts are only partially rational. Bayesians say that science depends on subjective judgements of plausibility in addition to logic and data, etc.”
-Dr. Richard Johns, Philosopher of Science
“The church reminds the university that the two share a joint task–the preservation and accumulation of knowledge and the transmission of a common heritage. Both institutions need to rethink the past, question the present, and anticipate future revision of human understanding. Both need also to acknowledge that if they are faithful to their purpose, both will frequently find themselves in tension with society, in part for the same reasons: dissatisfaction with the status quo, challenging injustices, and raising controversial questions. Such commonality is to be expected given that both institutions emphasize the mind and both search for new insights. When the university acknowledges the limitations of the scientific method and the church concedes that it cannot provide final scientific answers, the their two endeavours will increasingly overlap.” ~John R. Redekop, Political Scientist
Faith and reason as essential together: This is the Christian view that faith without reason leads to superstition, while reason without faith leads to nihilism and relativism.
Myth #8. Faith is the irrational belief in the opposite direction of where scientific evidence leads us.
“Faith adds less a material content to geology, physics, mathematics, evolutionary science, economics, etc., than the form within which they can be properly understood so that they are never closed off from the mystery that makes all creaturely being possible.” ~ D. Stephen Long
“There is no such thing, at least among finite minds, as intelligence at large: no mind not constrained by its own special proficiencies and formation, no privilege vantage that allows any of us a comprehensive insight into the essence of all things, no expertise or wealth of experience that endows any of us with the wisdom or power to judge what we do not have the training or perhaps the temperament to understand. To imagine otherwise is a delusion…. This means that the sciences are, by their very nature, commendably fragmentary and, in regard to many real and important questions about existence, utterly inconsequential. Not only can they not provide knowledge of everything; they cannot provide complete knowledge of anything. They can yield only knowledge of certain aspects of things as seen from one very powerful but inflexibly constricted perspective. If they attempt to go beyond their methodological commissions, they cease to be sciences and immediately become fatuous occultisms.” ~David Bentley Hart
“The most pervasive error one encounters in contemporary arguments about belief in God–especially, but not exclusively, on the atheist side–is the habit of conceiving of God simply as some very large object or agency within the universe, or perhaps alongside the universe, a being among other beings, who differs from all other beings in magnitude, power, and duration, but not ontologically, and who is related to the world more or less as a craftsman is related to an artifact….. Beliefs regarding God concern the source and ground and end of all reality, the unity and existence of every particular thing and the totality of all things, the ground of the possibility of anything at all.” ~David Bentley Hart
Faith as addressing issues beyond the scope of rationality: In this view, faith is seen as covering issues that science and rationality are inherently incapable of addressing, but that are nevertheless entirely real. Accordingly, faith is seen as complementing rationality, by providing answers to questions that would otherwise be unanswerable. This is true of many purpose, identity and meaning questions (why?). It offers a richer landscape to human rationality and includes the poetic, the story, the human narrative. See Alister McGrath, A Fine-Tuned Universe: the search for God in science and theology (2009) for a strong statement on complementarity of scientific rationality and theological reason.
Myth #9. Faith is seated in the emotions or sentimentality; reason is a non-emotional, cool operation of the disinterested mind.
“The existence of consciousness is both one of the most familiar and one of the most astounding things about the world. No conception of the natural order that does not reveal it as something to be expected can aspire even to the outline of completeness. And if physical science, whatever it may have to say about the origin of life, leaves us necessarily in the dark about consciousness, that shows that it cannot provide the basic form of intelligibility for this world.” ~Thomas Nagel Philosopher
“God alone has necessity in and of himself. That is, if the word “God” has any meaning at all, it must refer to a reality that is not just metaphysically indestructible but necessary in the fullest and most proper sense; it must refer to a reality that is logically necessary and that therefore provides the ultimate explanation of all other realities, without need of being explained in turn…. God is absolute being as such, apart from whom nothing else could exist, as either a possibility or an actuality…. It is God’s necessity, as the unconditional source of all things, that makes any world possible in the first place.” ~David Bentley Hart
“In another important respect, still related to the scope of inquiry and learning, Christianity and the university share an agenda. To a large degree both address societal problems, express moral outrage when warranted, believe that many problems can be solved, and insist that society can and should be improved. Both frequently express a sense of responsibility and undertake societal activism. Over the years the areas of intentional involvement have included literacy, health care, social housing, immigration reform, assistance to refugees, care for the blind and aged, the preservation of historical records and documents, promotion of the arts, and much more. In many of these activities, I suggest, it has been the church and at times even government, rather than the university, that has taken the lead. There is no ultimate incompatibility between the two; the basic assumptions of Christianity and the basic assumptions of the university, including its emphasis on scientific methodology, are fundamentally complementary, not contradictory.” ~ John R. Redekop, Political Scientist
Faith as based on warrant (Alvin Plantinga): In this view, some degree of evidence provides warrant for faith. To explain great things by small. To find coherence within a worldview that holds to the supernatural or transcendent. Empirical and historical evidence can also be involved. Warrant is a very important concept of credibility.
Myth #10. Good reason requires a materialistic universe; materialism is a fact of deductive logic.
” There simply cannot be a natural explanation of existence as such; it is an absolute logical impossibility. The most a materialist account of existence can do is pretend that there is no real problem to be solved (though only a tragically inert mind could really dismiss the question of existence as uninteresting, unanswerable, or intelligible).” ~David Bentley Hart
“It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure” ~Albert Einstein
Christian spokesperson, thus, actually perform a praiseworthy role when they insist that there must be openness to supernatural sources of knowledge and that a particular methodology ought not to delineate the limits of reality. Christians argue with credibility, I suggest, that a healthy, heuristically productive skepticism, which lies at the heart of scientism, must also be applied to the scientific method itself. Consistency requires nothing less. ~ John Redekop, Political Scientist
Leading Philosopher Alvin Plantinga argues that naturalism (which includes materialism) is in conflict with evolution, a main pillar of contemporary science. The argument centers on the status of our cognitive faculties: those faculties, or powers, or processes that produce beliefs or knowledge in us (e.g. perception, memory, a priori intuition, introspection, testimony, induction). His argument concerns the question of the reliability of cognitive faculties (reliability of cognitive content) if we espouse naturalism and unguided evolution together. The probability is very low. Can we get to true belief, reliable knowledge by this path? Again it is an argument from coherence (or rather, in this case, incoherence). See Plantinga’s Where the Conflict Really Lies, Chapter 10.
Reductive materialism is a major philosophical problem in contemporary academia. One can study constitutive components (physics and chemistry) of a larger reality such as biological life, but this is never a fulsome explanation. The real danger is that methodological reduction morphs into ontological reductionism in the mind. This is a logical non-sequitor.
“My aim is not so much to argue against reductionism as to investigate the consequences of rejecting it—to present the problem rather than to propose a solution. Materialist naturalism leads to reductionist ambitions because it seems unacceptable to deny the reality of all those familiar things that are not at first glance physical. But if no plausible reduction is available, and if denying reality to the mental continues to be unacceptable, that suggests that the original premise, materialist naturalism, is false, and not just around the edges.” ~Thomas Nagel, Philosopher
Therefore we need a critical assessment of current metaphysical, epistemological and anthropological assumptions in our day to find the liberation from the Materialistic/Reductionistic world picture has taken us captive, the one that drives a wedge between faith and reason, or religion and science. We propose that it is possible to think critically and wisely within a different framework or horizon, to offer new plausibility structure for robust and critical thought. We want to know all that is available for humans to know. We suggest that one can discover a richer understanding of reason when we open the discussion to the transcendent. We are adjured to be good stewards of both faith and reason by some of the greatest minds in the history of academia–Copernicus, Galileo, Tycho Brahe, Blaise Pascal, Peter Medawar, Michael Polanyi, Denis Alexander, Sir John Polkinghorne, Alvin Plantinga, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and a host of others around the world.
Scholars work with grammar, figures of speech, assumptions, dispositions, theories and a whole variety of linguistic practice. We ought to explore enjoy this language to the full, for the common good of society, to build up moral capital, to promote shalom. We give thanks to God for offering us mere mortals access to this high level of calling and community, this high level of international, inter-collegiate interlocution. We need to find our voice and our full identity within the incarnational word made flesh, the word that underwrites all human language and speech. This will provide us with an edge in our work, new interlocutors that can free us from the grip of too narrow a perspective on research, life, self and relational reality. To close ourselves off, to implode into a minimalist or reductionist language game, or to try to articulate all aspects of life with scientific language alone, to refuse theological, poetic, artistic and philosophical speech is a tragedy. It is to be in denial of this richer, common human heritage, this larger brilliant linguistic and moral horizon, these thicker perceptions of human identity, to refuse our full humanity. It is to deprive us of the full academic and personal adventure.
Christian scholars embrace the emphasis on quantification and laboratory testing but without reducing the universe, with all of its complexities of genesis, extent, and operation, solely to test tube measurement. Further “the Christian habit of mind combines openness to truth with skepticism…. Skepticism is important but without some commitment to the objective existence of truth, it devours the whole world and then must consume itself” (Gene Edward Veith)
Christian skepticism, observes Gene Veith, “sees knowledge in terms of ever larger circles of meaning, related finally to the revealed truths of Scripture.” (Ibid., 138) Such skepticism, while rejecting the notion of relativism as a key value for its own sake, does, nevertheless, still affirm the place of skepticism. In this regard the great Christian novelist, Flannery O’Connor, makes a noteworthy point. “What kept me a skeptic in college was precisely my Christian faith. It always said: wait, don’t bite on this, get a wider picture, continue to read.” (O’Connor, The Habit of Being, p. 477) In a letter to a student who was questioning his faith, O’Connor wrote that faith is more valuable, more mysterious, altogether more immense than anything you can learn or decide upon in college. Learn what you can, but cultivate Christian skepticism. It will keep you free – not free to do anything you please, but free to be formed by something larger than your own intellect or the intellects of those around you. (O’Connor, Ibid., p. 478). Veith writes further, “Christians will thus often find themselves to be gadflies in their fields. They will not accept the conventional wisdom of their field, nor hold to all of its values. Their attitudes and practices will be similar to those of Blaise Pascal, the mathematical genius and Christian thinker whose explorations of the paradoxes of the human soul show the Christian mind at its best.” (Veith, Ibid., pp. 138-139) Ostensibly both scholarly Christians and secular academics are committed to the notion that research and investigation should always press beyond what is at the moment believed to be true. Christians are, of course, fully prepared to join with any other academics in investigating questions and weighing evidence and to follow wherever the evidence leads (John Redekop).
On the other hand, the university has a right to expect Christianity, and the institutions defending and promoting it, to be open to new questions, new answers,a dn new methods in developing both. It has a right, even a duty, to challenge Christians when they indulge in unreasoned credulity. The church, for its part, has a right to expect the university to stop privatizing and marginalizing Christianity. It is arguably the most consequential social movement in history. This socio-religious movement kept learning alive in the dark Ages, and has produced many of the world’s greatest artists, musicians, philosophers and scientists. In fact, it gave rise to the university itself. See Charles Malik, A Christian Critique of the University; G. Makdisi, Roots of the Modern University.
See also post on science and naturalism: http://ubcgcu.org/2012/11/29/science-naturalism-in-conflict/
Read: Faith and Rationality: Reason and Belief in God (eds. Alvin Plantinga & Nicholas Wolterstorff). Notre Dame Press.
James K.A. Smith, How(Not) to be Secular: reading Charles Taylor. (Eerdmans, 2014)
See the Apologetics Resource Section of the GCU Blog for scholarship on good reasons for Christian beliefs and convictions.
Scholar D. Stephen Long, Marquette University