Posted by: gcarkner | February 7, 2014

Think Differently About Faith and Reason

Think Again about the Relation between Reason & Faith

The tendency towards a pure reason or pure faith are really impossible to actualize; there  are no pure domains of reason and faith. They are intertwined. One cannot get rationalism without the other extreme of fideism; both are forced categories; rationalism needs faith to be fideism for its very survival. Nietzsche claimed that there are only interpretations; positivists claim that there are only facts. What should we believe whatever our starting point or prejudgments? It is perhaps a life-long quest to understand the nuances of this relationship. Marquette intellectual D. Stephen Long helps our quest offering fresh insight and much to ponder in his profound book Speaking of God:  theology, language and truth. Stephen was a past guest speaker at UBC in the GFCF series. I have chosen some priceless quotes below. ~Gord Carkner

D. Stephen Long, Marquette University

The certainties which the church has received as a gift require its participation in humanity’s “commom 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. (p. 87)

Faith seeks reason and reason assists faith. They mutually enrich each other. (p. 88)

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. (pp. 83-4)

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. (p. 135)

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. (p. 135)

Hubble Telescope

Creation, although significant, is not self-interpreting; its meaning, if it has any, resides beyond it…. Creation has no meaning; it is a brute fact, until we give it value… Metaphysics will continue to ask why is there something rather than nothing. The question points beyond the world trapped in it s own immanence.

Only on the basis of an ontology of love can gift be understood. Because love, and not pure reason, is the basic structure of being, the failure of human reason to achieve infinite desires is not negative but positive. Thus we do not need to negate reason in order to believe, but rather to supplement and intensify it. We receive knowledge as a gift. … Gift, another name for the Holy Spirit, is the fullness of being, the perfection that surrounds us with an inevitable desire for truth, goodness and beauty. It illumines our lives. (p. 159)

The science that allows us to see more than by the “natural light of the intellect” is sacred doctrine. It includes all things that have been divinely revealed. Revelation here, however, is not propositional knowledge but a ‘form’ of divine light that then illumines all other sciences by looking at them through the aspects of divinity. It is more a ‘way’ than a ‘what’. (p. 197)

There must be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God….Theology comes as gift communicating God’s goodness to creatures for their own perfection, showing them their imperfection. (p. 207)

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. (p. 258)

The political and ecclesial question before us is how to subordinate power to truth and goodness without unwittingly using truth and goodness as mere forms of self-assertion. (p. 262)

For Wittgenstein, truth is not a matter of detachment, but engagement, the kind of engagement that love entails and that requires judgments based on qualitative contrasts….Wittgenstein’s appeal to love depends on something more akin to ‘virtue epistemology’. Love is not opposed to truth; they are both necessary virtues for knowledge. You cannot know what you do not love; you cannot love what you do not know. (pp. 300-01)

If we recognize that truth is a ‘way’ rather than a set of propositions attached to a reality or cohering with other propositions, then we might privilege those voices that embody this way, the way found in Christ’s life—forgiveness, reconciliation, hospitality to strangers—as truth because it is the divine way and is universal. Because of Christianity’s dogma the virtues of liberality and generosity must be extended to all. The task of the church then is not to rule but to make the truth present in the world. (p. 302)

How do we recover Christian claims to truth from their subordination  to politics, especially when the political is understood as a field of pure power? (p. 305)

The purpose of the church is to recognize and acknowledge those conditions by which we can, like Mary, say yes to God and in so doing make Jesus present to the world. Those conditions are the way of holiness and that assume the transcendentals—truth, goodness and beauty. (p. 309)

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.

Good philosophy, philosophy that does not seek to close us off from the world in some tight, immanent reality, will remain open to receiving this gift, a gift that can be found in language, but never identified with it. (p. 316)

Because language is never private, it serves to place some matter out in the open between interlocutors…to put things in public space. The constitutive dimension of language provides the medium through which some of our most important concerns, the characteristically human concerns, can impinge on us all. This makes possible judgments and standards. (p. 239)

Expressivist-Constitutive uses of language (Herder, Hamann, Humboldt)) recognize that metaphysics cannot be done by abstracting from language, but by turning to it. It recognizes the mystery that surrounds language. Truth does not look for the conditions by which language refers to reality; instead truth is manifest through music, art, facial expressions, liturgy, etc. Sentences are much too limiting to be the primary vehicles bearing the weight of truth. This tradition draws on a more Augustinian understanding of language. Everything is a sign. Charles Taylor places the later Wittgenstein in the expressivist-constitutive tradition, avoiding an instrumentalization of language as the basis for truth. (p.230) [also know as the hermeneutical approach.]

Designative uses of language (Hobbes to Locke to Condillac) traps the pursuit of wisdom within language and confines it to immanence, where language and its relationship to truth are reduced to pointing. Language primarily designates objects in the world. The object is observed but not participated in.  One assumes a use of language based on quantitative judgments that are non-subject dependant. This tradition contributes to a mechanistic universe leaving it disenchanted. It is committed to the primacy of epistemology (evidence and justified belief). It is not oriented to universals or essences. (p. 230)

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. (pp. 320-1, 325)

Check out the blog posts on Paul Davies and the ones on Fine-Tuned Universe.

See also the following newish titles

David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God: being, consciousness, bliss. (Yale, 2013). This book offers a devastating critique of materialistic naturalism.

Andy Crouch, Playing God: redeeming the gift of power. (IVP, 2013)

Charles Taylor, A Secular Age. (Harvard, 2007)

Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: science, religion and naturalism (2012)

W. Jay Wood, Epistemology: Becoming Intellectually Virtuous.

Alister McGrath, A Fine-Tuned Universe: the search for God in science and theology. (2009 Gifford Lectures)

Blog Post: Can We Make Peace Between Faith and Reason? 


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