Reasoning with Faith

          “My problem with life is not that it is rational nor that it is irrational, but that it is almost rational. My problem with life is not that it makes complete comprehensive sense, nor does it make total nonsense, but just as I begin to find a system and a package that seems to explain everything, I have one more question that is unanswered.” – G. K. Chesterton

On the point of reason and faith, I’d like to offer some thoughts:

          I used to be someone who regarded faith and reason as mutually exclusive. Because of that, I wanted hard evidence before I put my faith in something (and that has not changed). What has changed is my idea that a person must have evidence before they have faith.

          After a lot of reflecting, I’ve realized that nobody is a complete evidentialist about everything. Some people may specialize in a certain field and learn more about a subject they’ve familiarized themselves with, but nobody starts with a foundation of axioms and builds up every concept they have. Moreover, the axioms themselves need to be taken by faith.

          In essence, faith precedes reason. Before any action we (want to) take, there is a will to take it; and a trust in the desired outcome. “Intent is prior to content” as Ravi Zacharias puts it.

          In science, we presuppose many things that are taken by faith. Astrophysicist Jason Lisle says that we trust that our memory is reliable and that the universe is uniform even before the pen hits the documentation pad. Mathematician John Lennox goes further and says that it takes faith to believe that our minds correspond to reality at all.

“Faith is an organ of knowledge, and love an organ of experience.” -A. W. Tozer

 

          Reason may give rise to more faith, but a person must have faith in something before they act on it. A person must believe that the information they receive will be intelligible for one thing. Even logic is no different. A person must have faith that logic is a valid and useful for giving a good representation of reality. On top of that, a person must believe that their own mind is able to represent logic and reality correctly.

As G. K. Chesterton puts it,

“It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason itself is a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. If you are merely a sceptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, ‘Why should anything go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic?’ . . . The young sceptic says, ‘I have a right to think for myself.’ But the old sceptic, the complete sceptic, says, ‘I have no right to think for myself. I have no right to think at all.’”

          Faith and reason are on equal footing as far as I can see. A person starts with willful faith, gains knowledge, assesses with reason, then starts again with new faith in the assessed product. I’m not saying that there is nothing past faith, I’m just saying faith is an underlying presupposition. It is by faith (firstly) that we reason (secondly).

          No matter what ideology a person has, it starts with faith. Even when a person doesn’t have a set of stated beliefs, they have faith in themselves and rely on egotism to preside. And that’s the worst philosophy to go by. As the saying goes: “A person who is a self-made man has a fool for a creator.” Even the question “Does God exist?” assumes that we have a definition of God and a definition of “existence”.

          If a person were to start with faith in God (firstly), they have no more a burden of proof than a person who would start with faith in reason (firstly). Christians and secularists alike must start with faith firstly, so rationality really isn’t the problem in light of that. The only difference is that Christians have a reason to believe in truth. It is their responsibility.

– If we’re talking about “truth” in the sense of “that which corresponds to reality,” then the traits of God and the actions which He said He took must match what He has pre-qualified in reality.

– If we’re talking about truth as “that which God commands,” then we could also say that God presupposed certain axiomatic truths (such as logic) in just conveying His Word. So to discard rationality would also mean to discard the responsibility in following His Word.

For example, Jason Lisle put it nicely when he said,

          “For the Christian there is an absolute standard for reasoning; we are to pattern our thoughts after God’s. And we know (in a finite, limited way) how God thinks because He has revealed some of His thoughts through His Word. According to Genesis, God has made us in His image (Gen. 1:26) and therefore we are to follow His example (Eph. 5:1). The laws of logic are a reflection of the way God thinks, and thus the way He expects us to think. The law of non-contradiction [one of the 3 laws of logic] is not simply one person’s opinion of how we ought to think, rather it stems from God’s self-consistent nature. God cannot deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:13), and all truth is in God (John 14:6; Col. 2:3), therefore truth will not contradict itself. Since God is constantly upholding the universe by His power (Heb. 1:3), the consistent Christian expects that no contradiction will ever occur in the universe.”

          I’m not saying a person needs to be completely rational and devoid of fault (we are fallen after all), though I am saying that having faith in God (firstly) gives us reason to act rationally (secondly). Not only to follow God’s Word, but to appreciate His works of creation. The only thing that separates our sanity from insanity is the responsibility to follow our endowed beliefs. Without it our mind can only fetter off into incoherent oblivion. Therefore, the beginning of knowledge is an emotional decision and not an intellectual one.

          (Back to the point though.) Belief or disbelief in God should be taken as no different than a metaphysical truth (such as believing “there are other minds other than my own” or believing “the past was not created 5 minutes ago”). We experience both God and logic in a “properly basic” manner. Though I suggest the only way a person would be able to see if God exists, is the same way we know logic exists; by first having faith that He does. We start with the responsibility to follow logic just as we start with the responsibility to follow God. And we can only see what is right once we oblige to do what is right. That’s how I discovered more about God anyway.

“Life will always take you with a combination of faith and reason. God has put enough in this world to make faith in Him a most reasonable thing; He has left enough out to make it impossible to live by sheer reason alone.” -Ravi Zacharias

 

Importance

We all have faith from the start, so nobody can accuse another for having a lesser starting point. What matters is how responsible you are to be with that faith. If you are, it will lead you to God.

There is nothing that we learn that does not start with an abstract concept or experience. We all start with a vague adumbration of a thing and gradually gain a clearer picture of that thing with time. Nobody can blame another for having faith in God and trusting that their eternal Salvation is in Christ (firstly). Especially if a better understanding of the Word helps to give a person a better understanding of the world. In this we may appeal to Anselm’s dictum, “fides quaerens intellectum” (faith seeking understanding).

Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand. For this, too, I believe, that, unless I first believe, I shall not understand.

It may well be that all metaphysical beliefs are false, but the most responsible thing to do is believe they are true. We live like they are anyway.

 

Verses

“We live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7)

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.” (Psalm 111:10)

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of (primary to) knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7)

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:6-7)

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord [firstly]. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect [secondly].” (1 Peter 3:15)

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