Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Faith is for Sissies? Part 2

In my last post, I discussed some of the differences between Reason and Faith. Today, I want to conclude this discussion talking about how they are related to each other and why they can never contradict each other.

Much of the world holds to the idea of “rationalism.” Rationalism holds that everything we know by faith can also be understood, or discovered, or proved by reason, but not vice versa. In other words, faith is a subclass or subset of reason (see figure below).

Very few Christian thinkers subscribe to this. Most people would agree that the most reasonable view of truth is that it comes through three different kinds (classes)(see figure below):
a) Truths of faith and not of reason,
b) Truths of both faith and reason, and
c) Truths of reason and not of faith.

Truths of faith alone (class a) are things revealed by God but not understandable, discoverable or provable by reason (e.g. the Trinity or the fact that Christ’s death atoned for our sins). Truths of both faith and reason (class b) are things revealed by God but also understandable, or provable by reason (e.g. the existence of one God, or an objective moral law, or life after death). Truths of reason and not of faith (class c) are things not revealed by God but known by human reason (e.g., the natural sciences). Thus the defender of Christianity has two tasks: to prove all the propositions in class b and to answer all objections to the propositions in class a.

We cannot prove the propositions in class a (e.g., the Trinity) but we can answer all objections to them. For example, suppose a Unitarian objects to the Trinity because “it splits God into triplets.” We can show that this is a misunderstanding; it does not mean three Gods, but one God in three Persons. Or suppose a logician says it is a contradiction to call anything both one and three. We can reply that God is one nature, not three, and three persons, not one. This is not a contradiction, any more than we are: we are two natures (spirit and animal, mind and matter, soul and body) but one person.

And so a natural question would be, “How much of the faith can reason prove?” The best answer seems to be some. Another question we may ask is, “Can faith and reason ever contradict each other?” Aquinas (the great Christian philosopher) concluded that either Christianity is false, or reason is false, or - if both are true – there can never be any real contradiction at all between them, since truth cannot contradict truth. Opinions can certainly contradict faith, but reason itself cannot.

Aquinas also showed that every possible argument against every Christian doctrine has a rational mistake in it somewhere, and therefore can be answered by reason alone. If this were not so, then one of those argument from unbelievers against one of the doctrines of Christianity, at least, would really and truly prove the doctrine to be false, that is, prove Christianity untrue.

This is great news for us believers! But remember, we are not claiming that all Christian doctrines can be proved by reason, only that every argument against them can be disproved. Nor are we claiming that any given person can disprove them. Reason is flawless, de jure, but reasoners are not, de facto.

And so as defenders of Christianity or preachers of the Gospel, we can rest assured that faith and reason are both on our side. Stand strong in the Truth of God’s Word. If someone presents an argument against what you are saying, as long as what you are saying is truth, there will be an argument that can disprove the opposing argument. And so, do not get discouraged! If you are unsure how to respond, just tell them you will check on it and get back to them.

Much of what I presented above comes from Peter Kreeft’s book, “Handbook of Christian Apologetics.” Let me know what you think.