Apologetics


Let me start by saying I’ve been called a jackass recently, a certain synonym for the “beast of burden” (AKA: mule, jenny, moke) for saying something similar to this.  I’m not complaining.  My point of view isn’t always the most comfortable and I’ve been known to stir things up a bit before. 

What’s more, maybe the shoe fits, in some ways.  Of course, I’m speaking of myself as in comparison to the four-footed animal with large floppy ears – you might have seen it.  I agree that I may be like this dull creature in that I will carry my share of a load on my back, if I am beaten long enough.  I am as ugly as the brute, my wife will tell you that.  And as far as intelligence, there are some striking similarities between myself and the foolish burro.  Just today, I was late for an appointment, so did I respond with increased haste, you might ask?  Not hardly.  I drifted into a daydream while driving down the highway.  I missed my turn altogether and progressed from being just a few minutes late to practically absent altogether. 

Although I guess I could physically be mistaken for a donkey if I was approached from the wrong angle in dim lighting while tying my shoes, I may be primarily like the animal as it pertains to my lack of knowledge of matters of higher learning, the arts, literature, history, etc. etc.  I can perform basic mathematical functions on a calculator and I do know my ABCs.  (Although at times my children have caught me singing the alphabet song when searching for papers in my file cabinet.) 

So I’m not too smart, not the brightest crayon in the box, a couple of fries short of a happy meal, my elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top floor, whatever … but, from my asinine point of view, I don’t get all this fuss about a “problem of pain”.  I was listening to a talk radio show recently and some guy e-mailed in asking where was God when the host of the show had made some unwise choices and created alot of problems for himself.  As if God should have stepped in and saved this guys family from financial ruin, divorce, etc. if he was “truly a good God.”  I hear it all the time, “If God is a good God then why does he allow so much suffering in the world?”  Somehow this question has stumped many people and caused them to become “bitter” against God.  The question is asked, “If God could stop evil and pain, being an all-powerful being, how can he allow evil and suffering to exist?”  The only two answers these people rationalize to be possible are that either (1) God is not good or (2) God is not all powerful.  They say, “How can a good God allow people to suffer?” 

My simplistic point of view, for which I am sometimes demonized, would be …  What?  Are you joking?  You’ve got to be joking.  This is not a valid question!  This is absurd.  Its more than absurd.  Its completely blasphemous to insinuate that somehow its God’s fault for the pain in the world and that a good, all-powerful God should stop the pain.  Pain is a direct and often indirect result of people’s rebellion against God!  Did God cause the pain or did we?  Of course, God will allow suffering in this world! 

Maybe I should put it this way.   When did we start thinking that God was on our side?  We are the arch enemies of God by our very existence.  He created us good and whole but we chose a long time ago to become the people that we are today.  We are God’s enemies from birth.  He hates what we do and what we have become, as a human race.  He loves us because of what He knows we will become when we are recreated in His likeness again, that’s why he has sent his Son, Jesus, to change us, to make us new, holy creations in his image, but I don’t see how there is any reason he should take away our pain!  If anything, we should suffer a whole lot more for the evil that is in our souls and our minds.  My guess is we will too, as our society rebels against God’s clear commands more and more.  Isn’t the whole purpose of suffering to deter further evil and to judge sin.  Isn’t this what we asked for? what we deserve? 

Yes, I said it, sin.  Sin – there it is again.  Why do we feel we must use words like “mistake” or “lack of judgement” to cover what we really are?  Again, call me whatever you want, I’m sure I deserve it somehow.  But aren’t we the ones who brought the curse on ourselves?  Aren’t we the sworn enemies of God by nature through the choice of Adam our father some 10,000 years ago?  We are the ones who rebelled against him.  Not the other way around.  Why do we think that he, the Creator of the universe, should allow us to live – much less take away our suffering?

If we got what we deserve … well, there is a reason they call it hell.  Thank God there is a way to escape the judgment to come, by accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and repenting of our sin.  This way we can become new creations and escape what we deserve.  If anything we should be thanking God for the times of reprieve from pain and suffering, not questioning how He could still be good in allowing it.

I know I’m not being very sensitive.  My comments probably haven’t made anyone “feel” good.  And I’m sure the responses I get to this post will make calling me a jackass look like a compliment.  But that’s just the way I see it, and I think I’m in pretty good company.

The Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 ESV

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; (28) God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, (29) so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
The Apostle Paul, Romans 1:18-32 ESV

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (19) For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. (20) For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (21) For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (22) Claiming to be wise, they became fools, (23) and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (24) Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, (25) because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (26) For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; (27) and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (28) And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (29) They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, (30) slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, (31) foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (32) Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

(Click to see Part 1)

Once again, Aristotle was one of the first recorded ancient thinkers to discover the law of non-contradiction. It is important to note that Aristotle did not create this law, no more that Isaac Newton created the law of gravity; he merely discovered it as an unchanging principle of the universe.  In Metaphysics Aristotle states, “For the same thing to be present and not be present at the same time in the same subject, and according to the same, is impossible.” [i]  This then is the law of non-contradiction, one of the first principles of knowledge.[1]

      The law of non-contradiction can be expressed simply as such: A cannot be both B and non-B at the same time and in the same sense.  In this equation the letters A and B are variables.  We may insert a number of different words in this equation to illustrate the law of non-contradiction.  For example, an object (A) cannot be both square (B) and round (non-B) at the same time and in the same sense.  Now let’s examine that proposition with the aid of figure 3 below. 

      In this diagram A represents “object”, and B represents “square”.  Non-B represents anything that is not “square” (i.e. a circle).  Non-B is what is called the “complimentary class” because it completes the proposition.  To deny the law of non-contradiction would be the same thing as to make a square-circle, which is logically impossible (we cannot even conceive of such a shape).  

      The law of non-contradiction can also be used to verify the Correspondence Theory of truth as so: A statement (A) cannot be both true (B) and false (non-B) at the same time and in the same sense.  There is as much probability as a statement being both true and false in the same way, as there is an object being round and square.  It is a logical impossibility. 

God and Logic
      It may come as a shock to many people to know that God, himself, cannot break the law of non-contradiction.  That is, God cannot create a square-circle, or make a statement that is both true and false, or create a rock so heavy that He cannot lift it. 

      Many people respond to this fact by saying, “How dare you say that God cannot do something!  God can do anything He chooses. He is all-powerful!”  But the Bible, itself, plainly states that there are some things that God absolutely cannot do.  Hebrews chapter six lists two things that God cannot do.  Verse 13 states that God cannot swear by any name higher than His own, and verse 18 states that God cannot tell a lie. 

      Both of these verses give a clue to the nature of the things that God cannot do.  God cannot and will not do anything that contradicts His nature.  For example, truth is an essential property of God’s nature so it is impossible for God to lie.  In the same sense, logic is an essential property of God’s nature; He cannot do anything that is logically impossible.  God is not subordinate to logic, but rather, logic is a part of Who He is[2], and so He cannot do anything that would contradict that part of Him.  “He cannot deny Himself.” (II Timothy 2:13).

 Dialectical Logic
      Another so-called form of logic is known as Dialectical Logic.  Whereas non-contradictory logic states that reality must be either/or, dialectical logic states that reality is both/and.  In other words, non-contradiction (or excluded middle) says that a statement is either true or false, but dialectical says that a statement can be both true and false.

      Some critics of the either/or form of logic point out that it is a Western (American, English, etc.) form of logic, and that when you are dealing with Eastern (Oriental) concepts you have to use the both/and form of logic.  This argument is flawed in two main areas

      In the first place, you cannot assign the laws of the universe by different cultures.  Mortimer J. Adler says that, “The fundamentals of logic should be as transcultural as the mathematics with which the principles of logic are associated.  The principles of logic are neither Western nor Eastern, but universal.”[ii]  In essence, Adler is pointing out that the laws of mathematics do not change in varying cultures.  “Two plus two equals four” is the same in America, Russia, Korea, Australia, and everywhere else for that matter.  The same thing applies to the law of non-contradiction.

      Secondly, you cannot argue against the law of non-contradiction without using it, and this, in turn, is self-defeating.  Perhaps a story would illustrate this point.  Ravi Zacharias tells of an instance when was debating a professor who embraced the Dialectical logic of the Hindu religion.

     As the professor waxed eloquent and expounded on the law of non-contradiction, he eventually drew his conclusion:  “This [either/or logic] is a Western way of looking at reality.  The real problem is that you are seeing contradictions as a Westerner when you should be approaching it as an Easterner.  The both/and is the Eastern way of viewing reality.”

     After he belabored these two ideas on either/or and both/and for some time, I finally asked if I could interrupt his unpunctuated train of thought and raise one question.

     I said, “Sir, are you telling me that when I am studying Hinduism I either use the both/and system of logic or nothing else?”

     There was pin-drop silence for what seemed an eternity.  I repeated my question:  “Are you telling me that when I am studying Hinduism I either use the both/and logic or nothing else?  Have I got that right?”

     He threw his head back and said, “The either/or does seem to emerge, doesn’t it?”

     “Indeed, it does emerge,” I said.  “And as a matter of fact, even in India we look both ways before we cross the street – it is either the bus or me, not both of us.”[iii]

       From this humorous story we see the undeniability of the law of non-contradiction.  Any attempt to deny it is self-defeating.  The more you try to disprove it, the more you prove its necessity in rational argument.

      The consequences of denying the law of non-contradiction are dreadful (see fig. 4[iv]).  There would be no basis for reality if it did not exist, and our universe would be uninhabitable.        

(Fig. 4)

Eight Results of Denying the Law f Non-Contradiction

 By James Sullivan (see endnote) 

•1. To deny the necessity and validity of the Principle of Contradiction would be to deprive words of their fixed meaning and render speech useless.

•2. Reality of essences must be abandoned; there would be becoming without anything that becomes; flying without a bird; accidents without subjects in which to inhere.

•3. There would be no distinction between things.  All would be one.  Ship, wall, man would all be the same thing.

•4. It would mean the destruction of truth, for truth and falsity would be the same thing.

•5. It would destroy all thought, even opinion, for its affirmation would be its negation.

•6. Desire and preference would be useless, for there would be no difference between good and evil; there would be no reason to go home, for to go home would not be different from staying where one is.

•7.  Everything would be equally true and false at the same time, so that no opinion would be more wrong than any other even in degree.

•8. It would make impossible all becoming; change, or motion.  For all this implies a transition from one state of being to another; but if the Principle of Contradiction is false, all states of being are the same.

 Characteristics of Truth
      We will conclude this post with a few of the main characteristics of truth.  These characteristics are essential properties of what truth is and how it works.

 Truth is Exclusive
      All truth claims are absolutely exclusive.  When a statement is true, then by definition, it excludes everything else that opposes it.  For example, if the statement, “Socrates is a man” is true, then that statement excludes all other conceptions of what Socrates is.  Even the statement, “No truth is exclusive” is an exclusive statement, because it excludes any conception of truth except the one stated.

 Truth is Immutable
      Truth does not change; it remains the same no matter what.  There are a few objections to this, but the one most commonly stated is that truth changes with time.  For example, the statement, “Abraham Lincoln is president” was true in 1863 but is not true in 2003; this is seen as a valid contradiction of two equally true claims.  This objection is easily refuted because it is based on confusion of the law of non-contradiction

      The law of non-contradiction teaches that two opposing statements cannot both be true in the same time and the same sense.  Time is an essential context to a truth claim.  To quote Norman Geisler and Ronald Brooks, “The spatial and temporal context of statements is an inherent part of the context which determines the meaning of that assertion.”[v]  The truth claim is understood in context of the time it was made.  So the statement “Lincoln is president” (as said in 1863) is an absolute, unchangeable truth.

Truth is Objective
      Truth is objective not subjective. That is, truth exists outside of us.  Our opinions concerning a statement or idea do not make them true or false.  The opposite of this belief is known as relativism.  Any conception of truth outside of its being objective will ultimately lead to a logical contradiction, and is therefore impossible.

 Conclusion
      In this post we have looked at the definition of truth, the logic on which it is based, and some of its essential properties.  It is imperative that we understand the meaning and nature of truth if we hope to defend the absolute claims of Christ and the Christian faith.  Who knows, but that some of those who are reading this will not be faced with a Pilate of their own someday, who will ask them with earnest and hopeful desire, “What is truth?” 


[1] The first principles of knowledge are the self-evident starting points on which all knowledge is based (i.e. the law of non-contradiction).  These principles do not contain any content of knowledge, but are necessary for knowledge to exist.  To those who would try to explain away these first principles, C. S. Lewis objects, “It is no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles.  If you see through everything, then everything is transparent.  But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world.  To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.” (The Abolition of Man, (Harper Collins, 2001), p. 81)

[2] It is interesting that the Greek term used to describe Jesus in John 1 is the word logos, from which we derive our word Logic.

 


[i] Aristotle, Metaphysics 4.3 1005b, (Prometheus Books, 1991), translation by John H. McMahon

[ii] Adler, Mortimer, J., Truth in Religion, (Macmillan, 1990), p. 36

[iii] Zacharias, Ravi, Can Man Live Without Go?, (Word Publishing, 1994), p. 129

[iv] Sullivan, James, B., “An Examination of First Principles in Thought and Being in the Light of Aristotle and Aquinas”, Ph. D. Dissertation, Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., (Catholic University of America Press, 1939), pp. 121-122

[v] Geisler, Norman, R.; Brooks, Ronald, M., When Skeptics Ask, (Victor, 1990), p.256

Just a quick note.  Johnny-Dee over at FQI recently posted a very interesting piece (and subsequent discussion) on the problem of whether or not the diversity of religious beliefs provides an epistemic defeater for believing in any one religion.  Certainly worth a click.

(Click to read Part 2)

Figures 1 & 2One of the greatest ironies of history consisted in a question that Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator, asked of Jesus of Nazareth.  Exasperated by Jesus’ enigmatic responses, Pilate finally expressed the question “What is truth?”

The irony consists in the fact that Pilate was looking into the eyes of Truth personified at that very moment.  Christ, Himself, had told His disciples the previous night, “I am the way, the truth, and the life…” (John 14:6).     

   But was Pilate’s question so unreasonable?  In it do we not find a legitimate search for a meaningful answer?  After all, in a culture where there were as many gods as there were men to worship them, would it not be difficult for the average Roman to define in concrete terms what truth actually was and who it was that possessed it?  I believe that the spirit of Pilate’s question lingers, especially in our day when the very nature of truth itself has been brought into question.

If the Foundations Are Destroyed…
      Psalm 11:3 asks this question, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”  The modern Christian apologist faces a unique problem.  In past times, the object of apologetic argumentation was to bring to light the truth and to dismiss the false, but in modern times the very notion of truth itself has been discredited, so that now the apologist must not only present the truth, but define what truth is.  If the foundational understanding of truth is undermined, what can the righteous do?

      We have all heard statements like this before.

            “That may be true for you, but it is not true for me.”

            “There is no such thing as absolute truth.”

            “All truth is relative.”

            “You cannot know the truth.”

            “Truth depends on how you were raised.”

These statements may seem ridiculous or nonsensical, but they represent an increasingly prevalent trend of philosophy in the modern world (See figures 1 and 2). A trend, which if left unchecked, will render meaningful conversations about God and salvation nearly impossible.

      So is truth an absolute and immutable fact, or is it relative to your perspective and culture?  That is the question that the Christian apologist must be able to answer in order to lay a stable foundation for further proofs of his faith.

Truth Defined
            Truth is that which corresponds with reality.  Or to put it in the words of C. S. Lewis, “Truth is always about something, but reality is that about which truth is.”[i]  This is known as the Correspondence Theory of truth, and is the only logically correct answer to the question of what truth is.  All attempts to define truth in any other way are ultimately logically self-defeating.

Aristotle’s Definition of Truth
      The Correspondence Theory of truth was first postulated by Plato’s famous student, Aristotle.  In his Metaphysics, Aristotle states: 

Now, in the first place, this is evident to those who define what truth and falsehood are.  For indeed, the assertion that entity does not exist, and that nonentity does, is a falsehood, but that entity exists, and that nonentity does not exist, is truth. [ii]

To put Aristotle’s definition simply: truth is telling it like it is. 

      This may seem obvious or commonsensical, but Aristotle, by amplifying the teaching of Plato, was one of the first individuals to point out that truth is objective and not subjective.  That is, truth exists outside of ourselves and does not conform itself to our opinions of it.  For example, no matter how much I opine that the law of gravity does not exist, if I jump off of a tall building I will still fall.  Once again, Aristotle states…

Statements and beliefs…themselves remain completely unchangeable in every way; it is because the actual thing changes that the contrary comes to belong to them.[iii]

      Aristotle was basically saying that reality causes a statement to be true or false.  Truth does not change reality, it agrees with it.

G. E. Moore’s Definition of Truth
      G. E. Moore (1873-1958) was a philosopher and close personal friend of the famous agnostic, Bertrand Russell.  He and Russell, despite their errors, are renowned for shedding light upon the Correspondence theory.  Moore gives a definition of truth that closely resembles Aristotle’s, and helps to clarify the Correspondence Theory.

      In Some Main Problems of Philosophy, Moore states, “To say that this belief is true is to say that there is in the Universe a fact to which it corresponds; and that to say that it is false is to say that there is not in the Universe any fact to which it corresponds.”[iv]  In essence, Moore was saying that true beliefs correspond to facts (i.e. true ideas correspond to reality).  He goes on to say, “When the belief is true, it certainly does correspond to a fact; and when it corresponds to a fact it certainly is true…and when it does not correspond to any fact, then certainly it is false.”[v] 

      In Moore’s postulation of the Correspondence Theory we understand a belief does not create fact to make itself true, but rather, a belief is true because it agrees with a fact that exists within reality.

The Liar Paradox
      The Correspondence Theory has been the reigning theory of truth in Western thought for over two thousand years.  It has not been without enemies however; for it was not long after that Aristotle had asserted his theory that it was met with criticism.  Eubulides (a philosopher of the fourth century B.C.) postulated what is known as the “liar’s paradox” in an attempt to confound the correspondence theory.  Eubulides asked his audience to consider the statement, “I am lying”.

      The paradox is self-evident.  If you say that the statement is true; it is really false, but if you say that the statement is false; it is actually true.  So it seems that we find here at least and apparent problem with the correspondence theory of truth.

      The answer to this objection is that it is logically self-defeating.  Saul Kripke points out that such a statement is not grounded in a external matter of fact.  While Bertrand Russel observes that this statment creates what is known as a metalanguage in which talk about the primary language is impossible.  To quote Russell, “The man who says, ‘I am telling a lie of order n‘, is telling a lie, but a lie of order n + 1.”[vi]


[i] Lewis, C.S., God in the Dock, (Eerdmans, [2002 reprint of 1970 copyright]), taken from “Myth Became Fact”, p. 66

[ii] Aristotle, Metaphysics 4.7 1011b25-30, (Prometheus Books, 1991), translation by John H. McMahon

[iii] Aristotle, Categories 5.4a, From The Complete Works of Aristotle (Princeton University, 1984)

[iv] Moore, G. E., Some Main Problems of Philosophy, (Macmillan, 1953), p. 277

[v] Ibid. p. 279

[vi] Gardner, M., The Sixth Book of Mathematical Games from Scientific American, (University of Chicago Press, 1984), p. 222

Faith & Reason (Continued from Part 1)

We have already established that there is an interrelation between faith and reason.  Now the question is: How do they relate to each other?  This, the second post on this subject, will seek to answer that question.  There are three major categories in which faith and reason can relate.  These are (1) faith only; (2) reason only; and (3) faith and reason.

Fideism (Faith Only)
The “faith only” perspective says that reason plays no part in matters of religion.  As Tertullian said, “I believe because it is absurd!”  This view asserts that the only valid way to know anything about God is solely through faith.  Famous faith-only Christians include individuals such as Tertullian (160?-230?), Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), Karl Barth (1886-1968), and to a slightly lesser degree, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). 

 The driving force behind Fideism is the separation of man from God.  The finitude of human beings (specifically in regard to the intellect), and the transcendent nature of God keeps us from being able to effectively reason on spiritual matters.  On the one hand there is the fallen state of man which has left his mind and intellect in opposition to God; while on the other, there is the infinite greatness of God’s power and wisdom, which is totally foreign to human reason and can only present paradoxes to mankind.

Soren Kierkegaard
One of the most influential proponents of the “faith only” movement was the Danish philosopher and theologian, Soren Kierkegaard.  Among his many written works, his book, Fear and Trembling, especially sets forth his case.

The theme of Fear and Trembling is the well-known story of God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.  Kierkegaard’s literary skill is superb as he captures the poignant emotions that Abraham must have felt as he traveled with his son to the mountain of sacrifice.  According to Kierkegaard, Abraham – unable to ascertain a rational motive explaining God’s command – had to make a “leap of faith” and obey God instead of his own reason.

This “leap of faith” stands at the core of Kierkegaard’s conception of faith and reason.  In essence he taught that the only way to understand God was to let go of reason and venture out on faith alone, that rational proofs of God’s existence were pointless and an affront to his nature, and that (contrary to Romans 1) there was no such thing as natural revelation.  Frederick Copleston, in his History of Philosophy, describes Kierkegaard’s philosophy:

God is not man, and man is not God.  And the gulf between them cannot be bridged by dialectical thinking.  It can be bridged only by a leap of faith, by a voluntary act by which man relates himself to God and freely appropriates, as it were, his relation as creature to the Creator, as a finite individual to the transcendent Absolute.[i]

Evaluation
Although the “faith only” viewpoint does indeed contribute some important teaching concerning God, faith, and reason, it has made a serious error in attempting to disregard reason altogether.  God created man a rational being and expects him to use his reason even in matters of faith.  If reason is denied then we have no basis of certainty for Scripture and faith.

Rationalism (Reason Only)
Whereas Fideism advocates that we should disregard reason for faith; the “reason only” view holds to just the opposite.  According to Rationalism, anything that cannot be apprehended or explained by reason must be rejected.  Famous rationalists include such individuals as Rene Descartes (1596-1650), Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677), and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804).

Although there are various degrees within the “reason only” perspective, the basic idea that is held in common is the belief that all truth can be discovered by unaided human reason.  Therefore the reason of man becomes the measure of all things.  Even Scripture must acquiesce to reason as it must pass the test of rational inquiry before it is accepted.

This ideology is the basis for higher criticism and theological liberalism.  Spirituality and religion are measured only by man’s ability to comprehend them.  Immanuel Kant succinctly summed up the “reason only” movement with the title of his book, Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone.     

Evaluation
On a positive note, the “reason only” movement has been successful in dampening some of the influence of the more extreme versions of anti-intellectualism, although in the final analysis, this system of thought has consistently demonstrated itself to be bankrupt of any legitimate insight into the nature of God and Scripture.  While it is correct in assuming that God intends for us to use the reasoning powers of our minds, it errs in placing the mind of man above God and denying the role of faith in the Christian experience.

Interrelation (Faith and Reason)
 The final view that will be stated here represents a synthesis of faith and reason.  This view asserts that faith and reason are interrelational, that is to say, that they both play a part in understanding God and Scripture.  This view was set forth in particular by two of Christendom’s greatest thinkers: St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) and St. Thomas Aquinas (1225?-1274).  

This perspective can best be described by the phrase, “faith seeking understanding”.  In Augustine’s opinion, faith was necessary to reason correctly about God.  We all have to place our faith in some authority as the basis for how we think; Augustine said that the authority of the Christian faith is Scripture.  However we should not be satisfied with simply resting on an authority, but we should seek to understand the authority in which we have placed our faith.  In other words, we should not just believe, but we should seek to understand why and what we believe

Aquinas’ position was very similar.  He believed that man could come to a basic knowledge of God based on reason but that Scripture was necessary for understanding many things within the realm of the Divine.  As he said in Theology, Faith, and Reason:

There are some intelligible truths to which the efficacy of [reason] extends, such as the principles which a man naturally knows and the things which are deduced from them, and for knowledge of these no new intelligible light is required, but the naturally inborn light suffices.  But there are things to which these principles do not extend, such as what pertains to faith and exceeds the capacity of reason…The human mind cannot know these unless it is illumined by a new light superadded to the natural.[ii]

Thomas was basically saying that there are things about God that the human mind can deduce from creation itself, but there are other things which can only be understood through the revelation of Scripture.  Based on this premise, Thomas believed that it was possible to prove the existence of God from reasoning about creation, which he set forth in his famous “Five Ways” in the Summa Theologica.

Evaluation
It has been said before that Satan does not care whether you or going Upstream or Downstream just so long as you are Extreme.  The “faith only” and “reason only” viewpoints represent the extremes of our subject.  The Christian life is one of perpetual balance and this extends to the realm of faith and reason.  It is important that we see that there is an interrelationship between faith and reason, and that we do jump to the fringe on either side.  Blind faith and cold reason are both dangerous guides.  The balanced Christian seeks to have the body of reason animated by the fire of faith.


[i] Copleston, Frederick. A History of Philosophy: Vol. II. (New York: Image Books, 1994), p. 336[ii] Aquinas, Thomas. Theology, Faith, and Reason: On Boethius’ “On the Trinity”.

Many people associate Christian faith with a “blind leap into the dark”.  In their opinion, Christians are required to throw away reason in order to embrace a fantastic story that helps them worry less and sleep more soundly.  Modern culture often ignores the voice of Christianity, because it is assumed that faith has no bearing upon reason.

But is this true?  Are faith and reason mutually exclusive?  Can there be reconciliation between the two?  The answer to that question is a resounding yes.  One does not have to check his brain at the door when entering the realm of faith.  On the contrary, we have an injunction from the Almighty not only to love Him with all of our heart and soul, but with our mind as well.

What is Faith?
Many of the misunderstandings concerning faith and reason stem from a misconception of what faith really is.  Many consider faith to be some mystical feeling in the pit of their stomach; a magical intuition that guides them to deeper truth.  To others, faith is a thoughtless adherence to creeds and dogma without any concern or attention to the facts that under gird them.  Neither of these is the Biblical definition of faith, nor are they the traditional concept of faith that the church has held for centuries.

Faith According to Scripture
Nearly every time the word “faith” is used in the New Testament, it is translated from a form of the Greek word pistis.   The primary definition of pistis is a “a conviction of the truth of something that leads to belief“. We see, therefore, that the New Testament conception of faith is not a belief in an irrational fantasy, but rather a confidence in what one knows to be true.  As one theologian has said, “The heart cannot delight in what the mind rejects as false.”[ii]

The most comprehensive treatment on the subject of faith found in Scripture is found in Hebrews 11.  Often regarded as the “faith hall of fame”, this chapter sets forth a concise definition of faith in its first verse:  “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

A closer look at the attributes given to faith found in this verse will greatly increase our understanding of what faith really is.  The word “substance” is translated from the Greek word hupostatis.  This word, which is translated as “confidence” in 3:14, means “the strongest possible form of confidence that something is true“.  The word “evidence”, found within this verse and translated from elegchos, literally means “a strong conviction“.  The verse, literally translated, would read, “Now faith is the confidence of things hoped for and the conviction (or assurance) of things not seen.”

By looking carefully at this and other portions of Scripture, we can ascertain that the Biblical concept of faith is not an irrational leap into the dark, but a reasonable step into the light.  Although our faith rests in things which cannot be seen, it does so after being previously convinced that those things, though unseen, are real nonetheless.

Faith According to Theology
When we examine much of the traditional theology of the church, we find no conception of an irrational or blind faith.  The theology of saving faith was carefully systemized by the theologians of the past.  These men divided true, saving faith into three components: Notitia, Assensus, and Fiducia.

Notitia
This word means “the idea” and deals with the recognition of facts and data.  Faith cannot exist without some form of knowledge of what one is to believe.  In regard to saving faith, there must be an exposure to the data or facts of the gospel before one will ever be able to have faith in what it says.  Romans 10:14-17 states:

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”  But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. 

Thus we see that faith must begin with a conscious recognition of fact, and cannot exist within a mental vacuum.

Assensus
Assensus means “to give intellectual agreement to the validity or truth of a statement”.  This means that one not only knows (notitia) the message of the Gospel, but that they have agreed that its message is true (assensus).

Although notitia and assensus are necessary to saving faith they are not sufficient in and of themselves.  This insufficient type of faith is known as fides historica, or mere historical faith, as opposed to fides salvifica (saving faith).

It is important to note, however, that assensus is necessary to salvation.  There must be an agreement with the facts before someone can exercise faith.  This, in itself, demonstrates Christianity to be reasonable faith; because there is no disregard of fact or evidence. It does not mean that the person coming to faith understands all of the facts presented, but that he has agreed that they are true in light of the evidence.  To quote Charles Hodge,

“God requires nothing irrational of his creatures. He does not require faith without evidence. Christianity is equally opposed to superstition and Rationalism. The one is faith without appropriate evidence, the other refuses to believe what it does not understand, in spite of evidence which should command belief.”[iv] 

Fiducia
This term literally means “trust”.  It is the third and final necessary component of faith.  It involves an appropriation and reliance on what one knows to be true.  In the case of the gospel, it is a complete surrender to, and total trust in the promises made by God through Christ. 

It is also important to note that fiducia involves trust in a person and not just agreement with fact (assensus).  Our faith is not is not based on evidence or facts about Christ (though it may be supported by it), but in Christ Himself.    

We exercise these three aspects of faith every day.  Here is a simple but cogent illustration.  Our first reaction upon walking into a dark room is to search for the light switch.  Upon locating the switch we use it to turn on the light.   All of the three components that have been previously mentioned are involved in this simple act of faith. 

switch.jpg

  • 1. Notitia– We realize that the room is dark and we discover the location of the light switch.
  • 2. Assensus– We intellectually assent that the switch will turn on the lights based upon on the evidence (i.e. switches found in similar locations have always turned on the lights before).
  • 3. Fiducia– By actually flipping the switch we have placed our trust in the fact that it will perform the task we have already mentally agreed that it would do.

Although these three divisions of faith may occur almost simultaneously, each one is necessary for true faith to occur.  Therefore a study of the very nature of faith demonstrates that the idea that it is “blind” or somehow separate from reason is absurd.  While reason is not faith, it is necessary for faith.


[ii] Pinnock, Clark, Set Forth Your Case (The Craig Press, 1967), p. 3
.[iv] Hodge, Charles, Systematic Theology,  Taken from Introduction to Chapter 3, “Rationalism”