Faith V. Reason

I have been reading articles on a number of web sites on the topic of the relation between faith and reason. There were many assertions along the lines of the two being opposite and incompatible. There were statements that faith hinders the search for truth, being contrary to scientific inquiry and that one can maintain faith only by abandoning reason etc. Really?

Proponents of these views must scratch their heads a bit regarding Sir Isaac Newton, commonly referred to as “the father of modern science.” Sir Newton was a “man of faith,” a dedicated believer. He once attributed all of his scientific discovery to “the working of the holy spirit.” He wrote a complete chronology of the Old Testament (that takes some serious dedication). He revised it 17 times. He very closely compared church doctrines of his day with the written Word of God, accepting most doctrines but rejecting those that he considered to be, in his words, “repugnant to reason.” Obviously, Sir Newton had no problem embracing both faith and reason.

To be fair, proponents of the above statements (first paragraph) are using the word “faith” a little differently than I am. They are viewing the word as it is often used in modern vocabulary, a belief in something for which there is no (or at least insufficient) evidence or even for which there is contrary evidence. This is the meaning of the word as it occurs in the phrase “take it on faith.” Things should not be “taken on faith” in the sense of the frequent modern sense of the word. In that sense, I do not take anything on faith. But that is not what “faith” means as it appears in the Scriptures.

In the New Testament, “faith” is translated from the Greek word, “pistis.” It is a noun that means “belief.” Belief in what or on what basis is not a part of what the word means. That is derived only from the context. The verb, “pisteuo,” means, “to believe.” Believing something that is true is good. Believing something that is false is bad. There is nothing good or bad about believing. The criterion is in what is believed.

We have an ancient document (the Bible) that records the eyewitness accounts of people who observed the miracles Jesus did. If I choose to believe this evidence rather than the assertions of people who were not there, it is not “taking it on faith” as much as it would be to choose to believe those who have no evidence whatsoever but assert that the eyewitness records are untrue. The miracles he did are in themselves a testimony of who he was (and is). We also have eyewitness accounts of his resurrection and what he did in his resurrected body. Shall I believe those who were not there rather than those who were? Upon accepting the Lord Jesus Christ and believing he rose from the dead, the spirit of God is given to us. That spirit “bears witness” with “our spirit” that we are the children of God (Romans 8:15,16). The spirit bearing witness is evidence the unbelieving do not have and cannot comprehend, but it is evidence. Believing who I am as a child of God is not based on a lack of evidence, but rather it is based on evidence the unbelieving do not have. Their limited perspective is uncompelling except to those who share their same limited view. The things of the spirit are spiritually discerned.

1Corinthians 2: 14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

We should never be surprised or disheartened when the unbelieving take the arrogant view of their assumed superiority over us poor ignorant believers. They lack the evidence we have and do not have the ability to understand the things of the Spirit of God.

Faith and reason are not incompatible opposites. Each encourages the other. It is consistant with reason, not in spite of it, that I have come to faith in our God and our Lord Jesus Christ. The natural world about us shows God’s handiwork. It is a testimony of His eternal power. Is it more reasonable to conclude that the entire natural world came into existence from nothing without a cause rather than to conclude that a supreme power outside the realm of the natural world brought it to pass? I think not. Granted, when it comes to the miraculous, it is required of us that first we believe before seeing the result, but that initial belief is not without reason. Then, as we believe, we see more and more evidence, and turning away from “the faith” becomes more and more unreasonable. I have been not only present but personally involved when the deaf have been miraculously, instantly, made to hear and the lame to walk. Is it reasonable for me to now conclude that these things cannot happen? No. Doesn’t reason now continue to strengthen my faith (belief)? Yes, of course. When we believe what is true then reason is part of the deal.

Even as reason promotes faith, so faith encourages reason. I believe that the Scriptures, the Bible as originally written, are the inerrant Word of God. Thus, I am highly motivated to know exactly what they say. I don’t want your opinion (sorry) or anyone else’s opinion. I don’t even want my opinion. I want to k-n-o-w the intended meaning without inserting any of my own ideas into it. This requires diligent examination and very careful reasoning. I want to get it right. It is faith (belief) that motivates the reasoning process.

It is the lack of faith, not faith, that discourages the reasoning process. One might hold to a particular tenant that he thinks he is supposed to believe and he publicly proclaims that he does so. Yet, in his heart, he has doubt. Such a one will perhaps resist viewing honest evidence, fearing he will be proven wrong. If he were completely convinced of the truth of his position, he would have no cause to resist viewing and reasoning through all the evidence.

It is poor reasoning, not sound reasoning, that hinders faith. Muddled, cloudy thinking tends toward uncertain thinking.

Some Christians use the term “leap of faith” in contexts where it would seem to indicate an abandonment of reason. “Leap of faith” is used to describe the act of choosing to trust God rather than believe the seemingly likely outcome of current circumstances. Or it might refer to one’s willingness to allow himself to be in a seemingly vulnerable circumstance for the sake of a high calling, trusting God to supply his need. I highly applaud such choices, but object to the terminology. When we choose to trust our wonderful heavenly Father, it is a reasonable response to His trustworthiness, not a giant leap into some vast unknown contrary to sound reasoning.

Unfortunately, some Christian groups do in fact, at times, advocate the abandonment of reason. Followers are told to “take it on faith” regarding false doctrines that are complete nonsense or regarding ones that are self- contradictory. “You have been forgiven of your sins but you must confess them to be forgiven.” “Your ‘old man’ is dead, but you must continue to diligently put him off.” “God has accepted you, but you must labor to be accepted.”  The “take it on faith” line is also used of doctrines that might be plausible were it not for the fact that no evidence for them can be produced from the Scriptures. When “take it on faith” is used in such contexts, it is a call to abandon reason. Sometimes this specific line is not used, but followers are none-the-less admonished to accept such and such a doctrine whether or not it makes any sense (or there is any documentation for it).

We should always believe God’s Word and never abandon reason.


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