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Faith and rationality

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Faith and rationality exist in varying degrees of conflict or compatibility. Rationality is based on reason or facts. Faith is belief in inspiration, revelation, or authority. The word faith sometimes refers to a belief that is held in spite of or against reason or empirical evidence, or it can refer to belief based upon a degree of evidential warrant.[1]

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  • PHILOSOPHY - Religion: Reason And Faith [HD]
  • Seven Ways Faith and Reason Work Together w/ Fr. James Brent, O.P. (Aquinas 101)
  • How do faith and reason work together?
  • St. Thomas Aquinas on Faith and Reason w/ Fr. Dominic Legge, O.P. (Aquinas 101)
  • The Light of Reason vs. the Light of Faith w/ Fr. Dominic Legge, O.P. (Aquinas 101)


- Hi, my name is Greg Ganssle and I am a senior fellow at the Rivendell Institute at Yale University. Today we're going to talk about faith and reason. It's a very popular idea that faith and reason are opposites. That if I hold something by faith, it's not also the case that I have good reasons to hold it. Or, if I am reasoning about something, it's not the case that I have faith. Some of the reason that it's difficult today to relate faith and reason has to do with how we talk about what we believe. We will use sentences such as the following: "I believe that George Washington existed." "I believe that ice cream tastes good." "I believe in recycling." "I believe in God." Notice that the various sentences I used used the word "believe," but we often follow that word either with "believe that," or "believe in." So when I say, "I believe that George Washington existed," I take a sentence, "George Washington existed," and I believe that sentence is true. What I believe in this sense is either true or false. I'm either correct about my belief, or I'm mistaken about my belief. Now when we talk about "believe in," it gets much more complicated. I believe in The Constitution. What does that mean? It does not mean I believe that The Constitution exists, although I do. It must mean something else. It means something like I have confidence in The Constitution. Or I think it's a good thing. Or I trust it. I believe in recycling is even more complicated. It has to mean more than I believe recycling exists. Or I believe it's good to recycle, because I could tell you that I believe it's good to recycle, but if I never recycle myself, you would say I really don’t believe in recycling. To say, "I believe in recycling," is to say that I am committed to a certain practice. It's the practice of recycling. So when we say, "I believe in," it's very complicated. "I believe that," has to do with making certain claims, and those claims are either true or false. Reason has much more to do with "I believe that," claims. This is where we can bring evidence to bear. I believe that George Washington existed. There's lots of evidence for this. Every once in a while, I actually have a dollar bill, and his picture's on the dollar bill. Or I've been to Washington DC, and I've been to The Archives, and I've seen his signature on documents. All of these are bits of evidence that my claim, the claim I believe that George Washington existed, is true. Reason can be brought to bear on "believe that" statements. Now, when someone says, "I believe in God," what does that mean? It does mean I believe that God exists. But it also means something more. For many people, it means not only do I believe the claim that God exists, but somehow God is an important part of my life. I have a commitment to God in some way. And this is a kind of ambiguity. You think of ambiguity meaning the sentence can go in two directions. The sentence, "I believe in God," goes in two directions. I believe that God exists, and somehow, I make God an important part of my life. I have a commitment to God. So let's get back to faith and reason. In the sentence, "I believe in God," which has these two divergent tracks, reason applies mostly to one track. I believe that God exists. In other words, I think it's true that God exists, and it's exactly at that claim that reason applies the most. Is there evidence? Are there reasons to think God exists? Or reasons to think God doesn't? Some of the other videos in this series discuss various reasons to think either God does exist or God doesn't exist. This is the application of reason to the question of God's existence. Now, someone who says, "I believe in God," also may have a trust or a confidence in God. Some people have complained that religious believers' confidence or trust in God goes much farther than what reason can support. So there may be evidence that God exists, but it is nowhere close to bringing certainty. Yet, religious believers seem to have a hundred-percent commitment to God. There is a lack of proportion between the evidence and the level of commitment. This is one of the accusations against religious belief being reasonable. Now, I think we can make some progress on this problem with a couple of illustrations. Suppose you are going to drive from New Haven, Connecticut, to New York City. You get in your car, and you are going to drive down Interstate 95. If you've ever driven down Interstate 95 in Connecticut, you know it's kind of dangerous. When you get into your car, you know that you do not have absolute certainty that you will make it New York without breaking down or without crashing because people break down and crash every day. So your confidence that the claim you will make it to New York is true is less than a hundred percent. But notice, you have to get into the car either 100 percent or zero percent. You commit yourself wholly to the car. Yet you know, that it's less than a hundred-percent certain. Every time you get on an airplane, you know there's a chance the airplane will crash. Now, it's very small chance, but your certainty you will be safe is less than a hundred percent. Yet, you commit yourself a hundred percent to getting on the airplane. There are certain decisions in life that require either 100 percent or zero percent commitment, and these decisions hold or are binding on us even if our reason tells us we have less than a hundred-percent certainty. This is simply the way these things work together. So faith and reason can be related in this way. We can have evidence, perhaps, that God exists, but the question of God's existence is not purely theoretical. There may be something where we commit ourselves to God, and that commitment might require going beyond the degree of evidence. Is it reasonable for us to do so? Probably it depends on how strong our evidence is that God exists. So when faith and reason seem to come in conflict, sometimes it's because reason applies to one part of the question, "Is the claim true or false?" But reason is more indirect with the second question: "Should I commit myself?" Now the final illustration for this point is if you were ever to get married. You would not commit yourself to your spouse simply in proportion to your evidence that he or she would make a good partner. That's very bad relationship advice. Assess, is this a good partner? And then you commit yourself fully. That's the nature of a relationship. That's the nature of getting on an airplane. And that's the nature of what it means to be a believer in God, despite the fact that our evidence might be less than certain.

Relationship between faith and reason

Rationalists point out that many people hold irrational beliefs, for many reasons. There may be evolutionary causes for irrational beliefs — irrational beliefs may increase our ability to survive and reproduce.

One more reason for irrational beliefs can perhaps be explained by operant conditioning. For example, in one study by B. F. Skinner in 1948, pigeons were awarded grain at regular time intervals regardless of their behaviour. The result was that each of the pigeons developed their own idiosyncratic response which had become associated with the consequence of receiving grain.[2]

Believers in the value of faith — for example those who believe salvation is possible through faith alone — frequently suggest that everyone holds beliefs arrived at by faith, not reason.[3]

One form of belief held "by faith" may be seen existing in a faith as based on warrant. In this view some degree of evidence provides warrant for faith; it consists in other words in "explain[ing] great things by small."[4]


Catholic views

Thomas Aquinas was the first to write a full treatment of the relationship, differences, and similarities between faith, which he calls "an intellectual assent",[5] and reason.[6]

Dei Filius was a dogmatic constitution of the First Vatican Council on the Roman Catholic faith. It was adopted unanimously on 24 April 1870. It states that "not only can faith and reason never be opposed to one another, but they are of mutual aid one to the other".[7]

Recent popes have spoken about faith and rationality: Fides et ratio, an encyclical letter promulgated by Pope John Paul II on 14 September 1998, deals with the relationship between faith and reason. Pope Benedict XVI's Regensburg lecture, delivered on 12 September 2006, was on the subject of "faith, reason and the university".[8]

Lutheran views

Reformed views

Alvin Plantinga upholds that faith may be the result of evidence testifying to the reliability of the source of truth claims, but although it may involve this, he sees faith as being the result of hearing the truth of the gospel with the internal persuasion by the Holy Spirit moving and enabling him to believe. "Christian belief is produced in the believer by the internal instigation of the Holy Spirit, endorsing the teachings of Scripture, which is itself divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit. The result of the work of the Holy Spirit is faith."[9]

Evangelical views

American biblical scholar Archibald Thomas Robertson stated that the Greek word pistis used for faith in the New Testament (over two hundred forty times), and rendered "assurance" in Acts 17:31 (KJV), is "an old verb to furnish, used regularly by Demosthenes for bringing forward evidence."[10] Likewise Tom Price (Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics) affirms that when the New Testament talks about faith positively it only uses words derived from the Greek root [pistis] which means "to be persuaded."[11]

In contrast to faith meaning blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence, Alister McGrath quotes Oxford Anglican theologian W. H. Griffith-Thomas, (1861-1924), who states faith is "not blind, but intelligent" and "commences with the conviction of the mind based on adequate evidence", which McGrath sees as "a good and reliable definition, synthesizing the core elements of the characteristic Christian understanding of faith."[12]

Jewish views

The 14th-century Jewish philosopher Levi ben Gerson tried to reconcile faith and reason. He wrote: "the Law cannot prevent us from considering to be true that which our reason urges us to believe."[13]

Islamic view

See also


  1. ^ "Faith and Reason | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy". Retrieved 2023-02-21.
  2. ^ Skinner, B. F. (1 January 1948). "'Superstition' in the pigeon". Journal of Experimental Psychology. 38 (2): 168–172. doi:10.1037/h0055873. PMID 18913665. S2CID 22577459.
  3. ^ Rosental, Creighton J (2004-01-01). "The reconciliation of faith and reason in Thomas Aquinas". Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest: 1–243.
  4. ^ "Hebrews 11 - Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary - Bible Commentaries". Retrieved 2022-11-18.
  5. ^ "Faith" from the Catholic Encyclopedia
  6. ^ "Reason" from the Catholic Encyclopedia
  7. ^ "Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical notes. Volume II. The History of Creeds".
  8. ^ Benedict XVI, Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections, Holy See website, accessed 31 January 2024
  9. ^ Plantinga, Alvin (2000). Warranted Christian Belief. USA: Oxford University Press. pp. 250, 291. ISBN 0195131924.
  10. ^ Robertson, Archibald Thomas. WORD PICTURES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT. pp. Chapter 17.
  11. ^ Price, Thomas (9 November 2007). "Faith is about 'just trusting' God isn't It?". Retrieved 23 January 2014.
  12. ^ McGrath, Alister E. (2008). The Order of Things: Explorations in Scientific Theology. John Wiley & Sons. p. 33. ISBN 978-1405125567.
  13. ^ Rudavsky, Tamar (2020), "Gersonides", in Zalta, Edward N. (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2020 ed.), Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, retrieved 2022-11-18

Further reading

This page was last edited on 31 January 2024, at 07:02
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