Faith And Reason NEVER Conflict — They SUPPORT Each Other


Here’s a wonderful paragraph that I read in the book: The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism:

[Editor’s Note: this paragraph appears on page 155 of the book, and refers back to much of the previously stated text.] The case for the resurrection of Christ doesn’t exist in a vacuum, then; it presupposes this philosophical background. For without that philosophical background in place, the historical evidence for Christ’s resurrection might seem inconclusive at best, since any miracle will obviously seem less likely a priori if you don’t already know that there is a God who might produce one. But when interpreted in light of that background as it should be, the evidence for Christ’s resurrection can be seen to be overwhelming. That, at any rate, is what the mainstream Christian theological tradition has always claimed. And if it is overwhelming, then there are by the same token conclusive rational grounds for believing what Christ taught was true, in which case the key doctrines of Christianity are rationally justified. The overall chain of argument, then, goes something like this: Pure reason proves through philosophical arguments that there is a God and that we have immortal souls. This by itself entails that a miracle like a resurrection from the dead is possible. Now the historical evidence that Jesus Christ was in fact resurrected from the dead is overwhelming when interpreted in light of that background knowledge. Hence pure reason also shows that Jesus really was raised from the dead. But Jesus claimed to be divine, and claimed that the authority of his teaching would be confirmed by His being resurrected. So the fact that He was resurrected provides divine authentication of His claims. Hence reason shows that He really was divine. But He was also obviously distinct from the Father to whom He prayed and the Holy Spirit whom He sent. Since this entails the doctrine of the Trinity, reason shows that doctrine must be true as well. And so forth. At every step, evidence and rational argumentation — not “blind faith” or a “will to believe” — are taken to justify our acceptance of certain teachings. Of course some of those teachings are taken on the basis of authority, but the point is that the trustworthiness of that authority is something that, it is claimed, can be established by reason. We can know that such-and-such a teaching is true because Christ taught it; we can know that He is an authority to be trusted because His miraculous resurrection puts a divine seal of approval on what He said, including His claim to be divine, and a divine being cannot be in error; we can know that He really was resurrected  because of such-and-such historical evidence together with our background knowledge that God exists and that the soul is immortal; we can know that God exists and that the soul is immortal because of such-and-such philosophical proofs; and so on. Every link in the chain is supported by arguments.

Here are some nuggets from this delightful summation of what the book’s author, Edward Feser, has written:

  • …any miracle will obviously seem less likely a priori if you don’t already know that there is a God who might produce one.

Yep. Nicely said. If you believe in miracles, you need to be able to say also that you believe in Someone who might produce such a miracle. It’s not like what I’ve occasionally mischaracterized as the “Miracle of the Rain.”(1) In sum: the odds against any one raindrop hitting you are astronomically high, yet in any rainstorm you get soaked if you walk out in it. That was my attempt to convince others that people shouldn’t be skeptical of the occurrence of things and events whose occurrence or existence are unlikely in the extreme. Such things are actually extremely common.

  • And if it [the evidence for Jesus Christ’s resurrection] is overwhelming, then there are by the same token conclusive rational grounds for believing what Christ taught was true, in which case the key doctrines of Christianity are rationally justified. [red emphasis added]

Or as we’ve said it numerous times: The belief that there there is not a God is deeply unscientific, even anti-scientific. Because science — real science — is supposed to be based upon rationality. And: Since science has never disproven the existence of God, then to profess that God doesn’t exist is, by definition, an act of faith. For where an honest scientist must conclude that science has clearly demonstrated its limitation, the atheist who claims to embrace science for his conclusions must, therefore, commit an act of faith to conclude what science is unable to show.

  • …we can know that He really was resurrected  because of such-and-such historical evidence together with our background knowledge that God exists.

Again, the basis of rational argumentation providing the foundation for a rational belief in God and in the miracles that show that the God of Christianity is He who created the universe. Not just any old deity.


There is a very rational, reasonable question: “why is there anything, and not nothing?” 

It’s a perfectly reasonable question, and it’s posed because we observe that there is something.

Already, you, the skeptic, are saying: “But our observations can be faulty.” Indeed, but the observation that there is something is  common to every person who has ever existed. Why do I say that? Simple: every person who has ever existed has acted as if he assumes that he exists. If, for example, you believe fervently that you don’t exist, why should you go to work, why should you eat, why wear a warm jacket in the cold, why do anything at all except lie on the ground somewhere and wait for your autonomic functions finally cease?

We can therefore conclude, quite reasonably and rationally, that the belief in our own existence is the basis for all other reasoning. An assumption, if you will, whose opposite, if you were to argue it, renders the possibility of any further discussion of anything null and void. What’s the point, after all, of discussing anything with someone whose base premise is that nothing, including himself, exists? The moment he argues with you, is the moment he either #1 admits that he’s lying about his core belief, or #2 disproves his own core belief.

Feser draws from Aristotle’s thoughts, as built upon by Aquinas. He finds persuasive the Aristotelian notion that we do exist, and that our existence has purpose, and that such purpose doesn’t simply appear, it must come from, for lack of a better term, a purpose giver, and again notes that if we don’t exist then — as Pascal might say — oh well.(2) 

It’s a wonderful book, and entertainingly written for being on kind of a lofty topic. In it, Feser gleefully skewers those like Richard Dawkins, who argue that the Earth would be like heaven if only there were no belief in God.

For example:

When asked in an interview what the world might be like of children were raised without religion, he [Dawkins] answered, “‘It would be paradise on earth… a world ruled by enlightened rationality… a much better chance of no more war… less hatred…,” indeed even “less waste of time…”  … That Dawkins is capable of spouting such tosh should be enough to discredit him with all serious people, including serious atheists.

And more. As you can probably tell, I recommend this book highly. You can obtain it here.

Faith and reason are not conflicting things, but rather each fundamentally supports the other.

— xPraetorius

Notes:


(1) Important: I use the example of my so-called “Miracle of the Rain” merely to demonstrate that occurrences that seem, by themselves, to be astronomically improbable occur all the time. In fact, they’re probably the most common occurrence there is, since all occurrences of all events and things are incomprehensibly unlikely.

In fact, if you drill down a bit deeper and imagine the odds against the coming together of all those atoms and molecules that currently comprise you, or that tree over there, or your cat, or that rock, goose, stream, car, etc… the numbers are incomprehensible. None of those things are remotely possible — the odds against those particular things coming together are vastly, astronomically too high — yet there they are, and we look upon these things with the most blasé of expressions. Sometimes even of annoyance, as, say, one particular car coming toward us strays too close to the center line, or some such.

Someone once said that every breath you take contains molecules that were once breathed by Jesus Christ Himself. And it’s true.

Why, then, should we be surprised that there might be miracles. Miracles are, after all, things that seem only wildly improbable. But, really, they’re only as improbable as, say… you.

(2) Important Note: Feser’s book doesn’t mention Pascal’s argument that if you believe in God and are wrong, then you have lost nothing, but if you don’t believe in God and are wrong, then you’ve lost everything. I suspect Feser would find it an interesting, if not particularly useful, statement of the obvious. Needless to say, Pascal said more than that about belief in God.

13 thoughts on “Faith And Reason NEVER Conflict — They SUPPORT Each Other

  1. Oh I dunno.. seems to me faith and reason CAN conflict as much as they can SUPPORT each other. Depends entirely on the faith being expressed vs. reason being applied. Rather like Einstein.. depends where you are standing to determine your perspective.
    Similar to the tree in forest falling.. if no one is there to perceive it does it make a sound? Faith in science suggests it does.. but would never be verified absolutely unless perceived by someone who can listen.

    1. More good points, Doug!

      Maybe our headline should have read: “Strong Reasoning Always Supports Faith.

      After all, Hitler had a strong faith that his reasoning had led him to a correct conclusion. His reasoning was… poor, to say the least.

      Nothing in what I wrote, above, suggests that incorrect reasoning supports faith, and you are correct to point out that I should have made that distinction.

      For example: on this blog here Reasoning To Belief: Feser’s The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism — Part Last: Skulls Full Of Nothing, there are those who insist that both Aristotelian and Thomistic reasoning are faulty… and others who then contradict that assertion.

      My point is one that we’ve made here in these pages quite a few times: “eternal truths work on all levels — the intellectual, the emotional, the spiritual, the pragmatic, the philosophical, the scientific and all else.”

      It’s one of the tests one can impose on the issues of the day. Are you “pro-choice?” Does it work on all levels? Nope. It fails a simple test: “What if your’re wrong?” So it fails on the intellectual level. The obviously stronger argument, on the intellectual level is: “At least if you let “it” be born, then you know that you haven’t committed a deeply, deeply evil act.”

      It fails on the other levels as well, but using more words. 🙂

      So, thanks for pointing out how my post could have been a lot better! I tend to do these (mine at least, I can’t speak for the other writers in our small, but increasingly influential think tank) posts off the cuff, and I’m sure I could express myself a lot better than I do. Also, I tend to assume certain things, and it is not quite fair of me to assume that everyone else is operating with the same set of assumptions as mine.

      Best,

      — x

      1. You have an uncommon demeanor to accept opposite opinion.. and these days that’s rare. Also, if I may point out, it does not mean one bit I even fully understand what I am talking about when I do reply as I have. That’s called an exchange of ideas with an open mind. If you’re like me we have a flurry of crap floating around in our heads and we concentrate on getting it down on paper and what seems perfectly logical to us simply mystifies others… hence our divide as a nation.
        I try and keep distance on religion, and especially religion and politics though. I was raised Lutheran yet I current am tepid toward religion these days for various personal reasons. People should believe as they wish and I am certainly not qualified to tell anyone who, what, and how to believe spiritually.. other than to listen to one’s own heart. I find organized religion far too complex than necessary. But that’s just me.

        1. You Said:
          You have an uncommon demeanor to accept opposite opinion.. and these days that’s rare. Also, if I may point out, it does not mean one bit I even fully understand what I am talking about when I do reply as I have. That’s called an exchange of ideas with an open mind. If you’re like me we have a flurry of crap floating around in our heads and we concentrate on getting it down on paper and what seems perfectly logical to us simply mystifies others… hence our divide as a nation.
          My Reply:
          Well said… Oh, and thank you for your kind words! 🙂
          – * – * – * – * – * – *- * – * – * – * – * –

          You Said:
          I try and keep distance on religion, and especially religion and politics though. I was raised Lutheran yet I current am tepid toward religion these days for various personal reasons. People should believe as they wish and I am certainly not qualified to tell anyone who, what, and how to believe spiritually.. other than to listen to one’s own heart. I find organized religion far too complex than necessary. But that’s just me.
          My Reply:
          I might make one small suggestion: “Religion” and belief in God are often two different things. Belief in God certainly leads to religion, but often, religion — because it’s populated with fallible people — can disserve the believer, and distance him from God. Also, I find “listen to your heart” to be a bit too platitudinous. I’d say, maybe, if you believe in God, then ask Him for guidance. I do all the time. You have to be open to hearing something, and it never hurts to ask.

          I remember, one day shortly after the death of my infant son (many years ago), I heard a voice inside my head, that was definitely, absolutely, no-doubt-about-it, not from me, saying to me, “The next one will be a girl, and she’ll be just fine.” I had been saying to myself as I held back tears, “What next? What do I do? What can I do? What should I do?” It hurt so much, and I was very much in a self-pitying frame-of-mind. All of a sudden, there was the answer! The answer to what next, and to all the rest of the questions: prepare for the arrival of my daughter! So I did. Some 12 months or so later, my daughter arrived, and she was “just fine.” Double 9’s on the Apgar scores, and the doctor said that he simply didn’t give out 10s’ but if he did, my daughter would have got two of ’em.

          When i heard that sweet message inn my head, I was down, and vulnerable, and in pain, and asking — just in general… I wasn’t even praying! — and God gave me the gift of purpose, healing, happiness, direction, even a bit of prophecy! When we were expecting our daughter’s arrival, people used to ask me, “Aren’t you going to find out what sex the baby is?” My answer, “Nope. No need. She’s a girl!” And she is!

          Interestingly, at that point, there did really seem to be something to this “gift of prophecy” that I mentioned. I worked at a large company, and there were a number of pregnancies during the time when my then wife and I were expecting. I had a streak of 15 correct sex predictions in a row! It stopped at #16, and I’ve been right at barely 50-50 since. During that streak, when I got to about five in a row, people started to come to me and ask me whether they were going to have a boy or girl, and when I got it right, how I did it. My answer: I don’t know — all I do is say the first thing that comes to mind, and it’s been turning out right. And that was the truth.

          Bottom line: I love church, but my attendance there is, to be blunt, insufficient. I also treasure the fact that I know, through real, personal experience, that God takes an active interest in my life and my happiness. I have other true stories of when God actively did things for me that helped me, or made me feel better, and those were times that I was nothing more than receptive to the possibility that He might be there for me, listening to me… I have complete faith that He is there, now, listening to me, ready to tell me what I need to do to have peace, to be happy, to be a better person.

          So, that’s my unsolicited advice: be receptive to Him, and let Him speak to you. Goodness knows we ask Him to listen to us!

          – * – * – * – * – * – *- * – * – * – * – * –

          Best,

          — x

  2. I’ll take all that into consideration. 🙂 What’s important is that your spirituality works for you and keeps you balanced. In fact.. and few people will draw this line… what your spirituality does for you is also shared by those who connect with you and share in the person that is you, in the form of respect and friendship. So.. others also benefit from your beliefs.
    I’ll stop there because I believe religion, or God, or however you might personally assign spirituality, is up to each person. I don’t want to get too close to the “Well, if you believe in all that then how do you explain your affinity to Trump?”

    1. Lol!

      Don’t forget, I have no affinity for Trump.

      I had a tough choice in November, 2016, and I did what I thought was best — or least bad — for America.

      I couldn’t stand Hillary Clinton, and I couldn’t stand Trump. I just couldn’t stand Trump… less.

      Best,

      — x

  3. I wholeheartedly agree with your conclusion. There is no conflict between faith and reason.
    Reason itself depends on fundamental assumptions which are unprovable and which have to be taken as absolutely true.

    The only thing that one can prove with absolute certainty is one’s own existence (I think therefore I am).
    I’ve never bought into the logical fallacy of the “The Matrix”. It is possible that the whole world is a product of your imagination but at least you have to exist in order to imagine something. Solipsism, the extreme idea that the whole universe exists only in one’s mind can never be proved or disproved with absolute certainty. So, if we can’t ever tell the difference we might just as well act as if the universe is real. There are, of course, a boatload of logical reasons why the universe is real and not a product of our imagination. I will only mention one such reason and not waste any more time with this extreme idea. If the world exists only in my mind why would my mind create a world that gives me pain and displeasure?

    Back to science and reason.
    On a fundamental level science operates on assumptions that are UNPROVABLE.
    They are to be taken as absolutely true.
    1. The universe is intelligible.
    2. We can trust our intellectual faculties to give us a true picture of reality.
    3. The laws of nature.do not change.

    These are only the most basic assumptions and the deeper one digs the more such unprovable basic assumptions one will find.
    The laws of logic and the laws of thought have to be taken as axioms (i.e. they are self-evident) but if one wants to demonstrate their veracity by applying them to the real world, one has to assume the veracity of assumptions 1 and 2.
    Assumptions 1 and 2 and the laws of logic are the minimum that is necessary for ANY kind of reason.
    Assumption 3 is the bedrock of science. If laws of nature could change over time, then everything we “know” about the distant past and everything we predict for the future is flushed down the toilet. Why? Because everything we “know” about the distant past is extrapolated from just a few thousand years of empirical observation. If the laws of radioactive decay were to change over time then radiocarbon dating would be worthless. Worse, if laws of nature could change over time, we could never derive ANY single law of nature by observing nature.

    As we have seen, reason and science is only possible if we have faith in some unprovable fundamental assumptions.
    What about faith in God? No one truly believes in God just because someone said so.
    We believe in God because we observe the world and because we apply reason.
    There are many good, rational arguments for faith in God. Some believe in God because of miracles. Others because of fullfilled prophecies or because of a personal relationship with Him.
    No matter how one arrives at faith in God. On has to use reason.
    The topic of miracles is highly relevant to the discussion. To believe in miracles requires you to believe that the world is not chaotic but that there is an order to the universe which governs its behaviour. If there was chaos then everything would be possible. If everything is possible then there are no miracles. The existence of miracles requires a cosmic order which makes some things impossible or highly unlikely.
    It is no coincidence that many of the greatest scientists were Christians and Jews. Isaac Newton, one of the giants of science was definitely not an atheist.

    To conclude: There cannot be reason without faith and there cannot be faith without reason.
    John 1:1 states it perfectly: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
    In tbe original Greek “logos” is used for “word”. In Greek “logos” doesn’t just mean “word”. It also means reason.

    1. Your longer comment went into moderation; I don’t know why.

      I approved it. But, only because it was so darned good!

      (And, of course, because we don’t censor anyone 🙂 )

      This “test” comment, though, sailed straight through.

      Interestingly, some time back, I put a whole bunch of words into the verboten words list. I believe that as a result, words like “parse,” and “assume” result in moderation, though one would think that the filtering engine would be able to recognize such words and let them through.

      It was ARK who imposed that on everyone else. It requires only one immature clodpole to make things difficult for everyone! Ain’t that always the way?!?

      Okay, I guess that wasn’t all that interesting…

      Best,

      — x

  4. Hi X.
    It seems that WordPress puts my comments automatically into moderation based on the length of the comment.
    I posted a long comment at April 3, 2019 at 2:16 pm.
    That comment is in moderation.
    Is this behaviour intentional or just a bug.

    1. Just a bug, I think.

      I think you’re correct that it appears to affect the longer comments.

      However, if you look at my reply to your “test” comment…, I wonder if the longer comments simply have a greater chance of inadvertently triggering a false-positive on the bad words filter.

      Either way, your comments are always welcome here!

      Best,

      — x

      1. Ahh. That makes a lot of sense.
        Once again I learn not to confuse correlation with causation.
        Did you know that ice cream consumption correlates perfectly with the number of shark attacks?
        The greater the consumption of ice cream, the greater the number of shark attacks 😉

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