Liberty University on Reasonableness of Faith
Table of Contents
Definition of Faith and Reason
Faith and reason are not competing concepts in a theistic worldview rather, combine to better crystalize an understanding of theistic singularity which many call ‘God’. Further, these are often viewed as mutually exclusive by those outside of theism, while viewed as mutually inclusive by Christian Apologists. Duality does not exist with this worldview. Faith is not only a reasonable conclusion to existence, but also the only logical conclusion. Reason, although often a hinderance to accepting a theistic beginning, only makes sense when packaged with theism. Reason can be defined as ‘a set of principles for methodical inquiry into areas of intellectual interest’.1 Faith involves ‘a belief, or set of beliefs, which may not be provable through scientific inquiry’. When these two are combined, the mutually exclusive view presents an ‘oil and vinegar’ mixture which, although occupying the same space, never combine into a cohesive whole.
Science presents itself as the measure for reason-based processes, logic, and defined natural outcomes. On the other hand, theism is perceived as an exercise in non-reason-based processes which go unrequited through tangible proof. Christian apologetics necessarily create a nexus between the two. A theistic worldview can be largely based on faith, but faith is arrived at through a measured, reason-based process as well.
The Case for Faith & Reason
The case for faith and reason being mutually inclusive, is about more than convincing someone of the validity of this position. The reality of our existence hinges on such inclusivity and further, without these two cohabiting the same sphere of existence, it seems impossible that we exist as sentient beings. Theism is predicated on the reality that God desires we use our reason to first acknowledge something more omniscient than we exist, and then to further define such existence.2 Reason, and its utility in discovering spiritual aspects of existence, is the key component in free will.
When examining God’s commandment to Adam, with respect to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God was commanding Adam to reason, and not to blindly accept His position, which some define as ‘faith’.3 Of all God had created, only this tree did God withhold from humankind. The command from God to not eat from the tree, was followed by a consequence for disobeying. Should Adam and later the woman, Eve, eat from it, God said they would die. In allowing free will exercise through a command, yet still making what was forbidden available, the cognitive exercise of choice arrived through deductive reasoning. This must have been, and yet remains God’s will.
Therefore, and understanding that God desires both spiritual and cognitive engagement with humankind, theism’s response to cultural pressures should be both measured and presented in relevant terms. The relationship between scientific processes and religion, has been the focus of those studying sociological order, which is a discipline of science as well.4 There is further pressure on theism to conform to the world, rather than reforming it to align to its view.5 When those who refuse succumbing to cultural relevance proclaim such, society brands them ‘intolerant’. Faith and reason play a role in this spiritual back and forth as well. Faith trusts that theistic adherents can resist efforts to bend to the will of society. Reason, when combined with faith, guides decisions to become empathetic to the world, while not allowing faith’s compromise, based on need for relevance.
Further, there exists a false dichotomy in which one can only possess faith without reason. This worldview rests almost solely on the belief that reason must be inextricably linked to the scientific method. Science is viewed as reasonable because trusting in anything one cannot see, much less test, is an untenable intellectual position. This is a misunderstanding of both reason, and the role it plays in a theistic worldview. Although, for example, miracles are defined as events which cannot be scientifically explained, and exist outside of natural processes, this does not separate them from reason. To believe that miracles must either be explained by only faith, or scientific reason fails to visualize the nexus.
To examine this idea, let’s review the miracle of creation. It could hardly be understated how wide the gulf is between what science believes occurred, versus the Judeo-Christian view as outlined in the Holy Bible. One part of the creative process must be focused on to present a larger picture. The Book of Genesis identifies the first element God introduces as water.6 Science has also measured the amount of water in the human body at 64%.7 This does not include higher amounts in certain organs such as the heart (73%). Therefore, for life to exist, water is the core element physiologically. When the theistic view of creation (faith) is combined with the scientific discovery (reason) of the body’s core make-up (water), it must be accepted that a nexus between faith and scientific reason exists. This is but one example of the false ‘either/or’ dichotomy.
In fairness, the Bible does indicate, in that same Book of Genesis, that we were created from the ‘dust of the ground’. How can we be made from dust, and yet be made up of largely water? This is when the ‘faith’ portion must be exercised in abundance. However, it cannot be disputed that the Earth began with water, and everything which required water, to sustain humankind, was created prior to Adam. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that there exists some intersection between scientific findings and Theism, if not total alignment.
Faith and Reason Challenged
The nexus of faith and reason are under constant challenge from both inside of theistic circles, as well as more secular worldviews. One of the most consistent attacks, from a secular viewpoint, is the belief that faith is blind and absent reason. This challenge, especially from the scientific community, is nonsensical. Science often challenges faith because theistic sources don’t give the level of detail science requires. What is interesting about this challenge, is science often does not require the level of proof for many of its own claims. To make it simpler: science demands a standard, from theism, that it routinely comes up short on in its own processes. For instance, the issue of explaining a substance called ‘dark energy’. Science says that dark energy comprises approximately 68% of the universe yet, no one has ever seen it, can measure it, or prove its existence.8 It is presented as scientific fact based on only observational evidence.
Theism says God is omnipresent yet, no one has ever seen him, and certainly cannot measure his existence. Both dark energy and God, have never been seen nor measured yet, science refutes theism in favor of its own personal brand of religious belief. I want to be careful in defining exactly what is meant by science. To cast a wide net around all of science, atheism, and secularity is a mistaken assumption.9 For these to be on a level playing field with challenging theistic beliefs, each must openly and consistently challenge theism, and this is just not so. There are scientists who hold a theistic world view, atheists who adhere to some scientific views while rejecting others, and secularists who don’t have the unction to question either atheism or science. There is no consistency in resistance to Theism from these beliefs, and certainly none with respect to a collective assault.
In fairness to all three, there is both a faith and reason component to each. When we remember the earlier definition of faith, it is fair to say that science has faith with its dark energy posit. When examining atheism, to unequivocally declare that a divine being had nothing to do with the creation of natural processes, is a faith which believes in something it can neither prove nor quantify. They have no qualitative, or quantitative data to disprove theism, yet state with surety theism is error. Not only can atheism not prove its own posit, but it also cannot disprove a theistic worldview. The secular worldview believes humans are capable of morally guiding themselves, without God, yet lack any explanation where morals originated or who defined ‘morality’. They simply believe, as do the other two without qualitative data, that morals just appeared out of nowhere. Let me be clear: I am not suggesting these have faith in an unseen being as do theists, only their faith is in some unseen and natural process they cannot prove.
The scientific method is something which must be discussed, defined, and explained because all three challenges to the theistic worldview, are somewhat based on a declared scientific method. The scientific method is defined as ‘characteristics of science that are based on systematic observations, experimentations, and inductive and deductive reasoning for the formation of testing a theory’.10 Some adherents to theism have both misused and mischaracterize the Apostle Paul’s biblical statement on avoiding science.11 As a church leader, I have heard it presented that we should not trust in science but only trust in the Lord. This was not what Paul was saying. What is interesting, about this non-sensical statement, is the same Believers who see doctors, take medication, listened to weather reports, or other seemingly benign activities, are contradicting themselves by showing a dedication to science. Paul’s presentation, and warning, occurred because Believers needed to understand the misuse of science was the issue, not science itself.
Much of science’s refutation to theism accuses theists of doing the same thing they are. For instance, my granddaughter is interested in all things space related. She often asks if what she has read or listened to, is true with respect to scientific findings. There is one question she asked, which I know science is being deceptive with: “Papa – is that really what the Milky Way Galaxy looks like”? Two spacecrafts were launched by NASA in the late 1970s called Voyager. Just now, some 40+ years later, are they approaching the edge of our solar system. This points out that if science has yet to leave our own solar system, let alone our area of the Milky Way Galaxy, how is it possible to render an image of the entire galaxy from an external view?
They offer this image as an educated guess nevertheless; it would still be just that, a guess with no possible way to verify accuracy. As was pointed out earlier, science demands that something be postulated, tested, and proved to be accepted as fact. Therefore, since our species has not traveled outside our home solar system, let alone our quadrant of the galaxy, the image of the Milky Way, even based on an educated guess, still doesn’t stand the test of the scientific method. Based on this, and other misrepresentations of science ‘falsely so-called’, some science is simply another sort of ‘undeclared religious process’ largely dependent upon faith.
It is impossible to say that science hasn’t combined both faith and reason, to declare its most profound discoveries as fact. Yet, many belittle those who hold a theistic view, for combining information gathered through our sensory perceptions, to form a conclusion of intelligent design. This is blatant hypocrisy, totally unscientific, and should be confronted and exposed wherever it exists. To draw a more easily understandable parallel, imagine that two people stood side-by-side, were both given canvases, and given separate assignments. One, a theist, was told to paint an image of what heaven looks like. Another, a scientific atheist, is given an assignment to paint the Milky Way Galaxy. Once completed, both images were reviewed by a board comprised of both scientists and faith leaders.
The scientists agreed that the image of God couldn’t possibly be correct because no one had laid eyes on him. They further insist the image of the Milky Way Galaxy is ‘probably’ accurate, although no one had seen it from an outside view. Faith leaders however, come to a consensus that both images are nothing more than educated guesses, and should not be taken as fact. In this case the faith leaders, relying more on reason, adhere more to the scientific method than the scientists. Reason cannot be discarded just because an educated guess seems like the most logical conclusion. On the other hand, faith cannot be the basis for declaring accuracy just because one wishes it so.
Another term science uses, which adheres closely to the concept of faith and reason, is a belief in a process they refer to as evolution. Evolution was introduced by man named Charles Darwin in the late 19th century. Evolution teaches a process whereby everything that exists, evolved independent of intelligent design, and was guided by nothing more than natural processes. However, it fails to answer the most basic question about the ‘evolution’ of intelligent life: how can nonconscious matter spontaneously create a conscious being? When even an unbiased, simply curious person reviews the theory of evolution, it doesn’t stand the test of reason-based science. Evolution is almost totally dependent upon observational evidence. Whatever the posit, it must be observed, tested, and re-created to be scientific fact. Although the theoretical part of the scientific process exists, there is no way to re-create evolution therefore, it could not be a scientific fact.
Finally, adherence to theism understand there are things, as the great sufferer Job said “too wonderful for me to understand”.12 This is not to be taken as a stereo typical blanket statement of all. There are theists who because of pride, believe they must answer every question science poses. This has brought many, such as Kent Hovind, to a place of shame.13 Hovind was so determined to ‘win the scientific argument’ with atheists and secular humanists, that he stated human beings and dinosaurs walked the Earth simultaneously. Faith should not violate reason, nor should reason violate faith. Faith is predicated on believing something that is not provable. If something is taken by faith, and therefore not provable, it is reasonable to believe there are things beyond our understanding.
Faith and reason aren’t an ‘either/or’ choice rather, serve in a symbiotic relationship which lends credibility to a theistic view of creation. Being mutually inclusive to produce a grander revelation of intelligent design, those who defend this position must, themselves, be prepared enough to present the finer points of this belief system. There is no competition between the two, as has been presented by some within, and certainly those outside of theism. For those holding theism as truth, it is important to develop a cogent position, and develop the ability to apologetically defend the position. Faith and reason should not be viewed as duality for theists rather, an aggregate position which is easily defensible. Much harm has been brought into Christian apologetics because even well-meaning people, such as Kent Hovind, professing faith is theism, teach untenable positions which insult reason.
Next, science presents itself as arbiters of provable facts yet present unreasonable views according to their own system of measuring those ‘facts’. Further, when unreasonable theists present unreasonable positions, while at the same time challenging unreasonable views of science, a cauldron of confusion results. Most people have ‘faith’ in something. This does not suggest such faith is the same as that of a theist, however. Further, Theism is predicated on the biblical reality that God desires His creation interact with Him, through critical thinking. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than God planting the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, in the Garden of Eden, and allowing Adam and Eve free will choice on whether to chose Him, or it. God created us with free will, and out of that sprung critical thinking which demands reasoning skills. It is therefore logical that God created reasoning skills.
Science must also be challenged, directly, with respect to the ‘faith’ it demonstrates in unprovable, natural processes while, at the same time, mocking religious faith. Science uses observational evidence, as do Theists.
Science uses critical thinking and reasoning, as do Theists. Science also takes unprovable ‘leaps of faith’, as do Theists. For instance, and was mentioned earlier, science believes in an unseen, untested, immeasurable force in the universe called ‘dark matter/energy’. This is no different than a theistic belief in an unseen, immeasurable creator of the universe. This does not suggest the two are in anyway equal but does suggest that either theism is right or reluctant science is. As an unknown Theist said: “we can afford to be wrong because if we are, and there is no super-natural creator, when we die, there is nothing more. Our person goes dark, and we fade into oblivion. However, if non—Believers are wrong, and they die, and must face a super-natural creator whose existence they spent a lifetime trying to disprove, well then.”14
What both science and Theists must understand is that faith and reason can exist as mutually inclusive worldviews, while simultaneously understanding neither has all the answers. Further, both must be satisfied with never receiving answers to their most profound questions. We must, in all things, seek truth and not solely focus on winning the debate. The core concept of faith is ‘trust’, while the core concept of ‘reason’ it to ‘quantify’, or not, what faith believes. This does not suggest that faith must always come before reason either. When that formula is reversed, reason quantifies and can bring about faith. This is how I came to faith in Jesus Christ as an adult.
The sticking point becomes, often it is believed that reason and ‘proof’ must be mutually inclusive. An earlier example of this reality lies in science’s reasonable assumption of what the Milky Way Galaxy looks like. Humankind hasn’t yet traveled outside of our home solar system, let alone the galaxy therefore, it is impossible to know, with any accuracy, what the galaxy looks like. Reason however, and having observed how other galaxies appear, leads science to reasonable conclusions about our galaxy’s appearance. This is however, far from a provable fact.
Finally, we, as Theists, must never seek to answer every question to establish credibility of our belief system. In doing so many, and as the Apostle Paul pointed out “have erred from the faith”.15 For instance, when I was new to the faith, our Pastor was conducting a Bible study. He read a scripture which said: “eyes have not seen, nor ears have not heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man the things that God has prepared for those who love Him.”16 I was so excited about this scripture and the possibilities of what this meant. I asked the Pastor: “What does this mean? What has God prepared?” He response was both honest, and forthright - “boy, it said we don’t know what this is didn’t it?” Something generally true about African American Pastors from the older generation, is they tend to be very direct in their responses.
Nevertheless, too often we err in the faith by trying to put, as they said in the old black church, “meat on the bone, when God only provides the bone to work with”. Christian apologetics has been given the task of explaining intelligent design, while lacking the intelligence to explain that very design. This does not suggest there aren’t intelligent people. However, our intelligence has failed to explain the entirety of the world we inhabit, let alone the cosmos in which we exist. Further, God openly questioned our intelligence in the Book of Job.17 The interesting thing about God challenging Job to answer, is that Job could not answer a single question posed, neither has anyone to this very day.
Header Image Courtesy of Aand KZ @ Pixabay
1 Swindal, J. (Ndg). Faith and Reason. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. University of Texas. Retrieved from https://iep.utm.edu/faith-re/
2 Moreland, J.P. (1997, 2012). Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul. Chpt. 2, pg. 45: A Biblical Sketch of the Value of Reason – The Nature of the God of the Bible. Retrieved from https://app.logos.com/books/LLS%3ALVYRGDLLYRMND/references/page.45
3 Book of Genesis. Chapter 2 verses 7-17. BibleGateway.com. Holy Bible. King James Version. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+2%3A7-17&version=KJV
4 O’Brien, T., Noy, S. (2015). Traditional, Modern, and Post-Secular Perspectives on Science and Religion in the United States. American Sociological Association. Vol. 8 Issue 1. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0003122414558919
5 Gospel of Matthew. Chapter 28 verse 18-20. BibleGateway.com. Holy Bible. King James Version. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+28%3A18-20&version=KJV
6 Book of Genesis. Chapter 1 verses 1-12. BibleGateway.com. Holy Bible. King James Version. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+1%3A1-12&version=KJV
7 Water Science School (2019). The Water in You: Water in the Human Body. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved from usgs.gov
8 Palmer, S. (2021). Search for ‘Dark Energy’ Could Illuminate Origins, Evolution, Fate of the Universe’. Penn State University. Retrieved from https://www.psu.edu/news/research/story/search-dark-energy-could-illuminate-origin-evolution-fate-universe/
9 Coleman, T., Wood, R., Shook, J. (2015). Science, Religion, and Culture Journal: An Introduction to Atheism, Secularity, and Science. Retrieved from http://researcherslinks.com/current-issues/An-Introduction-to-Atheism-Secularity-and-Science/9/16/116/html
10 Andersen H., Hepburn., B. (2015). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Scientific Method. Retrieved from https://stanford.library.sydney.edu.au/archives/sum2019/entries/scientific-method/
11 Book of 1st Timothy. Chapter 6 verse 19-21. BibleGateway.com. Holy Bible. King James Version. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Timothy%206%3A19-21&version=KJV
12 Book of Job. Chapter 42 verse 3. BibleGateway.com. Holy Bible. King James Version. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Job+42%3A3&version=KJV
13 Dickey, Nathan (2014). Inside the Mind of a Creationist: A Critical Examination of Kent Hovind’s Doctrinal Dissertation. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/2580595/Inside_the_Mind_of_a_Creationist_A_Critical_Analysis_of_Kent_Hovinds_Doctoral_Dissertation_
14 Author Unknown (Date Unknown).
15 [Ibd] Book of 1st Timothy.
16 Book of 1st Corinthians. Chapter 2 verse 9. BibleGateway.com. Holy Bible. King James Version. 1 Corinthians 2:9 KJV - But as it is written, Eye hath not - Bible Gateway
17 Book of Job. Chapters 38-41. BibleGateway.com. Holy Bible. King James Version. Retrieved from Job 38-41 KJV - Then the LORD answered Job out of the - Bible Gateway