My roommate and I just had a lively discussion on basically what came down to this question: What is the relationship between faith and reason?
This relationship has been something that has been discussed and debated for centuries, and the importance of the answer cannot be minimized.
In his book on Christian Apologetics, Peter Kreeft says this:
“In a sense the marriage of faith and reason is the most important question in apologetics because it is the overall question. If faith and reason are not wedded partners, if faith and reason are divorced or incompatible, like cats and birds, then apologetics is impossible. For apologetics is the attempt to ally reason with faith, to defend the faith with reason’s weapons.”
Kreeft proceeds to distinguish between acts of faith and objects of faith as well as acts of reason and objects reason, respectively. Here we are concerned specifically with the objects of faith and their relation to the objects of reason.
The object of faith can be defined as “all the things believed.” So for Christians this means all that God has revealed in the Bible. This type of faith is expressed in propositions though it can be said that the propositions are not the ultimate objects of faith, only the proximate objects. The proximate objects are manifold or various, but the “ultimate object of faith is one.” “The propositions are the map or structure of faith; God is the real existing object of faith.”
The object of reason means “all that reason can know.” Aristotle famously distinguishes between “three acts of the mind” that are relevant to this notion of “all that reason can know.” It means all the truths that can be
a.) understood by reason- w/o faith
b.) discovered by human reason to be true
c.) proved logically without any premises assumed by faith in divine revelation.
It is important to emphasize that both “faith” and “reason” are relative to truth. “Reason is a way of knowing truth; understanding it or proving it. Faith is a way of discovering truth.
So what is the relation between the objects of faith and the objects of reason?
Kreeft overviews 5 possible relations that any two things or class of things have:
All A’s are B’s, but not all B’s are A’s
All B’s are A’s, but not all A’s are B’s
All A’s are B’s and all B’s are A’s
No A’s are B’s and no B’s are A’s
Some but not all A’s are B’s and some not all B’s are A’s.
These applied to the relation of faith and reason come out as follows:
1. All that is known by faith is also known by reason, but not all that is known by reason is known by faith. Faith is then a subclass of reason.
This category would be known as rationalism. Christians who believe you can prove the doctrine of the Trinity or the Incarnation through strict philosophical arguments fall into this category.
2. All that is known by reason is also known by faith, but not all that is known by faith is known by reason. Reason is then a subclass of faith.
This category would be known as fideism. Fideism contends that the only knowledge, or at least the only certain knowledge, we can have is by faith.
3. All that is known by faith is known by reason too, and all that is known by reason is know by faith. Faith and reason are interchangeable.
This understanding is so utterly not held that it’s really not even worth talking about.
4. Nothing that is known by faith is known by reason, and nothing that is known by reason is known by faith. Faith and reason are mutually exclusive.
The category would be known as dualism. Dualism simply divorces faith and reason by placing them in two different departments. “Usually it does this by a.) reducing reason to scientific, mathematical, or empirical reasoning and b.) reducing faith to a personal, subjective attitude.”
5. Some but not all that is known by faith is also known by reason, and some but not all that is known by reason is also known by faith. Faith and reason partly overlap.
This category distinguishes three kinds of truths and it is the one most believe is the most reasonable and correct.
a) Truths of faith and not of reason:
Truths of faith alone are things revealed by God but not understandable, discoverable or provable by reason (e.g. Trinity).
b.) Truths of both faith and reason:
Truths of faith and reason are things revealed by God but also understandable, discoverable, or provable by reason (i.e. objective moral law).
c.) Truths of reason and not of faith:
Truths of reason and not of faith are things not revealed by God but known by human reason (e.g. the natural sciences).
Kreeft continues by expounding two task for the Christian apologist:
The Christian apologist must “prove all the propositions in class b and to answer all objections to the propositions in class a.”
The Christian cannot prove The Trinity without divine revelation; this is something that must be accepted on faith not merely by reason. Yet, the Christian can answer (and must) objections to the Trinity that deem the Trinitarian concept irrational.
Kreeft concludes this segment by giving some useful balance in our use of reason:
“The Doctrine of the Fall teaches us that human nature, and thus human reason, is corrupted, but still valid and usable- like a crippled body. It can walk, unlike rocks, but not well. We must distinguish reason de facto (“in reality” or “in fact”) and reason de jure (“by law” or “by right”), or reason in its everyday use and reason in itself, or reason improperly used and reason properly used. Used properly, it is powerful but not all-powerful. Reason can persuade you to walk to the beach, but you must make the leap of faith into the sea of the living God. Fideism says it can’t even bring you to the beach; rationalism says it can put you into the sea.”
Part 2 will seek to answer this question: Can faith and reason every contradict each other?