Faith and Reason

Faith and Reason united, with St Thomas Aquina...
Faith and Reason united, with St Thomas Aquinas teaching in the background. Painting by Ludwig Seitz (1844–1908), Galleria dei Candelabri, Vatican - Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen via Wikipedia

Many people see faith and reason as two approaches to life existing at opposite ends of the cognitive spectrum. It could be argued, however, that faith and reason are not always separate and (consciously or unconsciously) work together.

An example of faith and reason unconsciously working together could be found in those who make a god out of reason. These folks still come from a faith position, but their faith is placed in reason instead of God or some divine power.

On this point or, at least, on a similar point, the philosopher David Hume offered a now famous critique of causality.

Hume’s metaphysics, in particular his critique of the belief in cause and effect, remains an important challenge to our conventional way of seeing. All we can be sure of, says Hume, is that certain events occur one after another in a given region and for a certain duration.

In billiards, for instance, the white ball appears to cause the motion of other balls when impacting them on the billiard table. But here’s the radical part. Hume says that all we can truly know is that, in the past, the first ball impacted and the other balls moved. We cannot prove that the first ball’s impact will always be followed by movement of the other balls. And for Hume, there is no rational way to demonstrate a causal connection.¹

In most world religions, faith is said to be primary to reason. In Catholic theology faith is described as a supernatural virtue whereas reason is said to be a natural power. For Catholics or, indeed, anyone, both faith and reason are concerned with truth and need not conflict.

However, it seems that many insecure individuals who have been brainwashed by a cultic or even by some silly religious or scientific teaching desperately cling to a kind of misplaced faith by believing in things that are not true or, perhaps, egregiously facile.

Similarly, we find not a few self-professed thinkers who are hooked on their own faulty logic, colored by unconscious personal biases.

In their best form, faith and reason are potentially harmonious. We can live life by testing our pet hypotheses and by keeping our beliefs and theories open to revision. For many, however,  faith and reason are often imperfect and discordant.

Thinkers like the Hungarian-born Arthur Koestler (1905-83) believed that clunky linkages between our human cognitive faculties (such as faith and reason) result from conflicting evolutionary additions to the human brain, additions that happened by chance instead of through any kind of grand, intelligent design. But this approach is no more subject to empirical verification than one that accepts inconsistency and inner conflict as steps toward integration and its corollary, integrity.

Related Posts » Faith and Action, Faith and Morals


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