Reason & Faith
These reflections can help us understand something about faith and its relationship to reason. Even the atheist, precisely to the extent that he is rational, has a certain kind of faith. He asks questions about reality in the expectation that these questions will have answers and that these answers will make sense. Why does he believe this? It is not because he already has the answers and can therefore see that they exist and make sense -- if he already had these answers he would not be seeking them. Yet he has the conviction that these rational answers exist. This is a faith. It is a faith that reality can be known through reason. It is a faith that those particular, limited acts of understanding through which he will grasp the answers to his questions are there waiting for him, so to speak, even if he does not succeed -- even if no human being ever succeeds -- in reaching them. It is what drives the scientist in his all-consuming quest. This faith, far from being opposed to reason, is a faith in reason.
The faith of the theist is of this kind. He has faith not only that there are some limited acts of understanding through which he will grasp the answers to his particular questions, but that there is a perfect and complete act of understanding which leaves no further questions to be asked. This complete act of understanding is God. For the believer, faith in God and faith in reason are profoundly linked. The Book of Genesis asserts that human beings are created "in the image of God." This has always been understood to refer primarily to the fact that human beings have rationality and freedom. Our reason, finite and limited though it is, is a reflection of the infinite divine Reason. Like God, therefore, we can grasp the world by our intellects, though unlike God, we can only do so partially. Both the rationality of the world and our capacity to understand it have the same ultimate source.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
On reason and faith
Particle physicist Steve Barr goes a long way towards dismantling the obtuse modern idea, held by the more simplistic atheists and theists alike, that faith and science are inimicable in his excellent book Modern Physics and Ancient Faith. Picking it up again, I ran across this in Appendix A: