Uncommon Sense

May 19, 2022

Faith v. Reason

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:01 am

And in this corner . . .

I have been reading a fascinating book, one full of fascinating arguments (George H. Smith, Atheism: The Case Against God (The Skeptic’s Bookshelf)) and last night I started a chapter that that compares and contrasts faith and reason. The two are linked, says the author:

The Christian who postures as an advocate of reason is often quite subtle in his attack on reason. Yes, he says, reason provides man with knowledge of reality; yes, reason is vital to man’s existence; yes, man’s rational capacity is his distinguishing characteristic—but some aspects of existence cannot be comprehended by man. Some facts are closed to rational understanding. Reason is fine as far as it goes, but it is limited.

Again, I have to ask “how could anyone know that reason is thus limited.” It sounds like a self-serving “fact” that isn’t really in evidence. If reason, a human activity is limited, is faith, another human activity, also limited? No one seems to address this question.

Theists seem to appeal to Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274) a great deal, especially Catholics. According to Aquinas, a man may first believe something on faith which he later comes to know through reason, or a man may accept as an article of faith something which other men can rationally demonstrate, or a man may use faith to acquire a certainty that reason is impotent to give.

Once again, this prince of Christian apologists is conflating two varieties of “faith” or “belief.” There is “faith” based upon repeated observation/reasoning, e.g. I believe the Sun will come up tomorrow or I have faith that the Sun will come up tomorrow and there is “religious faith” which equates to “I believe this even though there is a complete lack of evidence for it.”

Aquinas pounds this home in his book, The City of God, when he claims that “Christian beliefs should not be rejected as false or nonsensical.” In support of this, Augustine points out that there are many “marvels” in nature that reason cannot account for, that “the frail comprehension of man cannot master.” If one were demanded to give a rational explanation of these phenomena, one could not do so—except to say that they are “wonders of God’s working” that “the frail mind of man cannot explain.” This is a God of the Gaps argument. Just because you cannot explain something rationally doesn’t mean that no one can or that no one will eventually. Rational inquiries require time and interest and some subjects just do not interest the people who have the time and the reasoning ability to come up with a rational explanation. God does not get all “ties,” that is cases in which there is no rational explanation for an event and no actual theological explanation either. (“God did it” is not an explanation; it is merely a claim that needs to be proven, a very problematic claim as it is.)

So, “religious faith,” a mechanism to acquire knowledge that does not involve reason, is actually completely incompatible with reason. To quote Smith again: “Faith depends for its survival on the unknowable, the incomprehensible, that which reason cannot grasp. Faith cannot live in a natural, knowable universe. As Pascal observed, ‘If we submit everything to reason, our religion will have no mysterious and supernatural element.’

I will be reporting more fully on this wonderful book! (I have read enough to recommend it to all atheists who might want to understand the playing field we share with theists better, and to theists for the same reason.)


  1. Sy Garte is a biochemist who reasons “God did it.” I wondered if you’ve run across his interviews and YouTube chats.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Arnold — May 20, 2022 @ 11:36 am | Reply

    • And according to the Bible God is the giver of reason and faith- per his say.


      Comment by Arnold — May 20, 2022 @ 11:48 am | Reply

    • Nope. The idea of “God did it” is bankrupt. First, there is no way to determine whether any god has the power to do anything, so we are just making up their powers. And, then there is no way to determine whether a god in fact did the thing claimed. No god leaves fingerprints, etc. “God did it” even if it were true is not an explanation. It does not clarify anything. It simply expands the “mystery” by claiming a cause that cannot be proven.

      Liked by 3 people

      Comment by Steve Ruis — May 20, 2022 @ 1:02 pm | Reply

      • Right on, he also says the more scientists find the more questions emerge with origins, especially the origins of life and consciousness.
        And that’s really why I pursue Christ first and foremost over any science, history or discipline. I prefer relationships over studies.


        Comment by Arnold — May 20, 2022 @ 3:14 pm | Reply

        • I tend to think that people who are attracted to the sciences are so because they lack social/emotional skills. In the sciences, you deal with things more so than people. In other words, it ain’t about relationships.


          Comment by Steve Ruis — May 20, 2022 @ 10:00 pm | Reply

          • Right, I used to be an introvert, more attracted to sciences and causes than interpersonal stuff. Now I’m learning to cultivate positive relationships with whoever crosses my path. I develop social skills simply by easing into social situations.


            Comment by Arnold — May 21, 2022 @ 5:18 am | Reply

            • Good on you. There is nothing wrong with being an introvert, unless it stifles what you want from life. I was a timid child, but somehow I kept pushing myself forward until I ended up in leadership positions.

              Liked by 1 person

              Comment by Steve Ruis — May 21, 2022 @ 10:28 am | Reply

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