Are Reason and Faith compatible?

Come, let us reason together. — Isaiah

In his book, The Reason for God, Timothy Keller talks about reason as a necessary building block of faith. Ayn Rand said that if man is to survive and live as man, he must live by his reason.

It is true that whatever negates, opposes, or destroys rationality or logic is evil. Ayn Rand said that Reason is the faculty by which man must live. Christians live by faith. John Galt said,

Do not say that you’re afraid to trust your mind because you know so little. Are you safer in surrendering to mystics and discarding the little you do know? Live and act within the limit of your knowledge and keep expanding it to the limit of your life. Redeem your mind from the hock-shops of authority. Accept the fact that you are not omniscient, but playing a zombie will not give you omniscience—that your mind is fallible by becoming mindless will not make you infallible—that an error made on your own is safer than ten truths accepted on faith, because the first leaves you the means to correct it, but the second destroys your capacity to distinguish truth from error. (For the New Intellectual p. 178, Atlas Shrugged p. 982)

It’s true that Christians are exhorted to “walk by faith and not by sight.” But the context of this passage does not obviate the need for anyone to abandon their God-given faculty of reason in order to take up faith. As a speed boat navigates through the waterways in the bay and a moped circumvents the narrow streets of the village, so reason and faith are vehicles to navigate different aspects of reality.

Do you see more harmony or dissonance between Faith and Reason?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

5 thoughts on “Are Reason and Faith compatible?

  1. “As a speed boat navigates through the waterways in the bay and a moped circumvents the narrow streets of the village, so reason and faith are vehicles to navigate different aspects of reality.”

    Can I use that quote in Sunday school? An excellent analogy… assuming one is willing to admit that there *could be* aspects of Actual Reality that cannot be navigated by the 5 senses or by conceptual reasoning, i.e. that one is prepared to allow for the *possibility* of a “spiritual” dimension to the Human Being that is beyond the Physical, Mental, and Emotional aspects (recognizing that this “Spiritual” dimension actually encompasses all three also helps). Yes, I know…I don’t have any factual proof that the Spiritual aspect of Humanity exists…but that’s part of my point. 😉

    Mark (and anyone else who is interested), if the topic of “Human Reason and God” appeals to you then I strongly suggest reading St. John Chrysostom. *Anything* by St. John Chrysostom. He often appeals to the faculty of reason in his writings and bases many of his arguments (one might more accurately call them “exhortations”) on it, and this was very relevant to a relatively new Christian People of the 4th century who had no long-standing “Christian Tradition” to rely on and were awash in a sea of pseudo-rational philosophizing and paganism. Very down-to-earth and straightforward talk by someone who you can tell knows more than he is able to relate to his congregation in a sermon but does a great job of getting the point across.

    There’s also an excellent 1st-century (I believe) account of St. Justin’s “Dialog with Trypho”, St. Justin being a former “sophist”-type having converted to Christianity and Trypho being a dyed-in-the-wool “sophist” in the classic ancient tradition. I can’t endorse the work fully because I haven’t finished it yet, but so far they address many issues of “philosophy vs. religion” and why St. Justin believes that he need not give up Reason and common sense to believe in Christ.

    It borders on hilarious (if it weren’t so sad) that we’re *still* talking about these types of questions and issues almost 2,000 years later…!

  2. Jim- Thanks for the recommendations! I will check them out. I’ve always been interested in the reason/faith dynamic in the history of the Church. I’ve also struggled with the overwhelming popular acceptance of faith as an absence of reason. The Bible itself offers several “tests of reason,” I’ll call them, which in my mind warn believers of the DANGERS of pure, blind faith, rather than lifting it up as the highest virtue. A typical example would be Deutoronomy 18:22, “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken.”
    Or the simple exhortation in I Thessalonians 5 to “Test everything.
    Hold on to the good.”
    This is something I am just beginning to think through, but the Bible does not exempt itself from it’s own criteria of truth. It does not hold up the abdication of reason, the annihilation of the mind as the means to know God. Rather, it acknowledges the importance of the rational, physical, and concrete as a means for knowing God. To believe something ONLY because someone else tells you to is not faith, but mindlessness. To believe something from a source who has proven
    trustworthy in the past requires both reason and faith. Reason, to
    determine the dependability of the source based on concrete examples
    of consistent truthfulness. Faith, because a record of dependability
    can never fully erase the doubt in our minds- we realize (rationally,
    by our human experience) that past truthfulness is not necessarily a
    guarantee of future reliability. Therefore, faith, to me, involves
    both an acceptance of a past reliability (tested by reason), as well as a decision to believe that that reliability will consistently
    project into the future.
    Sorry for the wordiness, I’m still trying to work out these concepts.

  3. Exactly correct…the market problem we have today is in great part due to the regulation or government “encouragement” to do things a good business practice would not suggest to do. Now, the powers that be are going to try to regulate the greed of men….Good Luck. It will not work. Government should get out. The moral compass of this country is gone. Those in government are much of the problem. How can crooks lead crooks to moral good???

  4. Thanks for your comment, Steven. I like and appreciate your perspective, which brings up the issue of an atheist's faith commitments. How would you answer an atheist who says that he trusts his mind because that is his only means of interacting with and understanding the world around him?

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