The relationship between faith and reason has long been the subject of both philosophical debate and popular misunderstanding. When people today say “I believe it on faith,” what they often mean is that they do not have any reason to believe something. Society conditions us to think of faith as irrational or as having no basis. But not only is biblical faith rational, to not have faith is to be completely irrational. It is rational to trust someone who is competent and honest, and it is irrational to reject the testimony of a witness of high character.
The skeptic’s motto, “Question everything,” is self-contradictory and impossible to live by. It denies the certainty of all knowledge, but is itself a propositional statement, and therefore is self-contradictory and illogical. If one really believes the statement “Question everything,” his response will be to ask “Why should I?” Either he will come to the conclusion that he should not, and therefore that the motto is wrong, or else he will descend into a downward spiral of contradictions, doubts, and confusion. There must be some things, called properly basic beliefs, that we do not and should not question. These beliefs form the basis of other beliefs that we develop through experience and sensory evidence. The scientific method, for example, cannot be used to prove itself, and so acceptance of it must precede the discovery of anything that it is used to prove. One can compare basic beliefs to the definitions given in a dictionary. Each word in the dictionary is defined by means of other words, so that one must have a vocabulary of basic words before he can understand anything. There is nothing irrational or incorrect about our understanding of these words, but they are in fact something that can only be learned by some innate process. Not all basic beliefs are specifically religious in nature, but belief/trust in God, which is faith, is properly basic.
Having faith in God entails having faith in God’s Word, and therefore the Bible is the basis for all Christian belief and practice. Although the Bible does not make specific statements about every issue, it provides a solid foundation on which other beliefs can be based and by which other beliefs can be measured. A great many commonly held beliefs can easily be disproved by showing that they are in some way contradictory to the Bible. The Bible may not say anything in particular about the subject or premises of a particular theory, but very often the conclusions or implications of scholarly research are at odds with a biblical Christian worldview.
There is no conflict between faith and reason. Everything taught in the Bible is coherent and rational, and there are no contradictions. If someone says he holds some extrabiblical belief “by faith,” and this belief is incoherent or contradictory in some way, then it is not truly by faith that that person holds that belief—it is just irrationality.
People who come out of an Enlightenment or modern scientific background tend to struggle with the concept of faith. They are trained to exalt human reason above all else, and to seek verification through the scientific method as a prerequisite for belief. These things are so ingrained in their way of thinking that it never occurs to them to step back and consider that the scientific method cannot be used to verify itself, nor can it give absolute certainty. In fact, postmodern culture and academia have taken rationalism to its logical conclusion, and as a result have become relativists. Reason itself becomes circular without a foundation—namely, a foundation of faith in God and in His Word—and one is left with no ultimate standard for adjudicating among competing truth-claims. Faced with these competing truth-claims, the postmodernist becomes confused and frustrated, and simply follows the herd or believes what seems pragmatic, without being able to sort anything out in a satisfactory manner. Without any ultimate standard or basis for what they believe, postmodernists say that there is no absolute truth, although in fact they contradict themselves by stating this and many other things absolutely. Thus, relativism is really an expression of frustration with the unbeliever’s inability to make sense of the world apart from faith in God and His Word; it is anything but a reasoned conclusion which results from careful study. A relativist is, properly speaking, an irrationalist. Someone who knowingly accepts logical contradictions is irrational. Thus, the attempt to live by reason alone without faith is unreasonable.
The Bible is very clear that faith is a requirement for salvation (Eph 2:8; Heb 11:6). But because the modern scientific worldview says reason demands that everything must be proved, rather than trusted, there are many well-meaning apologists who seek to prove the Christian faith through science and reason. In some cases apologetic ministries supply helpful means for Christians to defend what they believe against critics. But some models of apologetics seek to do away with the need for faith by claiming that all Christian belief can be proved by rational argument. The problem with evidential arguments, such as Richard Swinburne’s, is that they deal only with probabilities. They can show that Christian doctrine is very likely to be true, but they cannot prove it indubitably. Faith is needed for absolute assurance because we cannot yet see everything we believe in (Heb 11:1). While Christian faith is reasonable, reason cannot by itself arrive at its tenants, for any process of human reasoning must begin with foundational, a priori, truths which are arrived at by faith. Both human reasoning and the scientific method are too limited to produce the bedrock truths of which saving faith consists. Of course, since Christianity is true, its truths can be demonstrated by scientific analysis of the evidence and by logical argumentation. However, if one only believes Christian truth because of his ability to argue for it and to verify evidence, he will be quickly shaken if someone presents only one minor piece of evidence which appears to be out of place, or one minor argument which seems like a valid criticism. He will always be wondering if there is some piece of evidence out there that he has missed that will disprove his beliefs. In contrast, the man who has faith (belief + trust) in God is like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but stands forever (so Ps 125:1).
One final point about faith: faith is by its very nature simple, and the attempt to mix it with other things will weaken it. Second Corinthians 11:3 speaks of “the simplicity and purity which is toward Christ,” and warns Christian believers of being tricked, like Eve, by Satan’s craftiness. Christianity is, to be sure, philosophically sound and hermeneutically sound, and the critics are fighting against the evidence. But if your “faith” rests in what is “out there,” it will be quickly shaken by every new argument, by each new archeological discovery; if your faith rests in the Word of God, it will stand firm against all assaults. Keep going back to the plain and simple truths of Scripture, and do not let others lead you down rabbit trails. Beware of being drawn into philosophical debates about the Christian faith. There are spiritual issues involved in philosophical discussions, for which reason critics will raise endless objections and produce endless excuses for not believing, all of which are smokescreens to cover for a wicked, rebellious, prideful heart. Beware of becoming too sophisticated. The truth is always, clear, simple, and straightforward.
To summarize some key points from this blog post and the previous one: (1) Faith is a virtue which can be defined as a mean between gullibility and skepticism. (2) Faith always takes an object. (3) Our faith is no better than the object in which we place it. (4) The Christian’s faith (= belief + trust) is in God and in His Word. (5) We, as Christians, do not take a leap into the dark, but a step into the light. (6) According to Romans 1:17, there is a difference between initial faith and continuing faith. (7) Unlike rationalism and empiricism, faith gives total, permanent assurance (Heb 11:1).