Theology

Are Faith and Reason Compatible?

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Author Greg Koukl Published on 12/13/2011

A lot of Christians think that faith and reason are at opposite ends of the spectrum; that reason is used to get knowledge on one side, and on the other side are the things that you don’t have good reasons for like faith. There is a sense that Christians in faith are leaping in the dark and believing ridiculous things because this is all that we have available to us. If we use reason and are thoughtful about our faith, somehow we are not doing what God wants.

Many Christians would nod their head to that statement.  These are the kind of people who say, “If you’ve got all this evidence for it, then where is room for faith?” They see faith and reason as opposites, and the relationship might be considered the relationship of divorce. These are two entities divorced from each other, one on either side. 

David Horner uses a metaphor in his wonderful book, Mind Your Faith.  He says it’s not divorce; it should be marriage.  Faith and reason are partners working together.

Horner states that one of the biggest objections that the New Atheists have brought against religion is that religious people have blind faith. They believe in things for which there is no evidence; ergo, the conflict between faith and reason.  But Christians are people of reason and faith, but not people of blind faith.

It’s curious, as David Horner points out in his book Mind Your Faith, that when New Atheists make this charge, they never define reason or faith so that we can compare what we mean by reason and faith. In his book, he does both.

Horner states that reason is: “Assessing reasons for a point of view and logical relationships to see if there’s adequate justification for a belief. But faith has four components.” I’ll say three, because I think the last two are very similar. “First, there is an object. When you have faith, you have something or someone you have faith in. Secondly, there is content, which are details about what it means to put your faith in that thing, like a chair.” That’s the object of your faith. The belief, or the content, is that the chair will hold your body weight. And the third thing is an act of trust or commitment when you go over and sit in the chair. So those are three elements of faith: object, content, and trust or commitment. I thought that was a pretty good characterization.

When you think about the definition of rationality and the definition of faith, where is the conflict? The answer is there is none. If you define what reason is, and you define what faith is, you realize that there’s no conflict.

Reason assesses, faith trusts. Reason assesses whether or not something or someone is trustworthy, and then faith believes that certain things are true in light of the reasons. Not blind faith, but a reasonable step of trust. 

It’s a great distinction I’m going tout as a great way of characterizing the relationship of faith and reason: not divorce, but marriage. 

Reason assesses, faith trusts. No conflict. The opposite of faith is not reason; the opposite of faith is unbelief, or lack of trust. The opposite of reason is not faith; the opposite of reason is irrationality. So it certainly is possible to have reasonable faith, and it is also possible to have unreasonable unbelief.