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Categorized | Religion

Faith as reason?

glassandfinger-fullTo escape the problem, believers seem to assert that religious faith is very different from faith per se. According to believers, faith, like reason, is a method of acquiring knowledge. So there! Reason and faith are not the same but different systems. Some say that faith is above reason. Others, like most theologians today, accept faith as compatible with reason…but faith is…as they say, the last recourse. Everything that reason cannot explain must rely on faith, and some believers insist that reason assists faith (liberal Christians are more into this kind of faith.)

Nevertheless, whatever its use is, well…faith is still not reason.

Let me illustrate this.

Suppose Wikipedia tells me that the speed of light is 299,792,458 meters per second. If I accept this because I have faith in Wikipedia…will that make faith compatible with reason? Some believers say that, “Reason tells me that my faith in what Wikipedia tells me is justified because such things have been (or can be) scientifically demonstrated by technical experts with the proper equipment. My faith in what Wikipedia tells me can be backed up by evidence.”

It seems these believers are not talking about an act of faith. First, the article in Wikipedia can be collaborated in other books. If Wikipedia declares that light speed is 299,792, 465 we can always check it using other books available. Remember, in the example, it is the Wikipedia article about the speed of light that’s in question, not the speed of light itself. You do not need to verify the speed yourself or to measure it. All you have to do is to check other books that claim this. At least you may have an accurate or near accurate figure to the Wiki’s claim. Furthermore, we assume that these believes have already heard of light speed – Gosh! Every wide reader knows that light has a speed, so it is not strange for Wikipedia to have an article about light speed. That means the Wikipedia article about light speed has evidence and it already came to pass.

Will I say that I have faith in something if I feel my proposition is backed-up by evidences? If I said that, I will sound ridiculous. If you are so cock sure about the claim and you believe that it is backed-up by evidences, you do not need to address it as faith. I will never say that I have faith in the existence of the aswang (Philippine Ghoul Demon) or mananaggal (Self-Segmenting Viscera Sucker), UFO, Area 51 and that space man who lives under the White House because I believe they are true and that there are evidences that point to their existence. Nor will I say that I have faith in Fung Shui or astrology or Extra Sensory Perception if I believe that they are backed-up with scientific evidences. Remember that faith is belief in some proposition that is without evidence. If it is backed up by evidence (or it claims to have an evidence), then technically speaking that is not faith. You will not hear a parapsychologist claiming he has faith that ghosts exist. That’s because he already believes that the existence of ghosts are backed up by evidences…of scientific proofs.

Hey, do not blame me with this definition of faith!

According to Fr. Pablo Pastells, faith cannot be called the result of a reasoning process; it is a supernatural gift from God our Lord. Inasmuch as it is the beginning and source of justification, it cannot be acquired by our natural powers without the necessary assistance of divine grace. Faith is a voluntary act of homage by which man freely submits his reason to the authority of the revealing God. Faith is not blind for it finds support in the evidence and irrefutable motives of credibility which assure us of the objective truth, or the existence of revealed dogmas, even if our limited rational faculties cannot comprehend them.

Nevertheless, though it is human, hence deliberate and free, the supernatural act of faith cannot be blind. For the will reasonably submits the understanding to the yoke of faith, that is, to the authority of the revealing God. And both intellect and will, enlightened and strengthened by divine grace, give assent to the revealed truths of the supernatural order. (Fourth letter of Pastells to Rizal dated April 28, 1893)

Obviously, Fr. Pastells’ definition of faith is highly influenced by Thomas Aquinas. This brings us to the problem of Thomas Aquinas’ concept of faith. Aquinas believed that reason and faith could not contradict each other because they come from the same divine source. He is really against Averroës’ (Mohammed ibn Roshd) concept of the so-called twofold-truth theory that states a proposition may be philosophically true although theologically false (or vice versa). So in order to understand both Pastells and Aquinas’ view on faith:

P is not capable of rational demonstration until proposition Q (God revealed P).
However, proposition Q can be true if (1.) it must assume that God exists (2) miracles occur within the Christian church (3) scriptural prophesies have been fulfilled. Therefore, P is compatible with rationality.

For Thomas Aquinas faith is rational if we accept some proposition as true by means of…well you guessed it – FAITH! Let me elaborate. According to him, there are two kinds of faith: faith that is guided by reason (which he called general revelation), and that which cannot be demonstrated with human reason (special revelation). Let us concentrate on the “general revelation”. Based on Aquinas’ definition, you have to be preconditioned to some belief to accept natural theology as revealed truths. Without it, his general revelations fall apart.

Therefore, you need to rely on faith for you to make faith rational. Does it sound circular or it is just me? To make faith “rational”, you have to accept proposition (1) That God exists without question. According to Aquinas, he already proved it using his Quinque Viae (Five Ways). You also have to accept propositions (2) and (3). Remember, in theology, appeal to authority carries most weight; in philosophy, it carries least. Let us make something non-religious as an example: If we use Aquinas’ definition of faith by general revelation, well…

Suppose you went to see an “albulario” (faith healer) to cure a growing tumor in your balls. The albulario told you if you want to get better, you have to drink a potion made from the fruit of the “tuba-tuba” plant.

Using Thomas Aquinas’ general revelation, faith becomes reason when we accept the albulario’s claim for a cure if (1.) You accept that the tuba-tuba plant juice will heal the tumor in your testicles. (2.) You believe the town folks that say the “tuba-tuba” plant is medicinal. (3.) There is a book written by their ancestors that says the tuba-tuba plant is medicinal.

Without investigating evidences that will back-up proposition (1), (2) and (3), you drink the prescription because you think you are being reasonable with your faith in the albulario’s treatment, not even knowing that the tuba-tuba fruit is poisonous. You did not really use your reason here because you just accepted this point blank!

If the patient accepts this prescription by faith, he is not being rational, yet that is what Thomas Aquinas wants us to accept. What can I say about Aquinas in the issue of reason? In his writings, Aquinas gives more weight to faith rather than reason. Being a devoted Catholic and a believer, Aquinas believed that he already knew the absolute truth, truth as declared by the Catholic faith! If he could find apparently rational arguments to back-up his faith, so much the better; if he couldn’t, he needed only to fall back on divine revelation. That is not reasoning, that is special pleading. Therefore, Thomas Aquinas’ faith by general revelation has failed to provide us the link between faith and reason.

We now go to Immanuel Kant and Soren Kierkegaard’s definitions of faith. According to Kant, faith is the acceptance of ideals, which are theoretically indemonstrable, yet necessarily entailed by the indubitable reality of freedom. I think he calls faith as practical belief. Kierkegaard believes that faith is a total and passionate commitment to God.

Gosh! It is epistemology – but epistemic sense represents our knowledge about the world, which requires that we believe a given proposition to be true, not because we just want to feel good about it! Is Kant and Kierkegaard’s faith compatible with reason? Can I put someone behind bars just because it feels good? Will I believe Jun Lozada’s testimony not on the merits of his evidence but because I hate the First Gentleman Mike Arroyo’s ugly mug? You call that reason?

In trying to figure out the mind of Kierkegaard, a defender of faith may say, “Kierkegaard does not suggest that belief is not rational, but rather, it is not just a rational act. Sure, belief includes the passionate decision to make that “leap of faith” but no way is Kierkegaard suggesting that this leap is “blind” because the individual has to know (or has to have the reason) what they are leaping for. The individual must at least understand Christianity as the paradox of the Transcendent god entering into history as god incarnate (Christ), and must know why one needs to leap over the mystery of Christianity. (Because our sin prohibits us from understanding God.)

Faith, which Kierkegaard contends is a gift from God, is a necessary tool in overcoming our incapability to understand God (because of sin). This is the reason behind his words that faith is needed to believe in the paradox and the absurd. Faith, as per the context of Kierkegaard’s mind, is based on this reason; faith is not merely from a blind leap.”

However, such belief will also lead us to the problem of Aquinas’ “general revelation”. In order to apply Kierkegaard’s faith to reason, you have to leap “by faith” on Kierkegaard’s concept of god, sin and Christianity. That is circular reasoning.

We now go to Wittgensteinian fideism.

Blogger El Sordo from his blog, “Yet There Is Method In It”, offers an explanation through an example:

“Consider a group of Catholic theologians who meet on Wednesday afternoons to discuss metaphysical questions. These people use a number of curious words and expressions such as ‘essence’, ‘ground of being’, ‘grace’, ‘dialectic’, and so on. Yet the discourse in progress clearly is not arbitrary, but rule-guided. A beginner who uses an expression incorrectly is reprimanded, and may even be ostracized if he or she does not conform. Within the group it is well known who are the experts whose pronouncements are listened to with most respect, and so on. Here we could propose is a language-game, it is a rule-guided activity and probably (being religious) is a form of life. Within this language game, words and expressions have a use which is circumscribed by rules and conventions. On Wittgenstein’s later theory of meaning, therefore, we must surely say that these words and expressions have meaning, and that the metaphysical discourse is (to its game-players at least) meaningful.”

This whole language-game philosophy is on Ludwig Wittgenstein’s beetle in the box story. In Philosophical Investigations (1953), Wittgenstein says:
Suppose everyone had a box with something in it: we call it a “beetle.” No one can look into anyone else’s box, and everyone says he knows what a beetle is only by looking at his beetle.— Here it would be quite possible for everyone to have something different in his box. One might even imagine such a thing constantly changing. —But suppose the word “beetle” had a use in these people’s language? —If so it would not be used as the name of a thing. The thing in the box has no place in the language game at all; not even as a something: for the box might even be empty. —No, one can “divide through” by the thing in the box; it cancels out, whatever it is. [Section 293]

According to Wittgenstein, religious discourse is embedded in a form of life and has its own rules and logic. It can only be understood and evaluated in its own terms, and any attempt to impose standards on such discourse from the outside – for example, from science – is quite inappropriate. Since religious discourse is a separate unique language game different from science, religious statements, unlike scientific ones, are not empirically testable.

I have used Wittgenstein to secure my contention that faith is not reason nor it is compatible with reason. I will now elaborate this using El Sordo’s example. If you notice El Sordo used a singular group in his example, which was a group of Catholic theologians. He is right that any person outside the group may not understand their religious language play. However, what if the group started to talk about Catholic doctrine like the Eucharist (where the Catholic believes that the bread and wine will transform into the actual blood and flesh of Christ) and a “Born-Again” Christian is listening. Well even that Christian (which also uses the same religious terms like essence’, ‘ground of being’, ‘grace’, ‘dialectic’, and so on…) will be estranged with the Catholics’ discourse. Let’s see…in a Catholic language game, the Pope is infallible in spiritual matters but the Born-Again Christian language game makes the Pope fallible. Gosh! I can’t distinguish who’s right between the two! The problem with Wittgensteinian’s fideism is that it will make it appear that all religious discourse uttered by different religions are relative to the language game in which they belong. How can we use reason if there is no place for errors in the religious language-game? How can we make any investigation and arrive at any conclusion if truth is relative in the religious language-game? If believers claim that Wittgenstein’s religious language game secures religious faith, its relativity makes it irrational.

On the contention of Griffith-Thomas and McGrath in relation to faith, well what can I say…It is suggested that both people agree with Aquinas’ notion of “General Revelation”, it is a logical conclusion to say that both also fell on the issue of the problems of Aquinas’ general revelation.

As I have said earlier on this article, do not blame me on the definition of faith. According to the Christian sacred book (which is the Bible):

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. – Hebrew 11:1

That means faith is to believe something which has not yet come to pass or for which one has no evidence. However, most believers sometimes contradict this very definition of faith. For them, faith must reconcile with reason. A reasonable faith? Sounds like an oxymoron.

How does a believer reconcile faith with reason? Typically, a believer has to place reason in a narrow framework and then place this framework in a large sphere occupied by faith. Then the believer will create a scenario to place faith as compatible to reason by making reason accept the believer’s “truth” derived from special pleading from his source of authority which was derived from…that’s right folks…faith!

So now, you know the secret of this magic trick.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.