Posted on June 12, 2012
The Reason for Faith, Part 1
Having just attended the Smart Faith conference last weekend, I heard the same motif in almost every plenary and breakout session: Faith is not blind. Faith is rational. With all due respect to the Christian mystics and fideists, I could not agree more. So, in the spirit if that agreement, I thought that I would post my essay from a lecture I gave in Hungary back in 2005. It’s entitled “Faith and Reason: Friends or Foes?”
Part 1 begins this series and parts 2-4 will be posted on each subsequent day.
What is the relationship between faith and reason? Does faith require that we have reasons to believe or is faith merely a blind leap in the dark? Is faith a product of rational inquiry where our minds investigate first before we commit to a belief? Or do we commit to a belief and then look for evidence to support it? Are our beliefs contrary to evidence or does evidence support the beliefs we hold? What exactly is faith? Just exactly how does a belief that God exists work together with evidence and reason?
It appears that some believe in God but don’t think about him. Others think about him but don’t believe in him. What then is the value of being a thinking believer and a believing thinker? I’ll answer by addressing four topics: 1) the nature of faith, 2) the nature of truth claims, 3) the value of doubt, and 4) the myth of neutrality. In the final analysis I will show why it’s necessary to believe that faith and reason do indeed work together and not against each other.
The Nature of Faith
What is faith? St. Augustine noted that faith is “resting in the evidence.” Some think that faith is devoid of evidence or that the more faith one has the less evidence is required. But faith believes with the evidence, not against it. Faith is always “faith in” or “faith that”. Faith is not the opposite of thinking or reasoning.
Faith is trust in someone or something. Faith is having more certainty than doubt. Rather than some amorphous wish or hopeful desire that something might be the case, faith believes with the evidence and never against it.
Three Elements to “Faith”
1. Faith begins with knowledge (notitia). Cognition (mental processes) is the primary faculty involved with notitia. Faith is not an empty container but is filled with content. Faith necessarily entails “faith in” something or someone. Simply because faith involves religious knowledge does not require us to be less certain about the content of our faith. When our religious convictions are logically sound and fit the facts, then we are justified in holding our beliefs with certainty.
￼2. Knowledge leads to mental assent (assensus). Assent moves us from cognition to conviction. When we assent to a belief we are admitting the truth of a claim or we are agreeing with the facts of a claim. Assent to facts is what makes belief possible. There is an emotional element involved with assensus wherein a personal element of assurance is present, but we must not confuse our subjective assurance with the objective facts of a belief. Mental assent is necessary in all our beliefs. Assent includes knowledge of (notitia) and acceptance that (assensus). One must not only know the truth but also accept it as fact before belief obtains. Mental assent, though necessary, is not sufficient. Mere acceptance of truth falls short of genuine faith.
3. Finally, faith comes to completion with trust (fiducia). From cognition (= awareness), to conviction (= acceptance), to commitment (= appropriation). Whereas notitia is primarily intellectual, assensus emotional, fiducia is volitional. Faith is a trust that surrenders the soul to the facts. The seat of faith lies not in the intellect alone, nor in the emotions alone, or in the will alone. Rather, the seat of genuine faith lies in all three, which the Bible calls the human heart (Rom. 10:9-10).
Tomorrow, part 2.
I’m indebted to Gregory E. Ganssle’s Thinking About God for most of this material.