What Are the Roles of Faith and Reason in Christianity? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In part 1 of this series Philosopher Edward Feser demonstrated that reason, not faith, brings us all the way to the conclusion that Jesus is divine.  Once we arrive here, where do we go?

Feser explains:

Suppose you know through purely rational arguments that there is a God, that He raised Jesus Christ from the dead, and therefore that Christ really is divine, as He claimed to be, so that anything He taught must be true; in other words, suppose that the general strategy just sketched can be successfully fleshed out.

What would follow?  Faith, or belief, enters and takes center stage.

Then it follows that if you are rational you will believe anything Christ taught; indeed, if you are rational you will believe it even if it is something that you could not possibly have come to know in any other way, and even if it is something highly counterintuitive and difficult to understand.  For reason will have told you that Christ is infallible, and therefore cannot be wrong in anything He teaches.  In short, reason tells you to have faith in what Christ teaches, because He is divine.

We have faith in Christ and what He teaches because of who He is.  Because He proved himself to be divine by resurrecting from the dead, we believe Him.  That is faith.

Does every Christian follow the process that Feser describes, reasoning through philosophy and historical evidence to the conclusion that Jesus is divine?  Obviously not.  Most Christians believe because they have received it on authority from someone else who does understand the arguments.

There may even be more than one link in the chain to get back to someone who understands the arguments, but this hardly matters.  What matters is that there are theologians and philosophers and other scholars who do understand the arguments, so even the person who does not understand the reasons for his faith still indirectly bases his faith on those reasons.

This is no different than anything else we come to believe in life.  For the vast majority of things we each believe we have received on authority from someone else.  Feser gives a parallel in science.  “The man in the street who believes that E=mc^2 probably couldn’t give you an interesting defense of his belief if his life depended on it.  He believes it because his high school physics teacher told him about it.”

Continuing alone these lines Feser further argues:

Most people who believe that E=mc^2, and who believe almost any other widely known and generally accepted scientific proposition, do so on the basis of faith in exactly the sense in question here.  They believe it, in other words, on the authority of those from whom they learned it.  Everyone acknowledges that this is perfectly legitimate; indeed, there is no way we could know much of interest at all if we weren’t able to appeal to various authorities.

So these are the roles of reason and faith in Christianity, a far cry from the story that atheists tell.  Some of you may be complaining at this point that you know Christians who disavow this approach, who truly do have blind faith, who say that reason has no place in their belief system.  Feser’s final words on this topic are a propos:

I do not doubt that there are and have been Christians and people of other religions whose theory and/or practice does not fit this understanding.  But I do not speak for them, and neither did Aquinas and the other great thinkers of the Western religious tradition.  And if the ‘New Atheists’ are serious about making a rational case for atheism, then, as I have said, they should be taking on the best representatives of the opposing point of view – not blabbering on for hundreds of pages about the dangers of ‘faith’ as an irrational will to believe something in the face of all evidence, when this is an attitude that the mainstream Christian theological tradition has itself always condemned.

  • The Chisel

    so, question:

    If one arrives in a beliefe in (let’s call it) the eternal *because* of science, and understands the moral teachings of Christ, but veiws the miracles and resurrection as purely allegorical – then you are saying that eithher a) they do not have faith, or b) they are not practicing proper “pure” reasoning?

  • Anonymous

    In your post on part 1, Bill, you promised that part 2 would fill in the [citation omitted] from Feser’s boast that:

    “The overall chain of argument, then, goes something like this: Pure reason proves through philosophical arguments that there is a God and that we have immortal souls.”

    That argument is still missing. Indeed, this post begins: “Suppose you know through purely rational arguments that there is a God…”

    That’s all well and good, but where are the arguments?

  • I said no such thing. Please go back and re-read my answer to your comment.

  • Johndoe

    I have never seen faith move mountains, but I have seen it bring down two buildings. I have seen it result in genocide. I have seen it result in oppression. If that is not evil than I do not know what is.

  • You say: “For the vast majority of things we each believe we have received on authority from someone else.”

    Ahhh–The first part of your series relied on the fallacy of arugmentum ad populum. This time, you are using argumentum ad verecundiam–or the “appeal to authority. Just as almost everyone thought the earth was flat at one time, but this was shown to be false–many scholars may believe Jesus is real–but that does not make it true. There are also many biblical scholars that do not believe Jesus was god. Truthfully, only people who do not know how to think critically believe anything without evidence and argument when there is evidence that proves otherwise, and, as I illustrated earlier, if we go by the notion that “if it was written in a book, and people said things really happened in this book, then it must be true”–then Krishna is god, as the Bhagavad Gita tells us.

    Furthermore, the bible tells us Christ was not infallible. Let me remind you of what Jesus supposedly said in Matthew 5:19:

    “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

    In fact, Jesus DID teach others to break the commandments–so according to his own words, he should be called LEAST into the kingdom of heaven. This is because he broke Yahweh’s (his?) own laws when he told (taught) the mob to stop stoning the woman for adultery in John 8. The commandment was to stone to death for adultery, and Jesus taught the mob not to do that, thereby breaking his own rule.

    P1. According to what Jesus said, if one breaks the LEAST of Yahweh’s commandments, or teaches others to do so, then they will be called LEAST in the kingdom of heaven.
    P2. Jesus taught others to break Yahweh’s commandment of stoning for adultery.
    C. Therefore, Jesus will be called LEAST in the kingdom of heaven.

    When we apply logic and critical thought to what is written in the bible–it fails to measure up.

  • Johndoe,
    A specific kind of faith caused the 9/11 attacks, not faith as a general concept. A major point of the blog post is that every single person has faith in many things, including you. So, to say that generic faith resulted in 9/11 is to say practically nothing. The better question is what brand of faith caused 9/11 and then focus in on that.

  • Johndoe

    Don’t think I didn’t notice how you ignored all the other things I mentioned.

  • Todd

    “For the vast majority of things we each believe we have received on authority from someone else.”

    Indeed. However, for things that are important to us, we should also check the facts. E=mc^2 because the conversion of mass into energy based on the square root of the speed of light has proven itself to create predictable reactions when tested. Christ rising from the dead is not even plausible, and when put to the test must be so ‘apologized’, interpreted, or argued fallaciously to make it meaningless. I find that when the facts and authority do not match, there is an agenda. What, I wonder, is the Christian agenda if what they try to espouse is not true?

  • I was picking out one thing you said to make the point that talking about faith as a generic term is pointless. The point is made with regard to genocide and oppression as well.

  • “Christ rising from the dead is not even plausible”


  • Todd

    It would seem obvious that returning from death, is not possible. We certainly know it for a biological fact, do we not. I doubt there are many people willing to participate in a ‘resurrection’ study, where they are murdered and buried in the same manner as Jesus? Of course not, a Christian will say that Jesus was ‘special’, that his divinity gave him exception to normal death. But what proof does Christianity offer to contradict the normal finality of death that they so desperately need to believe for Christ? There is none, of course, in any meaningful sense of the word where one should provide evidence sufficient enough to establish it as truth. Instead, as I state above …”when put to the test must be so ‘apologized’, interpreted, or argued fallaciously to make it meaningless.” Why then, in your mind, should it be plausible?

  • Anonymous

    I guess I misread the intent behind your comment that “Part 2 of the series makes this clear.” My apologies.

    But what are we left with? “IF there are logical arguments for Christianity, then belief in Christianity doesn’t just require blind faith.” Sure. And if my grandmother had wheels, she’d be a bicycle.

    Where are the arguments?

  • If there is a supernatural God that created the universe, then returning from death is absolutely possible. If you have ruled out God from the start, then obviously resurrections don’t happen.

  • The arguments exist in various posts on this blog and hundreds of other places on the internet. They also exist in libraries full of books written by Christian scholars for the last 2,000 years. If you want me to give you a book list, I’d be glad to, but I suspect that you don’t.

  • The Chisel

    What if God is neither sentient, nor supernatural?

    What if God is a benign omni-presences, but not omnisentient, nor omni-potent?

    What if you believe in God, but see the resurection as allegorical?

  • Andrew_EC

    I’d like you to actually make the argument. Not sure why this is such a strange request.

  • Then you believe in a God who has absolutely nothing to do with the God of the Bible or the God of the historic Christian faith.

  • Todd

    And if there is not a supernatural god, then returning from death is not possible. The difference is that you say there is a god, and resurrection, but there is no meaningful proof of either.