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?
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.