Faith and Reason Are Enemies? Not Even Close!

By Tom Gilson Published on September 22, 2018

“Reason is the enemy of faith.” Atheists love that phrase. Unfortunately they’re not the only ones who use it. Some churches actually teach that reason is opposed to belief in God. I’ve heard about it mostly from people who grew up in those churches. “Just believe,” they’ve been told. “We don’t ask questions around here.” Most of the people I’ve met who had that experience in church are no longer interested in Jesus Christ.

It’s a strange stance for a church to take. The pastor who says, “Reason is the enemy of faith,” has got to expect someone to ask him why he thinks so. If he explains his reasoning he’s contradicting himself right there.

He’s got the same problem if he answers in terms of some Bible passage, say, Col. 2:8. It says, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” Does that say we should avoid all logic and reasoning? Should we even avoid all philosophy? Or should we just avoid empty, deceitful reasoning? These are all valid questions to ask such a pastor. In order to answer, he’s going to have to explain his reasons for opposing reasoning.

History and Reasons Behind It

Still, this anti-reason attitude prevails in some churches — not many, but enough to do some real damage. Of course there’s history behind it. One place to begin would be in the mid-1800s, when David Strauss, Ludwig Feuerbach and others set out to explain the Bible without God. They had a huge influence for decades. Meanwhile Charles Darwin built a purely natural theory to explain the origin of the species. Andrew Dickson White and John William Draper wrote influential books on Christianity’s historic warfare against science.

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It was a powerful anti-Christian one-two-three punch, or so it seemed to many at the time. And rather than raising up scholarship to combat it, many Protestants pulled back in retreat. They were convinced the Bible was trustworthy, even if all reason stood against it — as it seemed to be doing. They kept believing the Bible; they began distrusting reason, science and all kinds of scholarship.

Spiritual Readiness Logo - 400It was a serious strategic error, and we’re still paying the price. Atheists have capitalized on it, claiming reason as their own special territory. Faith, they’ll often say, is “believing without evidence,” or “believing what you know isn’t true.” It’s “believing without thinking.” Funny thing: I’ve asked them for evidence that Christians actually view their own faith that way, and what I get from is mostly memes like this one. Not much substance there; not much real evidence.

History and Reason Against It

Meanwhile Tim McGrew and David Marshall have written an entire chapter simply listing quotes down the centuries, showing that Christians have always considered faith and reason to hand in hand. You’ll find it in True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism, which I co-edited. (The title gives you a hint of what my co-authors and I think of atheists being the party of “reason.”)

But this isn’t just ancient history: Reason has made a strong comeback in Christian circles over the past several decades. German criticism from the 1800s has lost all credibility. Darwin has come under fire, not only from Christians but even from within mainstream science. White and Draper’s “conflict thesis” has been debunked. It still gets taught in classrooms, but no historian of science believes it anymore.

Faith is trusting in what or Whom we know to be true.

Christianity has made a strong comeback in academic disciplines including history and philosophy. Atheist philosopher Quentin Smith wrote a famous paper complaining that about a third of philosophy professors are now believers in God. That paper used to be easy to find online, but the (atheistic) journal that published it seems to have taken it down. There’s another funny thing for you.

Faith isn’t believing what we know isn’t true; it isn’t believing without thinking. It’s trusting in what or Whom we know to be true. Churches shouldn’t be running away from reason but toward it. For God is the God of all truth; and reason isn’t the enemy of faith, it supports it, just as it always has.

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  • Patmos

    Not only is Christ (or, the anointing) the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24), but fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Pro. 9:10).

    When you have fear of God, fear of repercussion for your actions, you tend to straighten up pretty quick. That includes the embrace of reason, which is the ability to form judgements and to discern. Without judgement and discernment, you toss out wisdom, and can get yourself in trouble quick.

    Also, how can you study God’s word in the first place without using reason? Without consideration?

    I don’t think it’s any coincidence that so many on the secular left are going bonkers right now, and lacking in wisdom, because they have disregarded the principles and benefits of God fearing. They have become easily refutable, haughty jerks.

  • Up_Words

    “Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. . . (Isaiah 1:18)

  • Hmmm…

    Let’s be careful here. Yes, let’s take back ground we have ceded, but make sure we are solid on the faith ground as well. There is a real sense where that church sign is truth and applies. Believers, Christians, disciples follow the unseen, the voice of conscience, that sense of being prompted by the Holy Spirit, his negative reaction within concerning things, lack of peace and all such that the atheists lampoon. Too bad. None of that is reasonable according to the natural order of things. They do not comes from the mind, but the spirit or soul, and being inner “sense” related rather than outer sense related, like the five physical senses.

    Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. God expects us to walk by the faith he put in each one and to grow it by trusting him in the little things and growing in trusting him in all our areas of life.

    • mbabbitt

      When you see, you do not need faith. That is why sight is always the contrast. But reason is different. Reason shows us and others why we are right in believing what we believe. I came to Christ through reason. It makes sense considering history, textual reliability, the example of Christ and the sublimity of His teaching. But we fully know God through the Holy Spirit and we accept the limitations of reason. Like any tool, it has limitations, but is essential in accomplishing certain kinds of work. Like the reasons you just gave to argue about reason’s weakness. Yes, God has his own reasons for doing things but we follow Him for good reasons.

    • pngmac

      I think “the reasonableness of faith” is the point Tom is making. If a person is starting from the perspective that faith is foolish, they will attempt to lampoon certain things as you mention. If a person is starting by making observations about the world around them, and thinking logically about those observations, then they will understand that God exists. If they do not want to be accountable to God, then they will suppress the truth that is apparent to them through objective observation and reason. This does not make reason suspect, but it does make certain philosophies suspect. Sometimes certain philosophies are difficult to refute, so reason becomes suspect in some people’s minds. But faith is reasonable. As already mentioned, there are good reasons to believe. In fact, those reasons are so good that all humans are expected to believe that God exists. If a person does not believe God exists, he or she will be without excuse in the day of judgment because he or she has observed plenty of evidence to conclude that God exists. Reason, therefore, is not an enemy of faith. Much more could be said; Scripture references could be provided for the above. But ’nuff said for now.

      • Ken Abbott

        As Tom points out in the article, there is a stubbornly-held misdefinition of faith that is current in the skeptical community–not that everyone holds to it, but it certainly shows up a lot in these kinds of discussions. And some resist correction on this point. That tells me there is rhetorical value to the misconception that outweighs any interest in accuracy or genuine understanding of the other guy’s position.

        • pngmac

          Absolutely. Thanks for this.

        • Hmmm…

          We can trust God, but we need to be sure he is behind what we are trusting. The faith that changes things, in the case of the need for healing, financial help, better job, many things other than just that God exists takes a believer engaged. You have to know what is God’s will before you can actually believe for it. Correction comes from the word. If you disagree with it, well … Abraham’s reason was in his way. God gave him a promise that was unreasonable. If you will not receive any such, then you will limit God and he will not call on you beyond what you can reason. If you call the Bible definition of faith and its teachings and examples misconceptions, hey, that’s on you and Tom as well, if he holds that view. God didn’t call me to substitute his accurate word for “the other guy’s position.”

          • Ken Abbott

            I think you read my comment wrong.

          • Hmmm…

            How so? But skip it if you’d rather.

          • Bryan

            “God gave him a promise that was unreasonable.”
            Are you sure about that? Abram was of child bearing age and so was Sari when the promise was given. If I had been Abram, I would have thought that I was going lots of children. Did Abram limit God? No, he just didn’t know what God’s plan was. He messed up along the way but to me it was more pride that got in his way rather than reason. But that is certainly debatable.
            The believer needs both faith and reason and the two are not mutually exclusive of each other.

          • Chip Crawford

            Sara was never able to bear children even in her youth. Abram worked with God as much as God worked with him, thus the successful outcome. God knows his choices and stated that he was a man that would lead his children after him. No claim of mutual exclusivity with faith and reason – just a problem with mixing them together. God bless.

          • Hmmm…

            Yep

  • JP

    We need to engage the non-believer and skeptic on their own terms. Instead of allowing the atheist to demand you prove the existence of God (which you should be able to do) demand that the atheist prove atheism is true with some facts. You will find that they can’t do it because there are no facts that support atheism.

  • Ray

    Faith does have real substance. It isn’t baseless.

    • Hmmm…

      Yes, the word of God. Like with Abraham, he and Sarah struggled with this strange promise for quite a while, but when they finally focused on the one who promised alone, their faith came to fruition. Believing is based on what God says is true and what he will do, whether quickened in his word or that sense of leading by the Holy Spirit. Like with man, if I told you I would do something, that something was true, then you have that. If I did not, you cannot presume on it. You need to hear from God, but once you do, you have the firmest of foundations upon which to base your believing. Then just listen closely for further instructions, whether active steps on your part or just to rest because God will take it from here. Presuming either way doesn’t work. Failure and confusion come from not understanding that you cannot separate walking by faith with being led by the Holy Spirit.

  • Paul

    Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

  • Howard Rosenbaum

    Yeah , there will always be those who are thinking too hard & those that aren’t thinking enough …..
    The former in the end , well their thoughts aren’t amounting to much . The latter ? Well , seems like the effort required for thinking probably compares with the results of the former.
    Those who think the thoughts of God & reason accordingly, well that’s now a “ horse of a VERY different color “…..
    .

  • swordfish

    “Darwin has come under fire, not only from Christians but even from within mainstream science.”

    If faith and science aren’t in conflict, why do you present a view which disagrees with mainstream science? Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection isn’t “under fire” and hasn’t been overturned – it’s been added to over the years by additional discoveries, such as horizontal gene transfer and genetic drift. The article you link to covers a conference about which I’ll quote Laurence A. Moran, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Toronto:

    “My position is that many of the speakers do not understand modern evolutionary theory, If they have read the modern textbooks, it certainly doesn’t show up in their writings and speeches. They are by and large arguing against a view of evolution that’s half-a-century old. They missed the real revolution.”

    • davidrev1911

      “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is its comprehensibility.” (Albert Einstein)

      Interpretation: MIND represents Ultimate Reality, just like the ancient Judeo-Scriptures have revealed throughout its 66-books (see Hebrews 11:3 for a precise 21st-century scientific summation); including what distinguished atheist Sir Frederick Hoyle (I believe) had long ago dubbed, “Big Bang Cosmology,” or Creation Ex-nihilo…meaning this “contingenty existing universe” (e.g., John 1:1-3; Revelation 4:11) burst-forth a finite “time” ago – from, or out of literal nothingness.

      My friend, the “rational, intelligibility” of nature itself – to which the mind-bogglingly brilliant Einstein alludes above – has been THE very “by-faith” principle upon which scientific inquiry itself has been conducted ever since its origins in Christianized Western Europe – as opposed to ANY other culture, or civilization of whom had briefly, yet unsuccessfully, attempted scientific inquiry in their own right. Why is that?

      And nothing has changed one iota in current scientific circles either, as even the world-renowned theoretical physicist/astrobiologist Paul Davies (no Christian himself) has averred on many occasions, i.e., “one couldn’t even do science in the first place, without adhering to this by-faith principle.” (A somewhat paraphrased rendition; but see his Q & A contributions on the DVD – “The Privileged Planet” – for a verbatim statement to this reality undergirding the scientific enterprise to this very hour.)

      And these factual “implications,” or features inherent in scientific inquiry, can find “NO safe haven,” let alone empirical credibility, in a strictly Darwinized, mindless/unintelligent, purposeless nature, moving about in “chaotic billiard ball motion.” Also, you might want to read, since you seem to be highly intelligent unlike myself, the late Nobel laureate physicist, Eugene Wigner’s, still philosophically compelling, thus highly provocative [1960] essay – “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences.”

      One last book you might want to carefully digest, esp. the 2013 Second Edition – “Science and Christianity: Conflict or Coherence?” – is by “one of the most distinguished physical scientists in the world” [back cover], Professor of Quantum Chemistry @ the Univ. of GA., Dr. Henry F. (Fritz) Schaefer. The back cover also states that “Professor Schaefer is a five time nominee for the Nobel Prize.” He’s also an unashamed bible-believing follower of the Lord Yeshua-Jesus. His penetrating, objective analysis of this tragically misunderstood topic of debate throughout the West, just might aid in your search for truth – “which is found in Jesus alone”? Shalom!

      • swordfish

        “MIND represents Ultimate Reality”

        I would expect minds which have evolved by natural processes to relect those natural processes, and to be capable of understanding them to a greater or lesser extent.

        “Big Bang Cosmology, or Creation Ex-nihilo”

        The Big Bang doesn’t mean creation out of nothing, it means an expansion of spacetime which can be traced back to a singularity when the known laws of physics break down. The fact that we can’t (currently) trace events further back than then doesn’t necessarily mean that Nothing existed before then. Going further, it might be said that a state of Nothing is impossible, as Nothing can’t ‘exist’ by definition.

        “My friend, the “rational intelligibility” of nature itself has been THE very “by-faith” principle upon which scientific inquiry itself has been conducted”

        I don’t see how the fact that nature is intelligible is in any way based on faith. We construct scientific models and compare them to reality – if they agree, they work.

        “Yet these factual “implications,” or features inherent in scientific inquiry, can find “NO safe haven,” let alone empirical credibility, in a strictly Darwinized, mindless/unintelligent purposeless nature”

        I don’t see why this follows at all.

        “Bearing in mind that numbers are themselves, NON-physical realities of nature; of which WE’VE somehow “discovered?””

        Have we? Numbers are just symbols which are manipulated according to a set of rules. The rules of chess are also a set of symbols manipulated according to rules. Would you say chess exists necessarily outside of the physical universe?

        • davidrev1911

          It’s so very curious how you’re seemingly at odds with, or simply outright reject – volitionally I’d guess too, since I’m certain you refused to interact with some of the literature offered you – the factually and/or philosophically compelling revelations by some of the most distinguished non-Christian thinkers, in several scientific disciplines, that’ve populated this planet during the last 100-years, or so.

          Yet you can produce zero scientific evidence, that even remotely affirms your totally faith-based, logically incoherent worldview of metaphysical naturalism, or naturalism, otherwise known these days as scientism, or even “Promissory Materialism”? And that’s exactly what the late Stephen Hawking et al. have done too, I might add?? You ultra-smart folk seem to exercise great faith in a strictly mindless/unintelligent, wholly random inanimate nature itself – for which NO credible scientific evidence is even available that supports these fanciful notions undergirding such curious “scientific” inquiry? Why is that?

          And please remember: science still hasn’t come close to answering such ontologically provocative questions, such as the “origin of the universe,” “the origin of life,” and that perennially recalcitrant, very knotty question in neuroscientific circles – aka the “hard problem of consciousness,” or the “origin of mind,” or human cognition; not to mention Paul Davies’ still penetrating, and highly relevant inquiry to science itself back around 1999/2000 (I believe), in his groundbreaking book “The Fifth Miracle”: “Just how did nature go digital?” Still nothing but crickets chirping re: the resolution to any-and-all of those very important questions to we conscious observers? Talk about “naturalism of the gaps” thinking!

          However, as hopefully you can recognize, such philosophical sleight-of-hand on the part of atheistic materialism, simply ain’t science; since science itself clearly doesn’t DO God/gods, religion, values-based inquiry, nor politics. The existence, or non-existence of God, is solely a philosophically premised issue. But that challenge is on you my friend. I’ve been at this long enough to realize when demonstrable volitional intransigence is before me, in matters of the non-physical “heart.” So be it.

          But I will remind you of one very important detail: absolutely NO one, will ever be able to intellectualize one’s self into the presence, or recognition surrounding the actual existence of the Creator God of the Bible known as “Yahweh”; of whom has so compellingly revealed himself to mankind throughout nature itself – as well as through His historical Son, Yeshua-Jesus of Nazareth.

          Because when it comes to that bit of critically necessary “insight,” one must be “granted” the humble “eyes to see, and ears to hear, what the Ruach haKodesh is speaking” to his specially created, rational/moral spirit creatures called Homo sapiens. And may God truly bless your search for truth, while you still have his life’s “breath” in you, sustaining your very existence; if indeed that’s why you continue to participate in this blog?

          For Jesus said: “no one can come into me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (i.e., John 6:44; see also Matthew 11:25-30)

  • James Blazsik

    Faith and reason have always been without conflict with the Church Fathers and in the Catholic Church. The conflict came within and because of Protestantism.
    Because of the Protestant escape from reason, Natural Law was lost. It inhibited how they see God’s glory in all of creation and how to understand it.

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