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Foundations of Faith
Do people of faith lack reason?
Theists, believers in the existence of God, these days are called "faith heads". Often they describe themselves as "people of faith". Schools are called "faith schools". The implication is that those who believe in God ground their belief on faith, not on reason.
Atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, trumpet that faith is belief without evidence whereas science is evidence-based knowledge. Seeing that belief in God and all beliefs associated with God are based on faith it is irrational to hold belief in God and beliefs which follow from belief in God.
Dawkins clearly articulates the assertion that those who believe in God are irrational in that their belief is one of faith, not reason. Allow me to quote him from The God Delusion:
"A delusion is 'a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence .. [this] captures religious faith perfectly" (p. 5).
"Faith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument" (p. 308).
"The whole point of religious faith, its strength and chief glory, is that it does not depend on rational justification" (p. 23).
Is there any reason to hold that belief in God is based merely on faith, defined as belief without supporting evidence or even belief in defiance of evidence?
It is a fact that some people - lots of them - believe in God without adequate supporting evidence or argument. To that extent, they are irrational. However, the same applies to atheists. There are atheists who can not produce the semblance of an argument for atheism. To them the non-existence of God seems obvious, not needing argument. We all have beliefs for which we lack adequate evidence or argument. So there are irrational theists and irrational atheists. The irrational atheists exhibit what Dawkins and others call "faith".
But if it is a fact that there are theists whose beliefs are based on faith, as defined by Dawkins and others, is it not the case that other theists believe in God on the basis of evidence? Is belief in God necessarily without supporting evidence? That is Dawkins' position: theists cannot possibly have good arguments for the existence of God.
This view is taken for granted by many, including a British High Court judge who ruled in May 2010 that Christian beliefs have no standing in law because they are "necessarily subjective" and "incommunicable by any kind of proof or evidence".
That is a view supported by many theists who say belief in God cannot be derived from evidence or argument and, indeed, it is blasphemous to seek reasons to support belief in God. Representatives of this view are influential theologians Karl Barth and Rudolph Bultmann. Such a view rules out any attempt to offer reasons to believe in God.
A historical note: Christianity, Judaism and Islam have traditionally presented themselves as rational religions, ones which can be believed on good grounds, such as adequate evidence.
The Book of Wisdom, written about 50 BC to 50 AD, reads, "Yes, naturally stupid are all who are unaware of God, and from good things seen, have not been able to discover Him-who-is" (13:1); and it goes on to adduce evidence for God.
The Christian, Origen (died 254 AD), in replying to his skilled Jewish opponent, Celsus, who said Christians were ordered not to reason but believe, wrote: " ... if it were possible for all to leave the business of life, and devote themselves to philosophy, no other method ought to be adopted by anyone, but this alone [following reason and a rational guide]."
Within Christianity, Judaism and Islam powerful arguments based on evidence were developed which were not based on what Dawkins calls "faith". The names of Sts Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus and Maimonides come to mind.
Catholics ought to be in no doubt that the existence of God can be proved by argument, for the First Vatican Council in 1870 defined as a dogma - a truth which the Church solemnly proclaims as a truth revealed by God - that, "If anyone shall say that the one true God, our Creator and Lord, can not be certainly known by the natural light of human reason [ rationis] through created things; let him be anathema."
From my observations, there are plenty of heretics amongst those claiming to be Catholics, for they deny the dogmatic teaching of Vatican I. "You can't have reasons to believe in God," they say, "for that is a matter of faith", thus bringing joy to the heart of Richard Dawkins & Co.
I can't think of any reason to accept such a view, whereas I have reasons to reject it. Reasoning to God's existence is common amongst some of the finest Anglo-American philosophers on our planet. Writing in 2001 in Philo an American atheist philosopher wrote that it has become academically respectable "to argue for theism, making philosophy a favoured field of entry for the most intelligent and talented theists entering academia today."
Philosophers who offer highly sophisticated sets of reasons for believing in God include Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, Germain Grisez, Brian Davies OP, Barry Miller SM, Richard Swinburne and John Lennox. Their belief in God is evidence-based, just as science is. Scientists seek the best explanation for the evidence. So do theists who posit God as the best explanation for the occurrence of the universe and of its continuance. We can be confident that belief in God can be rational, not based on Dawkins' idea of faith.
To quote C.S. Lewis, "Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted in spite of your changing moods."
Dr Frank Mobbs is a former lecturer at universities and seminaries in Australia and overseas and has written extensively on religious issues. Email: fmobbs at integritynet.com.au
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 23 No 8 (September 2010), p. 11
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