Should we be reasonable about our faith?
by Travis Dickinson
Not long ago, a cable TV show host, who is an outspoken atheist, had on his show a relatively well-known Christian pastor. In a discussion about morality and faith, which was overall friendly, the host asked the pastor why “faith” is a good thing. This appears innocent enough and is, I think, a good question. I wonder how many of us would have a good answer for this question. But the host didn’t leave it there. Here is how the full question was asked:
“Why is faith good? Why is the purposeful suspension of critical thinking a good thing?”
Now this is of course a leading question, since the host is attempting to force the pastor to answer the first question in light of the definition found in the second. It can be difficult to give a straightforward answer to these sorts of questions. So it is an unfair question, but really it is only sort of unfair, given the way that many Christians talk about faith. Many Christians seem quite happy to talk about faith as necessarily irrational (reason is incompatible with faith) or a-rational (reason is irrelevant to faith). Sometimes the thought seems to be that faith, in a way, takes over or fills the gap when our reasons run out or, even worse, you have your rational pursuits on one hand (science, political platforms, etc.) and your faith pursuits on the other, and never the twain shall meet. On this latter notion, evidence against (or for) the claims of Christianity are irrelevant since evidence has nothing to do with faith.
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On my view, it is a very serious mistake to think of faith as irrational or a-rational. However, I want to be clear at the outset that there can be an over-reliance on reason, especially if we think of reason in its more academic sense. No one needs a well worked out, logically sound argument with premises that entail a specific conclusion to have reason for belief. You won’t last long if this is your criterion for rational belief. If you find yourself standing in the way of oncoming traffic, please don’t try to formalize an argument before stepping aside! The seeing of oncoming traffic should be reason enough. It is also important to mention that one need not be able to articulate what one’s reasons are in order to have reasons for a belief. The proverbial country grandma, who has faithfully served Christ for her whole life, may have terrific reasons for her Christian beliefs, despite, say, a limited education and especially if she were to lack any formal apologetics training. It seems to me most committed Christians have reasons such as various religious experiences, answered prayers, God’s providence in times of need, the testimonies of others of these things, and so on. Moreover, the world testifies of God’s existence, in both its mere existence and its design. If cornered, one may not be able to articulate these reasons, but it simply doesn’t follow that one doesn’t have them. So with our understanding of “reason” sufficiently broadened, I want to make the claim that to think reason either runs contrary to faith, floats freely of faith or that faith is an otherwise blind, reasonless pursuit are not biblical views…
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