Faith Is Not the Opposite of Reason
by Al Serrato
Many modern skeptics contend that faith and reason are precise opposites. Under their view, my “faith” in Jesus Christ is an act in opposition to reason. At best, it is a form of wishful thinking, a crutch for those who find reality too harsh. True, relying on one’s faith is comforting, but Christians contend that faith is not simply a crutch, because the evidence supports the belief that Jesus lived, died and rose again – just as he said he would. But with the preconception that faith is “just a crutch,” how can a believer ever get a fair hearing on the evidence? It would be like trying to sell someone the worst car on the lot by telling him that driving it will make him happy. Or trying to convince a jury that the defendant is guilty in spite of the lack of evidence because he’s not dressed for success. “Unreasonable” arguments don’t persuade people.
A skeptic friend put it this way: “faith” is accepting things you can’t understand or explain, and “reason” is the opposite – accepting only those things you can understand and explain. This is a good, succinct definition of the way many people view these concepts. But this view is mistaken. ”Faith” is the act of trusting in something that you cannot know with complete certainty. It contains an action part – trusting – and a standard of proof part, for lack of a better term – the degree of certainty you attach to your conclusion. The opposite of faith is not reason, it is disbelief. In other words, to lack faith in something is to believe that the opposite of it is probably true. I have no “faith” that Superman will save
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me, for instance, because I do not believe he exists. “Reason” is not opposed to trust – it does not stand against all acts of trusting. It is merely the process by which we derive conclusions based on evaluating evidence that we receive through our senses. It can be inductive or deductive; it can be sound or fallacious. But in the end, it is simply a tool that we have access to through the use of our minds, much like the tool of vision, hearing, or language acquisition. These things are simply available to any human being with a normally functioning mind. Seen in this light, it is apparent that the opposite of reason is not faith, it is irrationality. It is forming or holding views that are inconsistent with the way things actually are. It may well be that some acts of faith are indeed irrational, being held in spite of the evidence against it.
But it is a mistake to view reason and faith as opposites. Instead, they exist on a continuum, in which knowledge moves from things that are definitely known through observable evidence (trust with high certainty) to things that are not definitely known but highly likely to be true (trust with less certainty) to matters that are entirely speculative and can be taken only “on faith” (trust with little to support it – the way the skeptic views the term). So faith in God, like any other conclusion a person reaches, is always the product of reason, because reason is simply the only way anyone can arrive at a conclusion. What distinguishes sound faith from foolish faith is the strength of the evidence that supports the conclusion…