Faith and Reason: Friends or Foes?
by J. Chandler Arnett III
Engrained in American culture is a particular meaning/conception of the word “faith.” Here are a just a few ways in which this concept is expressed:
It means blind trust in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence. —Richard Dawnkins1
The same concept is also expressed in this way:
The facts may tell you one thing, but God is not limited by the facts. Choose faith in spite of the facts. —Joel Osteen2
Those quotes are from polar opposites culturally speaking, as the first quote is from retired Oxford evolutionary biologist and outspoken critic of religion Richard Dawkins while the second is from the pastor of the largest church in America, Joel Osteen. Given this definition of faith (where faith and facts do not mix) adhered to by people at both ends of the religious spectrum, from atheists to pastors, we must ask ourselves, “Where does this leave reason?” Reasoning, the tool used to arrive at truth, would then be the enemy of faith, right? Think of how devastating this would be to anyone who holds to a creed or statement of faith who simultaneously wants to say that what they believe in that regard is actually true! If we arrive at truth through reasoning to a conclusion based on established facts, then faith and reason are surely foes! Or are they?…..
Faith, Reason and Christianity
Given the conception of faith above, how does one avoid the following dilemma? If one adheres to facts and evidence, then one must forego faith. If one adheres to faith one has foregone facts and evidence. This would be troubling to those who we mentioned above that want to hold to a religious tradition or creed yet also want to claim that what they believe is true, but there is at least one way out, namely Christianity. On the Judeo-Christian worldview the concept of faith is never blind or opposed to facts: quite the opposite, faith is actually founded on reason. This is important because the alleged dilemma evaporates.
Faith as a concept derived from the Hebrew/Aramaic Old Testament as well as the Greek concept derived from the New Testament never means a blind leap, or believing something in spite of the evidence. Rather those concepts from those languages translated as “faith” or “belief,” etc. are better understood in English by the concept of “a reasoned trust.” Many people (Christians and non-Christians alike) have taken the English word faith and read the popular definition of that English word into the biblical text. The Greek and Hebrew words did not have such a semantic range as the English word faith does. So we need to fully reject a popular cultural definition of an English word when we read the Bible, rather we need to ask what did the word originally used in the text mean and how can I best understand that concept in English. This makes a huge difference…
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